Thursday, May 15, 2008

Console Post of the Week: They Said What?

NPD numbers for April:
Wii: 714,200
Xbox 360: 188,000
PS3: 187,100
PS2: 124,400

That has to be one of the biggest ass-kickings in the history of consoles. It's the biggest game release of the year for "next-gen" consoles, and the Wii outsells them by almost 2-1 COMBINED?

Here's what must be the frightening point for Microsoft: they weren't supply-constrained in April. Here's what must be the frightening point for Sony: they weren't, either.

This is extremely compelling evidence for Microsoft that they have to cut the price in the U.S., and quickly. Last year in April, the 360 sold 174,000 units. This year, with a lower price, and the biggest game launch of their year, they sell only 14,000 more units? That's a horrific number for them.

For the last year, I've thought that the Wii would dominate, but that there would be a clear second place, and the second-place console would still do very, very well. Now, though, it's looking like both Microsoft and Sony might be completely overwhelmed.

Here are a few data points before we get to (for me) the shocker of the week, which doesn't even involve the NPD numbers.

First off, I mentioned a few weeks ago that GTA IV was going to be an interesting test case to compare the 360 to the PS3. It's been speculated by many (including me) that a portion of the PS3's installed base is "dead" when it comes to gaming. So a ballpark test would be to compare the percentage of installed base purchasing GTA IV by platform.

N'Gai Croal was given access to Gamestop's GTA IV sales by platform, and here's what he found: According to sales information that GameStop has released exclusively to Level Up, 64 percent of the copies of Grand Theft Auto IV sold during the first week were for Xbox 360, while 36 percent were sold on PS3. Put another way, that's a roughly 2 to 1 sales advantage for Xbox 360.

So how does that split compare to the Xbox 360 and PS3's respective installed bases? As we said above, the NPD group reports that 9.9 million Xbox 360s and 4.1 million PS3s have been sold through the end of March 2008. (NOTE: these installed base figures do not include the month of April, so our back of the envelope calculations will be slightly off.) That's a total of 14 million units, of which 70.7 percent are Xbox 360 and 29.3 percent are PS3. So when we compare this to GameStop's split of GTA IV sales--64 percent on Xbox 360 and 36 percent on PS3--it's clear that GTA IV underperformed on Xbox 360 relative to Microsoft's pre-April installed base, while it exceeded expectations on PS3 relative to Sony's pre-April installed base.

That is absolutely not what I expected. There were fewer copies of GTA IV sold for the 360 as a percentage of the installed base? And this is after signing a deal with Rockstar for exclusive content?

Sure, that's not an exact comparison, and Microsoft's already lobbing excuses out there, but it's still a bad, bad number for them.

Another bad number for Microsoft emerged from this weeks earnings release from Electronic Arts. In the "Platform Next Revenue Mix" of their earnings statement, there was this: Look at the change in PS3 revenue versus 360 revenue. Again, that's a horrible trend for Microsoft.

So on the face of those two data points, and Sony's bellowing about their European sales last week (even though Microsoft responded and Sony suddenly shut up), it would be easy to believe that the PS3 is doing much, much better.

There's really only one party who doesn't believe that the PS3 is gaining strength.


In yesterday's earnings report, Sony included a shocking bit of forecasting: for the current fiscal year, they project that they'll be selling 10.0 million units into retail worldwide.

Why is that so shocking? Because in the fiscal year just concluded (ending March 31, 2008), they sold 9.24 million units into retail.

Unit sales growth projected for this fiscal year? 8.2%.


Even allowing for Sony having totally jammed the channel in the last year, that's a stunner. Sony is projecting that on March 31, 2009, 28 months after launch, the PS3 will have sold 22.81 million units into retail. Remember, those aren't even actual consumer sales. That represents actual consumer sales plus all retail stock.

8% year-over-year unit growth for the console that succeeded the most successful console in history is a disaster. A flaming, bellowing disaster. And that growth is off a crap base to begin with.

To see just how bad this is, let's compare PS3 and PS2 sales as closely as we can.

First, a quick explanation of methodology. Since consoles launch in different territories at different times, there has to be a method of valuation to gain equivalent "sales opportunity" numbers. Based on the last generation, here's how the sales broke out:

That's not exact, but it's a reasonable comparison base. So for a quarter where a console was available in all three territories (for every day of the quarter), the "sales opportunity" would be equal to 1 (.4+.4+.2). If a console was available in the U.S. and Japan, but not in Europe, the SO for that quarter would equal to .6 (.4+.2+0).

What about partial quarters? That's easy. Let's say, for example, that during a product launch quarter, a console was available in the U.S. for 60 days out of 91 days in a quarter. To get the SO for that quarter, you'd use this formula:

I know, that seems extreme, but I want to get as accurate a comparison as possible between the PS2 and the PS3 at similar times in their lifespans. And I'm going to briefly go through the actual calculations here so that you can see what I'm doing.

Here are the launch dates for the PS3 in the three major territories:
Japan--November 11, 2006
U.S.--November 17, 2006
Europe--March 23, 2007

Here are the sales opportunity numbers:
Q3 2006, end December 31, 2006 (U.S. and Japan launched): (.2*(51/91))+(.4*(45/91)=.30989
Q4 2006, end March 31, 2007 (partial Europe added): .2+.4+(.4*(9/91))=.63956
Q1 2007 and forwards (full sales opportunity in all three regions): 1.

At the end of the current fiscal year for Sony, which will be March 31, 2009, the total SO number will be 8.9494. And they're projecting 22.81 million units sold into retail.

So at the same "sales opportunity" point in the PS2's lifespan, how did it compare?

One caveat here is that Sony has changed their accounting method in the last year. So with the PS2, Sony's historical numbers are "production shipments of hardware," while the PS3 is "unit sales of hardware." Like I said, though, those "unit shipments" just represent inventory sold to dealers, not actual consumer sales.

Here are the launch dates for the PS2:
Japan--March 24, 2000
U.S.--October 26, 2000
Europe--November 24, 2000

Here's the tedious math stuff:
Q4 1999, end March 31, 2000 (Japan launch):.2*(8/91)=0.01758
Q1 2000, end June 30, 2000 (Japan only): .2
Q2 2000, end September 30, 2000 (Japan only): .2
Q3 2000, end December 31, 2000 (Japan, plus U.S. and European launch): .2+(.4*(66/91))+(.4*(38/91))=.65714
Q4 2000 and forwards: 1.

What's the closest calendar point as an equivalent to the PS3 8.9494 SO total? On December 31, 2002, the PS2's SO totals 9.0747. That's very close.

What was the total of PS2 production shipments at that time? 49.59 million.

Even allowing for the difference between production shipments and sales into retail, that is an incredible gap. By Sony's own projections, over twenty-seven months into its lifepsan, the PS3 will be selling, at best, at roughly half the rate of the PS2.

That's a wipeout, no matter what Sony claims.

Here's something else those numbers probably mean: forget about a price cut this year. Just based on the projection of 10 million units, it seems inconceivable that Sony would have to cut prices to reach that level. Plus there's an excerpt from the conference call transcript call posted at NeoGAF that suggests the same (thanks Matt Matthews):
Nobuyuki Oneda - Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
...And the pricing itself, basically we don't disclose any pricing strategies for the coming year, but as I said that the... we don't aggressively adjust the price for the coming year. And to maintain the 10 million level of the quantity this year, I don't think that we really have to adjust the pricing so much.

It seems like Microsoft has been screwing up in epic quantities since the beginning of the year, but Sony doesn't seem to care--they're not going to ratchet up the pressure by cutting prices. Although it's possible, based on the April NPD numbers (and their total wipeout in Japan), that they'll have to cut prices just to get to 10 million, which would be quite embarrassing.

So the next time you hear a Sony executive bellowing about their brilliance, just remember that he's wearing a t-shirt underneath that says "8.2% unit growth."

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