The PS5 Was India's Best-Selling Console in 2021
More than meets the eye.
Sony’s PlayStation 5 was India's best-selling console in 2021. Sony India has made the PS5 the de facto choice for gamers in the country. According to sources in the supply chain speaking to me on condition of anonymity, the PS5 sales best the Xbox Series X|S 10:1. Over 90 percent of the PS5s sold in India were the disc variant rather than the digital edition due to greater customer demand.
Now, some may assume this to be par for the course, given how well the PS4 sold, but this time around it doesn't seem like Sony is resting on its laurels. For one, there have been multiple restocks through the year, at times twice a month — not just online either, offline stores have received regular stocks since its February 2021 release.
Secondly, there's been a larger emphasis on visibility at brick and mortar outlets. Several Sony Centres, consumer electronic chains, and game stores across the country have had Sony come in and redecorate retail with PS5 branding.
Thirdly and most importantly, Sony's been able to ensure regular availability that's routinely communicated by its legion of stores, going as far as to dictate terms regarding scalping, making it appear pro-consumer. Any store found selling PS5s at inflated prices is blacklisted and doesn’t get stock from the company.
Naturally it helps that the PS5 is a hot, in-demand product ensuring that every SEO-thirsty media outlet and YouTuber covers its every move.
In fact, you'll be hard pressed to miss news of a PS5 restock. If you didn't catch Vijay Sales, Amazon, and Gameloot advertising it, you'd definitely find Gadgets 360, IGN India (RIP), and My Smart Price talking about it, creating a network effect of buzz around the console as well as FOMO — the holy grail of marketers the world over.
All of this might sound rather boring and par for the course. In fact some might even argue that because of the global popularity for the console, that alone is enough to move units locally. If this was true, the Indian sales figures for the first year of the PS5 wouldn't be what the PS4 achieved in two years — 60,000 by my estimates.
If we go by the 10:1 ratio in the first paragraph, we could assume the Xbox Series X|S India sales to be at 6,000. Though I believe that’s too high when you consider that the availability of both Xbox consoles has been erratic through the year. I’d suspect Microsoft has moved fewer units than that.
Before you ask, Microsoft has been as effective as it was during the Xbox One era, essentially bringing a toothpick to a gunfight. There are some new wrinkles to this ongoing saga of wasted potential, but that’s for another post.
Sony's efforts with the PS5 have had some interesting effects on the Indian games business at large this year too. For example:
Deathloop is Bethesda's biggest-selling game in India at launch besting the likes of Skyrim, Doom, and Fallout 4. This is in part due to Sony's wide in-store presence as well as marketing efforts digital and otherwise, associating it with the game’s online features to push PS Plus.
Resident Evil Village sold the most on PS4 at launch, but over the course of the year, sold more on PS5 than any other platform.
In fact, the general trend in the market is to shy away from PS4 games that can be upgraded to their PS5 versions. More often than not, if a game is on the PS5 and PS4 — with the latter allowing for a free PS5 upgrade — customers prefer the native PS5 version on disc.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales which had a slow uptake on release, picked up well enough to be the PS5's biggest-selling game thanks to widespread availability.
You can't discount a solid distribution pipeline. It might not be as hip or cool as a relevant Twitter account, but it actually manifests itself in building the games business in a way where it eventually tries to pay for itself. After all, winning in markets like India where return on investment is critical, is hard to come by.
Though the most interesting trend from 2021 is the demand for console games and hardware beyond the traditional markets. Usually 70 percent of console sales have been concentrated between Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru, with the PS5 however, there’s been stronger demand from other cities too. The big three have a 50 percent share so far. And it reflects in the customers too. Now more than ever, the clientele are first-time buyers upgrading from PC or mobile gaming.
I’m curious to see what the year brings in terms of consumer behaviour for Sony what with the likes of Horizon Forbidden West and Gran Turismo 7 on the horizon as well as third-party fare like Elden Ring and a wider array of accessories. In the past, Sony has dropped the ball with games after early momentum. It’s a well-documented issue with the company. Perhaps 2022 will be different.
Other interesting insights from 2021 in Indian games retail
Call of Duty: Vanguard had strong week 1 sales, moving close to 15,000 units. Interestingly, all of this were physical copies through grey and parallel channels. There were no sales done officially. This is because Activision hasn't zeroed in on a new India distributor following Worldwide CD ROMs, its previous distributor exiting the business. The lack of an official physical presence, while not being a deterrent during Black Ops Cold War's launch, has impacted sales after the first week. Stores are unable to move copies while digital sales have stagnated too.
WWE 2K20 despite being lampooned for its shoddy quality continues to rank in the top five games sold at most retail stores each month. A lot of it has to do with casual audiences new to the PlayStation or Xbox ecosystems looking for a new wrestling game to play and gravitating towards the latest and greatest, which just so happens to be WWE 2K20. The WWE as a whole is immensely popular in India and the games tend to be bullet-proofed from the usual AAA bug bear of reviewing poorly.
Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel's second-best selling game in India after Spider-Man for the PS4 (which clocked in 50,000 units sold in its first three months). This could be chalked down to an aggressive pre-order strategy, fair pricing (anything above Rs. 4,000 is dead in the water on console in India save few exceptions), and a shrewd influencer campaign that resulted in effective word out mouth (plus, the photo mode is god tier).
Nintendo Switch OLED sales were slow at launch. This was due to the previous Switch available at lower prices around the same time. With most of that older, pre-OLED inventory exhausted from the market by now, I expect the Nintendo Switch to hit 130,000 units sold lifetime to date by March 2022.