Console Wars: PlayStation 4 takes January, but Xbox One makes a good showing

Once a console system has a significant and dedicated following, it’s difficult for a competing brand to chip away at that audience and sway them to the alternative. Microsoft appears to be in that quandary, only playing first fiddle when Sony has an off-month or is releasing a refresh on a later timeline, as we saw with the PlayStation 4 Pro. As such, the first month of 2017 goes to the PlayStation 4, which was the best-selling console in January.

For Microsoft’s part, it’s not all bad news. The Xbox One had its best January sales figures since the console launched in 2013. Moreover, the Xbox One saw continued year-over-year growth while the PlayStation 4 did not. So while Microsoft would probably love to have the title of “Best-Selling Console” for any given month, they also seem content to run their own pro-growth strategies. After all, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

As per usual, Mike Nichols, Corporate Vice President of Xbox Marketing, released a short statement in response to January’s sales data:

“Thanks to continued support by our fans, 2017 is off to a strong start as Xbox One game hours grew 21 percent year-over-year. In addition, in the U.S., Xbox One had its best January to date and was the only eighth generation console that saw growth in January compared to the prior year according to NPD Group. Team Xbox is committed to delivering the best gaming experiences for our fans.”

So what are the triggers for a shift in market share? The obvious one is game exclusivity. At the end of the day, gamers follow games, not consoles – and if the Xbox One can offer an amazing exclusive IP, then that could be a game changer. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any must-have first-party titles in Xbox One’s near future.

Another trigger would be unique game experiences. The Wii dominated the console wars for years precisely because its motion-controlled gameplay was unique for that generation and tapped into a wider audience with intuitive mechanics. Currently, only the PS4 Pro offers a virtual reality experience, which no doubt helped boost sales with the release of Resident Evil 7, a very atmospheric game that seemed made for VR. Microsoft’s answer, Project Scorpio, is still a ways off and it’s unclear how the performance will compare to Sony’s.

Finally, new technology is always a sales motivator, provided it can actually add value to the consumer’s life. Even though HoloLens is still early in its development cycle, if Microsoft can adapt a more affordable version for the Xbox they will be lightyears ahead of the competition. For now, they’ll have to live with second place, celebrating year-over-year growth, and always remembering that slow and steady wins the race.