3 Reasons Why Early Sales Data for Xbox One and PS4 Won’t Predict Success

We are barely a month out from the official inauguration of the next video game console generation via the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One platforms. As the game industry and retail have positioned their resources in place to prepare for a historic and momentous launch period, so have the platform-specific loyalists who are now primed to engage in epic fanboy flame wars in support of their favored gaming system and corporation of choice. Soon we will be seeing comments and stories pervading gaming focused websites claiming victory of one platform over another, or promoting which console is superior in either game library or performance. As many delve deep into the heat of battle, some will enter into the fray prepared with esoteric knowledge of hardware tech specifications or sales data. Although console specs are immutable at this late stage and performance output remains theoretical at the moment, sales data would prove to be the most tangible resource for those who wish to lay claim that their favorite console is better than the competition's. But does launch sales data really matter in predicting the long-term success of a fledgling video game platform?

History is a Good Barometer

Many people, especially platform-specific loyalists, look to initial launch window sales data as a portent to future success, but if history were to be viewed as an indicator, many would acknowledge the inconsistency in the correlation between early sales figures and platform longevity. Take, for example, the history of the Sega Dreamcast launch. When Sega's last video game system released in the U.S. in 1999, it was recorded as the most successful console launch in gaming history for its time. Sega broke the record for console pre-orders, and even had difficulty fulfilling those pre-orders upon the release of the system to the public. Not even two years following what many consider to be a resoundingly successful launch, Sega sadly discontinued the Dreamcast and forever shuttered their gaming console research and development department in favor of reorganizing their business to multi-platform software development.
The reverse is true regarding the fortunes of the Nintendo 3DS. After an anemic North American launch and tepid consumer reception for Nintendo's latest hand-held hardware, the future was starting to look grim early in the life of the 3DS. With very few compelling titles set for release in the system's first year after launch, and a poorly received and unexciting list of launch titles, Nintendo quickly realized that they needed to take action in order to preserve any future for the 3DS. In an unprecedented move, Nintendo dropped the price of the 3DS $80 just six months after the system released, and they bestowed upon early adopters ten free games from their eShop digital download service. In the two years since this calculated business move, the 3DS has enjoyed sales figures that rival the success of its older hand-held sibling, the Nintendo DS. The early success of the Sega Dreamcast and the initial failure of the Nintendo 3DS did nothing to predict the futures of either of these systems. Certainly, time periods were different and circumstances change swiftly, but history has shown that attempting to claim long-term success or failure based on launch sales data just isn't accurate. There are many reasons why this is so, and there are other reliable ways to more accurately predict whether the PS4 or Xbox One will flourish in a highly competitive market.

Early Sales Are From Pre-Orders and Early Adopters

Only the most fervent, hard-core enthusiasts purchase a system that is technically unproven and retails at a premium price. Many of these consumers are the aforementioned console-specific loyalists, or fanboys, who demonstrate an impatient need to possess the latest technology their favorite manufacturer has to offer. These are the individuals who are willing to camp outside of their local retailer in inclement whether so that they can be the first to experience the new video game generation. With the emergence and facilitative nature of the internet, most initial sales of a newly releasing video game console are handled through pre-orders. In recent years, the only way to ensure securing a new console has been by utilizing the pre-order process. Because manufacturers can only estimate how many consoles they can assemble, package, and distribute to retailers, they are limited in their output allocation. Thus console developers play are larger role in launch window sales than the consumers do. Because consumer excitement is at its peak during the launch of a new system, the initial allocation of units during the first few months of that system's life are pretty much sold before they enter into the delivery trucks or arrive on store shelves. Almost all of these units are designated somewhere to an individual who pre-ordered weeks or even months before. Given that the logistical and technical backstage aspect of console manufacturing is unpredictable and precarious, console developers are constrained in the numbers of units they can feasibly ship. In other words, developer output is what drives and determines sales figures in those nascent months more than consumer demand. For the gaming enthusiasts and general prognosticators who wish to engage in console wars bickering, they may be best served to examine a more obvious and practical variable to fuel their flames: the console's future software library.

The Future Game Library is More Integral to Success

It's hard to argue that the PS3 didn't have a shaky start. Soon after its highly anticipated launch, it became clear that the PS3 incurred a reputation of being the console that had few compelling games, a library of multi-platform titles that performed better on the competition's hardware, and an exorbitant price tag of $600. All indicators would have pointed to the PS3 being Sony's first major console failure. Thanks to a strong track-record with the PS2, and the magnanimousness of their loyal fan-base, the promise of a healthy software library was allowed time to cultivate and harvest, providing Sony the reprieve from failure they needed to realize that promise. Today, only the most ardent Sony detractors can deny the strength of their console library, and the PS3 has attained sales parity with the Xbox 360 which enjoyed a one year head-start.

Without a varied and high-quality software library, the PS3 may have very well been a commercial failure, despite the good-will of many gaming enthusiasts and pundits. Delivering a strong game lineup is more integral to success than the initial launch window sales data may indicate. Any warrior participating in the console wars looking for ammunition in their battle for supremacy may want to look at the prospective games list for the Xbox One and PS4 before launching their assault over the internet. Only time will tell if either of these consoles will have provocative and attractive game libraries, and subsequently, only time will tell if either of these consoles can attain commercial success.

At the moment, the Xbox One seems to have the edge in delivering the more compelling and exciting launch lineup over the PS4. Microsoft's next-generation console has more big name exclusives scheduled for release this holiday, while the PS4 has the advantage with sheer numbers by having a close partnership with small-scale indie development. Sony always promises a strong software library down the line, but Microsoft has spent an enormous amount of money preparing for next-generation software development and has made huge strides in charming the indie community. Social features and innovations in technology, such as Kinect 2.0, could prove to be determining factors in deciding who comes out on top, depending on how well they are implemented and marketed. The bottom line is that it is simply too early to tell which company will deliver the pinnacle of video game experiences, and given the two consoles' various strengths, it is honestly too close to call. Both companies may enjoy the same parity of success seen with their current-generation hardware, the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Although first impressions of new video game hardware may prove a factor in determining future sales, the launch window sales data simply isn't an accurate barometer for measuring future success. Sometimes friendly conflict may be fun, but irrational and vitriolic internet fighting isn't, and it tends to spoil the fun for others while perpetuating a poor public image for the video game industry. Everyone is entitled to enjoy what they like, and the diversity of gaming proclivities should be given its due respect. Hopefully, the maturing video game industry will eventually be complimented by a more mature, vocal fan-base, but in the meantime, we should brace ourselves for another messy internet console war in November. The preferred outcome, however, would be that both consoles record strong sales after launch, ensuring their futures for a long time to come. With this outcome, gamers everywhere win since competition drives variety and creativity. Although Sony and Microsoft's push for sales may be a bitter competition, just simply being a video game fan doesn't have to be.

Leave a Reply