PlayStation is once again the king of the worldwide console market.
Sony's latest earnings report, issued Feb. 7, shows unit sales for the PlayStation home consoles (the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3) beating the competing machines from Nintendo and Microsoft for the title of best-selling home game console for the 2012 holiday shopping season.
Combined sales of the PS2 and PS3 added up to 6.8 million units for the December quarter*, ahead of the combined total of 5.3 million for Nintendo's Wii and Wii U, and the 5.9 million units reported by Microsoft for the Xbox 360. For the full year, the PlayStations combined for 15.6 million units worldwide, compared with 8 million for the Wiis and about 11 million for the Xbox 360.
Sony dominated the console market for years with the PlayStation 2, but the PlayStation 3 hadn't won the holiday shopping season since its debut in 2006. Sony's return to the top of the worldwide market comes despite tougher competition from Nintendo and Microsoft in this console generation.
However, this crown comes with a few caveats.
First, Sony last year stopped reporting sales of the PS3 on a standalone basis, instead combining the total with lingering sales of the PS2, to make for a bigger number. PS2 sales have been declining steadily, so the result might not not have been materially different if the numbers were separated. Confirming this notion, a recent estimate from the IDC research firm showed cumulative lifetime shipments of the PlayStation 3 surpassing those of the Xbox 360 as of the end of 2012 - 77 million to 76 million - even though the Xbox 360 launched a year before the PS3.
(The Nintendo Wii's cumulative total is close to 100 million, thanks to its early popularity, so it's still the overall leader of this console generation in total sales.)
Still, it would be better to compare the PS3 directly with the Xbox 360 based on the official numbers from each company, which technically isn't possible anymore given the way Sony is combining its numbers. Microsoft won the console race in 2011 on that basis. The Xbox 360 came in second in 2012, going up against the combined totals for the new and old Nintendo and Sony consoles.
These are worldwide numbers. Xbox 360 won the holiday season in the U.S. and has been atop the U.S. market for two years straight, according to figures from the NPD market research firm.
Also, this was a bit of a lame duck year for the game console industry. Sales have been declining overall as the PS3 and Xbox 360 approach end of life, with new versions expected as soon as this year.
And finally, yes, I just realized that the chart above looks like somebody doing a sit-up. This was not intentional, but it is perhaps a fitting symbol of the console market's need to get back into shape.