We now sit in the midst of the eighth generation of video game consoles, and we find ourselves in a very different place than we were in the previous, seventh generation, at least in terms of which console is selling the most units. As of now, Sony’s PlayStation 4 has sold over 70 million units and is on track to sell more units than any of the three major consoles of the previous generation did by the end of this year. It may not catch up to the PlayStation 2’s 155 million, but it will almost certainly do the next best thing and outsell the original PlayStation’s 103 million by the end of this generation. Microsoft’s answer to the PS4, the Xbox One, sits somewhere around 30 million, which isn’t terrible in a vacuum, but when compared to Sony’s numbers, appears dismal.
Most gamers are pretty familiar with the success of the PS4 and the mediocrity of the Xbox One by now, but in 2014 when this was all coming to fruition, it was really quite remarkable to watch. Sony beating Microsoft in such a decisive, unquestionable manner so quickly was a bizarre thing to see, considering how Sony started out the previous generation with the pricey PlayStation 3. This massive shift of power, as sudden as it was, didn’t just fall out of the big blue sky. It came from lots of different factors, one of which is Microsoft’s multiple blunders with brand identity and completely self-inflicted wounds with their reputation at the very beginning stages of announcing Xbox one’s existence and specs.
"Sony beating Microsoft in such a decisive, unquestionable manner so quickly was a bizarre thing to see, considering how Sony started out the previous generation with the pricey PlayStation 3."
In the early 2000’s Sony was riding high off of the success of one of the most successful video game consoles of all time with the PlayStation 2. Xbox and Gamecube didn’t exactly do poorly, but PlayStation was the first on the scene, would play DVD’s unlike its competition from Sega and Nintendo, and they had a massive library of games from day one thanks to seamless backwards compatibility with PlayStation one games, controllers, and memory cards.
If there was ever a time for a video game division of an electronics company to have their vision blurred by the fog of arrogance, it was then. By the mid 2000’s the Sony PlayStation was launched and it was certainly a beast to behold. The original sku had backwards compatibility with PS1 and PS2, four usb ports, a suite of card readers, and it could play blu-ray discs; sony’s video format which was currently winning the war with HD-DVD. The problem was, Sony was charging an arm and a leg for their new behemoth. The 20 GB model was $499 while the 60GB model was $599. Both of these models were way out of the normal price range for a video game console, and sales showed that with very soft numbers for the next two years.
Sony also bungled the response by releasing new versions of the console that all had different features taken away, and it soon became a mess and difficult to explain succinctly. People didn’t know what model of PS3 they needed, and it was often so confusing that employees couldn’t recite the different options accurately. On top of all of this, Sony wasn’t prepared and did a poor job at responding to the criticisms. It wasn’t until several years later that PlayStation was able to finally crank out some system-selling exclusives, revamp their marketing, simplify their message, and catch up to the Xbox 360 that ended up spending most of the seventh generation running away with a lot of the casual gamers that the PlayStation 2 had cultivated for so long. Bottom line? Sony got lazy.
"It wasn’t until several years later that PlayStation was able to finally crank out some system-selling exclusives, revamp their marketing, simplify their message, and catch up to the Xbox 360 that ended up spending most of the seventh generation running away with a lot of the casual gamers that the PlayStation 2 had cultivated for so long. Bottom line? Sony got lazy."
The PS3 was an excellent system, but they didn’t want to work to make it affordable, and were reluctant to relinquish their attitude of being on top so they could get to the necessary work of earning their customers. This is almost an exact mirror to what ended up happening at the end of the seventh generation and the beginning of the eighth. Sony was in a place where they were ready to fight again. They knew they had a lot to prove and wanted to do it. Conversely, it was now Microsoft’s turn to be arrogant and sluggish to deal with issues. The success that the seventh generation had brought them put them essentially in the exact same head-space that PlayStation was in at launch time for the PlayStation 3.
Just like Sony before them, Microsoft had an expensive console with a plethora of features that were largely unnecessary and only served to bloat the price and muck up the mission statement of the machine. Adding extra fuel to the fire, despite lots of nearly unanimous criticism of the upcoming Xbox One, Microsoft failed to respond appropriately and even took a tone of resentment towards their audience at first. It took many years for that damage to be repaired, some would argue that their still repairing it, and meanwhile, thanks to Microsoft’s many avoidable mistakes and Nintendo’s unappealing Wiiu, Sony had taken this generation completely away from its competition.
The big difference between the similarities of the seventh and eighth video game console generations is that Microsoft still hasn’t completely followed through with the redemption campaign that Sony was able to pull off ten years ago. The Xbox One has been out for over four years and the list of exlcusive games is still one of the shortest in recent memory. Most of the multi-platform games perform better on the PlayStation 4, so it would have made a lot of sense for Microsoft to crank out some exclusives, but here we are and other than a few titles and an HDMI input that serves very little purpose, there’s not much you can do on an Xbox One that you can’t do as well if not better on a PlayStation 4.
"Some signs of an about-face for the gaming giant are present though, with the recent applications of games pass and some very consumer-friendly practices in backwards compatibility- the PlayStation 4’s weak spot."
This is a major component of what got Sony across the finish line with the last generation in a respectable place. Even though Sony didn’t win that generation, they finished strong. Due to Xbox still struggling to give gamers reasons to buy their machine over Sony’s or Nintendo’s, it is not looking like they are going to finish the eighth generation in the same way. Until those reasons materialize, Microsoft better get used to second or even third place going forward.
Some signs of an about-face for the gaming giant are present though, with the recent applications of games pass and some very consumer-friendly practices in backwards compatibility- the PlayStation 4’s weak spot. This may be too little too late for the current generation, but it has potential to grow in the future. If Xbox can elaborate and expand on these features and compliment them with an army of exclusives for their next machine, I’m certain they can catch up to Sony if not overtake them in the future, but as of now, Xbox still has quite an uphill climb ahead of them. As we have learned in this generation though, history certainly repeats itself, so perhaps Microsoft’s Xbox is poised to really surprise us soon.
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