IDC: Total PS3 sales top Xbox 360

The research firm said Sony passed Microsoft in December, despite the the Xbox launching a year earlier

Sony's PlayStation 3 game console passed Microsoft's Xbox 360 in total sales in December, according to a report from research firm IDC.

The Japanese company has now sold about 77 million PS3 consoles worldwide, versus 76 million Xbox 360 consoles sold by Microsoft. The PS3 has pulled ahead despite being on the market for a shorter time - it went on sale in late 2006, about a year after the Xbox 360.

Both consoles are nearing the end of their lives as flagship products, with speculation growing as to when their predecessors will be released. Nintendo, which began selling the Wii in 2006, launched the next-generation Wii U late last year.

IDC said the next line of consoles, known as "eight-generation" in the industry, will provide a boost for game developers.

"With the advent of eighth-generation consoles, starting with the Wii U, historical norms strongly imply that game disc revenue will stop bleeding in 2013 and rise substantively in 2014," the research company said in a release.

Profits from the consoles themselves will take far longer to materialize. Sony famously went through years of losses before the PS3 became profitable, and both it and Microsoft have suffered through hardware and software issues as their consoles matured.

Sony has long been rumored to have its next-generation console in development, but executives have repeatedly said they are pleased with the performance of the PS3. At the International CES electronics show currently underway in Las Vegas, Sony CEO Kazuho Hirai declined to say anything specific when asked about a possible new console.

IDC said the growing wave of alternatives to traditional game consoles, which includes games on smart TVs and Android-based gaming devices, is unlikely to affect the market anytime soon. At CES, Nvidia announced its Project Shield, a handheld gaming device, and mini-PC maker Xi3 has showed a small game system that works with Steam, the game distribution platform from U.S. software firm Valve.

The estimations by IDC are in line with recent sales figures released by the companies. Microsoft has said that as of September 2012 it sold 70 million units of its gaming device, while Sony has announced it sold 70.2 million. Nintendo sold over 97 million Wii units through the same month.

One factor in Sony's favor is Microsoft's failure to achieve strong sales of its gaming device in Japan. The PS3 has sold 8.7 million consoles in the country, compared to 1.6 million for the Xbox 360, according to Famitsu, a respected local publisher.

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