The constant refrain that we hear from the gaming community is “we need more games.” If a platform is struggling, our first assumption is that there just aren’t enough games available for it. Conventional wisdom has it that offering up a plethora of games is what matters most to any console, and everything else is secondary.
I largely accepted this idea as the truth, but the most recent dust-up over the Xbox One left me wondering if game releases actually translate into financial success for a game console. After some mulling, I decided to take a look at some actual data to see if there was any discernible link between unit sales and number of game releases.
Using sales data accumulated by VGChartz, I took a look at the 25-week period surrounding the launches of the Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, and Xbox One. Then, I compiled weekly North American release numbers for each console, and compared that with the total unit sales. There aren’t any fancy algorithms at work, nor is this a highly scientific study, but the data is all here for you to judge for yourself.
I’ll take this opportunity to explain what I found, what I failed to find, and just exactly what I’ve concluded from my analysis. By looking skeptically at these snapshots of gaming history, I hope to find out if game releases actually impact console sales in any meaningful way.
First off, let’s take a look at the first 25 weeks that the Xbox 360 was on sale. Spanning from the weeks of November 26th, 2005 to May 13th, 2006, Microsoft sold just over 3.1 million units of the Xbox 360. In that same time frame 36 games were released, 13 of which were Microsoft exclusives.
Now, let’s compare unit sales to game releases. Unsurprisingly, the week of launch was the largest in terms of both unit sales and number of releases. Over 350,000 Xbox 360s were sold at launch, and 18 titles were available for purchase. However, releases were scarce in the coming months. The library doubled by the end of April, but sales continued to hover around 100,000 units per week. As you can see in the chart above, consoles sales do trend up slightly in March and April as more games start to come out, but’s a relatively minor difference.
Over these 25 weeks after launch, the Xbox 360 only saw 13 Microsoft-exclusive titles hit shelves, and eight of those were available at launch. Many early 360 releases were also available on the PS2 and original Xbox, so it seems plausible that exclusive games would make for higher sales, right? Oddly, the 360 didn’t see any sales spike during weeks with exclusives releases. If anything, the numbers tend to trend downwards during the release of exclusive titles. Even so, the changes are small, and sales remained relatively stable.
So, what causes these peaks and valleys? There are countless variables in the global market, but the large changes can be adequately explained. There is obviously a huge surge in sales during launch week, and noticeable drop-off the following week. The third week saw another large spike, but that’s largely because the console launched in the European Union and Japan during that time.
Sales remained relatively strong through the Christmas season, and then dropped down below 100,000 units again after the holiday ended. Sales start to climb through mid-January despite a lack of releases, but then trend back down below 100k until the end of March. At that point, the console launched in Australia, and saw a small spike upwards.
In April, a number of important games came out for the platform, and you can see the sales begin trending up a bit. The 360 versions of Battlefield 2 and Final Fantasy XI hit shelves in April, and these major franchises helped to boost console sales north of 130,000 units for two weeks in a row. It’s interesting to see the bumps, but the overall difference in sales is minor.
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