Nintendo’s all-conquering Wii games console is showing its first signs of weakness with Japanese sales last month falling below those of Sony’s PlayStation 3.
According to data released Monday by the games research group Enterbrain, Sony sold 146,948 PS3s in the five weeks to March 29 compared with 99,335 sales of the Wii.
If the trend continues and spreads to Europe or the US it would mark a reversal of fortune for the two Japanese companies.
Nintendo’s Wii, with its innovative motion-sensitive controller, has dominated the current generation of video game hardware since its release in 2006.
“It is still the first few months of the year when sales are slow for the industry, so we are not particularly concerned,” Nintendo said.
The Wii outsold the PS3 by nearly three to one in the larger US market in February, selling 750,000 units, according to NPD the research company.
Nintendo expects to receive a boost this month from the release last Friday in Europe and Sunday in the US of an updated DS handheld console called the DSi, which includes two cameras.
Cumulative Wii sales in Japan of almost 8m still exceed PS3 sales of about 3m machines.
Last month’s figures reflect both a slowdown in Japanese sales of the Wii – down by 63 per cent compared with a year ago – and a run of stronger sales for the PS3.
Analysts attribute Sony’s increased sales to the number of popular games that are not available on the Wii, such as Yakuza 3 and Resident Evil 5, which were released for the PS3 in March.
Nintendo conceded that sales of some recent titles, such as Wii Music, had not taken off but said that “we hope to line up strong software to support hardware sales in the second half of the year”.
That sales of Wii hardware now depend on game launches may be an indication that the novelty of its controller – which measures motions by the player rather than button presses – has faded, at least in Japan.
Analysts, however, remain optimistic about the Wii’s prospects. Koya Tabata of Credit Suisse said in a recent note to clients that the cost to Nintendo of producing a Wii has fallen by 45 per cent since its launch. That would give Nintendo the scope to cut the price of the console if needed to stimulate sales.
Mr Tabata also argued Nintendo could introduce low-priced versions in emerging markets.
Additional reporting by Chris Nuttall in San Francisco