As part of its first quarter financial results released this week, publisher Activision made predictions on the console installed base for the end of 2011 in Europe and North America combined, which makes interesting reading amongst chatter of when the next generation of gaming will start.
Based on internal Activision estimates and data from NPD, Chart-Track and GfK, Xbox 360 sales are expected to grow by 9 million units, from 43 million at the end of 2010 to 52 million by the end of December this year.
PlayStation 3 sales should be close according to the publisher, with Sony selling another 8 million units, from 31 million to 39 million.
Interestingly, amongst the talk of declining Wii sales and with Nintendo itself set to unveil a successor within weeks, Activision still expects a further 8 million Wii consoles to sell this calendar year, boosting the installed base from 64 million to 72 million.
Activision predicts the installed base of traditional handheld and home consoles to grow by 44m units, from 268m to 312m, up 16 per cent.
The forecasts are inline with Activision's growth tactics on console. While there are other releases from the company as it fulfils licensing obligations with Bond and Cabela titles, Call of Duty continues to be the big push on home machines, where players lap up first-person shooters in the U.S. and parts of Europe.
It's also interesting to consider how its other big title - Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure - will fair. It's clearly aimed at a younger audience and has potential with a tie-in to a number of toys. Maybe it can find an audience on the Wii as it skews towards a younger consumer, but it seems a curious, unproven project in today's market and at odds with Activision's grand plans.
While home consoles will continue to grow in 2011, sales at Activision aren't going to be as strong as 2010. Estimates by Wedbush Morgan put revenues at $800-$900 million less than the previous year. After all, this is a company that has dramatically stripped back franchises - the Hero brand is sitting on a shelf, and new IPs Blur and Singularity have been canned entirely.
While there's a new handheld in the shops with Nintendo's 3DS and one more on the horizon - the NGP may be out before the end of the year, it may not - Activision is pegging a growth in combined portables of 17 million units, from 130 million to 147 million.
Overall then, Activision predicts the installed base of traditional handheld and home consoles to grow by 44 million units, from 268 million to 312 million, or up 16 per cent. For the first three months of the year units are already up to 277 million.
So those installed numbers are looking good for Activision at the start of 2012, when the company is going to bounce back from a quiet year. It's speculative, but there could be a Sledgehammer produced Call of Duty title released in the same year as the regular annual update (Black Ops 2?), along with something from the big Bungie deal. And who's to say it's not the right time to bring back the Hero brand (will the Dance Hero project ever be made official?).
Clearly, the console market isn't dying. It may well have peaked, but new technology is a way off and there's a good rate of sales expected over the rest of the year - which makes it easier to understand why developers are not so thrilled about the prospects of a next wave of hardware when there's still an ever expanding market outside the door.
Nintendo's Project Café is targeting a 2012 launch and there's chatter that the other platform holders could feel pressured and force out hardware around 2013, but the savvy publisher can see that the real console opportunities are still on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, this year and well into the next.