Over the last twelve years, Sony has sold around 154 million PlayStation 2 consoles, making it the best-selling devoted gaming machine in history. Nintendo is the only company that’s come close to toppling the PS2, selling just over 151 million Nintendo DSs in the past eight years. The current crop of home consoles, all of them growing long in the tooth at between seven and six years old, doesn’t even come close. Nintendo has sold around 95 million Wiis, Microsoft around 67 million Xbox 360s, and Sony around 62 million PlayStation 3s. The age of the devoted gaming console may not be over, but its zenith is past and the next round of machines will continue the trend according to one analyst.
Speaking with Gamasutra on Monday, Piper Jaffray analysts Michael Olson and Andrew Connor said that they expect the next round of consoles to underperform by a wide margin compared to existing boxes. How much? Over its first fourteen months on shelves, the “disappoiting” hardware specifications of Wii U will cause that device to sell just 35% of the volume of the Wii over the same period in 2006-’07. Sony’s PlayStation 4, or Orbis as some rumors suggest, expected in 2013 will sell just 50% over the same comparative period. The Xbox 720, sometimes called Durango, will sell just 55% of the Xbox 360’s volume over the first fourteen months when it releases they project in 2014.
Why? The same things leeching console software sales already: Mobile games and social games. “We believer console gaming will continue to be a time-share donor to social networks, mobile games, and tablets. We therefore favor companies with increasing exposure to social/mobile gaming, including Zynga and EA.”
Whether big publishers like EA and Zynga retain their financial power in the coming years remains to be seen, but considering the downward trend in physical game and game machine sales since 2008, it’s hard to argue the analysts’ point. Console and retail game sales have shrunk dramatically ever year since the recession, and new machines won’t reignite the market. It’s not that people aren’t spending on games or playing them, it’s that they are increasingly paying for them in small doses on handheld devices and PCs.
Wii U, Orbis, and Durango won’t sell as well as Wii, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360. It’s almost impossible. Whether they will or not isn’t the question that players, game makers, and businesses need to ask at this point though. The real question: What will be the universal device that people play and buy games on? Will it be smart TVs that are cross compatible with tablets and smart phones? Will Apple become the dominant manufacturer of gaming platforms? Will Valve make its rumored and then denies Steam Box?
Only time will tell. Luckily players are patient people.