April 17th (today!) is when we finally see which games and consoles sold the most in March. With a number of huge games released and a price drop from the Xbox One, we're anxiously awaiting the results of this heated month. Do we have any inside information? Nope, so don't run to your bookie to gamble your life saving's on our guesses. But we do have theories on how the retail wars played out.
Justin Haywald - A new challenge has arrived
Last month I wrote about how the PlayStation 4 has a strong advantage in the current console race. They've had the price advantage, PlayStation Plus is a better value than Xbox Live Gold, and Sony's console is already out in Japan (where they've historically always outsold Microsoft). I'm not backing down from that opinion, but that doesn't mean Sony's going to win every month, and I think March is going to belong to the Xbox One.
Sure, it's not official, but the Xbox One is essentially $100 cheaper than when it launched and it comes with a free game. And not just any game, but the AAA blockbuster Titanfall. Factoring that in, Microsoft actually has a price advantage now. And there's no going back, whether they call it an actual price drop or not.
It was a gutsy move, but it was the right one, and it'll require an answer from Sony. Whether Sony thinks they're far enough ahead or not remains to be seen, but it would be great to get a PS4 bundled with a game at its $400 price point, especially if that game is the recently confirmed The Last of Us: Remastered.
Speaking of AAA-exclusives, Titanfall will have undoubtedly helped push the Xbox One ahead. Rumors have circulated that the Xbox 360 version was delayed specifically to bolster sales of the Xbox One, and that sounds like a gambit that will pay off big for Microsoft.
Now, that doesn't mean Titanfall is on top overall. I think there's a pretty slim chance that it'll have beaten out a multiplatform last-gen title like South Park: The Stick of Truth (which is my front-runner for best-selling game of March) or even Dark Souls II, but Titanfall likely came out ahead in terms of next-gen. Sony's Infamous: Second Son was well-received, but Titanfall not only has the advantage of getting a PC release, it's also a game with immediate appeal to the Call of Duty and Battlefield crowd.
Will Microsoft be able to carry this momentum over to April? It's unlikely that the Xbox One will remain on top, but the 360 version of Titanfall (and no corresponding big title from Sony) will ensure that combined sales of Microsoft's consoles give them a lot of good news. Maybe not enough to upset the edge Sony has in worldwide sales, but it's going to be an exciting, neck-and-neck race in the lead-up to E3.
Tom Mc Shea - Desperation pays
Is five months too soon to panic? Considering how long a console's life cycle lasts, most would say that there's no need for rash moves so soon after launch. But Microsoft didn't see things that way. After falling far behind the PlayStation 4 in worldwide sales, we saw a number of desperate moves that not even the most reactionary people could have predicted. Microsoft had already shelled out money to Electronic Arts to secure exclusive next-gen rights to Titanfall--which I thought would have been enough for the Xbox One to draw even with its main competition for the month of March--and we saw a major shake-up shortly after the game's release. Not only was the game bundled with systems, but a price drop across many retailers (included Microsoft's website) means you can get the console and a copy of the game for only $50 more than what the PlayStation 4 costs on its own.
Now we're left with the cold, hard numbers from that quick price drop. If Microsoft's console once more comes up short to Sony's, we can officially say that the first signs of trouble are emerging. But if it came out ahead of the PlayStation 4, then it proves that Microsoft's moves ultimately worked in getting people interested in jumping to the next generation. Oh, what a scary day this must be for executives in Redmond.
My guess is that Microsoft's major price cut will push it slightly ahead of the PlayStation 4 this month. More so than even Titanfall landing at retail, a price drop creates a ripple among the buying public that shows immediate results. After all, who doesn't like getting a deal? Once word broke that major retailers were slashing prices, people across the nation assuredly jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of that discount. This is especially true because the price cut was presented as a temporary sale rather than a permanent markdown, so people were even more likely to strike while the iron was hot. Of course, there's no way Microsoft can raise the price back to $500 without a game, so we've seen the first price slash in the console war, and one that took place even quicker than when Nintendo cut the 3DS' price six months after it launched in America.
So, if the Xbox One sells better than the PlayStation 4, does that mean that its biggest exclusive (Titanfall) will outsell Sony's (Infamous: Second Son)? Not quite. We already know that Second Son has sold 1 million copies worldwide, and it's reasonable to guess 600,000 of those have been in America. And I doubt Titanfall sold that many copies on the Xbox One. Not only could people buy it on PC as well, but many waited for the oft-delayed though technically sound Xbox 360 version. Even with a price drop, shelling out so much money for a console because you're interested in one game isn't too enticing, especially if you already own another platform that can run it.
Considering how much money Microsoft spent to catch up to Sony, I have to wonder if they're happy with their investments. Was it worth whatever they had to pay Electronic Arts to keep Titanfall off Sony's platforms? Did selling their console for even cheaper warrant how much money they're now losing on each Xbox One sold? It's too early to tell at this point. One thing is clear, Sony has to make a move to counter Mcrosoft's, though it's unclear what their next step will be. Maybe we'll see a Killzone: Shadow Fall pack-in, or free year of PlayStation Plus included with each system. Who knows? But resting on your laurels is rarely a good strategy, especially when your competition is so anxious to make strides.
One final prediction. Though so much talk has centered around the two major exclusives, I think both will be outsold by a gem from last generation. Souls fans are a fanatical bunch (I know because I'm one of them), and after Dark Souls sold more than 2 million copies, it's clear there are enough who are interested in these amazing games to create waves at retail. And when you factor in the massive install base of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, I believe Dark Souls II trumped both Titanfall and Infamous: Second Son. Will I be right? Tune in to the NPD sales numbers later today to find out.
Editor's Note: This article originally stated that the NPD numbers would be released on April 10th. In actuality, those numbers will be made public April 17th. We regret the error more than you could ever know.