Walked into a game store lately? Chances are you didn’t see a Nintendo Wii. Although the holiday season shopping binge is long gone, the Japanese videogame legend still can’t keep them on shelves. Retailer Gamestop admitted that not only can it not keep up with Wii demand, but the situation might not improve for as much as six months. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are likely to take advantage in that six month window.
So what’s the deal? Most gamers are accustomed to a period of limited availability right after a new console comes out, typically in the fall run-up to the holiday shopping season. In the past, it’s been rare that console shortages continue into the following year. But here we are, closing in on 18 months after the Wii’s release in 2006, and you still can’t find one outside of Ebay.
Much of the problem is down to the Wii’s sheer popularity. Now officially the most popular console of this generation, well over 20 million Wiis have rolled out of Nintendo’s manufacturing plants since the launch, compared with about 10 million PS3s in the same amount of time. Even Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which has been on the market a full year longer than the Wii, can only muster sales of about 18 million. But hey, you actually have a reasonable chance of finding one at your local megamart — at least until Grand Theft Auto IV comes out.
Meanwhile, analysts the world over are betting on the PS3. After a disappointing performance last year, both in sales and software support, it’s looking like 2008 might bring much better news for Sony fans. Great exclusive games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and LittleBigPlanet are just around the corner, the newly-released DualShock 3 controller brings back rumble support, and Sony’s consistent firmware updates continue to expand the PS3′s already impressive multimedia capabilities. No wonder it outsold the Xbox 360 in both January and Febuary.
Speaking of the 360, the demise of the HD-DVD movie format has the rumor mill buzzing. Will Microsoft embrace Sony’s format and produce a Blu-Ray movie drive for the 360, or will it rely on its Xbox Live download service as the console’s only high-def movie source? Numerous optical drive manufacturers have been linked to the scuttlebutt, but so far steadfast denials from Redmond have been the only official word. Anyone expect that to stop the chatter? No, thought not.
Although the Wii’s lead is formidable, the spring’s biggest console battle isn’t going to include Nintendo at all. It’s just a few short weeks until Grand Theft Auto IV, one of the year’s biggest games, releases simultaneously on the 360 and PS3. How will the sales stack up between the platforms? How many GTA buyers will be picking up a new console to play it, and how will they split? The 360 is cheaper and boasts the promise of exclusive downloadable content, but on the other hand, those Blu-Ray movies look mighty sexy on a good TV.
By Mike Smith