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The Wii's early success has been mirrored in America and Europe, where extreme system shortages have similarly lasted for months after launch. Anecdotal evidence from retailers suggests they can't keep systems on the shelves, and people are still lining up outside stores to get their hands on the console, even now.
Nintendo's explosive first months have been contrasted by the PS3's contemporary implosion. As the undisputed winner of the last two generations' sales battles, Sony definitely had the most to lose in this new round of the wars. After 10 years of utter dominance, anything less than a commanding start would be seen as abject failure.
Even without the high expectations, the numbers Sony has put up thus far are disappointing by any standard. Production issues with the system's blue laser diodes caused a European delay and ensured the system would be hard to find during the American holiday season. The shortage cleared out just as the holiday rush was ending, leading to widespread reports of stores loaded with the once hard-to-find system.
Right now, Sony's great white hope is Europe. The company has already stockpiled one million systems for the March 23 rollout, and the strong European brand identity of system exclusives like SingStar could boost sales on the continent. Still, Sony will have to deal with millions of European consumers who have already invested their gaming dollars in a competing system.
Of course this is all speculation, which is more abundant than hard facts at this early stage of what is sure to be a multi-year battle. This hasn't stopped analysts from throwing out wildly divergent guesses on who will eventually take the crown. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft all have their boosters among the pundit class, and the justifications for each system's impending dominance seem relatively well-founded. The 360, as the first system to reach 10 million units sold worldwide, has proven to publishers it can provide a massive market much sooner than its competitors. Nintendo, with the innovative Wii controller, has a product that seems poised to catch on with a new market of casual and non-gamers. Sony, despite early stumbles, still has brand recognition and big-name exclusives like Final Fantasy XIII and Metal Gear Solid 4 coming down the pike.
But each company has potential pitfalls to overcome, too. Microsoft has its relative inexperience with console transitions and the shadow of the Xbox's underwhelming sales performance. Nintendo has the small but growing impression that their control scheme is a gimmick that will soon lose its novelty. Sony has a historically high price for its high-powered system and a bad reputation engendered by a series of PR blunders.
But in the end, whoever ends up selling the most systems, you can bet some players who chose "wrong" will treat everyone else's choice as a personal affront. But those more in control of their humanity will decide not to tie their self worth to a piece of electronics. They'll happily while away their free time playing games they like on a system they like, ignoring the rants and raves around them. They'll be the real winners of the console war. At least until they read a message board.
Kyle Orland is a videogame freelancer. He writes about the world of videogame journalism on his weblog, Video Game Media Watch.