In these modern times, it seems almost silly to say just how long ago 2013 feels. Six years is nearly an eternity in most respects these days, but when it comes to the video game industry, even an eternity feels like it falls short. I bring this up because 2013 is the year that both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One were released, kicking off the latest battle in a thirty year console war between Microsoft and Sony. Sony released a couple pieces of information over the past few weeks, both of which will be of interest to gamers. First, the Playstation 5 is on the way. Second, Sony released new lifetime shipping figures for the Playstation 4, noting that total shipments of the console are now over 102 million in total.
The PlayStation 5 might be on the horizon, but the PS4 continues its impressive run. As of September 30, Sony has shipped 102.8 million PlayStation 4 consoles, surpassing even the Nintendo Wii.
Sony announced the news in its most recent financial statements, revealing that 2.8 PlayStation 4s were moved in the last quarter. Twitter user ZhugeEX has been tracking the data, so you can see how the global console shipments stack up.
Well, it stacks up as the second best selling console of all time, actually. With what appears to be the crossing of the finish line in this generation’s console wars, with the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch well behind Sony’s numbers, it’s a decent time to look at what happened. Interestingly, a peek down memory land here at Techdirt provides some of the context in these numbers.
We’ll start with Nintendo. Many will point to the fact that Nintendo didn’t release a console at the same time as Microsoft and Sony. The Wii came out in 2006 and shipped 101 million units, while the Switch came out in 2017 and has shipped 36 million units. The Wii was an obvious success, but its numbers are spread across 5-7 additional years compared with the PS4. The Switch, meanwhile, has been successful as well, but nothing at the level of Sony’s current console. Much of this is explained by Nintendo’s consoles being slightly more in a niche market compared with Sony’s and Microsoft’s. But part of the reason for that is the decidedly closed off, walled garden, anti-consumer approach Nintendo has taken with its consoles and intellectual property.
The Xbox One comparison is more meaningful, however. Here we have a competing console released at roughly the same time, while sharing a similar catalog of games (save exclusives), and sporting similar console capabilities. What explains Sony shipping roughly 60 million more PS4s than Microsoft shipped Xbox Ones?
The rollout of Microsoft’s console, for starters. We did an entire series of posts on the Xbox rollout, even pre-release, and Microsoft’s proposals and subsequent walk-backs for online requirements to play purchased games, plans to limit the ability to play used games on the console at all, and the strange requirement that the Kinect be bought with it, despite the paltry sum of games that bothered to use the Kinect at all. This paragraph sums up the chaos, all of which occurred in the course of less than a year:
It’s been a relatively tough road for Microsoft’s Xbox One, even as it’s early in the console’s life. You should recall that the console was initially designed to require some degree of online connectivity to work; a plan that was subsequently walked back after consumers revolted. It was the same for proposed limitations on used games, which caused similar outrage. The console was also supposed to not be fully operational without the bundled Kinect engaged, but that plan was also scrapped because customers hated the idea. Left in place were consumers questioning why they had to pay for the Kinect device at all, given the paltry sum of games that actually utilized it. Well, the trend continues, now that Microsoft has announced in an absolutely tone-deaf blog post that there will now be an Xbox One offering that comes sans Kinect. The post, laughably, is entitled “Delivering More Choices for Fans.”
In the moment when a company was looking to hype its forthcoming console, this combination of “features” customers didn’t want and the chaos that ensued with all the walk-backs had many, many customers that might have been interested in the Xbox instead shrugging and buying a Sony PS4 instead. It was the combination of tone-deaf plans and anti-consumer features that gave the public a sour taste even before the console release. And, with such a significant percentage of console sales occurring in the initial release window, that’s a recipe for losing a console war.
It wasn’t the only reason of course. Competitor that Microsoft might be, it’s no secret that Sony is the dominant player. After all, 4 of the top 5 best selling consoles of all time are Sony products.
But there can be no doubt that Microsoft would have sold more units if not for its ill-fated, anti-consumer features, shoddy communication, and the fact that its chief competitor offered alternatives to both. With the PS5 on the way, you would assume Microsoft’s next console will be announced shortly as well. Hopefully the company has learned its lesson.
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