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Xbox One vs. PlayStation 4 stalemated—except on eBay

A man uses an XBox One while waiting to buy a console from a Microsoft pop-up shop at the Time Warner Center in New York.
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A man uses an XBox One while waiting to buy a console from a Microsoft pop-up shop at the Time Warner Center in New York.

The next-generation console wars are stalemated so far.

Microsoft said Wednesday that it has sold more than 2 million Xbox One units in the system's first 18 days of availability. That comes roughly a week after Sony said it had sold 2.1 million PlayStation 4 units in the first 14 days.

That represents a total of $1.8 billion-plus in sales of console hardware in three and a half weeks.

"Demand for next-generation gaming continues to be very strong," said John Love, director of video games at Amazon. "At peak demand, customers were ordering the Xbox One console at over 1,000 units per minute."

While sellouts of the systems aren't surprising given the holiday shopping frenzy, that the companies have essentially matched each other's sales numbers is a bit unexpected.

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Several analysts had predicted that Sony would best Microsoft in the early days of this generation of console gaming systems. In October, International Data Corp. projected the PS4 outselling the Xbox One this holiday because of "a variety of factors, most notably the PS4's lower price point."

But Colin Sebastian, analyst at R.W. Baird, has consistently said the race would be a tight one.

"We continue to expect relatively balanced sales by the end of the launch window," he said in a note. "As such, we believe each platform is on track to meet our high-end sales forecast of 3 million units by the end of 2013, and 5 to 6 million units cumulatively by the end of Q1."

While the results certainly bode well for both makers, they also are expected to have a spillover effect on other players in the video game industry.

For example, Sebastian said that the performance helps provide better visibility for GameStop's holiday sales.

Bob Puzon, GameStop's senior vice president of merchandising, supported that statement, saying that the company is seeing "high demand" for the Xbox One and is working with Microsoft to receive more of them.

Long term, the consoles' success bodes well for GameStop, whose stock has fallen more than 15 percent in the past month. In late November the retailer gave lower-than-expected EPS guidance for the fourth quarter, noting lower-margin sales. Hardware and new software have lower margins initially, but GameStop often recoups that when consumers trade up on those systems and games.

The strong hardware sales should also boost publishers with games on both platforms, including Ubisoft and Electronic Arts. Those companies have been stung by what Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities calls "far weaker-than-expected" sales of their tentpole holiday releases, "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag" and "Battlefield 4," respectively.

While Sony and Microsoft have reason to cheer, Nintendo's Wii U continues to languish. The NPD Group, which tracks game and hardware sales, will report November sales later this week, but Pachter estimates that the Wii U sold just 150,000 units last month—a 65 percent decline from November 2012.

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At the end of October, Nintendo said Wii U's sales to date stood at 3.91 million and that the system had sold less than 500,000 units in the six months between April 1 and Oct. 1—making the Wii U one of the worst-performing game systems of the past nine years.

Nintendo maintains its sales expectations of 8.54 million units by the end of its fiscal year, which Pachter calls "unattainable without another price cut." (The Wii U currently retails at $300, with a trio of bundles offering a free game with the system.)

While the PS4 and Xbox are virtually tied at retail, Sony is winning a battle against Microsoft. Because neither company can keep up with demand, the systems are red hot on resale sites such as eBay. And the PS4 seems to be in higher demand there, according to Sebastian.

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"Our latest check on eBay suggests more 25,000 Xbox One and 50,000 PS4 sales on the online marketplace to date, with both platforms selling at healthy premiums over MSRP," he said.

PlayStation 4s, which retail for $399, are going for anywhere from $575 to $800 on eBay, while the Xbox One, which retails for $499, is generally selling for about $620.

"Interestingly, the PS4 is selling at twice the rate of Xbox One, which could indicate strong demand for Sony's platform in markets initially not included in the Nov. 15 launch, such as Europe and Australia."

By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com

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