Portable Gaming Systems: Is Nintendo or PlayStation Winning This Round?

Through Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we heard a lot about the phenomenal popularity of the Nintendo Wii this holiday season. But are shoppers also showing interest in the smaller cousins of the consoles: portable gaming systems? And who is winning that battle for consumer interest?

Sony PlayStation and Nintendo are the major players in this market – with the PSP and the DS, respectively. To get a read on how online interest in these two brands shaped up in 2008, I looked at portable gaming interest in 2008 on two major consumer electronics retailers’ websites, Best Buy and Circuit City. Specifically, I tracked hardware and software for the PSP and DS and other legacy devices by these companies.

  • The Nintendo portable devices have consistently generated more traffic than PlayStation across these two retailers’ sites.
  • Interest in the PSP has been slipping on these sites. More than twice as many people looked at the Nintendo portable gaming products than the PSP last month.

Although this data is taken from just two (albeit large) retailers, the relative popularity of the Nintendo products is worth considering. Despite recent updates to the PlayStation product and its ability to play movies as well as games, it can’t seem to edge out the DS in terms of interest or sales. In October, Sony released a new iteration of their product, the PSP 3000, but most of the media interest that month was focused the new Nintendo DSi, despite its 2009 release date. Sales figures tell an even more dramatic story. According to NPD, the Nintendo DS broke U.S. hardware sales records, moving 1.56 million units in November alone. In the same period, the PSP sold 421,000 units.

So why is the DS outperforming the PSP? Available game titles and brand loyalty are probably factors, but that doesn’t completely explain such a large gap in both online interest and sales.

Part of the explanation may be in the appeal of the DS to new audiences of so-called "non-traditional" or "casual" gamers,which seems to be part of Nintendo’s DS marketing strategy. There have been several efforts to expand the market for the device, like adding games like Brain Age for more mature audiences and partnering with with the online handbag rental company From Bags to Riches to appeal to women.

This philosophy is also apparent on Nintendo’s site. When this post was written, the main page for the DS featured pictures of four female celebrities with the text, "See Who’s Playing Nintendo DS! America, Carrie, Liv and Lisa play, do you?". Clicking on the image takes you to a microsite called iplayforme.com with stories and videos about how women use the device. I couldn’t find anything comparable on the PlayStation site for any particular PSP audience.

Would marketing to "non-traditional" player segments help the PSP in 2009? We’ll wait and see, but no matter how the PSP is marketed, overcoming the popularity and momentum of the DS will be an uphill battle.