How to Correctly Analyze the PS4/Xbox One Sales Numbers

Numbers can be misleading, but they always contain tidbits of truth.

After the NPD group revealed their official sales results for December and all of 2013, the PlayStation 4 vs. The Xbox One in the US is a pretty hot topic.

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Worldwide, we already know the PS4 sold 4.2 million units by December 28, 2013. In contrast, Microsoft moved “only” 3 million units in the same time frame (as of December 31, 2013). Hence, the global count is definitely in Sony’s favor, especially with multiple sources claiming total PS4 domination in some European countries.  For instance, although it was only semi-official, there was the news that Sony’s console had outsold the Xbox in Germany by a stunning count of 2.5 : 1.

After those numbers arrived, I did a piece explaining why the PlayStation 4 has already earned a significant victory in the US. The idea was simple: given that the Xbox 360 owned the previous generation in this country, routinely outselling the PS3 by a 2:1 and even 3:1 ratio, the current result is outstanding for Sony. Even if the PS4 tied the Xbox One in this country, that’s a major surge.

Now, with the recently tallied numbers, it’s time to take another look and give everyone the proper perspective.

Xbox One wins December, but not 2013

The NPD results say the Xbox One was the best-selling console in the US in December, with 908,000 units sold. However, the sales-tracking group also noted that in fact, the PS4 was the best-selling system for the two-month November/December period. While we didn’t get any exact sales numbers from Sony (and we never do via the NPD), we can infer a few points from these results:

1. If the PS4 outsold the Xbox One in 2013, and the latter console was tops in December, this means Sony’s console did much better out of the gate.

2. Availability-wise, the PS4 couldn’t have been that impossible to find in December.

This leads me to another point. Availability is always key in any sales analysis, and many Sony fans will quickly remind you that the PS4 was sold out throughout most of December. Obviously, though, Sony must’ve sold at least some PS4s during that month; otherwise, we’re saying they sold enough consoles in November to win all of 2013. That’s just not realistic.

Price point, launch lineups, hype, etc.

The Xbox One costs $100 more than the PS4, which is significant. As people are often willing to shell out a little more during the holidays, it’s possible that fewer consumers will want to spring for the $500 Xbox One in the first quarter of 2014. Hence, we might conclude that the PS4 will outsell Microsoft’s console for a few more months. In terms of launch lineups, neither system produced anything too earth-shattering. Although again, it’s arguable that the Xbox One had the slight edge; at least it had one big AAA title in Forza Motorsport 5. Even with that edge, it couldn’t win 2013 in the US, which is another notable point.

Hype? Well, the PS4 enjoyed positive word-of-mouth throughout 2013. Microsoft rescinded its annoying policies but by then, the damage was done. The bottom line is that heading into the console launches in November, the PS4 still had a sizable lead in the “positive hype” category. That includes this country, by the way.

This is the one instance where Xbox One could catch up in the future. As time fades, so do our memories. People won’t remember what Microsoft tried to implement with the Xbox One; they’ll just see a new Xbox. And as it remains the dominant brand in the US, that could serve Microsoft well down the road.

What does all this mean for the future?

First and foremost, it means the PlayStation brand is in a great position to recapture the US market. They’ve done everything they needed to do after a down generation, in which the Xbox 360 dominated North America. Don’t forget, prior to that, the PS2 was the biggest console in every country and eventually became the best-selling video game system in history. So, to have the Xbox 360 own the US as it did…well, that was a major slip for Sony.

Secondly, it’s important to mention that we’re just getting started. There’s a long way to go, and don’t forget that exclusive AAA software powers hardware sales. When the Xbox One gets its new Halo entry, you’ll undoubtedly see a sales spike. When the PS4 gets Uncharted 4, hardware sales will rise. It’s difficult to make any predictions about software right now, but historically, Sony’s first-party efforts have been head-and-shoulders above the competition, as many critics will tell you.

Thirdly and lastly, these initial sales results for the US make one thing plain: Xbox is on the down slope while PlayStation is on the upswing. There’s just no denying that, regardless of how you interpret the numbers.

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A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.