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No one is ‘winning’ the console war: Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft face persistent supply chain issues and limited inventory, experts say

A man bagging a PlayStation 5 sold at retail — a rare find even in February 2022, 15 months after the console first debuted.

CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images

  • As the world enters the third year of the pandemic, supply issues persist for a variety of consumer products. 
  • Video game consoles remain in short supply, including the nearly five-year-old Nintendo Switch.
  • The unprecedented supply issues make it impossible to tell which console is most in demand.

Sony’s PlayStation 5 was the best-selling console in the United States last month, according to market research firm the NPD Group.

In December, the top seller was Nintendo’s Switch. In November, on Black Friday, Microsoft’s Xbox Series S dominated sales, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index.

This has little to do with their comparative popularity, the NPD Group Executive Director Mat Piscatella told Insider. Instead, the fluctuation is largely influenced by the ongoing consumer supply-chain crisis, which is impacting everything from furniture to video game consoles.

“The boost in demand driven by the pandemic that started in March 2020 eventually cleaned out inventory of available console hardware,” Piscatella told Insider, noting the industry first began experiencing constraints in late summer 2020. “The market’s never been able to catch up to true consumer demand since.”

Last month, for instance, Piscatella said that Sony’s PlayStation 5 outsold Nintendo’s Switch and Microsoft’s Xbox consoles — not just because it’s a wildly popular console in high demand, but because Sony had more supply available than Microsoft and Nintendo.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, according to Piscatella.

Console supply — facing constraints due to the chip shortage, ongoing supply chain issues, and major shipping issues impacting all consumer goods — has been a “significant factor” in monthly sales rankings for over 1.5 years at this point.

“Supply has played a role in the console sales rankings since around September 2020,” he said.

As a result, it’s become nearly impossible to tell what the current video game market looks like.

“Market shares are swinging rather dramatically from week-to-week and month-to-month, driven entirely by supply of consoles,” Piscatella told Insider. “I do not know what true demand is for any individual console, nor the hardware market. Sales curves right now are not normalized because of these supply challenges.”

One thing remains clear, unfortunately: It remains nearly impossible to easily buy a video game console in 2022. 

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email ([email protected]), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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