Analyst sizes up Wii, PS3

Lazard Capital Market's Colin Sebastian looks back at previous system releases to frame this week's big debuts; expects no more than 200,000 PS3s in US for launch.

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They say those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But game-industry analysts often look to learn from history in the hopes it repeats itself.

In a report released today on this weekend's PlayStation 3 and Wii launches, Lazard Capital Markets analyst Colin Sebastian brushes up on his hardware history to give investors some insight on what to expect from the upcoming festivities. Sebastian notes that both systems will be hard to find for those without preorders and then gives an idea of exactly how hard he thinks they'll be to find.

"We expect Sony to deliver 150 to 200k units to stores in the United States for the launch," Sebastian said, adding, "We estimate sales of approximately 750k PS3s domestically by year-end. We expect a more robust launch from Nintendo, with at least 1.2 million units sold in the U.S. and up to 4 million units shipped worldwide by year-end."

Sony has stated that it intends to have 400,000 PS3s ready for the North American launch.

To put those figures in context, Sebastian ran down some previous console launches. According to Sebastian, the PlayStation 2's October 2000 launch boasted 500,000 systems for North America, with about 1.1 million sold in the US by the end of the year. The Xbox sold 1.4 million systems between its November 2001 launch and the end of the year, while Microsoft managed to sell 600,000 Xbox 360 systems from its launch last November through the holiday season.

As for which games consumers will pick up with their new systems, Sebastian said sports and racing games have historically dominated launch sales. He said sports games accounted for 45 percent of PS2 launch-game sales, and that launch editions of Electronic Arts' Madden NFL series were among the top five launch sellers for the PS2, the Xbox, and the Xbox 360. He also noted that launch windows give new properties a chance to establish themselves, due in part to a "disproportionate number of new consoles purchased in the launch window by 'hard core' gamers and technology first movers."

But for all the clamor surrounding the new systems, Sebastian doesn't expect them to be make-or-break affairs for the game publishers. In all, he expects the new systems to contribute between $350 million and $400 million in software sales to the industry's fourth quarter, or less than 15 percent of the expected total.

"The significance of the launches for the software publishers is largely symbolic," Sebastian said, "as the new consoles will not likely be meaningful drivers of software sales until later next year when we expect the installed bases of the PS3 and Wii to reach more critical mass."

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