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PS4 helps Sony topple Nintendo sales for first time in eight years

Sony sales surpassed Nintendo sales in fiscal 2013 thanks in part to the strength of the PS4, but also weaker sales of the Wii U.


There's a new king of console gaming, with Sony retaking the crown from rival Nintendo after eight years.

Sony sold 18.7 million games machines in the fiscal year ended on March 31, while Nintendo sold a more modest 16.3 million units. Japanese news site Nikkei was the first to stack the two figures against each other, but the numbers had already been separately disclosed by Sony and Nintendo.

The change in position marks the first time that Sony has held the top spot since the blockbuster success of the Wii catapulted the House of Mario into the pole position in 2006. It also reflects the changing fortunes for both companies in the gaming business, with the next-generation PlayStation 4 receiving a warm greeting from consumers, while sales of the Wii U system continue to disappoint.

Both companies are expected to unveil a slew of games at the E3 video game trade show, which kicks off today.

More telling than the total figures is the mix of sales. Nintendo's console sales are primarily driven by its still-successful handheld business, with the 3DS making up a vast majority -- 12.4 million -- of the total sales. Conversely, Sony sold 14.6 million PS2, PS3, and PS4 consoles (the PS4 launched in November, and only contributed to sales for a little more than four months).

Microsoft isn't on the same fiscal calendar, so it's more difficult to compare video game console sales with Sony and Nintendo. It also lacks a handheld gaming system, relying solely on sales of the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Like the PS4, the Xbox One launched at the end of last year, and still hasn't reached Japan yet.

Although the warm reception that greeted the PS4 will have buoyed Sony's console hopes (and the PlayStation 4 is estimated to have outsold Microsoft's Xbox One again in April), both Sony and Nintendo are facing tough times. Earlier this year Nintendo reported disappointing revenue, while Sony expects to lose $489m this year as its financial woes continue.

Sony can boast that it has built the most popular games console of all time with the PlayStation 2, which has sold over 155 million units. The follow-up PlayStation 3 fared less well, however, with Nintendo's Wii and Microsoft's Xbox 360 providing able competition, squashing Sony's lead.

CNET editor David Carnoy has written about the moves Sony could make to maintain the PS4's lead over the Xbox One, including revealing more info on the PlayStation Now streaming service.

The race for console king may mean significantly less in a few years with all three companies confronting the growing trend of smartphone gaming. The rise of casual gaming apps could potentially divert money and attention away from the console gaming world. Sony's aforementioned PlayStation Now service could prove effective in this regard, as it'll let gamers play titles from Sony's library of games on phones and tablets.

Nintendo has been consistent in maintaining that its first-party games, such as its Mario Kart franchise, would remain on its own gaming systems, largely ignoring the mobile threat. Microsoft, meanwhile, has a lot invested in its Windows Phone mobile platform, and has attempted to integrate features such as its Xbox profile into smartphones.

The E3 conference may shed some light on how these companies will address this competitive threat from mobile even as they continue to jockey for the lead in the console race.