It seems bizarre to think now, but back in 2014 many analysts were unconvinced that the home console market had much of a future. A popular sentiment was that traditional gaming was on the out, that interest in the industry was waning, and that consoles were destined to be superseded by smartphones. It was all rather doom and gloom.
Gaming enthusiasts weren’t having any of it, though, and fast forward to 2017 and the mood is anything but bleak. The console industry is booming, with both PS4 and Xbox One flying out the door so quickly that the current generation is on track to match the best-selling consoles of all time.
Both Sony and Microsoft have certainly not been shy to proudly tout sales figures, either; triumphantly declaring victory over one another at any opportunity. But while both consoles have impressed, it is the Japanese giant that has largely dominated proceedings since launch.
To clarify that margin, we’re recapping all the months PS4 has “won” over its rival by recording more hardware sales, and what conditions have allowed those successes to occur.
November 2013 – December 2014: Flying Out The Traps
Months Won by PS4 Nov 2013 – Dec 2014: 11
PS4 Total Sales: 18 million
In November 2013, Sony and Microsoft were ready to commence the first battle of the next generation console war. The lines had been drawn in the sand, but it was quickly evident which side commanded popular opinion, and it was no surprise why either.
Six months earlier, Microsoft’s unveiling of its Xbox One console had been a bit of a blunderous affair. Confused messaging over Kinect’s function and online connectivity, second-hand games ownership, and the console’s high price point had not sat well with gamers. Taking advantage of those strategic errors, Sony was quick to declare its PS4 as a more dedicated gaming machine with a less corporate imperative; a notion that it would later cunningly build its “For the players” marketing campaign around.
Sony drew first blood, outselling Xbox One in both consoles’ debut month and would go on to dominate 2014, winning all but two months in a 14-month period across the US.
One notable exception was in December 2013. The loss was explained by a Sony spokesperson as due to a lack of retail stock. Not that Microsoft cared, who proudly boasted 908,000 units sold. Sony would later retort by reminding gamers that it had sold a whopping 4.2 million PS4s by the end of 2013.
It seemed that stock might well have been to blame for Sony’s loss of December, as the company went on to dominate the next 10 months in a row in the US. It was only in November 2014, after Microsoft finally dropped its stratospheric $500 price and ran a special sale, was Sony’s winning streak halted. The Xbox One would also hold on to finish in first place for December, too.
Still, regardless of the Xbox One’s strong finish to the year, the opening 14 months had seen Sony open up a substantial lead. Sony had “won” 11 of these months in the US, according to NPD. In the UK, a typically strong market for the Xbox brand, PS4 also outshone its rival as the best selling console in 2014.
January – December 2015: Building Momentum
Months Won by PS4 in 2015: 10
PS4 Total Sales: 35 million
A fresh start, January should have been Microsoft’s chance to push on, buoyed by the successes of its previous two months. But without help from its $349 sale price, that imperative wasn’t to be realized. Instead, it would be Sony and PS4 that would retake the initiative and further consolidate its cumulative lead.
For February and March, Sony had a secret weapon in its exclusive title Bloodborne, which proved a critical and commercial hit. The “next generation” was desperately short of exclusives and Bloodborne delivered a big boost to reinforce PS4 as the pick of the two consoles.
Xbox One briefly wrestling the limelight away from PS4, ending the month as the better selling console in April. But for the next five months, the PS4 continued its unrelenting steamrollery. Sony announced 25 million cumulative units sold since launch, selling superbly well in both the US and UK. But why? Nobody was quite sure, with even Sony’s President, Shuhei Yoshida, at a loss for explaining what the primary driving force behind such sales was. Perhaps Sony had won over the minds of gamers ever since the Xbox One’s disastrous launch?
Only with the release of Halo 5 in October could Microsoft gain some ground back on Sony. But, yet again, the PS4 immediately hit back, winning the next two months in the all-important holiday season. According to NPD records, software sales for Call of Duty: Black Ops III were particularly impressive on Xbox One, but the margin wasn’t dramatic despite the game’s popularity on Microsoft’s platform. Sony’s decision to closely ally itself with the brand had been a shrewd one. In this generation, if exclusivity was unobtainable, winning affiliate rights had become a key play.
January – December 2016: A Tale Of Two Halves
Months Won by PS4 in 2016: 8 (+Jan 2017)
PS4 Total Sales: 53 million
Overall, 2016 was another victory for Sony and PS4, but it was much more tightly contested this time around. New hardware from both companies would play the biggest role in deciding the year’s tussle for supremacy, but Sony’s exclusive software was also starting to make their presence felt, too.
In the first half of 2016, PS4’s exclusive offerings were terrific. The remake of the PS2 classic, Ratchet and Clank, was exceptionally well received, and its lower $40 price point seemed to jive well with gamers. Then, Uncharted 4 arrived, and somewhat inevitably received universal critical acclaim. Players went suitably mad for Nathan Drake’s final outing, and the game went on to sell eight million units – the most of any eighth generation exclusive title.
The PlayStation juggernaut, however, was stopped in its tracks by the release of the Xbox One S; a smaller, sleeker, and slightly upgraded version. The new console launched hot off the back of Microsoft’s Project Scorpio E3 announcement, which had seemed to create somewhat of a renewed buzz for the Xbox brand. The Xbox One went on to claim four consecutive victories from July to October.
Sony had its own hand to play though, or rather, two hands: a double whammy of both PSVR and PS4 Pro. While the PSVR peripheral was arguably a greater boon for current PS4 owners than newcomers, the PS4 Pro certainly made an impression. The holiday months of November and December were once again PlayStation’s for another year running. It’s also worth noting that PS4 Pro did not offer any special deal for Black Friday which, if it had, might well have seen Sony steal October, too.
Moving into 2017 and it was a case of another new year, another win for PS4. Capcom’s Resident Evil VII, though not an exclusive title, did enjoy a timed exclusivity for its PSVR peripheral device: a big hook for many gamers. It had also been shown as part of Sony’s E3 conference and perhaps felt more closely allied to PS4, and both these factors may well have helped swing sales in its favor.
Although most notably, the swath of upcoming exclusive titles in early 2017 has surely been Sony’s most significant asset in attracting new buyers. In particular, the recently released Nioh, and just-around-the-corner, Horizon Zero Dawn, are likely to have further fueled hardware sales.
2017 And Beyond: Who Will Rule The Roost?
Despite Xbox One’s unprecedented four-in-a-row winning streak late last year, it’s hard to see the PS4 being beaten in the first quarter of 2017. Thanks to the buzz around its upcoming exclusive games, there’s a tangible momentum behind the PS4 that makes it feel very much the system of choice. Given that the Xbox One doesn’t have too much up its sleeve, for the time being, you probably wouldn’t bet against the PS4 dominating 2017’s first half.
However, Microsoft still has a hand to play later in the year with its Project Scorpio, a console that will eclipse Sony’s PS4 Pro as the most powerful ever made. The console’s significant jump in power gives Microsoft a huge opportunity to decide the future of the remaining eight generation battle.
PS4 Pro has certainly added a string to Sony’s bow, with the Japanese company reporting recently that it was, indeed, selling very well. Yet, the console certainly has its share of naysayers, not content with what they perceive to be a half-hearted upgrade. Project Scorpio’s extra grunt gives Mircosoft a big opportunity turn the tide on its rival, and if it launches in late 2017, it could see the Xbox One trump PS4 during the holiday season.
As always, though, the software will ultimately decide Project Scorpio’s success, and Microsoft must ensure that it has an impressive list of titles ready to take advantage of its new console’s performance. After Sony’s superb E3 2016 conference, which showcased exciting games such as God of War and Days Gone, Microsoft must remind players that quality exclusive titles are on the way for its console too. Otherwise, Scorpio or no Scorpio, we expect Sony to remain King of the hill in 2017.