As someone who has spent his career writing about video game sales, I have seen my fair share of console tribalism.
Whenever I report on anything related to Xbox or PlayStation (and sometimes Nintendo) my Twitter feed quickly fills up with opposing fans arguing and shouting at each other, as if they have some personal investment in the businesses they’re supporting.
Although the level of vitriol is absurd, I do have some sympathy as to why consumers get so caught up in this. Most people only have the time and money to invest in one console, and when they make their choice, they’re placing a bet that this machine will be the one that will have the games they like and will keep them entertained for years and years.
If you happen to be someone who ever owned a Dreamcast or an original Xbox or a Wii U, then you’ll know that console sales do matter. Nobody wants to own the console that has no third-party support, or is replaced after just a few years, or worse, is discontinued and no longer supported.
So who is winning the current console battle between Xbox and PlayStation (and also Nintendo)? The sales figures released this week show that Sony is racing ahead… but is there a chance of an Xbox comeback? Is this the beginning of the end for the Switch?
The first thing I need to do is reframe what victory looks like in this so-called ‘console war’. A lot of consumers seem to think it’s like Call of Duty, where teams fight it out and only one emerges victorious. But really it’s more like Civilization, where there are numerous different win conditions.
“A lot of consumers seem to think it’s like Call of Duty, where teams fight it out and only one emerges victorious. But really it’s more like Civilization, where there are numerous different win conditions.”
For instance, if you went over to Sony and asked the team who is winning, they’ll tell you they are. With 10 million consoles sold in just over six months, it is one of – if not the – fastest-selling platforms on the planet. It’s comfortably ahead of Xbox and it’s forever sold out.
If you asked Microsoft the same question, it would say that it is. As a pure games subscription service, it has the biggest and most popular one out there, with a huge line-up of games that’s likely to keep that being the case for some time. With around 20 million active subscribers, they’ve got a rapidly expanding and completely engaged audience to speak to.
Of course, ask Nintendo, and it will tell you it is top of the games pile. Not only is its console still No.1 worldwide, but Nintendo’s games are more popular than anyone else’s, with Mario Kart and Animal Crossing, in particular, shifting more than 30 million copies worldwide.
All three of those competitors sell consoles, all three sell games and all three have subscription services. But when it comes to who is leading in each one of those categories, we have a different ‘winner’ every time. It’s probably why the console war rhetoric is so aggressive. Everyone thinks their side is winning. And the truth is? They’re right.
Of course, console competition has its downsides. Bethesda being bought by Xbox is bad news for PlayStation fans. Nintendo signing Monster Hunter exclusively is bad news for everyone else.
But three strong, successful platforms also drives up competition. PlayStation has to sign and invest and build more new games, because Xbox is, and Xbox has to build and invest in studios and bring back classic franchises, because PlayStation is. Spider-Man being brilliant means Halo has to be brilliant which means Mario has to be brilliant and so on and so on.
We’re in a rare situation where no single console is ‘losing’. Nobody is being discontinued. Nobody is losing third-party support. All three fanbases can look forward to years and years of big, exciting games for them to enjoy.
So for now, let it go. It doesn’t matter what the charts say, or how the sales figures read. Just sit back and look forward to the generation ahead. It’s a good time to be a video game player, no matter what tribe you belong to.