Being able to post sales in excess of 1 million units within the first 24 hours that a product is on the market is an impressive feat. Sony (NYSE:SNE) wasted little time in announcing that its PlayStation 4 had done just that, leading some to believe that it had claimed an early lead in the battle for the living room being waged by the new generation of gaming consoles. Now that Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has released the Xbox One, and, its Day One figures were strikingly similar.
It seems that in the eyes of consumers, the two consoles may be a bit more evenly matched than some people expected. As with most things, though, there's more to this than just the numbers.
All is not as it seems
When taking a closer look at the launch sales for the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, an interesting fact emerges. The 1 million PlayStation 4 units sold in the first 24 hours were all sold in North America, while the 1 million Xbox One units sold came from a 13-territory release that included North America, Brazil, and much of Europe.
So what does this mean? Despite a strong launch for both consoles, the PlayStation 4 could be considered the launch-day "winner." It took 11 more countries for Microsoft to match Sony's numbers, though it's unclear as to exactly how much of the Xbox One's sales came from territories outside of the United States and Canada. Microsoft made sure to let people know that its consoles were largely sold out at retailers to stoke the image of the console being in demand, though one has to wonder if there would have been a sales increase if more units had been in stock.
Comparing the consoles
Prior to the release of the two consoles, there were a number of comparisons regarding the power of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. There is a bit of back-and-forth when looking at the specs for the two consoles, with the Xbox One having a faster CPU (though only six of its eight cores are available for game use) and higher GPU clock speed, while the PlayStation 4 has a better overall GPU (for about 50% more graphics processing power than the Xbox One.) The PlayStation 4 also features faster memory, giving it approximately 2.5 times the memory bandwidth of the Xbox One despite having the same amount of RAM overall; this could potentially be made up for by efficient use of the Xbox One's embedded SRAM cache, however.
In a strict comparison like this, the PlayStation 4 comes out as the better console of the two and is priced $100 less to boot. Things get a little murkier when you start looking beyond just the core stats of the systems, though. Each console will have its own exclusive games, and there will be non-game exclusive content as well, such as original streaming TV offerings from Microsoft (including a "Halo" TV series produced by Stephen Spielberg ). Both Sony and Microsoft are looking to expand the reach of their consoles beyond just games, with Microsoft making the biggest strides in this direction through SkyDrive integration that will more closely tie the Xbox One in with Windows PCs and Microsoft's cloud features.
Do the numbers matter?
There are a few problems with the idea that monitoring the launch of these consoles will give some sort of insight into which company will "win" the new console generation. Just look at the last generation; Nintendo's Wii console was the hands-down winner in console sales for most of the generation, but the actual "competition" in the generation was between the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.
Comparing numbers like these looking for an early winner also makes the assumption that there is a finite number of consumers who will only buy one console or the other. Many people choose to buy multiple consoles over time, especially once prices start dropping; those who bought a PlayStation 4 might buy an Xbox One later, and the Xbox fans may pick up a PS4 once more exclusive games are available. Some consumers likely bought both already. That's not even getting in to the number of people who buy multiple consoles just to resell them for a profit online; there were at least 10,000 PlayStation 4 consoles sold on eBay on the release weekend alone.
Both Sony and Microsoft have made a lot of noise about their Day One sales, but in the end these numbers won't really matter that much. They are impressive, yes, but more data is needed to really determine the success of the consoles. Sales will overlap, problems will arise, and the quality of exclusive games and other content will do more to make or break the consoles than day-one sales figures.
While the PlayStation 4 could very well go on to "win" this generation, calling the generation for either company at this point would be like declaring someone the winner of a marathon based on his first few steps.