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Good Enough: Why graphics aren't number one Printer Friendly Page

Rumors - News - Remarks by Russell Carroll

Good Enough (September 6, 2005)

In considering the upcoming Xbox 360 that has been on many people's minds, I've thought about why I may or may not get that system. (in fact, my next article will be specifically on that subject) While making this consideration I have thought a good bit about the value of graphics. It is a discussion that comes up from time to time, and really there isn't any resolution. However, there is a fair amount of data available in regards to system sales, so using that information, I thought I'd consider if better graphics leads to better system sales.

When making this argument, it is important to note that sales doesn't = profit. For example, the Xbox has a narrow lead on the GameCube in terms of sales, but is 2 billion in the red while Nintendo has never had a negative quarter with GameCube.  Profit is linked to what you do with the money you make, not just how much you make.  If you are selling your system at a loss (i.e. paying people to buy it) you will have a lower profit, while you may in fact have higher sales.

So instead of looking at profit, I choose sales as they show clearly what the public values.  Nothing speaks louder than where you put your money.  The hope I have is that the numbers will help show something that should be obvious. Graphics are not the most important factor in determining what we purchase.

A secondary goal is just to present system sales figures that are interesting in their own right and can be applied to many contexts.  Each of the figures below are listed in the order that the console was released.

I start with what I term '2nd Generation,' which is really the rebirth of video games with the NES and SMS after the game industry went belly up with the early systems such as the Atari 2600 and Colecovision (though notably the Intellivision and Atari 7800 had more of the market than the SMS did in my so-called 2nd Generation, but are not listed below).

After going through each of the console generations I also look briefly at the handhelds.  For those who just want to see the numbers, there are two charts at the end of the article that show things visually. 

Finally, appreciation goes out to the forum at PVC for focusing on the numbers.  Many of the numbers they collected were used as a basis for this article, though wherever possible I've confirmed them through independent research.  Nevertheless, due to the fact that game companies rarely release numbers, the numbers below may not be 100% accurate.

2nd Generation

First to Market: NES
Most Graphically Capable: SMS
Most Successful: NES

Nintendo firmly owned the 2nd generation, a generation that started very slowly as department toy stores, still hurting from the huge losses incurred in the 1st generation of games, had to be convinced before they would start carrying console systems again.

The SMS had better graphic capabilities than the NES graphically, but the Nintendo Entertainment System was a cultural phenomenon both in the US and abroad. Other than its handheld systems, Nintendo has not since enjoyed the market dominance or the sales that it achieved in this generation. This is the only generation where the first console to market had the most console sales for the generation. This generation also is the only time where the first to market survived to the next generation of consoles.



NES 62,780,000 83%