If you follow the NPD numbers over the last few months like we do, and we’ll understand if you don’t because it’s boring even when you’re paid to slog through it, a very weird trend has revealed itself. New game consoles are selling at a historically high rate… but they’re not selling games along with them.
This is probably dramatically demonstrated by the sales of Titanfall, which unsurprisingly dominated March in software sales. But Titanfall was also supposed to sell XBox Ones by the pallet and be the game that pushed Microsoft back on top of the next-gen heap… and that didn’t happen. They’re still two million consoles behind Sony, with five million sold (well, to retailers) as of early April.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that five months into release, the Xbox One has completely waxed the 360 and is selling units at a brisk clip. It might not be PS4 numbers, but realistically, that’s bragging rights. Only fanboys arguing on forums can call either console a failure. And yet neither seems able to move software.
Take Sony’s announcement of the PS4 crossing the seven million mark. They also trumpeted that 20 million units of software had been sold. That means if you bought a PS4, you own maybe one or two games for it. Microsoft was forced to admit the Xbox One only moved about 1.4 million games in March, which indicates game sales are sluggish there, too.
One can blame the near-total lack of compelling console exclusives for at least part of it: Both systems launched with only a handful of actual exclusives. Followups like Titanfall and inFamous: Second Son are great games but neither are experiences you could only have on a next-gen console. The whistling desert that is the release schedule for both says a lot.
But a larger part may be that Sony and Microsoft simply did their jobs too well. Both Microsoft and Sony have made the consoles useful beyond gaming; we may make fun of “TV! SPORTS! CALL OF DUTY!” as a marketing strategy but somebody’s using those streaming features. Heck, I’ve clocked far more hours streaming video than playing games on my PS3, and I’m far from alone.
In short, Microsoft and Sony have essentially made a console where playing games is optional. And they’ve got to figure out, fast, how to make it essential.