Thursday, September 13, 2007

Will Halo 3 sell more Xbox 360s?

Halo 3 is a big deal.

It is the franchise that people identify (for better and worse) with Microsoft's game console. It is increasingly recognizable and creates tremendous buzz for Microsoft.

But, does it sell hardware?

Everyone is quick to answer 'yes.' Games sell hardware.

While that is true in a broad sense, I'd suggest that the answer of whether or not Halo 3 will sell consoles isn't quite so easy.

Let's consider Halo 2 as something of a case study. How many more Xbox consoles sold in the US the month Halo 2 was launched (November 2004) compared to the previous November? (2003)

Remember the US lifetime sales of the Xbox were 14.5 million units.

Do you have your number?

Was the number around 218,000 units?
If you think that is a big number, it isn't. It's about 1.5% of the total sales of the Xbox.

So let's extend out to October and December. Certainly it drove sales in other months. Right?
So what are your numbers for those months (the plus or minus).

October +41,000
December -78000

In fact, if you consider the year following the release of Halo 2 (Nov 04 - Oct 05) 8 of the 12 months sold less Xbox units than the same period a year earlier. When you put all those months together you come up with this startling fact:

The Xbox sold half a million less consoles the 12 months after Halo 2 was released than it did the 12 months before Halo 2 was released.

Stop and think about that for just a couple of minutes.

Did Halo 2 sell more Xbox units?

I still believe the answer is 'yes.' However, I think most of those sales happened before the released of Halo 2, and the total number was less than a million additional consoles sold.

Why didn't Halo 2 sell more consoles? After all, 7 million copies of Halo 2 were sold in the first year after its release (notably 3.4 million Xbox units were sold in that same time period).

Halo 2 served an audience that already owned the Xbox. The Xbox was known for having games like Halo. The audience that wanted Halo, for the most part, already owned the Xbox. The Xbox catered very well to the FPS and TPS audiences. The size of that niche certainly could be questioned.

So, let's end the case study. How does it apply to Halo 3? Will history repeat itself?
Every analyst and gamer thinks Halo 3 is likely to be a game changer that gives the 360 a boost to the top of the hardware sales charts.

I don't think so. With the high profile shooter Gears of Wars on the system and many buyers having already bought with the expectation of Halo 3, I think Microsoft already has a good hand on the shooter audience.

My expectation?

September +100k (was 260k in '06, around 360k in '07 sounds probably high, but reasonable)
October +100k (was 220k in '06, so I've got it at 320k in '07)

Notably, if the 360 sells 400k a month it would quickly be seen as the top Next-Gen console in the US. 300k isn't 400k, but it is much better than the sub-200k that the 360 has sold from March-July of '07.

However, I don't expect the sales numbers to stay at +100k for more than a couple of months, and selling an additional 200k of units is insignificant in the long-run. So my end result? Halo 3 makes little difference to 360 console sales due to it catering to an audience that I believe the 360 already owns.

So for a fun aside, what do I think is required to sell consoles?
That doesn't mean having a lot of different games. You can have a variety of trash and it is still trash.

The next-gen consoles need variety in good games.

Guitar Hero is more important to the Xbox than Halo 3. The Xbox 360 already has plenty of good shooters, and there are plenty more coming. Another great shooter, I believe, has very little impact on the overall sales numbers.

Guitar Hero expands the audience by having another great game type on the 360. Unfortunately, since Guitar Hero isn't an exclusive, it doesn't help the 360 any more than it helps any other console, but it is a powerful sales helper on every console.

I'm always interested to see the NPD numbers and to make corrections to my own understanding of the gaming industry. The September numbers should be particularly interesting. I'll come back with some estimates for that month in a few weeks.

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