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Armchair Analysis: Magic 8-Ball Predictions for Q4 2012
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Armchair Analysis: Magic 8-Ball Predictions for Q4 2012

Peter Skerritt whips out his Magic 8-Ball and makes his projections for the videogame industry’s busy Q4 holiday season. Shake, shake!

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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]October begins the videogaming industry’s busiest three month period of the year as the lucrative holiday season – which is only just getting started – and the launch of a new major hardware platform highlight the home stretch of the final months of 2012. Naturally, there are still a lot of questions to be answered in the weeks and months to come and we’ll obviously have to wait for events to play out in order to get the real answers, but until then I have my own projections for the Q4 cycle.

Bear in mind that my data and projections are based solely on physical sales in the United States ONLY.

With so much interest about what’s guaranteed to be one of the most interesting and closely-watched sales cycles in quite some time, it’s time to consult my Magic 8-Ball.


1. Can Microsoft repeat its Q4 2011 dominance? AS I SEE IT, YES.

This holiday season has Microsoft clearly in the driver’s seat once again, and it’s tough to envision a scenario where Xbox 360 sales for the fourth quarter don’t break the 2 million mark – and that’s a highly conservative number. It would take a YOY decline of over 47% to fall below 2 million for the quarter, and with the many of the most significant titles in the period coming to the Xbox 360, a plunge that steep just doesn’t seem plausible. Halo 4 is the crown jewel for Microsoft in the period, as the Halo IP has a sizable and loyal fanbase and I expect advertising to begin in earnest as we get closer to the launch date. Add the definitive version of Black Ops II, which will be the year’s biggest-selling release, and the outcome seems pretty obvious to me.

I can still see a notable YOY decline for Microsoft in this period, possibly more than 30% lower than Q4 2011. Kinect sales (and interest) have leveled off and there’s some price point fatigue and a matter of saturation to consider. Fortunately for Microsoft, Sony is spinning its wheels and Nintendo is likely going to have WiiU supply issues, so the Xbox 360 is going to still be a legitimate purchase decision for many consumers again this quarter. My best guess is more than 2,500,000 units sold.

2. Will Sony’s new PlayStation 3 redesign have any positive effect on hardware sales? DON’T COUNT ON IT.

MMultiple explanations have been tossed around as to why Sony has decided to maintain (or hike) the price of its PlayStation 3 hardware in its sixth season on the market, but the truth of the matter is that Sony will be missing a golden opportunity to make any significant impact in the biggest period of the year. A smaller and lighter console should equate to some sort of cost savings for the consumer, but Sony doesn’t subscribe to this theory. Sony is also lacking a significant Q4 exclusive release. PlayStation All-Stars is a game that Sony wants us to think will generate sales. Sony wants us to think that Wonderbook is going to be a winner. I don’t buy either of these scenarios.

Hardware sales for the PlayStation 3 may eventually spike early next year, when more exclusives hit retail, but that’s going to be too late to justify the still-expensive price tag. Microsoft has earned the right to maintain its pricing by virtue of consistently strong sales performance. Nintendo can at least claim that $300 is justified for a brand new hardware platform. Sony doesn’t have either of these defenses to use, and weaker YOY sales will result, dropping to below 1.75 million units for the quarter.

3. Can the 3DS have another huge holiday season? BETTER NOT TELL YOU NOW.

33DS was a monster last season, moving in excess of 2,600,000 units for the Q4 period. Bear in mind that there were two new Mario games released for the handheld during the quarter: a new 3D Mario platformer and a new Mario Kart release. Those were significant and recognizable games, and pushed the 3DS to impressive sales numbers. This year, however, it’s a different story. Paper Mario: Sticker Star isn’t as familiar to consumers as a more traditional Mario release, as will be seen on the Wii U. Professor Layton is an IP which pulls decent – but not huge – unit sales. These two games are not Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.

I do think that 3DS sales top 2 million again for the quarter, but I don’t think we see 2.6 million again. The release slate isn’t as strong, pricing has been static for over a year (and actually increased with the larger 3DS XL), and I believe that mobile entertainment is attracting at least a share of the casual crowd that was once in the DS ranks. So… “huge” is difficult to quantify. Over 2 million is certainly quite good, but it’s still less than last year.

4. Will there be a Wii U supply shortage? SIGNS POINT TO YES.

IIf you wanted a Wii U this holiday season and preordered it, you did the right thing. If you didn’t preorder one and want one, either be prepared to pay through the nose to get one or expect to be disappointed because supply is going to be tight. I appreciate Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime coming out recently and saying that Wii U supply is going to be “solid”. After all, with just a few weeks left before launch, why would he want to kill interest from those who didn’t preorder?

The likeliest scenario is that initial allocations for launch on November 18th and through the rest of the calendar year will be very limited. Numbers as low as 600,000 units for the quarter have been tossed around. I don’t believe that the number will be that low, but I do feel the need to scale back my initial projection of 1,500,000 units by at least 10%… and that could be an optimistic number. This looks a lot like 2006 all over again, although my hope is that we’ll see more than 1,100,000 units sold this time. In any case, Wii U won’t outpace the Xbox 360, 3DS, or PlayStation 3 in the period.

5. Can the Vita make any kind of late-year charge towards relevance? MY REPLY IS NO.

WhWhile the promise of more games and a brighter future is being put forth by Sony, it’s not going to amount to much of a difference this holiday season. There should be obvious improvement, but the bar isn’t terribly high when you look at Vita’s sales performance since launch, which itself wasn’t particularly impressive, and took months for Sony to completely sell through the special First Edition bundles. Things really bottomed out in August, when not even 10,000 units per week were sold. The only way for Vita to go is up, but that rise will be limited by a number of factors including 3DS, continued negative pricing perception, still-slow software arrivals, and more.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified may spark some interest, but $300+ to play it will seem like a tall order. There are other games that are either ports of console games or derivative titles, but the Vita continues to struggle with an identity crisis. Is it supposed to be a portable PlayStation 3? If so, why spend $300 on it when you can get an actual console – with Blu-ray player – for the same price? I just can’t see Vita finding its stride this year. It will be lucky to see 2 million sold LTD. Anything more than a million in the quarter is a tremendous longshot.

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About the Author: Skerritt