Xbox One Stagnates While PS4 Dominates: Can the Tables Turn?
Coming up on the third year of this console generation, Sony's PlayStation 4 continues to be the most popular gaming system, hands down. After getting a jump on Microsoft's Xbox One, the PS4 never looked back and barely slowed down. Earlier this year, Sony topped 40 million units sold world-wide, while Microsoft has reported barely more than 20 million.
With the fizzled out Nintendo Wii U only selling about 13 million units, Sony has outsold both of its biggest competitors -- combined.
PS3 vs Xbox 360: Revisited
This recent turn of events seems to mirror the previous generation's sale performances, but in reverse.
Xbox 360 was released several months earlier and got a head start on Sony's PlayStation 3 model. But the PS3 never caught up in the U.S., and soon the Nintendo Wii overtook both of them worldwide. As the Xbox 360 dropped from a 45% to 36% share after the original Wii came out, the PS3 never had more than a 20% market share.
It also didn't help PS3 sales that PlayStation 2 units were still being sold competitively.
The Xbox 360 averaged 4 million units annually (2006, 2007, and 2008). The PS3 climbed from 675k units in 2006 to 3.5 million in 2008, but they were still behind. And yes, there were some high-profile PS3 exclusives, like God of War, Gran Turismo, Metal Gear Solid, Infamous, Ratchet and Clank, and Resistance.
But, that was the era of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, as well as Madden and Grand Theft Auto 4. Non-exclusive titles far outpaced exclusives, but Xbox 360 exclusives did fairly well. In the end, the PlayStation 3 was Sony's worst performing console.
Now, the PS4 is in the driver's seat with the Xbox One lagging behind in exclusives and overall players.
This Is Why PS4 Is Hot
Gaming trends cannot always be predicted. Manufacturers can research markets, survey customers and play test, but even the best laid plans can go awry once the rubber hits the road.
- Initial Price - The Xbox One's $499 launch price tag put off many potential buyers. Dropping $100 and the unpopular Kinect later would help with the sales lag.
- Graphic Quality - While both produce top-notch HD images, the PS4's faster RAM gives it an edge in highly detailed environments and a faster framerate. And gamers will tell you how lethal lag can be.
- Critic's Choice - Voices from sites like Gizmodo, GamesRadar, and Kotaku, etc. lean hard to the PS4 side.
- Features - How cool is it that PlayStation Vita players can STREAM their PS4 games? How about Playstation VR as virtual reality becomes more of a reality for gamers?
- No One Really Kinected - Microsoft initially bundled the unpopular Kinect sensor with the Xbox One, while Sony made the PS4 camera optional.
- Upcoming Exclusives - With titles like No Man's Sky, Horizon Zero Dawn, and the gritty Let It Die on the 2016 roster, will the PS4 continue to run the table?
Then, there's the current crop of exclusive titles. Top sellers like Infamous: Second Son, Bloodborne, Driveclub and this year's runaway hit Uncharted 4: A Thief's End have all sold more than 2 MILLION copies each. Even Ratchet and Clank (yes, THAT Ratchet and Clank) has become the fastest selling title in the UK, Europe and Australia.
Meanwhile, top Xbox One exclusives like Forza, Halo 5 and Gears of War have barely cleared 1 million each.
And Why the Xbox One Is Not
Though the issues of competitive pricing and hardware comparison may figure into the equation, the biggest sore spot for Microsoft has been their game library this go around.
Tried and true franchises sputtered and games like Titanfall were not overall well-received, falling off fast.
Even the Halo franchise is not the automatic golden goose it once was.
Last generation's Halo 3 cashed in at 14.5 million units; Halo Reach sold 9.76 million and Halo 4 at 9.52 million. By contrast Halo: The Master Chief Collection only sold 2.6 million copies.
And so far, 343's Halo 5: Guardians is barely above 1 million sold. Not good.
And upcoming exclusives may not be generating the buzz Microsoft is hoping for. Gears of War 4 could be a title beyond its franchise's life cycle. Rare's Sea of Thieves has no set date and was pushed back. And Fable Legends is completely dead since Lionhead Studios shut down.
Stepping Up the Xbox One's Game
Just dropping the unit price to stay competitive is not enough. If Microsoft wants to stay in the game, they have to bring an A-game. At this level, it's going to take more than a new Kinect title.
"To be THE man, you got to beat the man." - Ric Flair
Like Sony's PS2 Slim, Microsoft has planned a trimmer version of the original Xbox One console. Estimated to be 40% smaller and include 4k video capability, this lower cost unit may just be a stop-gap, however for the next-gen Xbox One coming in 2017. But even still, PlayStation isn't far behind with the upcoming release of the PS4.5, or PS4K.
Rumor has it that a completely overhauled and muscled up unit will be released late next year. Code-named Scorpio (2 Cold Scorpio?), this model will supposedly be 4x more powerful than the current Xbox One, which records about 1.32 teraflops (trillion float point operations per second).
The PS4 clocks in at 1.8 teraflops with a 4.4 tf model on the horizon. But the Scorpio could rip past Sony at a purported ludicrous speed of 6.1 tf.
Also, there are still some exclusive titles that could draw sales. ReCore, from the creators of Metroid Prime, has been getting some buzz and Platinum's dragon-riding Scalebound trailer looks quite thrilling. An attractive indie title on the way is Cuphead, which combines old-school run-and-gun gaming with very old-school toon characters and bosses.
Another huge step has been Microsoft's decision to bring the Xbox One and Windows 10 together. This means Windows and console players are able to play co-op and PvP together. Players can stream their games to Windows 10 devices, have interactive chats, and record game play.
The nearly 20 million unit gap between the Xbox One and PS4 may seem unbreachable, but that doesn't mean they can't get a lot closer.
Parts of the Future
With so much riding on a console system's success or failure, another trend looms ahead for all the major hardware makers.
Each generation's life span is getting shorter.
The original PS2 had a 13-year run. The PS3 was made for 9 years. At this rate, the PS4 might only have a 6 or 7 year lifespan.
Something that could change everything is modular hardware, like PCs.
The PS4 already has an internal hard-drive that can be swapped. Like Google's modular cellphone, next-gen consoles (perhaps even upgraded current models like the Xbox One's Scorpio) could add modular design.
Owners would be able to beef up ram, swap video cards, maybe even add new processors. Not only could such developments prolong life spans, but cut down on production development and manufacturing costs.
It may help companies minimize issue due to hardware, but being the top dog still means having the best games to play on that console. Only time will tell if the Xbox is able to stay afloat in that regard.
[Disclaimer: The author does not personally own a Sony PS4. The Amazon Pirate's den does have an Xbox 360, an Xbox One and a functioning PS2.]