Game industry posts strong first half in Japan

Handhelds dominate the first semester of fiscal 2006, boosted by DS Lite sales and a host of hit games.

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Recently released figures of the first half of 2006 paint a clear picture of the Japanese game market: It's one dominated by Nintendo's portable system--but expect the latter half of the year to be a match-up between next-generation systems from Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony.

The latest Weekly Famitsu, dated Friday, August 4, details the results of Japan's gaming market during the first half of the 2006 fiscal year, from December 26, 2005, to June 25, 2006.

Handhelds are dominating the Japanese market. Sales of the Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite have reached 4 million units--a 63 percent share of the hardware market, according to Famitsu. The Game Boy Advance SP and Micro hardware picked up a little over 5 percent.

Nintendo's gain in the market contrasted with Sony's loss, as both the market share of the PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation Portable dipped. The PS2 dropped out of the dominant position it held in the first semester of 2005, plummeting from 29.6 percent to 13.5 percent. The PSP's share slipped 10 percent from the same period last year, although it managed to sell close to 1 million units, giving it 16.1 percent of the market.

Last but not least, the Xbox 360 sold 64,392 units for a 1 percent share--despite Microsoft's attempt to harness World Cup fever with a limited-edition 360 package featuring the Japanese soccer team's motif.

Compared with the same period in 2005, total hardware sales soared from 4.3 million to nearly 6.2 million units. In software, sales of top 100 titles for all consoles for the first semester of 2006 totaled more than 36 million, up from the roughly 24 million sold in the first half of 2005. Software sales closely mirrored the dominance of the DS in hardware. Of the top 10 selling games, seven were Nintendo DS titles, while three were for the PS2--the opposite of first-semester 2005, when three titles were DS games and the rest PS2 titles.

The period's top game, selling more than 2.5 million copies, was the DS title Kahashima Ryuuta Kyouju Kanshuu: Motto Nou o Kitaeru Otona DS Training--otherwise known as the sequel to Brain Age. Following closely in sales were Final Fantasy XII on the PS2 (about 2.3 million copies) and New Super Mario Bros. on the DS (about 1.7 million copies). Animal Crossing: Wild World on the DS placed fourth, and the original Brain Age was fifth. The remaining top 10 games, in order of popularity, were Eigo ga Nigate na Otona no DS Training: Eigozuke (DS), World Soccer Winning Eleven 10 (PS2), Mario Kart DS (DS), Tetris DS (DS), and Monster Hunter 2 (PS2).

Looking at the top 100 overall, things weren't so lopsided. The PS2 had 45 titles in the top 100, while the DS had 32. The sole Xbox 360 game, coming in at number 72, was Tecmo's Dead or Alive 4, while Konami's Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence made the cut at number 100.

Early 2006 belonged to the DS, but, Famitsu predicted, the latter half of the year will be marked by a three-way struggle between the PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360.

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