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Microsoft dominates UK in first-half 2013, 3DS rallies
Microsoft dominates UK in first-half 2013, 3DS rallies Exclusive
July 15, 2013 | By Matt Matthews

July 15, 2013 | By Matt Matthews
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Despite a strong push by Sony in June, Microsoft continues to dominate the video game console market in the UK according to the latest retail figures for the first half of 2013, compiled by GFK Chart-Track and released via MCV.

Just as Microsoft's Xbox 360 has topped the hardware charts in the U.S. for the last two years, and been the leading platform for many games appearing on both HD consoles for practically the entire generation, so has the company made inroads across the Atlantic.

While Sony garnered reams of positive press for its PlayStation 4 console during and after E3 last month, the reality is that Microsoft has been a market leader for years in both the UK and the U.S. markets.

Perhaps the most dramatic showing of Microsoft's British strength was the news late last month that Xbox 360 system sales in the UK were finally surpassing the installed base of the Wii in that region. Actually, I should say that the Xbox 360 was retaking the lead it started out ahead, but was passed by the Wii in December 2007. It only took five and a half years, but Microsoft finally got its crown back.

Of course, consumers buy hardware just so they can purchase software to run on those systems, so in many ways the software figures are more important. According to the latest figures, the Xbox 360 took 38 percent of the total software units sold in the UK during the first half of 2013, and accounted for over 41 percent of software revenue.

The two tables below, specially compiled by Gamasutra using the public data, break these figures out by month. Each table is ordered by the final column, where sales for 1H 2013 are shown.

The launch of The Last of Us in the UK was clearly a big win for Sony's PlayStation 3, and made June the only month this year in which Sony's console surpassed the Xbox 360 in both units and revenue. My friends over at NeoGAF have worked out that The Last of Us now has reached sales of around 200,000 units in Britain and that rough figure jibes with the unit figures above.

Below the battle between the last-gen HD consoles, the Nintendo 3DS has finally taken the lead over its predecessor, the Nintendo DS. Through April those two systems had sold approximately the same number of units of software this year, about 450,000 units each.

But total software unit sales for the 3DS were a whopping 350,000 units across May and June, blowing past the mere 150,000 units for the original DS. That burst of sales is surely attributable to the late-March release of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon and the June release of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. And that doesn't include any digital copies sold directly to consumers through Nintendo's eShop. Comments by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata a week ago suggested that there has also been a strong uptick in 3DS hardware sales in the past couple of months, and we'll surely get more information on that during his first quarter briefing later this month, along with more detail on how much their digital business is supplementing retail sales.

The bad news for Nintendo is that its new Wii U console has had a terrible six months, with a mere 179,000 units of software sold at retail so far this year. Even if digital sales added 10 percent to the total software units sold on the Wii U, its year-to-date results would just barely match retail software sales for the moribund PlayStation Vita.

Of course, the Wii U has its own set of Nintendo software coming in the months ahead, beginning with Pikmin 3 this month, The Wonderful 101 in August, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD in October, and Super Mario 3D World by the end of the year. Hopefully a raft of quality Nintendo software will increase the perceived value of the Wii U and justify its price to consumers ready for a new console.

As I said earlier, Sony has been the beneficiary of a lot of positive press regarding its PlayStation 4 while Microsoft has had to assuage concerns raised about its new Xbox One. However, when you have retailers picking sides, like yesterday's report that a major UK retailer expects that Xbox One sales will surpass PS4 sales this holiday, it brings home the reality that Microsoft has been in the driver's seat for the console business for the past couple of years at least in the UK and the U.S.

Now, the cynic will clearly say that the retailer likely has some relationship with Microsoft to help promote its system, but that in itself is an admission that Sony has work to do.

To put it bluntly, Sony needs to prove that it can not only score points in the press, but also entice lots and lots of consumers, some of them Microsoft users, to open their wallets and buy a PlayStation 4.

Let me give you some figures, for a sense of scale. In the U.S. there are currently nearly 15 million more Xbox 360 systems than there are PlayStation 3 systems. According to my estimates, Americans have bought over 380 million units of software for the Xbox 360 and over 220 million for the PlayStation 3.

Consumers have invested a lot of their money and lives playing games on an Xbox 360, and Sony will have to convince them that the PlayStation 4 is a viable alternative for their next console. On top of that, publishers and retailers have made a lot of money selling to those consumers. All three groups - consumers, publishers, and retailers - are predisposed to Microsoft products, and we'll get a sense of just how loyal they are when the race really begins in a few months.

Finally, you know that Microsoft won't cede any ground easily. If it sees Sony gaining an upper hand, it is likely to take action. That is certainly one interpretation for the company's recent turnaround on its Xbox One software licensing (DRM) policies. At the very least, the end of this year will be exceptionally fun to watch, especially as the two companies fight for consumers and the sales figures begin to roll in.

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Michael G
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I think the PC numbers are far more interesting, given that this is retail only and PC games tend to get one paltry stand even in dedicated game stores (usually less in general entertainment stores and superstores) these numbers don't seem to suggest that PC gaming is a niche market, especially as the digital marketplace on PC far outweighs either console.

Dave Long
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"The bad news for Nintendo is that its new Wii U console has had a terrible six months, with a mere 179,000 units of software sold at retail so far this year. Even if digital sales added 10 percent to the total software units sold on the Wii U, its year-to-date results would just barely match retail software sales for the moribund PlayStation Vita."

That self-same Vita where apparently at least a third of all sales are digital. While the Vita's struggling, it looks like the Wii U is struggling far more, and the Wii U is likely to be hurt by the launch of the PS4, while the remote play plans for Sony's next-gen console are likely to give the Vita a bit of a lift.

As for the whole Microsoft/Sony thing, loyalty is very, very shallow in the games business. I read somewhere today that the Xbox One was booed off the stage at Evo - not a UK gig, but hardly a sign of confidence in the product in the US. I highly doubt the XB1 will do as badly as online polls suggest, but I'd be very surprised if it out-sold the PS4 early on based on the current showing. Momentum in one gen can slow very quickly over a transition - just look at what happened between the PS2 and the 360.

Jeremy Reaban
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The PS4 might sell Vitas, but the remote play thing basically means the end of dedicated Vita software (even more so than now), at least at the retail level.

Sean Sang
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There definitely seems like a divergence away from retail games on portable devices in general as both the Vita and the 3ds have abysmal retail releases. Both have decent digital offerings though with the Vita getting quite a few indie releases. Even if someone buys a Vita for remote play I can see there being an uptake in software sales as surely those people would be curious to see what else is available for the device. If indeed there is a sales spike in Vita sales that seem to be sustainable it could spur on much needed software support which in turn will spur on more hardware sales.

Camilo R
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If the XBONE had backwards compatibility and its online network shared among 360 and ONE, then I could see the XBONE keeping the 360 momentum, but as it is, I just can't see the XBOX ONE doing as well as the 360.

The 360 enjoyed a one year head start and a price advantage over its main competitor, something the XBONE is missing. The 360 sales later in its life were an extended effect of its initial success based on the two factors mentioned previously, neither of which factor in for the XBONE. Seriously the XBONE looks nothing like the 360, it's like MS and Sony switched roles again, but Sony is holding all the good cards now.

Michael G
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The 360 also had more familiar architecture, that helped them a lot and that advantage is gone.

Sean Sang
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Interesting take on the current console situation. Of course there are a few holes in your theory. You could probably argue that Sony is more at fault for the 360 success than Microsoft is with the Ps3 launching at a significantly higher price point and difficult to program hardware giving the impression of the multi-platform games being inferior on their system. You really can't factor out how important pricing is as Microsoft has smartly always stayed ahead of Sony all through out this generation by being cheaper which I would suspect when both systems are looked upon as equal the consumer would go with the cheaper product especially during the recent financial crisis/recession. I also believe the success of Kinect has kept 360 ahead of PS3 in terms of hardware sales and would be interesting to see a breakdown of how many Kinect bundled 360's were sold. Brand loyalty is another thing you can't factor in as history has taught us with the transition of the Ps2 dominance to this current generation. Retailers also backed the Ps3 to be the dominate platform and looked at how that turned out. With both systems launching at the same time and the Ps4 being far cheaper and without the bad pr mess I think it's very doubtful the xbox-one will continue to sell better especially if consumers perceive both systems to be equal.

Merc Hoffner
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Fun fact: The UK is one of very few territories where Nintendo has never won a console generation (as far as I remember).