Retrospective: As Sony Clearly Wins This Generation's Console Wars, Let's Recall How It All Began

from the x-boned dept

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.

Filed Under: console wars, consoles, playstation 4, video games, xbox
Companies: microsoft, nintendo, sony

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  1. icon
    bhull242 (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 7:12pm

    List of problems with _this_ article by Tim Geigner

    • There was this incorrect figure:

    revealing that 2.8 PlayStation 4s were moved in the last quarter.

    In addition to being a really unimpressive number of sales for a quarter, who would buy 0.8 of a console? This was in a quote, so maybe the original had the same mistake, but you still should have caught this, Tim:

    • For some reason, you compared the Wii—a console from the previous generation—and the Switch—a handheld/console hybrid released three years ago, well after the PS4 was launched six years ago—while not even mentioning the Wii U, which was an HD console released around the same time as the PS4 and was actually supposed to compete with it. Yes, the Wii U did poorly, but comparing the Switch to the PS4, which is selling extremely well in Japan and North America but hasn’t been around long enough for its sales to reach the lifetime sales of the PS4 and which doesn’t quite compete with it the same way the Wii U and XBox One have, makes absolutely no sense. Plus, while the Wii U did very poorly, that doesn’t excuse completely ignoring it.

    • Then you mentioned Nintendo’s walled-garden approach to its IP. While true, that wasn’t the reason for the failure of the Wii U—which was largely because of the GamePad and some marketing mistakes—or the “lesser” success of the Switch—which is primarily because of the fact that the PS4 has been out for twice as long as the Switch. Unfortunately, most people who buy consoles don’t base their purchasing decisions on the publisher’s IP enforcement when it comes to fan games, emulators, or YouTube videos. Even if they do, it’s rarely determinative.
      Of course, this isn’t a significant issue with the article; the main problem is the context you mention it—an explanation for why the Switch hasn’t sold as many consoles over its 3-year lifespan as the PS4 has over its 6-year lifespan. Quite frankly, that is not a fair comparison, and there is no reason to believe that the way Nintendo enforces its IP had any significant role there compared to the timespan difference.

    • And I couldn’t forget this gem:

    kicking off the latest battle in a thirty year console war between Microsoft and Sony.

    In addition to missing the hyphen in “thirty-year”, that just isn’t even close to true. Thirty years ago was 1989. Sony wasn’t involved in making consoles until it released the original PlayStation in 1994 (25 years ago). While Microsoft’s MSX was released in 1983 (36 years ago) and was pretty popular as a video game platform (at least in Japan), no one would count that as a console. Its first true console, the original XBox, was released in 2001 (18 years ago). In other words, the console wars between Sony and Microsoft have only been going on for less than 20 years.

    But let’s say you meant the console wars as a whole. Well, that would generally be considered to have started with the Famicom (NES outside of Japan), the Sega Master System (Sega Mark III in Japan), and the PC Engine (Turbografx-16 outside of Japan and France), though arguably it actually started earlier. The Famicom was released in 1983 in Japan, which is 36 years ago. The Sega Master System was released in Japan (as the Sega Mark III) in 1985, which is 34 years ago. The PC Engine was released in 1987, which is 32 years ago. (Incidentally, the Atari 7800, which was also part of the same generation, was released in 1986 (33 years ago); the Sega Mega Drive (aka Sega Genesis) was released in Japan in 1988 (31 years ago); and the SG-1000 (Sega’s first console) was released in 1983.) So even by that definition, the console wars have been going on for more than 30 years.

    At any rate, based on context, you were specifically talking about console wars between Sony and Microsoft, so the above analysis doesn’t actually matter. By any stretch, this statement is clearly incorrect.

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