Gamers rejoiced in 2013 as Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Sony (NYSE:SNE) released next-generation consoles in time for the holidays. But the fourth-quarter launch for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 meant those products wouldn't earn the top slot as most sold console of the year. So, what company did win that title? And which current-gen console is in the front position for that category?
The console wars were particularly hot last year with the new launches and Black Friday sales featuring several last-generation console deals, as well as smaller reductions on some older next-generation devices.
Analytics firm VGChartz lists the yearly global unit sales for hardware from the major manufacturers. And the list denoted a clear winner.
And the best-selling console for 2013 was...
Sony's last-gen PlayStation 3 topped the global hardware sales chart with more than 14.7 million units sold in the year. Microsoft's Xbox 360 came in second with 13.8 million units. Why did the PS3 pull ahead? It could come down to the fact the fact that the PS3 can also serve as a Blu-Ray player, and the console's price has dropped low enough to make it a more viable home entertainment option.
Nintendo (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) took the next two slots with the handheld 3DS, selling 13 million units, and the last-gen Wii, which sold more than 12 million. But Nintendo's hardware also had the largest year-over-year sales drop, with a nearly 60% fall for the DS alone, which still ended up selling more than 8 million units.
Sony's handheld PSP and PS Vita devices rounded out the main list with more than 8 million units combined.
But what about the Xbox One and PS4?
The PlayStation 4 launched in the U.S. on Nov. 15, and the Xbox One followed a week later. So there wasn't much time for sales to build up before year's end. But the PS4 was still the early winner, with 3.4 million units sold, compared to the Xbox One's 2.4 million units.
But 2014's year-end data will provide a better idea of which console has proven most popular. Right now, the consoles weren't released evenly across regions, and the small number of launch games combined with the lack of backwards compatibility might have caused potential buyers to hold back for a later date.
Foolish final thoughts
Sony won the hardware war in 2013 with the PS3 and PS4 both besting competitors from Microsoft. But the lead is narrow, and next year's results could still turn in Microsoft's favor. Nintendo's holding in there with its next-gen Wii U and 3DS devices, but the company also has the biggest unit slips between years, which suggests some product cannibalization.