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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Problem With Anecdotal Thinking

Deep down, you knew, didn't you, that this would happen. ChartTrack has this evening apparently confirmed to that PS3 shifted 165,000 units in its first two days on sale, beating Wii's 105,000 units and Xbox 360's 70,000. Now, before we get into the semantics of terms like 'shipped' and 'sold', the Gamesindustry article goes with the latter, so that's what I'm using.
-- PS3 UK's fastest-selling console

The first comment for this post is:

It's odd because I've personally known people with the other two current gen consoles at launch. I don't know anyone with a PS3 yet, or who is planning on getting one for a few months yet, and it's not like I don't know people who love their PS2 back catalogue.

Now, I'm willing to chalk up this PR release as a well, PR release. I take all sales numbers right after a launch with an ounce of suspicion since they're always overwhelmingly positive.

But since the "shelf theory" of Sony's sales came around the press so often, this kind of thinking needs get examined and ... well, shelved.

Anecdotal thinking fails, especially when it comes to things like global markets, because of an overwhelming lack of evidence. It's like guessing the average rainfall for the week by looking outside your window. It's weak because it's so easily refutable - anyone's anecdote is just as strong as the next.

I personally don't know anyone with an Xbox 360. I know someone with both a PlayStation 3 and a Wii, and two other people with just Wii's. Therefore - Wii's outsells PS3's which outsell 360's. Well, unless I include bloggers and then the 360 beats the Wii which beats the PS3.

See? I can beat my own anecdotal evidence with ... my own anecdotal evidence.

Course, PR releases often play by similar rules. Narrow your evidence to make things look good. When the 360 launched in Europe, Microsoft was starved for supply. The Wii is the definition of supply short at the moment. To go back to the "shelf theory" of PS3 sales, let us remember that the PS3 is selling about as well as the 360 was at the same time last year ... despite its higher price ... although it has higher stock available.

And let us not forget Microsoft's habit of confusing the word "shipped" with the word "sold" - the PR equivalent of "I know a lot of people bought this" while forgetting to mention that those people weren't actually consumers.

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