January has flown by and it's time for the first NPD predictions column of the year.
I'm not sure that we see many changes in terms of the hardware rankings from a month ago. New software releases were slim in January and hardware pricing remained the same, so there isn't much to alter buying trends. We likely won't see any platform move over a million units as the holiday sales rush has diminished and more normal buying habits resume.
As a refresher, here are the hardware numbers (courtesy of NeoGAF) from January 2011:
- Xbox 360: 381,000
- Nintendo Wii: 319,000
- PlayStation 3: 267,000
- Nintendo DS: DATA NOT RELEASED
All of those numbers were severe declines from December 2010. Wii sales were down by nearly 2,000,000 units. Xbox 360 sales fell by almost 1,500,000 units. PlayStation 3 sales were off by almost 1,000,000 units. The moral of the story here is that we're likely to see steep declines from December 2011 to January 2012, and that's a normal expectation. It looks jarring, but with consumers resuming belt-tightening as more cash flow goes to paying bills and less goes into disposable income, it's important not to overestimate hardware sales when making predictions.
Here's how I think that the rankings will stack up for January 2012:
- Xbox 360
- Nintendo 3DS
- Nintendo Wii
- PlayStation 3
There have been two major things going for the Xbox 360 for January. First, the console still carries sales momentum with nothing to stop it. The Xbox brand has become stronger than the PlayStation brand here in the United States, and this will continue for the foreseeable future. The other major factor to consider is that new Modern Warfare 3 downloadable content (DLC) became available late in the month. Historically, DLC releases have led to hardware sales spikes for Microsoft because the Xbox 360 gets the DLC first. The one big difference this time around is that the DLC is tied directly to Call of Duty Elite and cannot (as of this writing) be purchased outright via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. The release of the DLC does get the gaming community talking about Modern Warfare 3 again, and consumer interest likely rises at least slightly. I don't think that will be enough to keep sales from dipping below last year's number, but it shouldn't be by too much. The maximum number for Xbox 360 unit sales that I see is 400,000 units, but I expect to see a number less than that.
January is a big test for the 3DS. With the holidays done, can sales stay respectable for a $170 dedicated portable device? Having two Mario titles on the market is certainly an advantage, but the PlayStation Vita now looms large. Do consumers keep pulling the trigger on 3DS sales, do they slow down and wait for Vita, or do they slow down for other reasons? There is new software on the horizon for the 3DS, but that doesn't really help sales right now. Nintendo has to hope that Mario can power the 3DS through one more month before Resident Evil: Revelations arrives in early February. Putting a number on unit sales is tough, but I think it doesn't exceed 300,000 units—and that may be optimistic.
The Nintendo Wii is a tough platform to call. The price is still right for consumers who have waited—or who might want a second unit for another room in the home-- but enthusiasm seems to continue to be on the wane. New quality Wii software continues to be rare, although Just Dance 3 should perform well once again. It's a bit of a wild-card scenario; it could finish as high as second or as low as dead last. My best guess is a 3rd-place finish with less than 280,000 units sold.
The PlayStation 3 is coming off of a comparatively weak month of sales performance, and trends don't seem to favor much improvement for January. The PlayStation brand has lost considerable strength among consumers, it's still perceived as expensive, and there just doesn't seem to be a draw to get people to buy in. The 2012 slate of PlayStation 3 exclusives begins in February with Twisted Metal, but that doesn't do much to turn things around right now. As we saw last year, the PlayStation 3 and the Wii will again be close competitors in the rankings. I'm going to cap sales at 265,000 units, which is basically a flat number as compared to last year.
I believe that we'll see hardware post a negative Year Over Year (YOY) comparison against 2011. I think the trend actually began last month and continues in January and beyond. Call it what you will: console saturation, nearing the end of this console generation, or something else... but I think that, after 5+ years, most of the consumers who wanted in on this generation of consoles have done so. The Xbox 360 is destined to see its YOY numbers start to falter, and, when combined with the Wii's continued descent, that's a signal that lower overall hardware sales should be expected.
We'll see how the final numbers shake out when they're released in a week or two. In the meantime, the Armchair Analysis homepage poll shows that the majority of you agree with my pick of the Xbox 360 taking the top spot in sales again for January. The Xbox 360 took 55% of the vote, followed by the Wii (22%), and either the 3DS (11%) or the PlayStation 3 (11%). If you'd like to try predicting the sales rankings and/or unit sales numbers, feel free to list your predictions in the comments below. I'd love to see what your thinking is on where sales will be and how close (or far apart) your predictions are to mine. Your questions, comments, and feedback are always welcome.