I'm the first to admit when I'm wrong, and when Microsoft came out and said they sold 3M Xboxes in January, I said Sony would follow with their own numbers soon after. While I was right on that point, I was sorely mistaken thinking the two totals would be "pretty close."
As we now know, Sony sold a massive 4.2M PS4s worldwide in 2013, which dwarfs Microsoft's already impressive 3M number by quite a substantial sum. It's particularly surprising given the fact that the console sales have been relatively close to date. Both systems sold 1M units within 24 hours of release. Microsoft hit 2M consoles sold about a week or so after Sony said they'd hit 2.1M. They were behind, but within striking distance.
As such, it stood to reason that after the holiday season, if Microsoft was announcing 3M consoles sold, Sony might come out and say they sold 3.3 or 3.4M. But 4.2? I think that surprised everyone.
Now it's time to dig into the "why" of it. Why is Sony outselling Microsoft by such a wide margin these last six weeks? Though both totals are impressive by themselves, and 3M Xbox Ones is certainly record-setting for Microsoft, a 1.2M unit gap this early is fairly substantial.
There are a few factors at play here:
1. Territory release
Sony's PS4 has been released in far more territories to date. The PS4 is being sold in 48 territories around the world while the Xbox One is only out in 13. This alone might account for a huge portion of the difference, though it should be said neither the One or PS4 are out in the all-important market of Japan yet, and that release will obviously pad Sony's lead further.
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2. Time of release
Technically, the PS4 has been out a week longer than the Xbox One as there was a difference between its North American release and its premiere two weeks later in other parts of the world. This could be some small factor, but not enough to explain much of the disparity.
Lest we forget, the PS4 is $400 USD while the Xbox One is $500. Obviously that's going to make it easier for Sony to move more units across the world at a lower price. The problem is that just because the One costs more, it's not that Microsoft is making huge profits on it. It's priced that way because of the added cost of the Kinect, so the margins of the two consoles are likely pretty similar.
I'm willing to make this a factor all by itself. In my estimation, the Kinect still hasn't proved its worth for Microsoft, and shown that it was worth increasing the price of the entire system. In addition to the $100 extra cost which most may not think worthwhile, there are still fears, however tinfoil hat-ish, about a US-made machine with a video and audio recorder permanently pointed at your living room. I think the Kinect prevents more sales than it brings in at this point, as its functionality is overshadowed by fear and sticker shock.
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5. Lingering doubts
After the Xbox One launch fiasco where Microsoft was forced to change policy after policy regarding the system, there were bound to be some hard feelings with consumers who viewed the One as damaged in their eyes. This was bound to translate into a few lost sales during the initial launch window, but as things were relatively close until this point, it didn't seem like much of a factor. But now with the holiday over, it seems when people were given the choice between the PS4 and One, they ended up choosing the PS4 more often, so perhaps hurt feelings and distrust still lingers.
So, is the Xbox One in trouble? Probably not. Six weeks is too early to start declaring anyone a winner or loser in a console generation, even if a 1.2M sales disparity this early is somewhat eyebrow-raising. The big headline here is that when combined, the two next-gen consoles have moved over seven million units in a little over a month, which is absolutely stunning by any metric. No one is "losing" the console war. Even if Microsoft is behind, their numbers are still incredibly impressive. It's just that Sony has managed to pull ahead with a somewhat substantial early lead.
I will say that stacking the two up next to each other, given the capabilities of each system, the launch line-up and the price, the PS4 seems like the more appealing of the two at present. Both console's exclusive game catalogs are pretty lackluster, and the PS4 may have a slight performance edge. But the biggest factor has to be the price, and the Kinect just has not justified its $100 additional cost to many. I expect the numbers would be a lot closer if Microsoft agreed to de-package the Kinect in order to sell a $400 One without it, but they're determined to make fetch happen, so to speak. The Kinect may end up being the revolution it wants to be, but I don't think we're there yet.
I own both systems, and though I'm happy with my purchases, I'll be a whole lot happier when 2014 comes around and must-have games finally start being released for the two consoles.
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