History is a Good Barometer
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 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
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.