Consoles Sell... but Who's Buying?

Based on the great work done by @“Matt”#1023 in the Episode 320 thread I had some time and expanded on the Japanese sales data from wikipedia - There isn‘t a source of truth outside of what the manufacturers say so I’m taking this as a good starting point.

With the numbers I have found some very interesting facts, which I'll share a few now and will work on something visual so people can look at specific machines, manufacturers, even generations for data - and when I have more time will expand globally as well. The list of consoles included for Japan is [here]( and I have added the global numbers from [here]( to give us totals. If anyone has a better set of data please let me know

Some random stats to get started!

Total global console sales of the machines listed: **1,742,860,000**
Total Japanese console sales of the machines listed: **337,474,033** - that's right 19% of all console sales are in Japan! Without historical population data it's hard to compare, but their current population is 125 million (I may look further into this one later)
The biggest selling machine in Japan is the DS Range, at **32,990,000** which accounts for 21% of all global sales (Global total being **154,020,000**)
The worlds biggest selling console, the PS2 has **155,000,000** sales, but in Japan only **24,420,000** units sold, 15% of the total market share.

If we exclude all machines only released in Japan officially - such as Famicon add ons, Epoch consoles, PC-FX and the PC Engine Duo, the **PC Engine** had the largest percentage of sales in Japan, at 80%.
Second was the Saturn at 62%.
Third was the Wonderswan at 52%
Forth, and this blows my mind, the **Lynx** with 50%!

Lowest one, Xbox One. 0.24% of sales in Japan. Against **58,000,000** global sales. That's right, they sold 140,700 Xbox ones in Japan.

And a fun fact: Over a third of all 3DO sales were in Japan, 750,000 units sold against global sales of 2,000,000

Tune in next time for more numbers!

_**Tiny edit**_ - and think this is important to note. Looking more and more into it, these numbers are probably not sales but units shipped which is quite different. It's possible there's a bunch of DSs sitting in a warehouse somewhere never sold to the public, but Nintendo classified them as sales even though they're items shipped. I think actual sales numbers would be impossible to get, but this is as close as we're going to be and still a fair representation of units. I'll keep using _sales_ but wanted to clarify they may not be sold, but more shipped.

And with Insert Credit branding too ;)

@“Tom of the Fog”#p148061 Very cool. I don't have enough time to find something profound, but my initial insight: portable Nintendo is king in Japan.

@“TaliesinMerlin”#p148065 Oh yeah, and not by a little amount either!

Here's the percentage of sales and exact numbers by manufacturer


That Famincom Disc System was really popping off! I wonder if it was considered a success. Only 23% of Famicom owners bought one, it looks like, whereas the Super Famicom had an almost 100% retention rate. It would also be interesting to map the console releases with the general economic health of Japan. For example, I'm pretty sure that Japan was doing considerably better when the Famicom was released compared to when the Super came out.

Fascinating that the three NEC consoles, being notoriously unpopular in the West, have sold about 4x more in Japan than Microsoft‘s entire Xbox line. Three little machines towards the start of the medium’s life versus a decades-long lineage of modern video games.

@“KingTubb”#p148073 I have release dates for almost all of them, to give a true deep dive I'd need the life cycle of the machine, population numbers for each year and some financial data. With that I could work out what is the most successful based on actually how many could buy one at the time.

The retention rate is a good spot for the Famicom to Super Famicom - one thing would be interesting is population counts between the releases.

360 was MS's Mega Drive.

@“Funbil”#p148076 Also surprising when I see it put in front of me that the Wii U, with a shelf life of four years, outsold all of the Xbox line with a million units to spare.

I'm glad people are enjoying this!

I'll do something with US data next which I think will give a very interesting view of that market.

The things I'm really looking at are brand loyalty and retention rates, manufacturers country of origin in relation to market and, at some point in time software sales numbers too. I think with that information it would be a very good answer to "what's the most successful console of all time?"

If anyone wants to know any other specifics let me know.


@“Tom of the Fog”#p148084 “what’s the most successful console of all time?”

I would interpret this question as being a ratio between # of consoles and region population. If only 100 people live in a town, but they all own Nintendo Wiis, that's a 100% success rating. 5 people in that same town owning a PC Engine is clearly not as successful – but 5 PC Engines in a town of 10 is a different story. This might be tricky to do realistically though, since the population numbers in any given region (Japan, US, etc.) would always be so much larger than the console numbers, and since consoles are on the market for such long lengths of time, I'm not sure how these numbers could be regulated unless it was on a year-by-year basis. It's the only way I can think of to most accurately compare the numbers' cultural significance between American and Japan though, since America's population is so much larger and will surely inflate its sales numbers. Might be too large of a question for an investigation like this though.

@“Funbil”#p148088 I think it's a question that needs clarification first. Is success based on units sold? Or maybe ratio of titles sold to machine? Or even cost of machine against units sold? (Which puts Sony out already as they famously lost money on their machines to get them out there into the market, to make it back on software licences. Unlike Nintendo who have never sold at a loss on hardware - at least to my knowledge).

What I'm doing is my actual job (not in gaming, luckily!) - I did the above slides between meetings today - and I do get asked some insanely odd questions to answer, which require a lot of analysis at times. And I enjoy it, for some strange reason. Based on the first slide I did, I'd say the GameBoy was the most successful for the following reasons:

This was at time when piracy was minimal - no R4 carts for the GameBoy when it was released so sales of software would have been much higher.
It would have influcenced retenation rates for following machines, both handheld and console.
It was sold at a profit and each game was licenced AND Nintendo manufactured all the carts inhouse too.
After a very quick review of [population data]( it's only gone up by 3 million since 1990 from 125 million to 128 million and has declined since a peak in 2010 - compared to US numbers would be very interesting (And yes I'll use this when I do another update)

The numbers themselves don't answer it, some indepth knowledge of the industry helps, but I'll get on the US data at some point to make a fair comparison. But for now, for Japan - I'm saying GameBoy!

@“Funbil”#p148088 Oh and logically it‘d be total sales over period of time against total population divided by years of console available for same period of time. That’d give us a score which we could then use against each machine fairly if we just did numbers sold against possible sales. I'll probably do that another day too :wink:


@“Tom of the Fog”#p148084 I think with that information it would be a very good answer to “what’s the most successful console of all time?”

If you are still asking about Japan specifically, it is easily the Nintendo Switch. It will pass the Nintendo DS as the best selling console ever sometime in 2024, at a significantly higher price point than both GB and DS (even taking inflation into account), has already sold more software than GB and DS based on what we know (once again at a higher average price point), and its top selling software is continuously breaking all sorts of records. It is also a more successful platform for more publishers (outside of Nintendo/Pokemon) than Game Boy ever was. Switch completely inverted the presumed trend of consoles becoming irrelevant against smartphones in Japan, which was still prevalent in 2016. It’s basically the first time a single console entirely dominates the Japanese market for so long since the Famicom. Even the PS2 had to share some space with a Nintendo handheld (GBC→GBA→DS) during its entire run.


Taking in consideration the flimsier and less objectively quantifiable concept of "cultural impact", I’d argue only three Game Boy games had a major impact on Japanese society: Tetris (but in Japan specifically, the game was already a huge Arcade and Famicom hit when it released on GB), Pocket Monsters and Yu-Gi-Oh. By comparison, the Famicom, PS1, DS and Switch software catalogues arguably all had a bigger impact on the Japanese people, pop culture and media. I’d put the GB software catalogue in a second tier together with the Super Famicom, PS2, PSP, Wii and 3DS.

Top 30 best selling known software in Japan as of late 2023:




Worldwide, the answer is probably between PS4 and Switch considering factors such as overall revenue, total units sold, average selling price of units adjusted for inflation, total number of software released, total software sold (which is where PS5 is falling dramatically behind PS4 right now), average selling price of software adjusted for inflation, the market situation before their release (although Sony launched PS4 in a better situation than Nintendo launched Switch) and once again the flimsy concept of "cultural impact".

Sony basically sacrificed PS4 on purpose to help PS5 grow so we’ll never know how close it could have gotten to DS and PS2 with a more conventional late career. The console semi-failing in Japan despite favorable conditions is really its only black mark.

NES (if you combine its performance with Famicom in Japan), Game Boy, the PS1, the PS2 [size=8]begrudgingly[/size] and the Nintendo DS are also very impressive for their own specific reasons.

@“◉◉maru”#p148204 You raise some valid points - some I agree with and some I don‘t. I do seriously consider the Switch as a contender for the most successful console of all time in Japan yes, but there’s also some more information about it I'd also consider. My question was part of a bigger one in a later post:


@“Tom of the Fog”#p148090 I think it’s a question that needs clarification first. Is success based on units sold? Or maybe ratio of titles sold to machine? Or even cost of machine against units sold?

Based on overall numbers sold yes I think the Switch will overtake everything in its lifetime. However using the DS as an example it's lifespan offically in Japan was November 2004 to Febrary 2011, but the Switch is from March 2017 and while still active has a longer lifecycle than the DS. Another important factor too, is that the Switch is the only hardware Nintendo has sold since September 2020 (offically discontinuing the 3DS/2DS family then) and during Covid that had a huge impact on people buying video games on a global scale.

The graph you provided I believe is based on the same numbers I got from the wiki page, which they quoted as from Famitsu. However I can't work out the X-Axis. I am assuming it's weekly sales, due to the spikes by eight and 401 weeks is about 7 years, which is roughly the lifespan of the DS. If the case, the DS hit the numbers far earlier than the Switch - and also during a period of time where other consoles and handhelds were available also.

One other point I do think hasn't been focused on enough - is the cost of the machines. I know the Switch has a very small profit margin so from a financial perspective it may not has been as successful as say the GB/GBC or the DS range but again, not knowing their actual profits, from both hardware and software, it's hard to know which one from the financial results is the most successful.

I am not taking anything away from the Switch, I love mine and think it's exactly what Nintendo needed to get them back in the game after the Wii U (Again, may be related to financial there, but as Nintendo are pretty tight lipped on the costs compared to results it's hard to say).

I think the to "what's the most successful console of all time in Japan?" the answer is by a very VERY long margin Nintendo. What's going to be fun is working out which one. And I would love to hear more on yours and everyones thoughts of what makes a console successful. Your point about the sales during a time of smartphones is very valid and I agree completely on that. I am doing some research into population numbers in Japan, inflation costs and trying to find any info I can about how much Nintendo charged per game, made per game and other bits so if anyone has any info on that it's much appreciated.

Mega drive getting sandwiched between GC and Wii U is a bit eye opening.


@“Tom of the Fog”#p148231 but the Switch is from March 2017 and while still active has a longer lifecycle than the DS.

But how is this a point against Switch? By this point in its lifetime, Nintendo DS was on its last legs. To give you some historical context, Switch hardware numbers in 2023 (about 4 million units) were as high as any PlayStation console in its peak.

Also, going by your logic, Game Boy would be disqualified on virtue of requiring over a decade and combining its sales with its quasi-successor’s commercial performance to reach similar hardware sales numbers as DS and Switch.

I also don’t understand why the COVID19 situation counts against Switch’s case. It definitely contributed to its performance but it’s impossible to ascribe a "fairness" factor to different market situations. The impact of COVID19 on society from 2020 to 2022 is certainly one of the reasons why Switch is the best selling console of all time in Japan. It also impacted hardware production so one could argue they could have had more consoles on the market than they did in 2021.

If you want to argue against Switch's hardware performance being "fair", a better case is the cheap yen exchange rate in 2023 which probably favored gray exports. That’s effectively hardware sales {in Japan} which are unrelated to the console’s success {among users in Japan}.

The problem is ❶ we don’t have quantifiable data about this phenomenon, just (a breadth of) anecdotal evidence ❷ we also don’t know how many units of Game Boy were exported to other Asian countries, but we do know parallel imports from Japan were literally the only way to get consoles in SEA back then, unlike with Switch.

I would also argue consumers had way more reasons to double or triple dip on hardware in the Game Boy and Nintendo DS generations than in the Switch generation (i.e. the same person owning a Game Boy and a Game Boy Color, or upgrading its first generation DS for a later model). Game Boy Color and DSi both had software and features which were outright hardware-exclusive (although DSiWare was clearly less impactful than exclusive GBC games).

One last but important point : based on Nintendo’s data from IR reports (and pure common sense), Switch has way more active users per unit sold, logically due to its hybrid nature as a home console that people can play together on the same screen. But I think that’s a huge point in its favor as the most popular console compared to pure handhelds.


@“Tom of the Fog”#p148231 I know the Switch has a very small profit margin

Does it? I do not think we have public information to compare the profit margins of Game Boy, DS and Switch. It’s pretty obvious that production costs have risen but so has the asking price. What we do know is that most profitable fiscal year of the company was 2020-21 and that was entirely from Switch hardware and software.

If you want to argue on profit margin, I think a much more solid case would be made for the Nintendo DS, with regard to their profit margin in software sales vs. average development cost of its software. The average budget of successful Nintendo DS games, considering staff overhead * hours of development involved, was significantly lower than successful Nintendo Switch games today, at a relatively comparable MSRP and relatively comparable wages. What Switch gets in its favor here is its growing reliance on digital sales, which have an exceptional margin compared to physical goods. On that aspect, GB and DS cannot compete.


@“Tom of the Fog”#p148231 However I can’t work out the X-Axis.

This is the recording of each week’s hardware sales (i.e. “401” on the _X_ axis means the known total LTD sales after 401 weeks on the market).

Famitsu is one of the three companies which have been providing weekly sales estimates for about three decades, together with Dengeki and Media Create.

Dengeki effectively merged with Famitsu and stopped giving its own data about five or six years ago. You may also find old sales numbers referred to be coming from "Enterbrain"; long story short, that’s the same data base as Famitsu data under its old name.

Media Create was (and remains) the most reliable and respected data tracker but they sadly stopped sharing weekly public sales data about three years ago.

The combined sales of Game Boy and Game Boy Color are not included in the Famitsu graph because we did not have such weekly accurate public tracking back then. Reliable hardware and software data only started popping up in 1995. People rely on known shipments and manufacturing data from Nintendo for Famicom and early (pre-1996) Game Boy hardware & software.

Obviously, the new problem sales historians are facing is the rise of digital software sales and direct to consumer hardware sales in recent years. To give you two examples : ❶ it’s pretty safe to say that the Switch version of Minecraft should be somewhere in the top 30 above (and possibly same for Human Fall Flat) ❷ it is known (from IR documentation of that time) that roughly 1 million Switch hardware sales have been missing from Famitsu data during the height of COVID19 due to consoles being sold DTC through Nintendo’s website (which obviously Famitsu could not track).

There is also the new question of how to handle and compare historically the performance of cheap digital-only titles like Suika Game, which has sold multiple millions in Japan priced under ¥300.


@“Tom of the Fog”#p148231 I am doing some research into population numbers in Japan, inflation costs

Well, [the population is in decline since 2009]( and inflation is [infamously low]( in Japan.


@“◉◉maru”#p148287 I think you‘re right! Based on the information I now have, thanks to your extensive knowledge on the subject I would agree the Switch is the most successful. There’s still a few points I don‘t agree with, but there is a lot more I do. Without having the data on older machines compared to the Switch (such as manufacturing costs, this Forbes article is very interesting, but sadly there’s nothing comparable for other Nintendo machines) and also now we have more reliable sales data, digital included which we can‘t align to numbers from the past it’ll never be a totally exact comparison.

If I prepare the US data, think you could do provide some indepth analysis on it as well please? We know the PS2 is the biggest selling machine globally but the US market is very different, with other factors at play so it'd be great to see what comes out top there - not just by the numbers.

Thanks again for taking the time to write that out - I really enjoyed it =)

@“Tom of the Fog”#p148301 Sorry, I can try but I don’t know the US market as well because I never had to work in/on this market and we have less detailed public data for the US market than the Japanese market.

US data has been historically available via Circana (formerly NPD). Due to the size, wider geography and more heterogeneous market it represents, it takes more time to gather data in the US than in Japan and so Circana gives a monthly report about 15 days into the next month (note: my understanding is they do give a preliminary report to subscribing companies on a weekly basis). For example, we should get the US market results for December 2023 sometime next week.

Another big difference regarding the US market is that many companies share their digital data directly with Circana. Among the big actors, Nintendo, Take Two (incl. Rockstar) and maybeee Bethesda^ are the big exceptions to this rule, but this also means PC/Steam exclusive hits like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Lethal Company will only be accounted for if the developers share the sales to Circana themselves.

The other huge difference in the US is the local success of Xbox which is pretty much irrelevant everywhere else. Xbox 360 ended up outselling Wii slightly in the US.

@“◉◉maru”#p148309 Not a problem at all - I‘m glad you brought up what you did as clearly you have a far better understanding of the Japanese market than I do. One issue is finding all the data, which is not something I’m familiar with for the level of going this much of a deep dive, but now I do I no doubt will have some fun with it.

I'm going into this at this point, as this data is well out of my usual field with a true WYSIATI attitude so anyone with a further insight into the behind the scenes stuff is greatly appreciated. It's especially good to know that there are various sources of data out there, even if there's not a definitive source of truth.

I thought GameBoy, I was proven wrong with Switch by someone who knows more than me, and I like that =)