Sony vs. Nintendo: It's Only Round One

While Nintendo Corp. yesterday triumphantly announced that it sold 600,000 units in the first eight days of the Wii's release, generating $190 million in sales, it turns out that figuring out who's winning the game-console wars is going to take some patience.

By the end of the year, Sony's new PlayStation 3, which launched Nov. 17, is expected to have about 1 million PS3 systems in North America, while Nintendo is expected to ship 4 million units.

"But real traction doesn't happen until 10 million units are sold, and that will probably take a year and a bit," said John Davison, editorial director for the 1Up Network, the gaming properties of Ziff Davis Media.* Microsoft's Xbox, introduced a year ago, has reportedly shipped 6 million units of its Xbox 360, launched a year ago.

"Anecdotally, people seem happier with Wii," he said, "but we think PS3 will continue to sell out for the foreseeable future." PS3 may be hard to buy now, but diehard consumers have played long enough to discover plenty of quirks and problems with the $599 game system--including issues with using it on certain high-definition TVs. "That's the kind of stuff consumers just shouldn't have to worry about," he said. "People have been punished for being early adopters."

Both marketers have tried hard to expand the appeal of the consoles beyond the core gaming audience. But the lack of gotta-have-'em games right now underscores just how tricky an endeavor that will be.

The closest thing to a must-have game for PS3, for example, is a shooter title called Resistance: Fall of Man, with a "mature" rating, that invites participants to fight a full-fledged war in Europe.

Ironically, Sony has reportedly begun advertising its PlayStationPortable, or PSP, which has interconnectivity with the PS3, on marthastewart.com--not exactly the war-games demographic.

The same disconnect is happening with Nintendo, Davison said: "The idea is that people will buy this so Grandma can play the bowling game, but right now, the hot game is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which will only appeal to young gamers."

There's also a fair amount of consumer frustration at the way the new systems don't follow through on their promise to connect with other entertainment products. "You can plug your iPod into some of these devices and it will read some of your music, but not what you bought on iTunes. The PS3 will read photos off any memory stick, or play music, but it does it a slightly different way," he said. Throw in other new hybrid devices, like Zune, Microsoft's new iPod competitor, which can read music wirelessly, and there's a great deal of consumer confusion. "Now, it seems like every device you look at it does everything, but doesn't do it with each other," he said.

That's why the real success of both PS3 and Wii will depend on the games that come out in the months ahead, not just what other electronics it can connect with. "They have to win on games," he said. "Everything else is just gravy."

* This title was changed after the article was posted.

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