Xbox regains lead in console battle

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 led console sales in the US last month for the first time in more than two years as Nintendo continued to suffer supply problems for the Wii.

Microsoft sold 422,000 Xbox 360s in February compared to sales of 398,000 for the Wii and 360,000 for Sony’s PlayStation 3, according to research company NPD.

Nintendo told the Financial Times last month it had been operating “hand-to-mouth” in supplying retailers with products in January and February after 3.8m Wiis were sold in the US in December.

“On the Wii hardware side, we are back to a situation where demand is exceeding supply and we’re going to be in that situation through to the end of March,” said Reggie Fils-Aimé, president of Nintendo of America.

However, analysts were sceptical that supply was Nintendo’s only issue.

“We believe that the problem lies deeper than that, as sales of staple titles such as Wii Fit with Balance Board and Wii Play were well below historical levels,” analysts Wedbush Morgan said.

“Unlike the PS3, with multiple high-profile exclusives and the newly announced Move controller, and the Xbox 360, with [the] Project Natal [controller], the Wii lacks an important upcoming catalyst,” they said.

Microsoft’s Xbox was the top selling console for the first time since September 2007, when its exclusive title, Halo 3, was released. PS3 sales were up 30 per cent on a year earlier in spite of reports of supply problems at retail level. Wii sales were down 47 per cent on February 2009 and overall hardware sales were down 20 per cent on a year earlier, while software suffered a 15 per cent fall.

Software sales have fallen in 11 of the past 12 months in the US due to a lack of blockbuster titles and lower spending by recession-hit consumers and a collapse in sales in the music genre.

“Honestly, I had expected the industry to perform somewhat better this month,” said Anita Frazier, an NPD analyst. “Nonetheless, strong new releases and Easter gift buying bodes well for industry performance in March.”

Major releases in March include Battlefield Bad Company 2 from Electronic Arts, Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIII and Sony’s God of War III. Take-Two’s Bioshock 2, set in an underwater dystopia called Rapture, was the top-selling game, with 750,000 sales in February of which 75 per cent were for the Xbox 360, NPD said.

Sony this week unveiled its motion controller – the PlayStation Move – and said it would sell it with a camera and game for less than $100 this autumn.

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