Although we're officially into 2011 now, it's not quite time to turn the page when it comes to sales numbers as figures for December 2010 should be trickling out over the coming week or two. Here's a snapshot of what I expect those numbers to indicate:

Hardware Sales

Super Mario All-Stars Screenshot

I expect strong hardware sales numbers from both Nintendo and Microsoft. Based on supply issues for the Xbox 360 in the month of December, I am calling for Nintendo to sweep the top two spots for hardware sales in December with the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii platforms, respectively. The DS continues to sell remarkably well, given a tame slate of software and the impending release of the Nintendo 3DS platform by the end of Q1 '11. Nintendo DS SKUs are less expensive than their console counterparts and the portability of the devices makes them hits with multiple demographics, especially pre-teen consumers. Wii sales were fueled by a one-two software punch; Just Dance 2 continued its strong sales for the holiday season and demand for the limited Super Mario All-Stars package helped to move consoles. I still believe that the Xbox 360 will wind up being the best overall sales performer for Q4 (and possibly the entire year), but the Wii should close the gap as least somewhat thanks to a strong December.

Microsoft can thank the hype machine behind the Kinect camera for causing sellouts of Xbox 360 consoles in many locations. While sellouts certainly indicate strong demand, the associated supply woes likely will relegate the Xbox 360 to third place in December. Although Microsoft certainly talked a good game by logging some huge projections for Kinect penetration, I think that the company might not have been logistically prepared for the number of consoles that have been moving in Q4. It's interesting to note that supply replenishment did start trickling into retail channels just after December 20th, but I fear that the cavalry arrived just a little too late for Microsoft to pull out a late sales victory.

Sony is expected to bring up the rear in hardware sales again with the PlayStation 3 (PS3) and PlayStation Portable (PSP) platforms, capping a forgettable holiday hardware sales season. Gran Turismo 5 was pretty much the only draw for the PS3 for the holidays, and any hype or excitement regarding PlayStation Move was tempered by poor availability and the strong presence of Kinect. There was strong demand for standalone PlayStation Move controllers, and the item was among the hardest to find over the holiday season—and that includes Kinect and Xbox 360 250GB units—but PlayStation 3 console hardware was abundant and generally sat on store shelves. As for the PSP, the quick spike in sales in late November and into early December is expected to have tailed off as the month progressed as new software was scarce for the platform.

Here is the list of expected sales rankings for each platform in December 2010:

  1. Nintendo DS
  2. Nintendo Wii
  3. Xbox 360
  4. PlayStation 3
  5. Sony PSP

Software Sales

Call of Duty: Black Ops Screenshot

Expect to see Call of Duty: Black Ops dominate the software sales chart for a second straight month. In addition to strong word-of-mouth support and solid review scores, multiple retailers discounted the game by $10-$20 during the last two weeks of December which helped to move units. I also expect to see strong numbers from Madden NFL 11, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and Super Mario All-Stars. Super Mario All-Stars likely sold through over 90% of its one-time allocation to retailers in less than one month's time, which is evidence that that consumers are not only still excited for the Mario IP—but that a budget-conscious title (4 games for $30) is a force to be reckoned with. Just Dance 2 for the Wii should continue its hot trend, but The Michael Jackson Experience may yield disappointing results as too many games seem to be crowding the Wii dance game genre. Expect a decline for Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit in December, as the title seemed to run out of gas early with consumers and retailers.

2010 Winners and Losers

Since we're wrapping up 2010, it's time to look back and name a few winners and losers for the year that was.

In hardware, your big winner is Microsoft. In a year where it looked like the PlayStation 3 could catch up to the Xbox 360, Microsoft not only outdistanced its HD competition but also pulled ahead of the Wii in successive months in Q4. The new "Slim" hardware revision invigorated sales in the second half of 2010, and the release of the Kinect motion sensor in November added to the platform's sales momentum. It will be interesting to see how close the overall hardware sales race in 2010 between the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii ends up.

Your hardware loser for 2010 is Sony. Poised to make up ground on Microsoft and coming off of building momentum from a price drop in the second half of 2009, supply woes negated a strong software lineup in Q1 and Sony was never able to recover. The release of PlayStation Move looked to stem the tide, but masterful marketing of Kinect by Microsoft and a tepid slate of Move-enabled games kept Move from really being a threat in Q4. Roles seem to have reversed as we roll into 2011, however, as it's now Microsoft that's dealing with some supply issues. We'll see if this year holds a different fate for Sony.

Red Dead Redemption Screenshot

The big software winners for 2010 are Red Dead Redemption and Call of Duty: Black Ops. Both games showcased impressive sales numbers for their respective launch windows. Red Dead Redemption might have been a slightly more impressive performer, given that May was a significant month for software releases, but both games moved millions of units and generated tons of revenue for their respective publishers.

The big software loser for 2010 is Electronic Arts. Sure, there was success in games like Madden NFL 11 and Mass Effect 2, but the cancellation of NBA Elite 11 and less-than-stellar sales of Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 11 and NBA Jam landed a black eye on EA Sports. Sales consistency needs to be a target for ERTS in 2011, and the company has reduced the number of software titles to be released in FY '11 to try and compensate for what was a down year overall for the software giant. BioShock 2 is an honorable mention in this category, as retailers struggled to unload tons of unsold copies of a game that never came close to matching the success of its predecessor in terms of overall quality or consumer reaction.

Look for in-depth analysis of sales data here as it becomes available in the coming days. As always, reaction and comments are welcome.

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