Sony sold over 91.6 million PlayStation 4 consoles worldwide as of Dec. 31, 2018, according to the company’s own internal estimates. But what does that number mean?
To give Sony’s victory lap more context, it helps to take a few minutes to break down where each console manufacturer is at the beginning of 2019. One thing is clear, however: The more information you share, the more confident you tend to be. And Sony has a lot of reasons to be confident when it comes to this current console generation.
Sony has passed Microsoft this generation
The sales milestone is more evidence that Sony is “winning” the current console generation — although, importantly, Microsoft stopped sharing solid hardware sales information for the Xbox One in 2015.
Microsoft has since replaced hard sales numbers with relative metrics that allow the company to show growth, without explaining how many people are picking up Xbox Ones or using its services.
“We are continuing to look at engagement as our key metric for success and are no longer reporting on total console sales,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Variety in early 2018. “During Microsoft’s FY18 Q3 earnings, we announced that gaming revenue grew 18 percent year-over-year, driven by Xbox software and services revenue growth of 24 percent, and Xbox Live monthly active users grew 1 percent year-over-year to 59 million. We continue to see strong growth with time spent on Xbox Live, and look forward to bringing more unprecedented experiences on Xbox One, Windows 10 PC and mobile.”
Those numbers give us no idea about the size of the Xbox One business, and the squishiness of the data indicates that Microsoft doesn’t have the confidence to say many clear, unambiguous things about the size of the Xbox One business.
Compare Microsoft’s statement above to Sony’s, below:
“We are also happy to announce that the monthly active users of PlayStation Network continues to show strong growth, and has surpassed 90 million as of end of November 2018,” John Kodera, president and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, said of the latest sales figure. “I would like to express my deepest gratitude to our passionate community around the globe, and our partners, for helping us achieve these milestones.”
Unlike Microsoft’s, Sony executives are happy to just say outright how large the PlayStation business is. The last specific piece of information we’ve been given about Xbox One sales came in 2016, when an EA earnings call indicated that 19.1 million Xbox One systems had been sold up to that date.
It’s highly unlikely that Microsoft will come close to Sony’s hardware sales numbers this generation, and Sony sharing hard numbers is a way to make the disparity clear without naming its competitor.
What about Nintendo?
Nintendo has sold 22.86 million Switch consoles worldwide, according to the latest numbers, an impressive number for a console that’s been on the market for less than two years. Sony will be focused on the PlayStation 5 — or whatever its next console will be called — by the time the Switch begins to catch up with the PlayStation 4’s lifetime sales, however.
And Sony’s 91.6 million consoles sold means that it’s very likely that the PlayStation 4 could outsell the Wii’s 101.63 million consoles before everything is said and done. You could argue that the Switch and PlayStation 4 aren’t in direct competition, but Sony is likely ecstatic to be able to report numbers that match, or may soon exceed, Nintendo’s historic best in home consoles.
There’s almost never an apples-to-apples comparison to be made in video game hardware sales, especially when it comes to Nintendo and everyone else. But Sony’s PlayStation 4 performance has already made it one of the most popular consoles in history, and it still probably has at least one more big Christmas to go.
What about the future?
Sony is leading this generation by releasing simple, relatively inexpensive hardware that plays an impressive number of strong exclusives. That’s it. The PlayStation 4 was less expensive and more powerful than the Xbox One at launch, and then became the less expensive but powerful enough option when the PlayStation 4 Pro went head-to-head with the Xbox One X.
Nintendo is finding success with a system that’s a hybrid console and portable, and Microsoft has begun making noise about streaming and subscription services. Both approaches have merit: Nintendo needed to release something truly special after the disappointing sales of the Wii U, and Microsoft had to find a way to compete with Sony’s current reign on the charts.
But so far, Sony, seems to be sticking to what it does best: selling gaming hardware with the best exclusive games. Sony is on top, which means it may be safe for the company to continue the current path it’s on. Why mess with something that’s working so well?
The numbers show one thing clearly for now: Sony has dominated the current generation.