First, let me state at the outset that I don't own any of the current-generation home consoles, although I do own a Nintendo DS. My Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, TurboGrafx 16, and Game Boy Player for the GameCube offer a superior library of games. So I have no stake in who wins the current console competition (let's leave the phrase "X wars" in the '90s where it belongs). Instead, I simply consider sales data from market research group NPD, as reported in the latest issue of Game Informer -- and as hand-checked by me (5 of the 20 data were errors!).
The list only includes the top 20 best-selling games (in units sold) of May 2009; obviously it would be better to have a more complete list. Still, this will do. They include 6 games for the Wii, 5 for the DS, 6 for the Xbox 360, and 3 for the PlayStation 3.
To get a better feel for a game's true, underlying quality, I excluded all games that were released in that month. The reason is simple: when a game is just released, its initial sales are mostly determined by the advertising budget, the hype it gets on the internet, and word-of-mouth exuberance in anticipation of its release. It's only after it's been out of the gate for a month or so that actual game players have had time to familiarize themselves with the game and talk about it to each other, post their opinions on the internet, and so on. Only then can we tell whether the game can survive on its merits rather than pure hype and PR.
If an overhyped game turns out to stink, people will talk about this, and its sales will crash in the next month and remain low. On the other hand, if an underrated game gets enough word-of-mouth praise, it can enter the best-selling list after its release month.
Doing this leaves 12 of the original 20 games, showing that nearly half of all best-selling games in a month probably benefit only from the producer's PR and fanboy hype, and that they likely fall off a cliff almost right away. Some of these games released in May could in fact prove strong, but the release dates from the list overall don't offer them much hope.
Of the 12 that have proven themselves over time, 5 are for the Nintendo DS (0 were cut), 4 are for the Nintendo Wii (2 were cut), 3 are for the Xbox 360 (3 were cut), and 0 are for the PlayStation 3 (all 3 were cut). The surviving Xbox 360 games are all below the original top 10, while 3 of the surviving Wii games and 1 of the surviving DS games are in the original top 10. The oldest game on the list is Mario Kart DS, which came out three and a half years before, and the second-oldest is New Super Mario Bros for the DS, which came out three years before. Imagine a Hollywood studio producing two movies that were in theaters for three years and counting!
In a world of fickle consumers who ruthlessly heap scorn on shitty games and gush over the great ones, the staying power of Nintendo's DS and Wii games, and of Microsoft's Xbox 360 games, is as reliable of an indicator of quality as we can imagine. For the same reason, the pathetic showing of PS3 games explains why its hardware sales are in last place by far -- no one wants to play the software for that system. Their game sales benefit only from pre-release hype and PR -- once people get around to playing them, and talking about them, their sales take a nose-dive.
As I said before, I don't care who wins, and that's probably why I'm not blinded in the whole matter. It was just an issue of looking up some numbers in a magazine I happened to be flipping through. On an objective basis, we conclude that Nintendo currently puts out the best games, although the Xbox 360's games are not terribly far behind, and the PS3 is the present-day reincarnation of the overhyped Neo Geo home console from the early 1990s.
As an older-minded video game player, it's heartening to see that all 5 of the best-selling handheld games have proven themselves over time -- none were due to hype and PR of that month -- and for quite some time. It just goes to show that one system's superior hardware capabilities don't mean shit if the games for it are boring. This allows a mostly 2-D handheld system to crush a 3-D home system that has more realistic graphics. I hesitate to say "better" graphics, since maybe the average person doesn't want straight-up realism and dark shading, but rather prefers vibrant colors and a fantasy look. But innate human preferences and video game aesthetics are another topic altogether.