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Is Wii fever wearing off?


Here in the armchair analyst era, every slight change in sales trends seems to have become reason for panic, or at least in-depth discussion. Thus, when Gamasutra released the above chart as part of their NPD analysis, the rumblings began. Are Wii sales dropping off? Is there some truth in Dave Perry's recent doom-saying about the future of the Wii? Here's our question: can we really discern anything other than current sales numbers from this chart? For a variety of reasons, we'll say no.

This sales chart takes only that very thing into account: sales. While it's a great analytical tool for tracking said sales, we would caution anyone from drawing too many conclusions about market trends from hardware sales only. From this, of course, certain things can be extrapolated; US sales of anything and everything tend to drop in the pre-tax day period, but consoles are still riding a holiday wave of demand in January and February. In months when a particular console surges, there was probably a hotly-desired game driving those sales. But all of that is guesswork if we're only working with pure sales numbers -- in order to truly analyze what's going on, we have to look at a variety of factors.

In order to better illustrate just what we mean, we constructed the above chart that tracks the same period in the Xbox 360's history -- it's from last year, covering the same months as Gamasutra's chart. You can immediately see some similarities; sales drop off in March as people prepare to send chunks of cash to the government, and they surge again in April. But there are hidden factors as well, such as the release of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, in late March. That surely had an impact on sales, considering it was one of the top sellers for April -- which is when the 360 sales also increased. Such a singularly fantastic game also serves as a system-seller. But this chart doesn't take that into account; we have to already know, or research, such little factoids in order to draw conclusions.

From the chart alone, it seems that, during the same period, Xbox 360 sales are somewhat lackluster when compared to Wii sales. In April of this year, Nintendo moved 360,000 Wii units, compared to just under 300,000 Xbox 360s. But considering how much discussion there has been about the different markets the two systems are targeting, does even that fact really tell us much? In the fullness of time, perhaps it will. Right now, it's all just numbers, and at this early stage of the latest hardware cycle, it continues to be anybody's game.

What these charts also don't tell us is that both systems have dealt with -- or, in the case of the Wii, are still dealing with -- shortage issues. The early months of the 360 were plagued by shortages, and much of the analysis of that time takes that into account. Thus it's hard to determine anything from our pretty little chart because, in a perfect world, who can say how many units Microsoft might have moved? The same can be said for the Wii, which is currently at the very same stage in its lifecycle. Would sales change if demand could be completely filled? It's likely, but we won't venture into that realm of guesswork.

And speaking of game sales, just as Oblivion likely had an effect on 360 sales, right now it seems to be Wii Play that is partially driving sales of Nintendo's console. For less than you'll pay for another next gen system, you get a console with a bundled title, and the added Wii Play gives you an extra remote, as well as another set of minigames. Fun for the whole family, and economical -- but little room for such a correlation in basic sales charts. Which is fine, really; after all, they're just basic sales charts, and it takes a larger scope of information to get a real picture. It's very likely that everything will change come the holiday season, when all three systems will be whipping out their big guns, so it seems a bit early to be drawing conclusions from a slight drop in sales.

Gamasutra's charts are very well-presented and offer a great tracking tool for those who love to pore over numbers, but we caution anyone from drawing any conclusions about what will happen in this hardware cycle just yet. Of course, being hardcore Wii fans, we are pulling for our baby, but it's still early for everyone. Take the charts just as Gamasutra presents them -- as sales charts -- and little more. When it comes to deeper analysis, the truth is in more than just the numbers, and only time will tell how things will fall out.

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