Last week saw some interesting console news from games industry publication MCV.
According to the website, UK sales of Xbox One rose by almost 1,000% in the week ending 24 September, while sales of the slimline PS4 have been comparatively slow.
Data obtained from GfK, the market research company that compiles software sales charts in the UK, also showed that Microsoft’s machine had a 71% share of the hardware market for that week. The findings follow news in the US that the Xbox One has been the bestselling console for two months according to NPD Group data.
In the two years following the November 2013 launch of Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Sony’s console has consistently sold better, building a user base of over 40m by May 2016. In return, Microsoft has refused to provide sales figures for its own console, preferring to concentrate on monthly active users for its Xbox Live service. However, Xbox One numbers are thought, until recently, to have been half those of PS4.
So why the upturn in performance from the once beleaguered machine? Here are five explanations.
1. Xbox One S is the console people actually wanted
Microsoft got off to the worst possible start in this generation. Its May 2013 Xbox One launch event was a hubristic shambles, where the company chose to concentrate on its Live TV offerings rather than games – and then it revealed a console that looked like a school VCR circa 1983. After launch, there were lacklustre exclusives and, crucially, the framerate and resolution performances of multi-platform games weren’t holding up to PS4.
But revealed at E3 this summer, Xbox One S is a sleeker, smaller chassis in a trendy “robot white” colour that completely differentiates it from the original machine. Improvements to the design and capabilities of the package (including adding an IR blaster for universal remote control capabilities and bluetooth support for the joypad), subtly increased its appeal. You can also put it on its side. Some people love doing that.
2. The price is now right for two key markets
You can buy the 500GB Xbox One S for £250, complete with a bundled game. This is tipping the console out of the enthusiast market, into the family purchase sector – at least for some households. This could mean that we’ll start to see more parents upgrading their Xbox 360s in the coming months. Furthermore, at this point we may also be seeing “hardcore” gamers who originally opted for PS4 two years ago, now purchasing an Xbox One S as a second console to hoover up legacy platform exclusives like the Forza and Halo titles – and prepare for forthcoming Xbox One-only titles. More of that later.
3. Xbox has courted the young fans with the right games
Microsoft has done some canny marketing deals over the past few years, tying up exclusive downloadable and in-game content with the Fifa and Call of Duty titles, both hugely popular with the teen demographic. Specifically, the exclusive Ultimate Team Legends cards, and the Microsoft sponsorship of the Call of Duty (CoD) eSports finals have ensured that a lot of young gamers are playing those huge titles on Xbox. Furthermore, the deals have meant that influential pro-gamers, YouTubers and Twitch streamers are favouring Xbox for their Fifa and CoD content.
Basically, Microsoft has targeted titles that the next generation of ‘hardcore’ gamers are playing with their friends – and that approach appears to be bearing fruit. Little wonder Sony is now moving into those markets, grabbing the Call of Duty (CoD) exclusivity package this year. And it’s no coincidence that one of the titles bundled with the recent £149 flash sale for PS4 was Fifa 17.
4. That whole 4K thing
Xbox One S was revealed with a strong message at this year’s E3: it will run 4K video, it will process HDR visual effects and it’ll play 4K UHD Blu-ray discs. With prices of 4K televisions plummeting and sales growing, it was a smart move to immediately align this updated console with the improved resolution technology. The news that PlayStation 4 Pro won’t play 4K Blu-ray discs has been greeted with surprise and derision by audio-visual enthusiasts, and that message can filter down to mainstream consumers who may like the idea of, say, owning all the new Star Wars films on UHD. Xbox One S also upscales current titles to 4K compatibility, adding an extra impetus.
5. The exclusives are coming
Of course, PlayStation 4 has its own catalogue of exciting exclusives, but things are definitely hotting up for Xbox One. Forza Horizon 3 is already one of the great racing games of this generation, and there are big returning franchises to come in the shape of Gears of War 4, Halo 6, Dead Rising 4, State of Decay 2 and Crackdown 3 that won’t be on PlayStation (of course they’ll all be on PC too, but we’re talking about the console market here). Newcomers like monster hunting adventure Scalebound, online pirate romp Sea of Thieves and idiosyncratic platformer Cuphead also look very interesting. As performance issues stabilise, the success of any console in a generation begins to rely much more heavily on the quality of the software itself. Microsoft is definitely doing its best to prepare for that stage of the war.
This article was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Monday 3rd October 2016 11.12 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010