You decide: Does Nintendo or Microsoft sell more third-party games?

Microsoft claims it has sold more third-party units, while Nintendo claims it has. Who really has? You decide.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
4 min read

Over the past week, Nintendo and Microsoft have been trading barbs over which console--the Xbox 360 or Wii--holds the top spot for the most third-party games sold.

Nintendo was the first to "set the record straight" and released data from NPD that the company claimed showed that the Wii has sold more games than any other console when first-party and third-party titles are factored in. After hearing doubts over the inclusion of first-party titles, Nintendo then released a graph showing sales of only third-party titles, which it once again, compiled from NPD source data.

"I actually think that given the number of comments made from industry executives at E3 (or thereabouts) about how they didn't put enough resources against development of Wii games that the industry has realized that the old adage of 'only first-party games sell on Nintendo systems' is absolutely incorrect. I think you're right that the data will cause a few eyebrows to lift," NPD industry analyst Anita Frazier said in defense of the figures.

But Microsoft was suspect of the data and decided to release its own figures obtained from NPD to "clear the air." In its study, Microsoft claims "total third-party sales for the Xbox 360 since launch is currently 67,929,999 units, followed by the Wii at 33,394,311 units, and the PlayStation 3 at 19,976,325 units.

"Third-party sales for the Xbox 360 since the launch of the Wii and PS3 is 54,065,728 units, still almost double the Wii's 33,394,311 units."

On top of that, the company claims that it's actually selling more third-party titles per console sold than Nintendo, which it believes, shows its success in the space.

"No matter how you slice it, the Wii third-party game story is not a pretty one," David Dennis, group manager of corporate PR at Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, said in response to his company's report.

So which company is right? Well, it looks like they're both right in their own special way.

Microsoft's stance is that its third parties have sold more units since the release of the Xbox 360 (and even the release of the Wii) than they've ever sold in Wii units.

Nintendo claims that it has sold more units in the first 20 months of the Wii's availability than Microsoft sold in the first 20 months of the Xbox 360's availability.

"According to the independent NPD Group, which tracks software sales in the United States, more than 33 million units of third-party Wii software sold in its first 20 months, compared with about 29 million units for Xbox 360 and about 20 million units for PS3 sold during each of their first 20 months on the market," Nintendo told me in an email. "NPD's tally of third-party software sales 20 months after each console's launch is the only way to make a direct, apples-to-apples comparison of the numbers. Wii remains the best-selling console of this generation."

So if we're trying to compare apples to apples, Nintendo has (theoretically) sold more units than Microsoft. But if we're comparing gross sales figures, third parties have sold more games on the Xbox 360 than the Nintendo Wii.

After getting in touch with NPD's Anita Frazier, I asked her to clarify the figures and give me raw data to compare the success of both companies' console.

According to Frazier, in the first 20 months of availability (the entire tally of sold units so far), the Wii "sold 60 million total software units where 56 percent are third-party units or 33 million. Keep in mind that this does not include Wii Sports. Since it's in-pack with the hardware, it is not counted as a software sale."

During its first 20 months of availability, the Xbox 360 sold "35 million software units, 84 percent of which were third party, or 29 million total."

Over its entire lifespan, Frazier says, the Xbox 360 has sold 82 million units total and 82 percent of those were third party, representing 67 million units.

Taking all that into account, it's abundantly clear that both Microsoft and Nintendo are keenly aware of the importance of third parties in the future success of their consoles, but it also highlights one important point: If Nintendo wasn't a Microsoft competitor, why would it care about Nintendo's claims of dominance?

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

But in the end, there's really no way to judge the success of third parties on either console in a way that would be fair to all parties involved. Sure, there are a number of factors involved, including hardware sales and first-party sales, but it's practically impossible to compare each fairly. That said, I'll leave it up to you: Who do you think is the real leader in third-party sales?

Microsoft was contacted for a response. So far, it has yet to respond.

Update1: Added Nintendo official statement.

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