Can exclusives win the war? I despise using the term ‘console war’ yet a competition of sorts is very much alive. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, which released within months of each other, are selling at an incredible pace. It is no secret however that Sony’s flagship device is outselling Microsofts. As of writing this, the PS4 has shipped more than 60 million consoles. Xbox One numbers are hard to know for sure as Microsoft, knowing their numbers pale in comparison, refuse to state their actual sale numbers. Rumors suggest that the Xbox One could be sitting at just half of the PlayStation 4’s with a still commendable albeit inferior, 30 million units sold.
Why has Sony’s gaming console trumped Microsoft’s? The fact of the matter is that both consoles are now relativity similar. Microsoft faltered at the start with their mixed messaging of an ‘all in one box’ and their ‘always online’ ethos which may explain the initial difference in numbers but with the team at Xbox working hard to appease gamers for this oversight, a difference of potentially 30 million units seems extravagant.
As of right now, both devices have the same functionality, comparable internals, similar online structures, equivalent prices and have a shared frame of mind about the future of gaming. The PS4 Pro released last year adding 4K support to the platform and Microsoft are pulling a similar move with the Xbox One X releasing in November. Although both machines see a substantial technical boost over their previous iterations, particularly with the former Project Scorpio being touted as the most powerful console ever made, the same games played on the newer devices.
This brings me to the real reason as to why Sony has perhaps doubled Microsoft’s numbers; the games… Or is it? “for the Players” has been the tag line of the PS4 and it has been a powerful, well received one. 2017 is the 4th anniversary of both the PS4 and the Xbox One yet have we really had any true console selling games? We’ve already touched upon Microsoft’s exclusive dilemma but have Sony really performed much better? Let’s take a look at how games have certainly been the deciding factor in the sales race but not in the conventional way of developing them.
Sony’s 2018 lineup looks incredible with the likes of Spiderman and Days Gone having great showings at Sony’s E3 2017 Conference. Both of these two new IP’s are sure to be received well by gamers much like Guerrilla Games Horizon: Zero Dawn, which launched back in March. Where are Sony’s juggernaut franchises though? Aside from Nathan Drake returning in 2016’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, we are still awaiting the first PS4 installment from Sony’s biggest selling games of the previous era. God of War, The Last of Us, Gran Turismo, Heavy Rain; these were all huge selling titles on the PlayStation 3. We know sequels to these games are in development but would you purchase a machine to play exclusives at an unknown point in the future?
Microsoft has actually seen most of their popular franchises already appear on their latest platform. Halo 5 appeared in 2015 whereas Gears of War 4 graced the console at the end of 2016. Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon, arguably two of the best racing games and direct competitors to Sony’s Gran Turismo, have both appeared on the Xbox One. In September, Forza Motorsport 7 will launch becoming the third installment of the franchise on the console, so why are these best selling franchises of the past not selling Xbox Ones?
Although Microsoft has in recent months have been applauded for their adaptation of the Xbox One with features such as backward compatibility aiding their reputation, the sales difference between the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 was attained within the first couple of years. Was it the exclusive titles that helped Sony achieve this?
2013 was the birth year of the current generation and lets firstly examine which exclusives launched the same year and to what reception. With the consoles both arriving near the end of the calendar, many games were stretched across older platforms too but if we study the Metacritic score of the four most recognizable console exclusives of the year, we have…
Forza 5 (Xbox One) – 80
Dead Rising 3 (Xbox One) – 78
Killzone Shadowfall (PS4) – 73
Knack (PS4) – 54
2014 felt like the real first year of the new machines and here are the results…
Titanfall (Xbox One) – 86
Sunset Overdrive (Xbox One) -81
Infamous Second Son (PS4) – 80
Little Big Planet 3 (PS4) – 79
Now I know technically Titanfall released on the Xbox 360 too but many would be forgiven for not even knowing that fact. The same applies to Little Big Planet 3 which also arrived on the PS3 but I would consider them all Xbox One and PS4 games. The important piece of information is that the trend repeats the previous year. Microsoft had the better performing titles from a reviewers stance.
2015 is when the new generation began to find its footing and along with that came some of the best exclusives these consoles have seen to date. With more games releasing so did more exclusives and reason to buy these new machines. How did the best exclusives of 2015 fare?
Bloodborne (PS4) – 92
Ori and the Blind Forest (Xbox One) – 88
Forza Motorsport 6 (Xbox One) – 87
Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One) – 86
Rocket League (PS4) – 85
Rare Replay (Xbox One) – 84
Halo 5 (Xbox One) – 84
Until Dawn (PS4) – 79
The Order 1886 (PS4) – 63
As you can see we had some brilliant games in 2015 and although games such as Rocket League and Rise of the Tomb Raider arrived on the other platform eventually, they were able to state the claim “If you want to play this game, you need to buy this console”. Bloodborne was the best exclusive of the year but with another strong showing from Microsoft, do exclusives sell machines?
I said previously that games are the reason why the PlayStation 4 has sold so well but the marketing team at Sony are the real reason the Japanese developer has truly dominated this console generation. I touched upon Rise of the Tomb Raider beginning its life as a console exclusive for the Xbox One and I will revisit this later about how significant or not so this was for Microsoft as opposed to other timed exclusives.
Exclusive is brilliant for both Sony and Microsoft as it brings in revenue not only from the software sold but the hardware needed to play such games. Exclusive titles are dwarfed by multi platform numbers though and this is, in my opinion, how Sony has dominated the current generation of gaming. I still find it hard to believe that Gran Turismo 5 is the best selling PS3 exclusive, but it is. GT5 sold over 11 million units on the PS3 and this is near to Nintendo numbers for an exclusive. A more typical number for exclusives are around 6-8 million with the likes of Uncharted, The Last of Us, Halo and Gears of War all achieving these sales. In comparison to these numbers, we have multi platform games such as GTA IV and V selling 18 and 40 million respectively. Call of Duty entries sells at their peak around 15 million units.
It was a huge deal within the gaming world when the Call of Duty series which had always been synonymous with Microsoft defected to Sony. Although the series is not as well regarded as it once was, this coup was a massive deal for Sony. Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, for example, was the best selling game of 2016. The lure of early access to the Modern Warfare Remaster and acquiring new multiplayer maps sooner than the players on the Xbox counterpart is an enticing arrangement. Another big acquisition for Sony was the exclusive marketing rights to Destiny; A huge selling title from another developer who had previously strong ties with Microsoft during the Xbox 360 era.
It seems whilst Microsoft was focusing on bringing exclusive titles to their platform, Sony was biding their time in regards to their gaming library. In the meantime Sony struck amazing marketing deals, attaching their names to the biggest franchises and ultimately selling units because of this.
If you are reading this, you are probably an avid gamer who is informed about the latest gaming news. Consoles can not attain the numbers desired if only the hardcore buy them. Casual gamers who purchase a significant proportion of consoles will watch trailers for Call of Duty and Destiny seeing the tag line, “for the Players” on every clip. It cannot be underestimated just how influential this marketing is.
I now return to Rise of the Tomb Raider and how Microsoft totally mishandled a huge opportunity to secure a sale for their console because of this stellar game. Sony was and still are very smart about marketing rights. They attach their name to all of the promotional material and include a few, small bonuses for their customers. When Microsoft revealed Rise of the Tomb Raider no one knew the true details. Had they purchased the IP? Was this a marketing deal? A timed exclusive? It turned out that the latter was true and this was a huge mistake for the Xbox team. In the public eye, they had spent money to prevent Sony players from experiencing a sequel to a highly regarded, multi platform game. The second mistake was publicly announcing that it was, in fact, a timed exclusive. We did not know when but we knew it would eventually arrive on the PS4. This situation made Microsoft look like the bad guy for depriving PlayStation owners of a game yet asking the question why to buy an Xbox One as Sony fans knew they would eventually have their time with Lara.
The most recent case of brilliant Sony marketing and the reason I wrote this piece is that of the Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy. Recent images have surfaced online with the menu interface having Xbox One button prompts. As of writing this, Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy is still a PlayStation 4 exclusive but this leak could hint towards a PC port but far more likely an Xbox One version. Although the Crash Bandicoot series has a long history with PlayStation and one of their most loyal studios Naughty Dog; Crash Bandicoot is owned by Activision. It would not be the first appearance for the series on an Xbox platform either with Crash of The Titans releasing on the Xbox 360 in 2007. The most substantial piece of evidence that Crash Bandicoot is not a Sony exclusive is the physical version box art. Games such as Uncharted 4 and Horizon: Zero Dawn have ‘Only on PlayStation’ blazoned across the top and conveniently, that is missing here.
So why is Crash Bandicoot so important? I do not think anyone knew just how popular the remake of a 20-year-old game would be. The N-Sane Trilogy is the best selling ‘single’ platform release of 2017 in the UK. These are huge numbers and I’m sure similar stories apply for other countries. Crash Bandicoot has nostalgia aiding its popularity, positive reviews and the trilogy appeals to a wide audience of age and sex.
Sony and Activision have been asked multiple times about the exclusivity deal on Crash Bandicoot and both have said nothing. They have literally avoided the question and this may seem like a classic tactic of avoiding the question but it has actually worked wonders for the PS4. Whereas Microsoft acknowledged that Rise of the Tomb Raider was a timed exclusive, Crash could potentially never come to the Xbox platform. This means that if players want to play the N-Sane Trilogy and they evidently do, they would need to buy a PlayStation 4. Sony, just like with their marketing deals for multi platform games had again made a potentially cross platform game synonymous with their own system.
True Crash Bandicoot sale numbers are hard to gather at the moment as the game released at the end of June but there is no doubt it has sold incredibly well. I am interested to see how many PS4’s were sold too. Did they have a surge in sales to accommodate for the Bandicoot? We’ll soon find out.
We know that the PS4 is outselling the Xbox One and I feel it is not due to the ‘exclusives’ as we traditionally understand but the exclusive rights on marketing. This now leads me to the question can Microsoft close this gap in the future? I personally do not think they can. The Xbox One X looks fantastic and being able to play native 4K content on my TV has me excited beyond belief, however, I am not the typical consumer. PlayStation is now at a point in the PS4’s life cycle where their big titles are releasing. Within the next 12 months, we could potentially have GT Sport, God of War, Spiderman and Detroit. Sony’s marketing team have not taken a back seat either with Destiny 2, Call of Duty WWII, Star Wars Battlefront, Far Cry 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 all having PlayStation branding.
I feel the console war is over for this generation and Sony has played their pieces to perfection. It is no wonder why it has broken many sales records and excelled in a time where console gaming was considered by some journalists, dead. The Xbox One has still been a great success for Microsoft, however, I do not think they can compete until the next generation of consoles. Exclusives, although important, are not the biggest selling point for consoles anymore and I think the marketing team at Sony need to be recognized for their huge part of the PS4’s success.
An Englishman living in Australia. I edit and provide video/written reviews for all of the latest games.