Console Wars: Nintendo Switch comes out on top in March

It’s refreshing – though not surprising – that the Nintendo Switch has claimed the top spot for console sales in March. Nintendo’s new generation console sold over 500,000 units in its first week in the United States alone, finishing the month strong with approximately 906,000 units sold, according to The NPD Group. By all accounts, these are very encouraging figures as they surpass the records set by the Wii for the same time period after launch. Also notable is that March is not considered a traditional month for console launches, but with new technology coming out so frequently every year, “traditional” starts to sound more and more antiquated.

For their part, Nintendo is very happy with the Switch’s sales performance. “Nintendo always strives to offer consumers something fun, new and different,” says Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America’s President and COO. “With its various play modes and the innovative features of the Joy-Con controllers, Nintendo Switch provides unique experiences that people can take with them anywhere and share with anyone.”

PlayStation and Xbox 

Coming in second in sales is the PlayStation 4, which continues its dominance over the Xbox One for the fifth month in a row. Previously, we speculated that when the Switch launched it could upset the dynamic between Sony and Microsoft, provided that Nintendo could grab enough market share away from Sony. It looks like that didn’t happen. Microsoft released a short statement from Mike Nichols, Xbox Corporate Vice President of Marketing, in response to The NPD Group report:

This past quarter, from January to March 2017, we saw record Xbox Live engagement with 1.1 billion multiplayer hours logged globally, a 14 percent increase year-over-year. Looking ahead, we are excited to share more about our plans for Xbox One, including launching the world’s most powerful console – Project Scorpio – alongside an amazing lineup of new Xbox One games. We are thrilled with the incredible response we have received to date for Project Scorpio, and look forward to sharing more about the Xbox One family of devices in the coming months.

“Multiplayer hours” is still not an exciting metric, but it’s something to work with. It’s also wise for Microsoft to look toward the future with Project Scorpio on the horizon. Just as many PS4 fans saved their money to buy the PlayStation 4, allowing the Xbox One to began making up ground in sales, it stands to reason that many Xbox fans are waiting for the next system to drop as well.

Will Project Scorpio be enough to tip the scales in Microsoft’s favor? That’s difficult to say until we start to see exclusive games, exclusive game experiences, or exclusive game performance. It has always been our contention that gamers follow games, not consoles. This is part of Sony’s formula for success with all of their exclusive titles recently. But gamers will also gravitate toward unique game experiences, which is why Resident Evil VII sold better on the PS4 which offered the title in VR. This is also why the Nintendo Wii performed so well, with its unique motion controls and lineup of first-party games. Where Project Scorpio can win is in performance. Higher framerates at higher resolutions, improved graphics over competitors, shorter loading times, and more can all make the difference. Heck, people will likely buy it just for the bragging rights of having the most powerful console.

As for Nintendo, it’s too early to say if the Switch has legs or if this is a two- or three-month blip before it fades into a distant third. Nintendo is definitely gambling with its less-powered but more portable device. Will motion controls and first-party games be enough to sustain sales figures? Will new games come out often enough to convince consumers? Time will tell.

On the other hand, if both Xbox and PlayStation fans decide that the Switch will be their secondary console, then perhaps none of those concerns matter and the Switch can stay in first place without even trying.