A customer, center, plays a video game on a Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. PlayStation 4 (PS4) video game console as he tries out the PS4 console at a Bic Camera Inc. electronics store in Tokyo, Japan, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Tokyo - Sony was winning the console wars for the first time in nearly a decade, a company official confirmed yesterday, offering a rare bright spot on its otherwise troubled balance sheet.

Stellar sales of the new PlayStation 4 (PS4) gave the Japanese electronic giant a huge leg up over rival Nintendo, which has dominated the market for eight years.

Sony’s gaming unit, Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE), sold more than 18.7 million consoles worldwide in the business year to March, a spokeswoman said, against Nintendo’s 16.3 million units.

US rival Microsoft trailed in third with sales of 11.6 million units in the 12-month period, despite a jump from the roll-out of the popular Xbox One towards the end of last year, business daily Nikkei said.

Sony had sold more than 7 million PS4 units worldwide as early as April although the new machine was only released in Japan in February. It was launched in November last year in the US and Europe.

That performance came despite an annual group net loss of ¥128.4 billion (R13bn), but played into the 14.3 percent gain in revenue in the business year, along with a weak yen and strong smartphone sales.

“We will stay solid as PS4 sales are on the verge of expansion,” SCE spokeswoman Yoshiko Uchiyama said.

PS4 and its predecessor made up more than 14.6 million of the total console sales, with more than 4.1 million PlayStation Portable (PSP) and PlayStation Vita (PS Vita) hand-held units also shifted, she said.

Sony predicted that it would sell 20.5 million units in the year to March 2015 – 17 million standing consoles and 3.5 million hand-held units.

The decline in portable units was partly attributed to Sony’s plan to end shipments of the 10-year-old PSP machines to focus on marketing the PS Vita, which hit the domestic market in December 2011, she added.

Sales of video game hardware by Japanese makers have been depressed in recent years as they battle fierce competition from increasingly sophisticated smartphone games.

SCE’s hardware sales dipped about 20 percent in the past business year, while those of Nintendo slid 30 percent. Sony last led global console sales in the year to March 2006. - Sapa-AFP