Why PS4 is beating Xbox One - for now
Sales figures suggest Sony’s PS4 is outpacing the Xbox One - but it’ll be a long time before we know which is truly best, says Matt Warman
When Sony launched the PS4 it shouted loudly that this was the console ‘for the players’ - it was, the company claimed, the machine that was equipped to produce the most powerful graphics and would have the best titles for hardcore gamers.
Andrew House, Sony’s Chief Executive of Computer Entertainment, said he was “thrilled” by sales figures that confirmed 5.3m PS4s have been sold globally compared to 3.9m Xbox Ones. His console outstripped forecasts of 5m sales and looks to be on track to sell its 10 millionth unit by the end of the year.
All of this shows that the video games industry - already bigger than Hollywood - is still more than going strong. Millions may be playing more games on their mobile phones, but titles from Call of Duty to The Last of Us and more are constantly reinventing the arena.
Nonetheless, Sony will know that there is more to the game it is playing than meets the eye - Microsoft lost a PR battle before either console had even launched by suggesting its Xbox One needed to be connected to the web all the time, dithering about second-hand games and - worst of all - it focused not on gamers but on the living room. Sony swooped in, declared its console was much more what the traditional audience wanted, and has garnered massive benefits.
But if Microsoft sticks to its guns, it may yet find that this is a battle it has lost in a war it could well win. Consoles such as the One and the PS4 will be around for five years, both companies have suggested, and Sony’s approach focuses on gamers while Microsoft’s bets on the fact that everybody who watches the living room TV will increasingly want a comprehensive, internet-connected entertainment experience. That means, they hope, Xbox’s combination of movies on demand, apps, TV, Skype and more will combine with the games that millions adore to create the experience that Sky, Virgin or any TV manufacturer cannot offer alone. The aim is for an updated version of the kind of full family appeal that Nintendo briefly achieved with the Wii.
It is a tall order - gaming remains a massive market, and Samsung is just one of the many multi-billion pound corporations that are backing the idea of the connected home. They have more to gain from a domestic environment where the TV, the microwave, the lightbulbs and the vacuum cleaner are all online. But Microsoft is at least on the same page and that appears to be the direction of travel.
There’s a caveat to all of this, of course: most of the perceived differences come down not to serious substance but to marketing: the PS4 is an excellent device that offers serious connections to apps and to conventional TV as well. But in not emphasising that, it has allowed the Xbox One, with its friendlier look and feel, to own a space that is not, for now, the most popular choice.
Sony will no doubt think they’ve done well but as time goes on, at the very least, nobody should be surprised to see that both Microsoft and its Japanese rival move to emphasise that there is plenty for all the family in both these consoles. Millions of people may be gamers, but the real prize is producing the gadget that connects to every family’s TV set and that accolade is still very much to be decided.