All three companies ended up having a good year in 2018, but one reigned supreme.
Here we are at the end of 2018, and this has been a hell of a year for games. Whether you like Japanese games or western ones, indie games or AAA ones, first party games or third party ones, exclusives or multiplatform games, whether you play on PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo, it was a great year all around. But, much like last year, there was one company that ended up doing better than any of the others. But where last year that company was Nintendo with the then newly launched Switch, this year it was… not.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Nintendo did fine this year. Not great, no. They did fine. They had some good games come out over the course of the year—Super Mario Party, Sushi Striker, Octopath Traveler, Kirby Star Allies, Mario Tennis Aces, plus of course, Pokemon Let’s Go and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. All some pretty neat exclusives, although to be fair, only Pokemon and Smash are heavy hitters, and both were packed right into the end of the year.
There were also the Wii U ports, quite a lot of them—Bayonetta 2, Captain Toad, Hyrule Warriors, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. The Switch’s third party situation also continued to grow: we got games like Diablo 3, Civilization 6, Valkyria Chronicles 4, The World Ends With You, Dragon Quest Builders, Dark Souls Remastered, Fortnite, Paladins, Warframe, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, ARK: Survival Evolved, and Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. We got major indie games, such as Hollow Knight and Celeste. In terms of third party support, some important new announcements, such as Crash Team Racing, Mortal Kombat 11, and DOOM Eternal were also made.
But on the whole, compared to just how relentless 2017 had been for Nintendo, compared to how many top of the line exclusives they launched month after month, compared to how they dominated chatter every week with the Switch, compared to just how much momentum they had, 2018 felt like a step down. The Switch still sold well, and will probably end up doing better in 2018 than it did in 2017—but, for instance, that it was no longer top dog in 2018 was amply demonstrated by the fact that the Switch was no longer the top selling console most months, unlike last year.
Unlike Nintendo, who seemed to be suffering with a curious case of perceived slower momentum in 2018 compared to 2017, Microsoft started to have a resurgence this year. The launch of the Xbox One X last year revitalized and re-energized the brand, and console sales, at least through to November, were up year on year in USA. The Xbox One was still almost always the last place console in most markets around the world, but its sales performance had notably picked up compared to last year.
On every other front, too, Microsoft was on fire this year. Earlier this year, they announced that they will release all their first party games on Game Pass going forward, and they have been doing that. In fact, even third party titles, such as Ashen, have begun to join the party in terms of doing that now. This makes Game Pass possibly the best value ever in the history of gaming, and it has continued to be a major focal point of Microsoft’s strategy since.
In terms of games, Microsoft had three exclusives launched this year—Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2, and Forza Horizon 4. Sea of Thieves and State of Decay launched to general negative reception, but persistent post launch support for both games has managed to make them far better ever since. Forza Horizon 4, meanwhile, might be the best Xbox game Microsoft has ever published. In terms of third party support, Microsoft began mending bridges with Japanese and indie developers, with games such as Monster Hunter World, Devil May Cry V, Valkyria Chronicles 4, Jump Force, NieR Automata, and No Man’s Sky, all releasing or being announced for their console.
Microsoft even began to address the primary and fundamental flaws in their console strategy this year—they purchased multiple studios, including some excellent ones like Obsidian, inXile, Ninja Theory, and Playground Games, to address their historic first party weakness. They started to communicate with fans more often and effectively—they had a killer E3, brought back Inside Xbox, and even brought back X0. By almost every metric, Microsoft did just about everything right this year. And honestly, they would have taken away top honours in my book, were it not for Sony.
See, Sony created history this year. In its fifth year on the market, PS4 continued to see accelerating sales. In most major markets, for most months of the year, the PS4 was the top selling console, outselling even the Switch—a five year old console outselling a two year old one, to be clear.
In terms of games, Sony may never have had a better year yet—God of War is possibly the best game they have ever made, and one of the best games of the generation. Shadow of the Colossus is an all time great remake of an all time great game. Spider-Man is an amazing adaptation of Marvel’s signature hero into video games, and possibly the most fun game of the year. Detroit: Become Human is arguably the most impressive piece of work put out by Quantic Dream yet. Even on the PlayStation VR front, Sony managed to put out some true gems, some killer apps—Astro Bot, for example, may be VR’s Super Mario 64 moment, and it was a game by Sony on their VR platform.
Sony even, at last, started to address many flaws that have been dogging them for years now. They finally announced that they will be allowing PSN name changes. They finally buckled on the cross platform play issue, after years of resistance. They even managed to make PS Now a service worth keeping an eye on, by allowing players to download games off of it and play them for as long as they are subscribed—similar to how Game Pass works, for example.
Sony did have their missteps this year—the PlayStation Classic is a dumpster fire, and should never have been put out in its current state. Sony never should have let the cross platform play narrative get away from them as much as they did following E3 this year. Speaking of E3, their E3 show this year was possibly their worst one this decade. They cancelled PlayStation Experience, and announced they won’t do E3 next year either.
So it’s clear they have had their stumbles. But Sony utterly dominated on the one front it matters more than any other, the games, by getting every major third party game there is, and adding some of the best exclusives of all time on top of that. Sales of the console, now in its sixth year, reflect this: Sony offered players around the world exactly everything they wanted, which was, simply, more great games. And players responded by buying the PS4 in droves.
Those great games, more than anything, are what make the PS4 the undisputed winner of 2018.