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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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May 15, 2008 5:50 PM

April console sales don't get "GTA IV" jumpstart, but who benefited more?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Nintnedo Wii came closer to breaking the 10 million unit U.S. sales mark in April, vastly outselling Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3, combined, according to NPD Group figures released this afternoon. That performance was despite the April 29 launch of the biggest title of the year for the latter two consoles -- "Grand Theft Auto IV."

U.S. console sales figures for April, followed by life-to-date sales.

Wii: 714,200; 9.5 million.
Xbox 360: 188,000; 10.1 million.
PS3: 187,100; 4.2 million.

Anita Frazier, analyst at NPD Group, sees several factors that will continue to drive Wii console sales.

"As retail supplies become more plentiful we're seeing continued sales strength of Wii hardware," she wrote in an e-mail accompanying the monthly sales data. "With a couple of blockbuster games already in the market this year, and with "Wii Fit" and "Rock Band" still to come in the next two months, the pipeline of content to continue to drive hardware acquisition looks very good."

Frazier was surprised to see relatively low hardware sales for Sony and Microsoft. Many in the industry expected "GTA IV" to spur console purchases.

"However, since the game was only in the market for 5 days during this reporting period, that sales lift could very well be evident in May data," she wrote.

Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime predicted in February that the Wii would surpass the Xbox 360 in U.S. sales "probably in the first half" of this year. If sales continue at the current pace, they would be in a virtual dead heat by the end of this month. Nintendo is also preparing to launch the "Wii Fit" software and balance board, a fitness video game, next week.

"GTA IV," the biggest entertainment launch in history, was also the best-selling game in April. However, Wii "Mario Kart" took second place with 1.1 million units.

"GTA IV:" A bigger boost to Microsoft or Sony?

Through April, the total number of consoles capable of playing "GTA IV" (Xbox 360s + PS3s) was just over 14.3 million. PS3 represented 29.6 percent of that total; Xbox 360 had 70.4 percent.

Applying that breakdown to U.S. sales of "GTA IV" in the April reporting period, we'd expect to see just over 2 million copies of the game sold for Xbox 360 and 844,130 sold for the PS3. (I'm starting with the assumption -- perhaps flawed -- that the hard-core gamers who are buying "GTA IV" are divided proportionally among owners/buyers of the two consoles.)

In fact, according to NPD, PS3 owners bought 35 percent of the 2.85 million copies of "GTA IV" sold in April, proportionately more than expected. Xbox 360 owners accounted for the remaining 65 percent.

At the Game Stop where I bought a copy of "GTA IV," the clerk said the store's shipment was 3:1 favoring the Xbox 360 version.

I'd welcome any thoughts on whether this is a significant observation and what might be behind it. One thought I had: Until this release, "GTA" had been a PlayStation exclusive. Maybe that established fan base was faster to snap up the game.

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