UK Hardware: January sales spur demand

Xbox and Cube sales up, PS2 still dominates...

Post Christmas sales helped demand for the main three consoles jump by over nine percent, according to the latest figures released by ChartTrack, but value was down.

An estimated total of 18,000 more next gen consoles sold in the five weeks to January 31st compared to the same period last year, but with price reductions taken into account, the true value of the market fell by around 18 per cent, based on the recommended retail price.

Toasting January

During January, the PS2 continued to rule the roost, outselling its nearest competitor - the Xbox - by almost 2.4 to one, while also managing to outsell the GameCube by 5.4 to one. Even against both its rivals, the PS2 outsold them on it own by 1.66 to one, demonstrating that the yawning gulf is showing no sign of closing.

In terms of unit sales, the PS2 actually sold three per cent less than in the same period last year, while the value of PS2 sales was down by around 25 per cent making it the only console to not show any growth during the post Christmas sales. But this is hardly surprising when you consider the machine is fast closing in on the six million installed base mark; an incredible feat after just three years and three months on sale. The fact that the PS2 generated roughly nine times the revenue of the average Cube for the average store during the five weeks after Christmas demonstrates the dominance of the format in the UK currently.

The nearest rival, the Xbox, enjoyed unit sales growth of 25 per cent on the five weeks to January 31st, although the price cuts over the course of the year ensured the Microsoft machine only pulled in just over one per cent more through the tills than the same period last year. Although the machine is still being walloped by the PS2 by around 2.4 to one in terms of units, the gap between it and the Cube is an almost identical 2.3 to one. But from a retailer's perspective, the Xbox brought in almost 3.7 times the revenue of selling a Cube, based on their respective standard retail prices.

Not all doom and gloom

Although the Cube picture looks grim for Nintendo, the news isn't all bad. Unit sales for the five weeks to January 31st were actually up an impressive 78 per cent on the same period in 2003, making it - on the surface at least - by far the fastest growing console in the UK, but perhaps more a demonstration of how badly the format was doing back then than a cause for celebration back in Kyoto. In terms of the value of those sales, though, the £50 price cut since then means that the value hasn't changed a great deal - up an estimated nine per cent on the period, but when the value of those sales is almost nine times less than that of the PS2, then it's fair to say the console is in a distant third place.

Taking handheld consoles out of the equation, Nintendo has 11.4 per cent of the market, well up on the 6.9 per cent it held at this point last year. Sony has seen its market share eroded from 70 per cent in the first five weeks of 2003 to 62.4 per cent. Xbox, meanwhile, now holds 26.1 per cent of the market, up on the 22.8 per cent it held this time last year. Having had four Christmases in the market, you'd expect the PS2 to have received a sterner challenge from its younger and more powerful rivals. To still account for almost two thirds of all the sales against rivals offering cheaper or better value deals is an achievement in itself.

It's getting into choppy waters to argue the relative merits of each machine's software line up, but the commercial facts speak for themselves: the Xbox's exclusive line up (Halo aside) hasn't performed to the levels required in the UK to tempt people away from buying a PS2, while the Cube first party line up has relied almost exclusively on rehashes of old kid-friendly brands, with precious few all-new titles emerging to make the machine an essential purchase. And the tardiness of converting releases for a PAL release in the format's early days (Metroid Prime, notably) hardly helped it - a lesson apparently unlearned given the ridiculous delay to this year's Mario Golf title. Nintendo of America updated its release schedule for the year, but it's hard to see where the commercial triple-A titles are going to emerge from to keep the format on retail shelves all the way up to Christmas.

Still in control

As for Sony, it's been plain sailing ever since GTA3 entered the stores. Call it a lucky break, good timing, or whatever, but it had the foresight to keep this generation's best-selling game exclusive for long enough for win the console war hands down, and as a result it's tough for most developers to consider not making a version of their game on the platform. With a further price cut of the PS2 likely to arrive well before the autumn, is there any stopping Sony's machine?

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About the author

Kristan Reed

Kristan Reed


Kristan is a former editor of Eurogamer, dad, Stone Roses bore and Norwich City supporter who sometimes mutters optimistically about Team Silent getting back together.


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