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Console gaming’s long hot summer: Nintendo Switch closes in on 20 million, PS4 targets a sales record

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Jul 31, 2018, 4:44 PM EDT

In what may be a clue that gamers are smack in the middle of a rising-tide consumer culture with room from growing appetites in both the burgeoning mobile space and the traditional console market, sales of Nintendo’s Switch and Sony’s PlayStation 4 are scraping records that — at least for the time being — put the lie to the idea that the popularity of console gaming is a thing of the past.

Nintendo’s latest earnings report shows the Switch may already have surpassed 20 million units sold, with the company disclosing the popular hybrid unit had moved 19.67 million boxes, over its still-young 15-month life cycle, as of June 30. 

By comparison, Wii U, the Switch’s predecessor, had sold only 6.1 million units over the course of its first 15 months on the market. The Switch sales numbers further suggest that the compact console has struck a chord with even casual gamers; one that resonates nearly as strongly as Nintendo’s original, generation-defining Wii console, which sold more than 24.4 million units during its first 15 months.

Hot software helps move consoles, and — no surprise here — Nintendo’s report revealed its mascot titles continue to be the Switch’s hottest sellers. Super Mario Odyssey leads the pack with more than 11 million lifetime sales, followed closely by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at just more than 10 million, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at 9.3 million.

Sales numbers for the Nintendo Labo, meanwhile, hint that the cardboard-creation augment for the Switch may be more than a mere novelty. Since its debut in April, the $70 base Labo Variety Kit and its other game-specific variants already have sold nearly 1.4 million units.

If Nintendo’s games and consoles are vacuuming dollars out of willing gamers’ wallets, they’re evidently not cleaning up all the sales opportunity that exists in the overall console market. Sony’s just-released quarterly sales numbers reveal its immensely popular PS4 (including all PS4 variants) is very close to surpassing the 83.8 million lifetime sales total of its PS3 predecessor. 

But what it took the PS3 ten-and-a-half years to achieve globally, the PS4 has accomplished in less than half that time. Since its November 2013 release, the PS4 has moved 82.2 million units worldwide, Sony reports, putting the console in the same rarified sales territory as the PS2 — the best-selling console platform in the history of gaming. 

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The PS4’s sales pace is, in fact, slightly ahead of the PS2’s numbers through the two consoles’ comparable time on the market. It would take a full five years of global release before Sony would report, back in March of 2005, that the PS2 had surpassed the 82.2 million marker the PS4 has achieved in just four and-a-half years.

While the PS2 went on to maintain its momentum for a remarkably long time, selling close to 160 million units over its robust 13-year lifespan, expectations that the PS4 might do the same make for an apples-to-oranges comparison. The console market changes not only from one generation to the next, but also responds with particular sensitivity to competitive pressure from other makers.

Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO John Kodera essentially tipped his hat to the Switch’s influence earlier this year, hinting that his company may be seeking its own entry point for a console-handheld hybrid. He noted that “rather than separating portable gaming from consoles, it’s necessary to continue thinking of it [portable gaming] as one method to deliver more gaming experiences and exploring what our customers want from portable."

Sony hasn’t announced anything that would reveal what, if anything, it has up its sleeve to tap into the hybrid gaming zeitgeist that the Switch currently has all to itself. But with its flagging PS Vita console now long in the tooth, that could change at any time. 

In the meantime, the PS4 continues to enjoy lifetime sales that soar above those of both the Switch and Microsoft’s Xbox One (which, like the PS4, was released in late 2013). As of March — the last time all three companies delivered a quarterly report — the PS4 held court with more than 77 million units sold, compared with the Switch’s 16 million, and the Xbox One’s 37 million.