Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
09 February 2007
The best selling game systems of all time
In a business whose headlines are dominated by the hardware and software sales of Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, it helps to have a little perspective. In this case, the needed context is probably in your pocket right now.

Let's review some numbers. In the last two generations, Sony has sold over 230 million PlayStation-branded game machines. Nintendo has sold nearly 400 million from its home consoles -- NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, and GameCube -- to its long-dominant handheld systems -- Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS. While it has only had a console on shelves since 2001, Microsoft has already racked up combined sales of over 30 million of its two Xbox systems.

Yet these are not the game systems most people own. Their game systems don't say Nintendo or Microsoft or Sony. They say Nokia or Motorola or Samsung. (Ok, some of them actually do say Sony: Sony Erricsson. But they're still relatively small.) Even the cheapest phones can play some form of Tetris nowadays and many are far, far more capable.

According to Strategy Analytics, over one billion mobile phones shipped during all of 2006. In all of 2006, the leading vendor, Nokia, shipped almost 350 million phones. Those numbers are just staggering when compared to the sales of dedicated game systems. For example, if we consider all the systems shipped by Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo since 1983 and compare to just the mobile phone shipments in 2006 we get the following:
In fact, if we combine the numbers for Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo and stack that up against the mobile phone shipments, it's still not much of a contest.
According to NPD, the dedicated videogame market made an estimated $6.5 billion on software last year alone. With over a billion phones shipped in 2006, is it any surprise that analysts regularly predict that the mobile game market will eventually hit $10 billion a year in the near future?

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--Matt Matthews at 14:46
Comment [ 9 ]

Comments on this post:

Yeah, weird thing though... I bought my phone to make calls, not play games. I bought my DS to play games, not make phone calls. The only other features I've ever really used on my phone are the calculator (for quick tip calculations) and its ability to display (not manage) my calendar.

Surveys have been done with the effective result being that the majority of people who use cellphones don't know, or care, about the various other features (including games) of their phones. They are attractive selling points, but not useful or engaging tools.

Is the phone capable of playing games? Yes. Is it a gaming platform on the semantic level as anything sold by MS, Sony or Nintendo? No. Are these numbers really related? Only in the way that the number of TVs sold is related to the number of Decks of Cards sold. People play games with both, but most people still buy TVs to watch TV on.

By Blogger Duncan, at 09 February, 2007 17:31  

I haven't been keeping up with phone technology, but as far as I know, phones just aren't game machines. I can only play games that allow serial key presses, and while it might allow for some fun games, it generally means frustrating controls.

By Anonymous GBGames, at 09 February, 2007 17:53  

It's not really a fair way to compare something like an install base. Each gaming platform respresents a distinct and consistent platform with the same interface and capabilities.

Mobile phones simply do not have that level of consistency - there's so much variety that you have to practically look at a single model/manufacturer to get even close to what a dedicated gaming platform gives you. And when you start breaking things down to that narrow of an audience, then the game systems start to look a lot better.

As much as developers like to hate on Sony and Nintendo for having backwards development environments, they're the in the golden age of Greece compared to what you get developing on a phone, which could barely be considered to be in the stone age.

By Blogger Nathan, at 09 February, 2007 19:04  

I see kids playing games on their phones almost every morning on their bus. I often see some savvy buisiness folk cheekily tap away at some games on their phones whenever i'm on a commuter train, too. Usually I can spot some cheeky scamp playing something on their phone in the odd lecture theatre, too.

I hate them, personally. My giant fingers just end up mashing up the little buttons and the games always feel really slow. But, still, I see people playing them when i'm out and about. I'm sure three quid a pop spread out over the hundred hojillion mobile phones sold is too tempting a buisiness offer for most companies.

By Blogger Martin, at 10 February, 2007 09:18  

I actually game on my phone a decent amount - but I can't compare my phone to a game system, not even really remotely.

For one thing, most mobile games are total crap. Complete shovelware. I direct your attention to Monopoly Tycoon - which on the mobile version you can win by not actually taking any actions any round, ever.

The reason why most phones come with Tetris is that it's one of the few games that actually plays. The game I really only ever play on my phone? A Tetris clone. Yeah, I've managed to find a few other gems - but only through hefty digging. I'm pretty certain that a straw poll of my friends, many who don't even have a landline, would show them under my usage as baseline.

Or more specifically - The Girl plays Bejeweled on her phone. But only because she didn't want to carry the DS every day. DS - game console, her Sony-E is just a phone.

That's not to say the numbers are meaningless though. The mobile games market is the fastest we've got today. It gets more sophisticated every year as does the hardware to go along with it. Nokia and Samsung both have toyed with form factors which are more gamer friendly. Two years from now it will be a completely different picture.

By Blogger Josh, at 10 February, 2007 10:00  

Well, this site also apparently considers the PS3 and the PSP viable games platforms.

I just have to shrug.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 10 February, 2007 15:49  

Jeremy: Was the GameCube a viable console? In five years it only sold 21 million systems. In two years the PSP sold around the same number of systems.

While the PS3 is a difficult sell, I don't think anyone expects it to do worse than the GameCube did this past generation.

By Blogger jvm, at 10 February, 2007 18:30  

The Gamecube was typical of Nintendo home consoles. It sold fewer units than the last one, and was pretty much only good for their own titles after the 3rd parties realized they could make more money elsewhere.

Even so, I bet it had a better software attach rate than the PSP. Liberty City Stories sold 2 million units, but I understand that Vice City Stories kinda didn't. Not nearly.

Which is kinda funny. Wonder what happened there? People suddenly decide they've had enough Grand Theft Auto?

By Blogger Jeremy, at 10 February, 2007 20:05  

In fact, that kind of brings up an interesting discussion as to whether Nintendo is even part of the videogame industry or not.

Their business model no longer requires them to play the game the same way everyone else does.

Their new model is basically the cabbage patch kids model. Create a consumer rush, do it over and over again. Make money on every unit you sell.

As long as they can drive someone into the store, they win. They don't have to sell to gamers. It's not what they're doing anymore. Just like Disney doesn't make cartoons.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 10 February, 2007 20:12  

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