While it would make a sensational tabloid story, the next generation consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are unlikely to sell better than Nintendo’s Wii U console.
Since the day Nintendo announced a release date for the Wii U, the American media has done its part to stir the pot by declaring the console “dead in the water”. The justification here is usually chalked up to “poor sales” and a “lack of games”.
It’s surprising, then, that the other new consoles aren’t being treated with the same level of intense scrutiny (Xbox One DRM issues aside). In fact, media are already declaring the PlayStation 4 as the winner of all things.
The reality is far less entertaining: neither of the consoles from Sony or Microsoft will do any better than Wii U. And here’s why.
Wii U isn’t doing so bad
If I had a dollar for every Wii U console Nintendo sold, I would have well over $3 Million already. Not bad for a console that’s just over 6 months old.
In fact, Wii U managed to out-pace sales of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 launches, selling over 1.8 million units in its first four weeks on sale. That’s not to say that Wii U’s sales haven’t slowed down since: they have, but these numbers represent a huge hurdle the other consoles must overcome, especially when you consider past performance.
Xbox 360 only managed to sell 940,000 units in its first four weeks, with PlayStation 3 performing much worse at 540,000. Wii, for the sake of having all the figures here, broke records at 2.02 million sold in its first four weeks on sale.
What these numbers tell us is that both Microsoft and Sony need to more than double their past performance of their previous consoles and maintain that momentum to compete with Wii U.
This isn’t an impossible mission of course, but the odds aren’t in the manufacturer’s favor considering their hardware is likely being sold at a loss, and is likely to be a tough sell when compared to the cheaper Wii U. Which brings me to my next point…
Next-Generation Marketing Sucks
Sony and Microsoft are taking a highly questionable approach to their marketing strategy with the next-generation consoles.
PlayStation 4 commercials that are already popping up show an unremarkable stagnation in terms of how the company intends to communicate the console. The blues are back, the “PS4″ logo is prominent (which doesn’t tell a non-gamer much about what the console is), and the company is relying on hailing the more confusing aspects of the console, such as the PlayStation Eye which no longer comes packaged with the PlayStation 4.
Microsoft aren’t much better. Again, the same colours are used and the name is questionable, since we all call the original “Xbox” the “Xbox 1″. We haven’t seen what Microsoft intend to do to market the console in full force yet, however all the official artwork for the device seems to depict the massive box floating in mid-air for some reason.
More so, the console itself looks very “gamer-orientated” with sharp edges and complex features. In fact, both companies are more concerned about selling the consoles to gamers than anyone else.
This is a poor move because given enough money, any gamer would buy all three consoles without question. They don’t need commercials. The ‘casual’ crowd is the one that needs convincing and is the one that ultimately decides the victor in the sales wars.
We see this time and time again. PlayStation 2 was filled with casual games and outsold the gamer-focused GameCube and Xbox. Likewise, Wii showed people they don’t need to be gamers to enjoy video games, and it outsold both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Sure, Nintendo’s marketing hasn’t been all that fantastic to date either for Wii U even though they are targeting the casual crowd more than the other guys, but Nintendo always has an ace up their sleeve in the form of recognisable characters.
When Nintendo consoles start on the downward trend, they need only unleash games like Mario Kart and The Legend of Zelda which stay in the top ten charts for years, something no other game publisher has ever managed to achieve.
If Sony and Microsoft were relying on marketing to boost their new consoles, they need to up their game and fast.
It takes something special to spark a phenomenon
Perhaps the biggest misconception people seem to have about PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is that they are automatically guaranteed to sell millions and millions of units from the get-go.
Again, the reality wont be so fantastic because it takes something truly special to spark a phenomenon. And while both consoles are impressive from a gaming point of view, so far neither have come to the table with that “x factor” that makes a product a must have.
Both consoles do a lot of things right for certain people. Graphics are better for those who love games like Call of Duty. Cloud processing and better architecture is enabled for developers. But for the mass consumer, the two consoles are very ‘samey’ when compared to what’s already on the market and indeed each other.
Wii U, on the other hand, has the GamePad as a major selling point which will undoubtably become a staple in the gaming landscape much in the same way the Nintendo DS-pioneered touchscreen has in the past.
While much of this will probably come back to how well Sony and Microsoft market their products before, during and after launch, if anyone is expecting these things to fly off the shelves any faster than Wii U has based on what they bring to the table alone, they may end up being very disappointed.
Power isn’t popular
If you’ve followed the video game industry since the mid-1990’s (around the time of the “consumer boom”), you’ll notice that console power is the least important deciding factor when it comes to sales.
The reason is pretty simple: people (as opposed to ‘gamers’) don’t understand the difference. To the average customer and even to most gamers, RAM, CPU or ‘teraflops’ aren’t as exciting in practice as gaming and technology bloggers like to exclaim.
Regardless of how powerful the console is, a game can still look and play poorly if the developers behind the game lack time, talent or budget. In other words, it’s not the tool that’s important, it’s how you use it.
Wii U may have an advantage here. Nintendo’s reliance on less-than-bleeding-edge technology means developers already know how to wield the console. To them, making a game on Wii U is like making a game on Xbox 360. Making a game on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 is a little like going back to the drawing board and starting from scratch.
That’s not to say the entire development community will be left scratching their heads, merely that time it takes to learn the quirks and optimise their code will be much shorter with a console that’s closer to what they’re already used to.
And this happened with Wii U. In fact Nic Watt of Australian studio Nnooo told us in an interview last year that while Wii U was fairly easy to dive into, any new console requires a learning period,
“When I first started working with games, I was on the PlayStation One and Nintendo 64 days, and they were really tough to work with.” he told us.
“The transition to PlayStation 2 was probably the worst one from my memory in that you got the dev kit and you got a manual or a set of manuals that were all in Japanese and then… that was basically it. So most developers for those first 3-6 months couldn’t speak Japanese so it took them a long time to just get one triangle drawn on the screen.”
PlayStation 2 eventually featured one of the most robust game libraries in history, so initial stumbling blocks are always overcome. Wii U may have the advantage in the near-term because most of this learning curve has already been absorbed into the development community.
But to bring this back to my point about power, the games and consoles that thrive are those that deliver fun experiences. Game such as Minecraft and World of Warcraft are not what you would call technical marvels, nor do they require state of the art technology to run, but both are enjoyed by millions of players every day because they’re simply fun to play.
Power alone isn’t going to make the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One sell by the millions, Sony and Microsoft need to guarantee consumers that their consoles will remain fun for years to come. Handing them a list of complicated numbers does not accomplish this goal.
At this point I should make clear that declaring the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One “wont sell much better than Wii U” is different from me suggesting that “Wii U will outsell” those consoles.
Nintendo still have a lot of work to do if they intend to come out on top of this generation of consoles. That much is painfully clear. However it’s folly to assume that PlayStation 4 or Xbox One have any hope of performing sensationally better than Wii U has in its first six months at this pont.
And while I may be predicting that PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U will share similar sales numbers in the first year or so, I’m not for a moment suggesting those numbers are poor or harmful to these companies or indeed the gaming industry in any way. As demonstrated, Wii U’s current sales are typical of new console launches despite the multitude of negative press on the subject.
At the end of the day, the experience we have as gamers with these consoles is what will determine their success, not a bunch numbers scrawled on some accountant’s tax report.