There is more to a console’s success than it simply outselling the PS4.
A fallacy exists within the gaming industry- a fallacy that is perpetrated by all parts and players within it, from the major corporations to the audiences, to yes, the media. It is a wholly binary perception of how things work, a very reductionist outlook of ‘us versus them.’ In simple, practical terms, it is our tendency, as an industry, to hold one thing as a metric of success, against which everything else is judged- if something doesn’t cross that bar, it is automatically deemed to be a failure. The surrounding context, facts which lend meaning to the numbers, and temper their analyses, is ignored- something is either a success, or it is not.
In a sense, that does make sense- it is easy to forget when one looks at the sheer magnitude of evolution that video games have undergone since the days of the original Pong to where they are now, but it has been just 40 years- in 40 years, we have gone from there, to the 8- and 16-bit consoles, to the dawn of 3D and multimedia gaming, to HD and stereoscopic 3D, and the impending advent of VR. That is a staggering rate of evolution in a very short amount of time- it is certainly enough for us to forget just how young we are. And we are young. Amidst all of our posturing and our playing at being a mature industry, sometimes proof of our youth slips through the cracks: this binary mentality of ‘us versus them’ is one of the biggest pieces of that puzzle.
In the present day scenario, that resolves itself into a narrative of ‘PS4 versus the world.’ Put simply, Sony’s PlayStation 4 console is now the metric for success- if something does as well as the PS4, then, and only then, is it a success. Otherwise, it is deemed to be a failure. Successful devices such as the Nintendo 3DS have been rewritten into being market failures, and competing systems such as the Xbox One, which are honestly doing okay for themselves, are branded as unsuccessful endeavors- all because they fail to clear some kind of invisible standard that the PS4 has set, the standard that has arbitrarily been chosen as the measure for all success.
"Put simply, Sony’s PlayStation 4 console is now the metric for success- if something does as well as the PS4, then, and only then, is it a success. Otherwise, it is deemed to be a failure."
But obviously, such an assessment of success is childish, and ignores the larger picture and the context, both of which provide the necessary lens through which the performance of these systems should be viewed. The Nintendo 3DS may not be selling at the same pace as the PS4, but it remains a successful dedicated handheld device that carved a place for itself in the market in a post smartphone world- and while its sales are being outpaced, its overall install base is still almost double that of the PS4’s. The Xbox One, on the other hand, is still the fastest selling Xbox system, and it continues to outpace the Xbox 360, a system deemed a success by any metric, at a comparable point in its lifespan. And it does so in spite of its horrific launch, and its persistent negative publicity.
Just because these systems are not selling at the same rate that the PS4 does does not mean that they are not successful- that idea is honestly ludicrous, and it boggles my mind that this is something needs to be explained. But it does, and here we are: the PS4 is not the sole metric of success. If it were, then just about no gaming system ever would actually be deemed a success. Literally only one system ever has managed to outpace the PS4 when it comes to sales- and that system was the Wii. This definition of success precludes systems such as the NES, the Xbox 360, the Gameboy, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, original PlayStation, Nintendo DS, and PlayStation 2 from being deemed successes- which makes it, as anybody with even the faintest knowledge of the medium’s history would tell you, an asinine way to judge success.
The PS4 is a special system, one that has managed to catch lightning in a bottle, and thanks to being an appealing proposition and some savvy marketing, as well as just being a great gaming system for a market that wanted nothing more than that, is selling at an impressive rate against popular wisdom. However, the rate at which it sells is pretty much unprecedented. In fact, discounting the Wii, which sold as fast as it did on the back of an expanded market that now no longer exists, the rate at which the PS4 is selling is unprecedented- arguing that any system that does not do as well as it is an automatic failure is an inane argument. It is like arguing that all phones except for the iPhone are failures. It is like arguing that Toyota is the only successful car maker in the world. It’s like saying any book outside of the Harry Potter series is a flop, or that Taylor Swift is the only successful music artist in the world. It is like arguing that all movies except for Avatar are failures, as are all TV shows except for The Walking Dead, or all games outside of Call of Duty- are these arguments or comparisons that are in any way sensible or admissible to you?
"Literally only one system ever has managed to outpace the PS4 when it comes to sales- and that system was the Wii."
The argument that a console has to be as successful as the PS4 to be a success at all is, in other ways, an inane argument that maybe makes sense in the kinds of console wars that frequently populate message boards, but it is the kind of false narrative that has been allowed to percolate unchecked for far too long, with the result that some people actually hold it to be true. It is also an argument that needs to be revisited in light of Nintendo’s upcoming machine, the enigmatic console known only as the NX.
I struggle to think of any system launch in history that has ever had as much riding on it as the NX does- even the Sega Dreamcast did not, because Sega had decided, at the time they were launching the system, that it would be their last foray in the market: it was meant as a way of rebuilding the Sega brand, and of recouping some funds that the Saturn had lost them.
With so much pressure on the NX, there is a lot of investment in the system’s eventual success or failure, even by spectators and fans. Nintendo fans are doubtless hoping for the NX to be a success, the system that brings Nintendo back into the hardware race, and the conversation. Meanwhile, fanboys of other systems are doubtless anxious that the NX not outsell their system of choice. You know, typical console wars nonsense.
However, I can tell you right now that anybody expecting the NX to outsell or even match the PS4 is a fool; and anyone waiting to pronounce it a failure for failing to match the PS4 is as much of a one. As I have taken great pains to establish so far, the PS4 is not the sole metric for success, and using it as one ousts you as myopic and frankly, unknowledgeable about larger trends in the industry.
"Especially for a system like the NX, the larger context is very important in judging its overall success."
Imagine, for a minute, that the NX sells in the range of 35-55 million over its lifetime- a dramatic increase over the dismal performance of the Wii U, but in the same range as the lifetime sales of the Nintendo 64, the Genesis, the Super Nintendo, and the projected sales of the Xbox One. This is an amount far lower than what the PS4’s lifetime sales will likely be, and also, naturally, achieved at a rate far slower than the PS4’s sales.
However, also imagine that the NX is a system that manages to regain Nintendo some wider industry third party support, western and Japanese, that it manages to rebuild an audience for traditional AAA games on Nintendo systems, that it attracts people beyond the traditional Nintendo fans into buying it, that it manages to lock people into and solidify Nintendo’s online network and digital offerings- in other words, it is a system that firmly makes Nintendo competitive in the console space again, and lays the groundwork for a future Nintendo console to realistically go toe to toe with future Xbox and PlayStation systems. Is this a console that would in any way be deemed a failure by Nintendo, just because it failed to clear the PS4’s bar? Would it be deemed a failure by the third parties who are now selling their games on it, to a brand new audience that they didn’t have access to before? Would it be deemed a failure by the players who buy it, and who can now enjoy Nintendo’s world class in house efforts, as well as most major third party games, all on one system? Is the NX, in this scenario, a failure, simply because it didn’t sell as well as the PS4?
The answer, obviously, is of course not. Not only is the PS4 a stupendous sales success that it is unreasonable to expect other machines to match, but sales are just one metric by which success is judged- and especially for a system like the NX, the larger context is very important in judging its overall success. The NX may go on to outsell the PS4, it may be another Wii-like phenomenon. But that kind of success would be short lived, and would be even more harmful to Nintendo in the long run than the Wii was. With the NX, Nintendo would rather look at reversing the steady decline of their console audience, at getting third parties back into the fold, at pushing their network offerings, at selling games,and at laying a secure foundation for future machines to build off of. It will hardly matter if it doesn’t sell as much as the PS4 in that context.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.