Japanese Sales Trends In 2007: Line Riding And Analysing

sales_chart_line_ridin.jpgWe know that Nintendo dominated 2007, with a constant, reliable stream of good news and strong sales. But how did the rest of the competition stack up? We've decided to look back at a full year of sales data from Japanese analyst outlet Media Create, whose sales data we regularly feature in the Simple 2000 Japanese Sales Chart series.

With a license to seemingly print money, Nintendo took 2007 by storm, establishing console and handheld dominance with its two casual friendly game devices. Nintendo DS and Wii dominated software and hardware charts, seeing a steady flow of week to week sales for both platforms, appearing to only weaken when supply was constrained.

Sony's offerings, the PSP, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 2, had a solid (if not spectacular) year. The PS3 didn't make any waves, but the PSP did. The PS2, now seven years long in the tooth, still had a bit of life in it.

The Xbox 360? Well, we don't have nice things to say about its Japanese performance, so we'll just let the charts do the talking.

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When units of each platform are presented side by side, the stranglehold the Nintendo DS has on the Japanese market becomes apparent. Its weekly sales outpaced every other console's and handheld's performance for nearly the entirety of the year. The only platform to outperform the DS at any point was Sony's PlayStation Portable, aided by a pair of marquee releases (plus a hardware redesign) in the first and third quarters of 2007.

The Nintendo DS saw its largest weekly period sales alongside a few high-profile software releases and in time with holidays, but was less dependent on individual software releases to pull in big numbers. Media Create software sales charts were regularly heavy on DS software, and it wasn't uncommon to see weekly charts feature nothing but DS and Wii software in the top ten—see Dragon Quest Swords and Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings launch weeks and this past week for examples.

In general, however, Nintendo DS sales trends tended not to spike as severely as other platforms did, with sales of older titles such as New Super Mario Bros. and Animal Crossing Wild World still doing solid business for Nintendo, many months after their respective release dates.

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When we look at year-to-date sales in handy bar graph form, we get a much better perspective on the share of the Japanese market that Nintendo carved out for itself in 2007. This was the year that Nintendo DS hardware sales surpassed those of the PlayStation 2, with each at about 21 million consoles sold in the nation, lifetime to date. It's an impressive feat for the handheld, as it surpassed that figure in almost exactly 3 years, compared to a 7 year shelf life for Sony's console.

The DS pushed some 7 million-plus units into the hands of Japanese consumers, a third of its total sales. Not a bad year for the platform widely considered a gimmick before its launch.

On Sony's side, 2007 saw the PlayStation 3 outsell the PlayStation 2 in its first full year on the market, with the PSP achieving just shy of one-half of the DS's sales, a similarly impressive feat for a non-Nintendo portable device.

The Xbox 360, despite seeing a handful of video game releases that sold admirably over the year, continued to be a non-factor in the console war overseas. Its annual sales were about a quarter-million, something the Nintendo DS accomplished on a weekly basis multiple times in 2007. Sure, it's a bit apples to oranges, considering the price differences in hardware and software, but its illustrative of consumer tastes in Japan. Microsoft's efforts to appeal to Eastern gaming tastes with a pair of Mistwalker games, hardware bundles and a few exclusives from Namco Bandai were met with flat sales in the nation.

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Who had the biggest slice of the pie in 2007? Nintendo, of course, with over two-thirds of the entire console market dedicated to Nintendo DS and Wii sales. That's not including sales of legacy platforms like the GameCube, Game Boy Advance SP and Game Boy Advance micro, whose total sales were in the 60,000 range and not factored into the above charts.

While DS and Wii sales were slightly down at the end of the year, coming off of a strong Wii launch and solid sales of Dragon Quest Monsters Joker and multiple "Training" games at the end of 2006, strong sales of Wii Fit, Mario Party DS, Dragon Quest IV, Final Fantasy IV and others indicate that 2008 will still be a good year for the company.

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Nintendo DS sales against the PSP show that there is still a broad gap between weekly sales of the two platforms. However, the PSP's ability to unseat the DS for a handful of weeks shouldn't be overlooked and close sales numbers for both around holiday periods show that the PSP deserves credit for chipping away at Nintendo's near monopoly on the portable gaming space. Sony has Capcom and Square-Enix largely to thank for that, as Monster Hunter and Final Fantasy titles were responsible for the biggest sales spikes.

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In the home console war, nothing can touch the Wii. The PlayStation 3 flirted with console dominance along with the help of a few big name, Japanese friendly titles like the Musou series and a hardware revision, but Wii sales saw fewer sales spikes as households picked up the console with older titles like Wii Sports and Wii Play.

The Xbox 360 peaked on sales of Ace Combat 6, Eternal Sonata (nee Trusty Bell) and Lost Odyssey, but it was regularly outsold by its more expensive rival the PS3.

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The Nintendo DS was less prone to peaks and valleys, save for the release of Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings, largely responsible for a biweekly crush of a half-million units shifted. Big name releases like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass still got gamers into stores, but non-gaming software, remakes and older titles like New Super Mario Bros. and Animal Crossing helped to push the Nintendo DS into record territory.

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Like the Nintendo DS, Wii sales were less bumpy, as heavily marketed and franchise releases seemed to have less of an impact than the desire to play Wii Sports. One interesting trend that seemed to affect Wii sales were strong post-release weeks, with Mario games (Super Paper Mario, Super Mario Galaxy, Mario Party 8) doing more good in their second week of release. The same may be true for Wii Fit, but with end-of-year sales up across the board, it's difficult to determine its impact.

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There's little doubt that the PSP outperformed in its third year on the market on the release of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII which coincided with the release of the PSP-2000 (aka Slim & Light). No other platform saw such a remarkable increase, as sales jumped from 15,000 to 278,000 over the course of two weeks after Crisis Core's come to market. The year's other key release, Monster Hunter Portable 2nd continues to show up in weekly software sales charts.

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The PlayStation 3 also benefited from a handful of big releases, most notably Gundam Musou and Shin Sangoku Musou 5, which we'll call Dynasty Warriors 6 when the West get it. Sony's push to release the cheaper 40GB version of the PS3 alongside another Musou game, just weeks prior to Gran Turismo 5 Prologue made for a respectable end-of-year for the lagging console.

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PlayStation 2 sales were generally unremarkable during its seventh year. That may be arguable, of course, as a seven year shelf life with over 800,000 sold in 2007 may still impress some. But it would appear that many are ready to move on to the next generation (finally), as it underperformed in relation to its big brother the PlayStation 3. PS2 sales saw less intense highs and lows, as hardcore targeted games like Super Robot Wars, World Soccer Winning Eleven 2008 and Musou Orochi introduced Japanese gamers to invest (or re-invest) in last-gen hardware.

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Like the PlayStation 3, momentous releases move Xbox 360 hardware. Eternal Sonata, Ace Combat 6 and Halo 3, along with their respective hardware bundles, were the biggest reasons for Japanese gamers to "Jump In" to the Western platform. Outside of a few surprises—Halo 3's performance, for example—there weren't many unexpected strong performers on Microsoft's box.

Final Thoughts & Predictions
With a slew of attention grabbing releases for the Wii and Nintendo DS due throughout 2008, we expect that Nintendo will continue to reign supreme in hardware sales. Dragon Quest IX, Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Monster Hunter Wii should serve the company well in keeping Japanese consumers interested in buying Nintendo hardware.

Now that Capcom has decided to bring its Monster Hunter series to Wii, that could be a big blow to the PSP. With Crisis Core finally arriving and Square-Enix focusing on more stable franchise remakes for the DS, 2007 may have been the PSP's peak year. Dissidia: Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep should still keep units moving, but we suspect that Sony may look to a future hardware revision or proper follow up to the PSP to generate more interest.

2008 may be much better for the PlayStation 3, as games like Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4, Level 5's White Knight Chronicles, Sega's Yakuza 3 and Sony's own Gran Turismo 5 see release and should push hardware. If Capcom can get Resident Evil 5 and Square-Enix at least one of the Final Fantasy XIII titles out this year, the PS3 may be able to carve out a much larger slice of the console market pie in Japan.

It's obviously still extremely early to see how the 2008 sales landscape will look and there will be plenty of time to see how the chips fall in the new year, but it looks like things can only go up for Nintendo's dual platforms and Sony's PS3.


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