Sales of the three main console remained static year on year during February in the UK, with increased sales of the Xbox and Gamecube making up for a decline in sales of the still-dominant PlayStation 2.
According to the latest set of figures from ChartTrack's panel of 6,500 UK retailers, only 400 more consoles sold in the four weeks to February 28th compared with the same period last year.
This contrasts with last month's figure, when demand shot up by nine per cent year on year - with the static growth in February probably caused by only a handful of major game releases emerging to spur demand for increasingly cheap gaming hardware.
The PlayStation 2 once again grabbed the lions share of the console market, grabbing an impressive 62 per cent (no change month on month) of the unit sales of the big three, but this was almost ten percentage points lower than the machine registered this time last year, and consequently its unit sales have dropped by 12.8 per cent year on year. The acceleration of the PS2's decline appears to be increasing, with January's sales down just three per cent year on year.
From a retailer's perspective, the resulting revenue will have been felt keenly, with actual money through the tills from PS2 console sales down by around 28 per cent year on year - more if you take into account peripheral sales, such as extra pads and memory cards, which are almost always part of an initial purchase. Extra software sales, however, will have helped to make up the shortfall.
Nevertheless, during the month, the PS2's dominance showed little sign of being seriously threatened, having outsold the Xbox by 2.5 to one, while its margin over the Cube was a massive 4.88 to one, despite still being Â£60 more expensive than Nintendo's cheap and cheerful machine. Even with sales of the two machines combined, the ageing PS2 still managed to outsell the pair of them by 1.63 to one.
Once again, for any game store, the PS2 is by far the major revenue generator - consider the fact that the machine brings in greater than 12 times the cash than the GameCube for the average gaming outlet, and you can see why the space devoted to the format is so large.
But while the PS2's nearest competitor - the Xbox - lags behind with 24.8 per cent of the unit market share (down on last month's 26.1 per cent), it has improved its sales year on year by around a quarter - although in real terms actual value terms remained static thanks to the Â£30 price cut since last year. Despite being so far behind the PS2, Microsoft has at least cemented its place in the No.2 slot, with its debut console outgrossing the Cube in the UK by over three to one.
As for the Cube, meanwhile, despite being firmly in third place in February once again, with just 12.7 per cent of the static console market, Nintendo can at least boast that its market share is well up from the 7.9 per cent it held this time last year, and that sales are over 60 per cent higher than the same period in '03. This makes it into by far the fastest growing console in the UK, and is a month on month improvement from the 11.4 per cent it held in January, when sales shot up 78 per cent year on year.
But, again, these results merely serve to underline just how poorly the Cube fared in the UK post-Christmas last year, and the stark contrast between its performance in the US and here. This month's release of the first Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid titles on the Cube certainly won't do the console any harm, but exclusive titles of this stature are becoming increasingly scarce on the company's future release schedule - although E3 may bring with it new software announcements to rectify this situation.
Where are the big names?
Elsewhere, this month's software releases look unlikely to change the status quo a great deal, with perhaps the most anonymous-looking March release schedule in recent memory. Of the big releases, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow is multi-format, Deus Ex: Invisible War is Xbox and PC, and most of the other significant titles are ports of existing hits on other machines. The Cube's first Final Fantasy outing aside, where are the triple-A exclusives? The Xbox, in particular, hasn't had a big name, must-have exclusive title for some months, and this situation has only been exacerbated by several first party titles slipping into the second quarter and beyond.
You couldn't make it up - you'd honestly think Sony's competitors would be taking advantage of such quiet times, but on the contrary, they've pretty much disappeared from the race. Odd times indeed.