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Lifetime sales: 67 million Xbox 360s, 64 million PlayStation 3s, 96 million Nintendo Wiis

Nintendo is pulling back the veil from the Wii U at E3 next week. Sony may very well be revealing a radical new direction for its entire PlayStation business with rumors that it will acquire streaming games service Gaikai. What does Microsoft have lined up for E3? Rumors of the Xbox Lite, a redesigned Xbox 360 modeled after the Apple TV, have swirled for months, but it’s unclear just what Microsoft will unveil as the future of its console business. What Microsoft is demonstrating days before its big press conference is that its past is enough of a model to guarantee a strong future whatever it announces.

Since putting the box on the market in November 2005, Microsoft has sold a total of 67 million Xbox 360s around the world, generating $56 billion in sales at retail. Since November 2010, it has sold 19 million Kinects. Microsoft’s Xbox Live currently has 40 million members, 26 million of which are subscribers to the Xbox Live Gold premium service.

Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, shared these statistics in a post at the company’s official blog on Tuesday.

There are two revelations waiting inside the numbers. The first is that all three of the major console holders have discovered ways to buck the popular belief that video game technology needs to be updated regularly to remain viable in the market. Nintendo disproved the rule in the ‘90s by keeping the black and white Game Boy on the market for nearly ten years. Sony proved it last decade by keeping the PlayStation 2 on retail charts for ten full years. Microsoft has made the Xbox 360 the first high-definition consumer video game console to survive for 7 years as a commercially viable machine. It’s done so by introducing new services like Netflix streaming and new devices like Kinect at a steady pace. Kudos to Microsoft’s business leaders.

Second, these details prove that while getting a head start in the console race is useful, it doesn’t necessarily ensure a huge lead over the competition in terms of install base. Microsoft has sold 67 million Xbox 360s since 2005, but Sony has sold around 64 million PlayStation 3s worldwide since 2006 and Nintendo has sold approximately 96 million Nintendo Wiis in the same time frame. A 1-year head start gave Microsoft a small lead over Sony and gained it important mindshare in the U.S. but Sony narrowed that gap efficiently. (That said it has only been making a profit on its consoles for a fraction of the time Microsoft has.)