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 @ 8:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    This could have been worded better, admittedly, but it is technically a true statement. The reason why is because English is weird and you can also read this sentence as console wars have been going on for 30 years and the latest battle is between Microsoft and Sony. Not that Sony and Microsoft have been duking it out for 30 years.

    That’s stretching it quite a bit, but let’s look at that interpretation and see where we go. The console wars began between the Famicom/NES and the Sega Mark III/Sega Master System, which were released in…1983 and 1985. That’s 36 and 34 years ago, respectively. (And arguably, they actually started with the release of the SG-1000, which was in 1983.) So yeah, that’s still not 30 years, so the statement is still wrong. And as I said, that’s based on an interpretation of the sentence that isn’t exactly what people would get from reading it naturally. You have to really closely analyze it to even come up with that as a possible interpretation.

    But it has no official name. Project Scarlet is just the code name used internally at Microsoft and minimal details are known. Meanwhile Sony just recently announced that the next Playstation would officially be called "Playstation 5" and released additional details about it. Microsoft has not followed suit, yet. So again, technically true.

    It’s still kinda misleading. Strictly speaking, Microsoft has made an official announcement of its next console, even if it’s lacking in details. And BTW, was there ever any doubt that Sony’s next console was going to be called the PS5?

    They are on the list but the 360 is NOT in the top 5. The top 5 are, in order: Playstation 2, Playstation 4, Playstation, Wii, Playstation 3. The SIXTH best selling console is the Xbox 360. Categorically true statement.

    I think I understand the confusion here. The other guy was going by North American sales, where the 360 did better than the PS3, while you and Tim (presumably) were going by global sales.

    Perhaps misleading but not a false statement, so it doesn't count. Though I would say it's not entirely irrelevant as the Switch is selling faster than the PS4 so it could potentially outpace the PS4 at some point.

    You’re not wrong, but the unfairness of the statement is exacerbated by what he said next:

    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.

    That is, Tim is saying that part of the reason for the Switch’s lower sales is because of how Nintendo walls off its consoles and takes an anti-consumer approach in its intellectual property.

    Now first of all, as far as the walled garden, anti-consumer approach with consoles, Nintendo is no worse than Sony, which is pretty much exactly the same in this area, and even worse when it comes to cross-platform play. It’s true that Nintendo is worse when it comes to intellectual property, but not with consoles.

    Second, that does not explain why Nintendo’s consoles are in a more niche market. That has more to do with their philosophy when it comes to console design, which tends to be more experimental than Sony or Microsoft’s approaches.

    Third, it completely ignores the elephant in the room: the Switch has been out for 3 years, has not been discontinued, and no successor has even been rumored or hinted at, while the PS4 was released 6 years ago. Since he’s not using anything close to an apples-to-apples comparison, there was no reason to mention the supposed “niche-market appeal” of the Switch or Nintendo’s walled garden, anti-consumer approach to anything.

    Fourth, while he mentions the Wii—which was a console from the previous generation—and the Switch, he completely ignores the Wii U. Now, it sold badly for a variety of reasons, namely the GamePad, failing to market to the hardcore gamers at all, the influx of mobile games to appeal to the nontraditional gamer market, and confusion stemming from the name and the fact the Wii controllers were still a primary way to control the game. But the fact is that it makes no sense to completely ignore it.

    For the record, I don’t approve of many of Nintendo’s practices, included how it enforces its IP. However, using the fact that the Switch hasn’t sold in 3 years what the PS4 has sold in 6 years to bring that up was completely beyond the pale, and it suggests that he was just trying to push his own agenda rather than comment on actual facts. He explicitly said that Nintendo’s practices that he dislikes are causing a discrepancy that only exists because he’s not making a fair comparison.

    Absolutely terrible.

    Well, let’s see. We have one statement that is either completely wrong or is both misleading and inaccurate. One statement is technically true, but not completely accurate either. One statement is true. And one statement is very misleading and is being used to push a narrative that, while not necessarily wrong, is not at all supported by the statement and is irrelevant to the article, while also leaving a glaring omission. Maybe they weren’t hitting it out of the park, but I’d say it wasn’t “absolutely terrible”, either.

    Also, this is hardly the worst case of Tim getting the facts wrong. In a previous article about Epic-exclusive games, he took one developer who tried to keep fans from freaking out about the switch and another who received heavy criticism and possible harassment for their decision and thought they were one and the same. This was a huge error, as it gave the impression that the calm, somewhat-pleading message from the former was still met with heavy backlash, of which there is no evidence. The backlash was actually against a dev who did not handle the announcement or the resulting backlash well at all. To this day, months later, there is still no correction to that article, despite the fact that the error is extremely obvious and prominent and makes a huge difference.


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