Sony’s PlayStation 4 is the undisputed market leader in games console sales, having just crossed 70 million unit sales. But while the Xbox One occupies the second-largest piece of the market with somewhere around 30 million or so units sold, it’s the Nintendo Switch that Sony, like most everyone else in the industry, is taking notice of as of late.
“At our gaming business, sales of the PlayStation 4 are strong heading into the holidays. But we can’t ignore the Nintendo Switch, which has also captured consumers’ attention,” Sony Senior General Manager of Corporate Planning & Control Department Kazuhiko Takeda told Japan’s Nikkei today. “Our business model involves selling both the game console and the software for it, so we’re working to get more customers paying continuously for content, for example through paid subscription services.”
That hard work seems to be paying off for Sony, too. Thanks in no small part to all those PS4s the company has sold, its electronics business, which includes video games, is on its way to hitting a record operating profit, according to Takeda.
What the executive meant when he said Sony can’t ignore its longtime rival Nintendo is up for some debate. Is Sony concerned that Switch sales could eventually overtake PlayStation 4’s? In just nine months on the market, the Switch has already reached 2.5 million sales in Japan, making it the fastest-selling console of the year.
And while the PlayStation 4 just reached 5.5 million in Japanese sales, it took Sony’s console four years to reach that mark. That 120 percent lead sounds impressive, until you consider that it took the PlayStation 4 433 percent more time on the market than Switch to build it.
The market is of course larger than just Japan. Nintendo is believed to have sold eight million units worldwide as of early November to Sony’s 70 million. Yet one industry analyst estimates the Switch, which has been the top-selling console in the U.S. for all but two of the months it’s been on sale, has sold at a clip 20 percent better than the Wii had to this point in its lifecycle. At just over 100 million units, the Wii is Nintendo’s best-selling console of all time.
Like the Wii before it, the Switch’s popularity caught many off-guard, and the console has frequently been sold out in many locations. Nintendo recently re-forecast the console’s year one sales from 10 million to about 17 million. That’s still a tad shy of the approximately 17.5 million annual sales the PlayStation 4 has averaged in its first four years on the market, but most consoles sell fewer units in their first year than subsequent ones thanks to factors like limited supplies, higher prices, and smaller software libraries.
On the flip side, Sony’s consoles tend to sell extremely well for long periods of time, while even Nintendo’s most-popular console eventually fizzled in sales around year four after the explosive early popularity that propelled it to crossing the 100-million-sold mark turned out to be a passing fad.
The Switch may be enjoying even more succes than the Wii did during its early days, and the console’s portable play differentiator may seem to have more staying power than the Wii’s motion controls. But the console still has a steep mountain to climb if it’s ever going to surpass the PlayStation 4 in total sales. Even if it eventually does, it’s not inconceivable that Sony will have already turned its attention to the inevitable PlayStation 5 at that point.