Contrary to what the countless “are consoles dying?” thinkpieces from just a few short years ago kept predicting, the current console generation has been one of the most successful ever, with lifetime sales that are well ahead of what they were by this point in the last console race. Recent reports estimate lifetime sales for current gen consoles to be over 60 million, with Sony’s PlayStation 4 in particular enjoying a significant chunk of that number, having sold an estimated 40 million units worldwide since hitting the market in November 2013. That means that Sony’s closest rival, Microsoft’s Xbox One, has sold around 20 million units — a respectable figure, to be sure, but the numbers don’t lie. The PS4 is outselling the Xbox One at a rate of almost 2:1, begging the question: why is the PlayStation 4 dominating the current console war? I’m glad you asked! That answer is both multi-faceted and complex, but here are the most significant reasons for why the PS4 is still beating the Xbox One:
10. Better Design Aesthetics
A relatively minor contributor, to be sure, but it’s hard to deny that the PS4’s form factor has played a role in the console’s success. Admittedly, neither system is exactly swoon-worthy in terms of looks, but the PS4’s angular, compact design trounces the Xbox One’s boring, boxy exterior. Things will get interesting when Microsoft releases the slimmer Xbox One S model later this year but until then, a PS4 makes a much better visual statement in that entertainment unit. Plus, I don’t think any Xbox One design could ever best this beautiful thing.
9. PS Plus
Although it’s become less of an advantage ever since Microsoft started beefing up with its Games With Gold Program, Sony’s PS Plus subscription service still has a significant level of perceived value in many consumers’ eyes that is hard to shake. Sony’s actual networking infrastructure may not be as reliable or stable as Xbox Live, but Sony’s commitment to giving subscribers a bunch of free games every month and a revolving door of steep discounts has made it the go-to online service for many on consoles. Despite Xbox One improving their free games initiative over the past year or so, with offerings that generally rival or even surpass what Sony is giving away each month, the PS4 is still benefiting from PS Plus’s high reputation among subscribers, which contributes to the console’s overall consumer appeal.
8. Momentum Driven By A Large Install Base
The sizable gap between PS4 and Xbox One sales isn’t just a figure that Sony can wave in Microsoft’s face; it has tangible repercussions across the board. Think about it: with the PS4’s install base being so much larger than Xbox One’s, you’re likely to know more people who own a PS4 than a Xbox One. That means that when it comes time for someone to take the plunge and buy a next gen console, they’ll naturally be more inclined to pick Sony’s console because that’s where more of their friends are gaming. Don’t let Mark from Marketing fool you — or in this case, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer — that install base advantage represents a cascade effect that is definitely in Sony’s favor right now.
7. Sony Knows How To Win
What many people seem to forget is that Sony is a company that’s used to being in the lead, at least when it comes to its PlayStation brand. They’re still the only gaming company to “win” two generations in the row, with PlayStation and PlayStation 2 being the sales leaders of their respective generations, and if it wasn’t for some extremely boneheaded decisions at the beginning of the PlayStation 3’s life cycle, they probably could have had a stranglehold on that generation too (although the Nintendo Wii would have still ultimately come out on top; that thing couldn’t be stopped). Microsoft, despite their best efforts, has never had an Xbox system dominate in quite the way a PlayStation has and generally find themselves playing catch-up. That’s not a knock against the Xbox platform, as Microsoft has continuously offered Sony stiff competition, but Sony is in their element with the PS4 right now and you better believe they’ll do everything they can to hold onto their lead.
6. Strength In Every Territory
One advantage that Sony has over Microsoft that doesn’t seem to get brought up enough is that PlayStation is very much a global brand and by that I mean that it typically has success wherever Sony decides to sell it. The big three gaming sales regions — North America, Europe, and Japan — can all reasonably be called Sony bases in one way or another, as the company is generally able to sell PlayStations in any of them. The Xbox, on the other hand, is very much a North America-dominating brand that does decent enough business in Europe and has been an abysmal failure in Japan from day one. With such a difference in their worldwide appeal, it’s hard not to think that Microsoft is envious of the PlayStation’s globe-spanning clout.
5. Third Party Exclusivity Deals
The PS4 and Xbox One’s exclusive game lineups couldn’t have looked more different in 2015. Microsoft had arguably one of the strongest years its ever had, with heavy hitters such as Halo 5: Guardians, Forza Motorsport 6, and Rise of the Tomb Raider landing within just a few months of each other last year. Sony, on the other hand, had a pretty disappointing year when it came to “must-have” PS4 titles, with Bloodborne and Until Dawn being the only major releases of note. While you would think that the PS4’s inferior software lineup would have given the Xbox One the edge last year, it ultimately didn’t matter all that much thanks to Sony’s shrewd exclusivity deals with third party developers.
From Call of Duty Black Ops III to Star Wars Battlefront, Sony made sure to market the biggest console games of last year as being “best on PS4.” This ended up paying huge dividends at retail, with many consumers associating the year’s hottest games with the PS4, leading to most multiplatform games selling more on Sony’s console than the Xbox One. Although Sony has had a much stronger first party lineup so far in 2016, 2015 was proof that console exclusives alone aren’t enough to change the tide in this console race.
4. Sony Understands Its Target Audience
From day one, Sony has been locked in on branding the PS4 as a console that puts games — and by extension gamers — first. Both the PS4 and Xbox One are devices capable of delivering a wide range of multimedia experiences, but at the end of the day, most consumers in the market for a gaming console care primarily about playing games and this is something that Sony has frequently and repeatedly demonstrated they understand. This is in stark contrast to Microsoft’s strategy with the Xbox One, which was completely bungled during the console’s first year on the market (more on that later). Although the Xbox One is arguably catering to gamers even better than the PS4 is right now thanks to things like its backwards compatibility initiative, Sony’s tried and true reputation of understanding the wants and needs of its target audience has given it the edge this generation and that kind of positive brand identity is extremely tough to beat.
3. Superior Tech (For Now)
Although both the PS4 and Xbox One are heavily outclassed by high-end PC gaming rigs and have been pretty much since this console generation began, when it comes to raw technical specs, Sony’s machine is still the most powerful console on the market. Sure, most casual consumers don’t care about things like frames per second or native resolutions, but if you can consistently prove to them that games run better on your system than on the competition’s, that’s when their ears start to perk up. Simply put, the vast majority of multiplatform games run better on the PS4 than the Xbox One.
Sure, in most cases this performance advantage isn’t even noticeable to the untrained eye, but if you had the choice between purchasing the same game on either system, you would probably choose the PS4, wouldn’t you? Microsoft had this advantage over Sony last gen, with games typically running better on the Xbox 360 than the PS3, which translated to the Xbox 360 being the console of choice for multiplatform games. Having the most powerful tech is definitely not the only barometer for success in the gaming space (if it were, we would all play games on our PCs exclusively) but it does play a role and so far, the PS4 has been reaping the benefits.
2. Early Price Advantage
Price is one of the most important factors in any purchasing decision, which helps explain why the PS4 was able to jump to such an overwhelming lead over the competition this generation. If you frame it a certain way, Microsoft’s initial $499 asking price for the Xbox One packed significant value given the functionality of the Kinect sensor. That being said, no one cared about the Kinect (not even Microsoft anymore), so most consumers were naturally more drawn to the PS4’s $399 launch price, a full $100 less than the Xbox One.
To their credit, Microsoft quickly got wise to the fact that not many people liked the idea of being forced to pay a premium for a peripheral they didn’t even want and released a Kinect-free Xbox One for the same price as Sony’s machine, but the damage was already done. Sure, the Xbox One technically offered consumers more functionality out of the gate than the PS4 did, but $100 is $100; people are naturally more drawn to a lower price and this was proven time and time again during the early days of this console war.
1. Xbox One’s Early Blunders
As important as Sony’s own efforts to make the PS4 a success have no doubt been, the PS4 would likely be nowhere near the dominant force it is today if it hadn’t been able to benefit from Microsoft’s massive mismanagement of the Xbox One during the first year or so of its existence. Going into full detail would require an entire essay (and there are enough of those floating around if you’re so inclined) but if one were to summarize what went wrong with the Xbox One, one word comes to mind: arrogance. Rather than listen to what gamers wanted, Microsoft told them what they wanted, but didn’t seem to realize that things like an always-online games console and forced DRM (digital rights management) are things that no console owner wants to deal with. Add an overall focus on marketing the Xbox One as an entertainment hub and treating games as a secondary concern, as well as trying to cram Kinect down everyone’s throat, and you get a pretty clear picture of how Sony was able to capitalize on Microsoft’s terrible blunders with the Xbox One.
Despite Microsoft’s best efforts to change their messaging around the Xbox One over the past year (something they have been doing an incredible job at, by the way), gamers have a long memory and the system may never be able to fully escape its initial bad reputation. That’s a real shame, but as long as that reputation persists, you can be sure that Sony won’t mind to continue to capitalize on its competitor’s woes.