A few years ago no one would have predicted Sony’s incredible financial success with the PS4, which has quickly become one of the fastest selling consoles ever, outpacing even the PS2, which went on to sell over 150 million units by the end of its long run. Early in the PS3’s life cycle, Sony fell to third place among the “big 3” in terms of sales. They were making poor business decisions and it took a couple years for quality games to be released on a consistent basis. In the U.S. they became distantly behind the Xbox 360 in terms of third party game sales and install base, and Nintendo’s Wii was a phenomenon. As the years went on the PS3 eventually surpassed the Xbox 360 in worldwide sales, but Xbox still was the console of choice for much of the American public. That paradigm would shift greatly due to some awful PR by Microsoft, and some fantastic PR by Sony in 2013, especially at E3.
What transpired that weekend in the L.A. Convention Center is hugely responsible for the success Sony has enjoyed. Sony did just about everything right, and the opposite was true for Microsoft, who has backtracked many of their original decisions due to monumental backlash. Microsoft said the Xbox One had to be online all the time, and later reversed their decision. Microsoft said the console wouldn’t play used games, but changed their minds after the response. The Xbox One launched at $500, and has already dropped to $349 less than 2 years after its release. They’ve seem to forgotten all about the Kinect too, a peripheral they initially thought was so essential to their bottom line. Here’s a video from E3 2013 of Sony taking shots at Microsoft’s then planned policies.
This is all relevant to the success of the PS4 because so many people jumped Microsofts’s ship, or hopped on Sony’s bandwagon, depending on your perspective, after the convention. At my university, many people I know have switched to the PS4 after being 360 owners. This has been great for online multiplayer gaming. Xbox owners have always had a stellar online service with Xbox Live, and they’ve brought over their enthusiasm for that to the PS4. The PS3 was a voice chat wasteland, almost no one used their microphones. I can tell from playing Destiny on the PS4, the entire online culture has changed for the better. Many games have vibrant online communities, and Sony has been smart to add other social features that make the console feel much more connected to your community of gamer friends than before.
In console years, the Playstation 4 is currently in its adolescence or a teenager. It’s still experiencing some growing pains, but most definitely no longer a child. It’s got a few exclusives under its belt, and finally has one with seriously critical acclaim in Bloodborne. Others such as Killzone: Shadowfall, Knack and The Order: 1886 didn’t exactly set the world on fire. It’s remarkable that Sony has been able to create the lead they’re now enjoying without many exclusive AAA games. Their messaging from the start has been effective enough that they don’t necessarily need to have an extensive library of exclusives. They marketed it as a “games first” machine, and that resonated deeply with core gamers, including myself. They’ve also created many relationships with indie studios that continue to release quality games with regularity. So much so that some have coined the PS4 as the “indiestation.”
Putting games first has worked wonders. Microsoft has been playing catch up, and has changed their messaging considerably over the past year. They bit off more than they could chew with some of their proposed features, and have been paying the price ever since. However, they’re also enjoying major success with the Xbox One, although they have undoubtedly lost ground to Sony since 2013, despite having an arguably stronger lineup of exclusive games. It’s still quite early in the current 8th console generation, but that weekend in June of 2013 has been the most important and transformative event thus far.