Despite recent price cuts, the Xbox One continues to trail behind the ever-popular PS4 in just about every major market. Sure, the PS4 is hardly going gangbusters in Japan, but that’s more to do with the state of the home console business in that region rather than any specific issue with the PlayStation brand. Everywhere else though, it’s doing serious business. It continues to dominate Europe and perhaps more impressively, continues to outsell the Xbox One handsomely in both the US (the Xbox’s supposed homeland) and the UK (a previously Xbox 360-centric market that is now all but owned by the PS4).
But why? What makes the PS4 the more desirable option of the two?
The PS4 is a solid enough console, but even after buying one myself, I’m struggling to find any particular reason as to why the PS4 would be quite as popular as it is. The games are ok(ish), but for the most part, lag behind those available on the Xbox One. The line-up for 2014 is, again, ok, but once more falls short of the Xbox One offering and, in terms of features, actually does very little that the PS3 didn’t already do last-gen. Yes, the interface is nice and clean and the controller represents a massive improvement over its predecessor (I actually prefer it to the Xbox One pad), but come on, what’s with the huge turn around?
Well, if we were to follow the principle of Occam’s Razor (and why wouldn’t we?), which dictates that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected, then the PS4’s success has to go down almost entirely as a victory for marketing and PR. From the very moment that Microsoft botched the Xbox One reveal, Sony has been there to rub salt in the wound with the true coup de grâce coming at last year’s E3 conference in which Sony so gracefully put the boot in in the most masterful of fashions – and on the biggest stage no less.
The price was obviously a big issue and certainly helps to explain those initial sales, but even with Microsoft bringing the Xbox One in-line with the PS4 in that regard, Sony’s console still continues to dominate. The fact is, despite Microsoft doing their best to cover up their wounds, Sony’s marketing and PR team have already done massive damage to the Microsoft brand by, well, essentially, not doing very much. The PS4 is by no means a revolutionary machine and, say what you will about Microsoft’s initial plans with the Xbox One, they were at least attempting to do something different. In fairness to Sony, they obviously saw the folly of their plans and pitched themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum. But what was the opposite end? Microsoft are doing stuff – we are not? That is an overly harsh and outrageously simplistic summary of their approach, but that’s essentially what they did, and you know what – it has worked a treat.
Beyond a commitment to independent gaming, Sony have done little more than wax lyrical on how the PS4 is supposedly ‘For the Players’ and again, by essentially positioning their message as, ‘look at what we are not doing’ have placed themselves in an outrageously strong position without actually delivering much of anything to back it up.
Sure, there are quite a few indie titles on the platform, but in terms of being, ‘For the Players’, well, I’m a player (so to speak), and there is nothing on PS4 which is truly blowing my socks off. In fairness, it’s not like the Xbox One is lighting sh*t up itself, but comparatively, I’d take Titanfall, Dead Rising 3, Ryse, Forza 5 and Killer Instinct over Killzone, Knack and Infamous any day of the week.
None of the games on the PS4 are particularly bad (well, Knack is actually pretty dire), but there is nothing here that dictates the PS4 should be the undisputed console of choice for gamers. Even looking down the line, Sony haven’t got anything lined up that is likely to prove the next big thing in gaming. I’m sure they have plenty up their sleeves, but right now, Uncharted could be years away, DriveClub is still something of an unknown quantity and The Last of Us, despite being one of the greatest games of the last-gen, is little more than a high-res remake of a game that is little more than a year old.
So, again, that brings us back to marketing and the fact that Sony have delivered their message and subsequently attacked that of the competition to near perfection. Where Microsoft has made dramatic changes, Sony has remained committed to that initial message. How much they have to back up that message is up to debate, but they have been consistent, and that has certainly played a part in their vastly increased market share.
It might sound like I am attacking the PS4, and in many respects, I do remain unconvinced (software is king after all), but whatever my views on the console, you have to admire the way Sony have gone about their business. They are hardly moving the industry forward, but they are sticking to their guns, and for now at least, it seems to be doing the trick.
Some will speak of Sony’s machine being more powerful, of its capacity of 1080p / 60fps and of third party releases being stronger on Sony’s hardware, but that doesn’t explain the level of success that has been achieved by the PS4 thus far (for a starter, your average Joe doesn’t give two sh*ts about 1080p) – this, first and foremost is a victory for the marketing team. Honestly, in terms of PR victories, this is up there with the PS2 beating out the Dreamcast before it even hit the shelves and the Mega Drive’s ingenious advertising campaign back in the early 90’s that managed to win it huge market share in the US and Europe.
Whether Sony’s approach will see it win the generation outright remains to be seen, but if the PS4 is selling this well without any top-tier games to call its own, imagine what it will do when the big hitters invariably arrive.
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