Who’s winning the battle for hearts, minds, and units sold in the next-gen console wars?

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Spring is here. In the eternal war for your gaming budget, this is a tense time. Hardware manufacturers deployed their latest and greatest machines during the Winter offensive, but campaigns have settled into static sales and preparations for the E3 counterattack. Systems square off with their specs. 1080p! Streaming! Second screen use! Propaganda efforts have paused to gather intelligence. Officers gather in their respective headquarters to plan new strategies. How do the weary armies fare this Spring?

After the break, let’s see if you spent your console money wisely.

Between Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, the sales winner so far seems to be the PS4. Sony announced that over 7 million PS4 consoles have been sold to consumers globally. Meanwhile, Microsoft reports that 5 million Xbox One consoles have been sold to retailers since its launch. Note that Sony is reporting “sold-through” – that is the number of consoles actually purchased by people like you and me – while Microsoft’s number includes boxes sitting in retail warehouses and store shelves. It’s a crucial difference. While it’s safe to assume that Microsoft’s Xbox One sell-through number is close to 5 million, every console not in a gamer’s entertainment center is also not generating revenue through software sales, Xbox Live membership, DLC purchases, and advertising data.

The March 2014 NPD report, reveals that while Titanfall had the highest software sales for the month, the PS4 outpaced the Xbox One for the third month in a row. Titanfall being the number one title on the chart is terrific news for Respawn and Electronic Arts, but the fact that the highly anticipated exclusive did not spur Xbox One adoption over its rival for the month is worrying to many. Some analysts are pointing to the PS4 achieving more sales, even against a widely marketed Titanfall bundle offer, as a sign that Microsoft needs to rethink their pricing or marketing strategy. Microsoft maintains a positive spin by noting that the Xbox One has outsold the Xbox 360 during the same timeframe of the older console’s post-launch period.

Nintendo’s Wii U sales remain low. Although Nintendo won’t report lifetime sales to their investors until May, their January report revealed that roughly 6 million Wii U consoles had sold to retailers since its launch in 2012. It’s an unimpressive number for a console approaching it’s second year of being on the market. Since Nintendo has declined to give monthly numbers, we can only speculate based on spotty data, but a recent tweet from research analyst David Gibson says the Wii U achieved 70,000 unit sales in March. Predictions from the industry place Wii U total sales numbers in the ballpark of 7 million.

Nintendo seems content to push the handheld 3DS, which had 11.5 million in worldwide sales by January and has consistently sold well since then. In contrast, Sony’s PSP and PS Vita handheld systems haven’t sold as briskly. Sony reports the total sales of both units as a combined number, so accurate numbers are elusive. The manufacturer has been pushing the PS Vita’s ability to be used as a second screen option through Remote Play on the PS4, so sales may experience an uptick as the feature gets more widespread use, but it’s unlikely to ever match the popularity of the Nintendo handheld.

Looming on the horizon is the impact of disruptive products like the Amazon Fire, Steam Machines, Oculus Rift, and anything that can cause someone’s eyes to glaze over as they attempt to match three more gems or crush candy. The long-predicted death of the Nintendo handheld due to iOS and Android devices still hasn’t happened, but analysts are more than happy to shift their doom & gloom predictions to traditional consoles as PC builders and Amazon crowd into the competition to control your living room.

With Ouya and OnLive both downplaying their own hardware, it seems they’re increasingly moving to the sidelines. Both companies are now emphasizing their abilities to push games as a service. In Ouya’s case, they announced Ouya Everywhere, an effort to bring their curated storefront and client software to PCs and other devices. After a successful buyout and reorganization, OnLive announced their “2.0” strategy which consisted of a re-launch of the PC desktop software and a baffling offer to remotely play some Steam titles with a subscription. It is unlikely that either company will find many more customers without better marketing or another shift in strategy.

Who is the big winner in the next-gen wars? It could be Valve. Thanks to publicly available information and the hard work of data miners, there is a wealth of Steam information available. It appears that Valve’s PC gaming client has racked up about 172 million registered accounts. The top games on Steam are Valve’s own titles with Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2 each numbering over 20 million players. That’s a lot of hats and skins!

The first quarter of 2014 has been a great one for Sony’s PlayStation 4, Steam, and Nintendo’s 3DS. Microsoft’s Xbox One has yet to show the kinds of sales numbers that investors had hoped for, but with E3 just around the corner, Microsoft may have an ace in their sleeve just yet.

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