In 2013, dedicated games consoles were declared dead. Six years later and Sony’s PS4 became the second best selling home console of all time.
In 2013, the doomsayers were out in force. Mobile gaming was taking off in a big way and sales of the ageing PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles were tailing off dramatically. Casual and free-to-play games were enjoying a stratospheric rise in popularity and the revenues from smartphone and tablet games were about to eclipse those of the traditional formats.
Dedicated games consoles were officially a thing of the past.
In response to this changing landscape, Microsoft hedged their bets and shied away from producing a traditional gaming device. Instead, they created a box which they had hoped would fit in amongst existing AV equipment. With its bulky VCR-style looks and with inputs and outputs to allow TV pass-through and DVR capabilities, they wanted the Xbox One to be the centre of people’s home entertainment systems. But the message they put out was muddled. This was a machine that seemed neither serious about gaming, nor offered anything compelling that consumers couldn’t get elsewhere.
With any number of devices already in homes capable of playing or streaming TV shows, films, music and the like so easily, a games console should first and foremost be just that, a device capable of playing games to the best of its ability. Everything else, the things that most people already have access to anyway, should be a secondary concern – an extra.
The Xbox One with its mandatory Kinect add-on and a perceived ‘anti-used-game’ stance launched to much controversy.
After a hugely negative reaction to the Xbox One from gamers and the general public alike, Microsoft famously made a dramatic u-turn. They removed the much-maligned Kinect requirement, played down much of the always-online and multimedia focus, and released the revised Xbox One S and Xbox One X consoles marketed as pure gaming platforms. The result was a large upturn in sales and a dramatically improved perception towards Microsoft and the Xbox brand as a whole.
In contrast, Sony doubled down on gaming from the very beginning. Eschewing its usual multimedia urges and, in a bid to capitalise on Microsoft’s obvious mistakes, marketed the PlayStation 4 heavily as a pure, dedicated gaming machine. A machine “For the Players” as the adverts continue to remind us. The PS4 launched late in 2013 to huge numbers, and hasn’t really stopped since
Marketed as a powerful, dedicated gaming machine, the PlayStation 4’s launch was a huge success around the world.
Between its launch at the end of 2013, through to the end of June 2019, Sony shipped 100 million units of its PlayStation 4 console, becoming the fastest console in history to do so. After the runaway successes of the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii consoles, this is a staggering achievement the likes of which many thought would never be seen again. Indeed, in November 2019 it was confirmed that the PS4 had become the second best selling home console in history, behind only the PS2 itself.
Sony released a powerful, dedicated gaming machine at a reasonable price, marketed it directly at gamers, and has reaped the rewards from it ever since.
It is also important to note however, that the PS4 isn’t actually the only console at the moment enjoying unprecedented success. The Nintendo Switch, also highly focused on pure game playing, has sold over 50 million units worldwide (more than the NES and the SNES) and is currently tracking very similar numbers relative to the all-conquering PS4. Appealing to both hard-core and mainstream gamers in equal measure, and with a recently released and well-received ‘Lite’ hardware redesign, the Switch has every chance of actually mounting a serious challenge to Sony’s astonishing numbers.
The Switch has been a huge success for Nintendo, success which has only been magnified by the release of the cheaper, handheld-only Switch Lite.
Yet despite all of this success, the current rhetoric in the industry of late seems to have developed a similar feel to it as it did in 2013. With multiple streaming and subscription services either out in the wild or imminent, backed by the likes of NVIDIA, Google and Apple, questions are again being asked about the need to actually have a dedicated hardware box sitting in your home.
Streaming will be a part of gaming’s future whether gamers like it or not – Sony and Microsoft have big plans for it themselves after all. But with around 200 million current-gen consoles currently in circulation, it will take a gargantuan effort to entirely replace a tradition that so many around the world are already more than happy to buy into.
The PlayStation 4 – supported by the Switch and a newly revived Xbox One – is a giant middle finger to those who claimed there was no longer a market for dedicated games consoles. With PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X now officially confirmed, it’s a middle finger i’m hoping to see again five years from now.
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