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Watch out, Xbox 360: Here comes the PlayStation 3

The PlayStation 3 is about one month behind Microsoft in terms of overall sales worldwide.

Don Reisinger
Former 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
3 min read

Despite getting off to a slow start and being called into a question as a viable purchase option, the PlayStation 3 might just take the second spot in console sales after this generation is up.

Earlier today, Sony announced that it has sold 70 million PlayStation 3 units worldwide since the console's launch in 2006. The device hit that tally on November 4, meaning it's somewhere above the 70-million-units mark at this point.

Sony is now in striking distance of Microsoft. The software giant announced that as of September 30, it has sold 70 million Xbox 360 units worldwide. The Xbox 360 launched globally in November 2005 -- a year before the PlayStation 3.

That Sony is close to Microsoft really isn't the most impressive aspect of this story; it's that Microsoft will likely end up in third place behind the Nintendo Wii and Sony's PlayStation 3.

According to Sony's internal unit sales chart, the company is selling about 13 million to 14 million PlayStation 3 units each year. During its 2010 fiscal year ended March 31, 2011, it sold 14.3 million console units. During the fiscal year ended March 31, 2012, total sales hit 13.9 million. So far this year, Sony has sold 6.3 million PlayStation 3 units, putting it on pace to come close to last year's figure.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is selling fewer units. In fact, over the last year, the company has sold just over 12 million Xbox units. So far in 2012, Microsoft has sold a little more than 4 million units. Assuming that trajectory and Sony's sales both continue on the same path, it won't be long before worldwide PlayStation 3 sales outpace those of the Xbox 360.

That might come as a surprise to those who have been following research firm NPD's monthly game industry sales announcements. Earlier this month, NPD revealed that for October -- and for the 22nd month in a row -- Microsoft's Xbox 360 sales outpaced all other consoles. Microsoft announced that it sold 270,000 units in October and held 56 percent of the current-generation console sales during the month.

However, NPD's data accounts only for U.S.-based sales. And here in the States, the Xbox 360 is the dominant console. Worldwide, it's a much different story. For years now, we've been hearing that the Xbox 360 collects dust on Japanese store shelves. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii continue to find their way into Japanese homes.

Last year, gaming site Eurogamer examined Japanese sales data. The site found that as of April 1, 2011, the Wii's total life-to-date sales in Japan added up to 11.5 million units. The PlayStation 3 had 6.3 million unit sales. The Xbox 360 had sold only 1.4 million units in Japan at that point. By summer 2012, Xbox 360 sales in Japan had reached only about 1.5 million units.

Microsoft has always had some trouble attracting Japanese customers. Some say it's because the Xbox 360 is too large for entertainment centers that are typically smaller in Japan. Others blame it on the Xbox 360's game library, which lacks many of the unique titles Japanese consumers are after. Whatever the case, it's clear Microsoft has an issue in Japan and other parts of Asia.

When the PlayStation 3 launched, it was largely ignored by anyone but early adopters, because of its ridiculously high starting price of $499. It took Sony years to bring the price down to more consumer-friendly levels. The company also worked on its online services to improve its value proposition to the hardcore gamer. The result? Stronger sales.

Still, even when Sony surpasses Microsoft, the company will have a long way to go to catch Nintendo. At the end of September, the Mario maker had sold 97 million Wii units worldwide since that console's launch in 2006.

Watch this: Sony PlayStation 3 Slim