2013 Year in Review

PS4 and Xbox One launch: broken hardware and one million sales

Year in Review: Record-breaking sales accompanied by an influx of user-created videos showing the PS4's "flashing blue light of death" and the Xbox One's disc-grinding drive.

We close out our year-end retrospective with a look back at Microsoft and Sony’s console launches and all the other big news from the final months of 2013. You can also read: Part one -- covering the reveal of the next-gen consoles and other beginning of the year events. Part two -- covering the biggest news from E3 and immediately after. And part three -- covering the console dominance of Grand Theft Auto V and the reveal of Valve’s Steam OS.

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The short reprieve from constant analysis surrounding the launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 was extended slightly by this year’s Blizzcon. Returning from a one year hiatus, Blizzard’s conference had plenty of big announcements, including an open beta for Heroes of the Storm and new details on the Warcraft movie. But the most exciting news was the confirmation and full details of the next World of Warcraft expansion: Warlords of Draenor.

While most of Blizzard’s announcements wouldn’t see fruition until next year (or later), the impending console launch was a present, looming event. But both Microsoft and Sony took a huge blow to their video game launch line-up before either console came out; one of the most-anticipated next-gen titles, Watch Dogs, was suddenly delayed until Spring 2014.

Developer Ubisoft said in a statement: “We know a lot of you are probably wondering: Why now? We struggled with whether we would delay the game. But from the beginning, we have adopted the attitude that we will not compromise on quality."

That setback didn’t seem to hurt either consoles’ sales. The PlayStation 4 launched first, selling a landmark one million consoles in 24 hours across North America. Then the Xbox One came a week later and also sold over one million consoles in 24 hours. Of course, arguments immediately sprang up online that Microsoft had to launch in 13 countries to hit the same number as Sony. And those same arguments persisted when the consoles hit the 2 million mark. But as we discussed in an in-depth editorial, numbers are fun to watch, but they’re a very poor indicator of actual success so early into a console’s life cycle.

In the end, both Microsoft and Sony sold out (and currently continue to sell out) of every machine they created. The biggest difference between the launch of these consoles and previous launches (both the successful and unsuccessful) is that more were available to purchase on day one than ever before. The true test of which console will sell more and whether anything will be able to consistently beat Nintendo’s dominating handheld platform remains to be seen.

The ultimate goal for all of these companies (aside from making a profit) is to provide entertainment, and in that sense everyone was successful. Microsoft cordially congratulated Sony on the launch of their system. And PlayStation returned the greeting…though they had to delete a snarky Facebook post first.

The PlayStation reportedly cost $381 to build (just $19 less than the system’s retail price), and though GameSpot didn’t give the system a score, we did review Sony’s black box and all of the launch games. Similarly, the Xbox One reportedly cost $471 to build including the Kinect (the system retails at $499), and we also put together a score-free review for Microsoft’s system and a score-included review of the launch games.

Sony responded with disappoint on the overall low review scores for their initial games, but at the end of the November, neither Sony nor Microsoft had any console-exclusive titles in the top 10 sales for November. But those were small problems compared to the other controversies springing up around the system launches. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One required day one patches, but Microsoft pulled the option for owners to download the update separately on a USB saying, "The site was not an alternative way to take the Day One update and customers still need to connect to Xbox Live for the update.”

The PlayStation 4’s online network suffered issues following both the North America and EU launch. But more problematic were reported issues with what users called the “flashing blue light of death.” The Xbox meanwhile faced an issue with the disc drive creating a loud, grinding noise. Neither Sony nor Microsoft released specific hardware failure rate numbers, but given the large number of total sales and the relatively small number of reported complaints, it can be safely inferred that neither developer faced issues anywhere near the Xbox 360’s “red ring of death” problem. However, Microsoft took the extra step of providing advance returns for broken Xbox One consoles to make sure that owners wouldn’t have to wait for their console to be fixed to continue playing.

1080p vs. 720p also became a constant Internet talking point between the two consoles, especially since several high-profile third-party games displayed in native 1080p on PS4 but only 720p on Xbox One. Regarding Call of Duty: Ghosts on next-gen, Activision said, “The Xbox One is 720p, but it upscales to 1080p. So it is a 1080p output on your TV. The differences are probably more subtle than some people would notice, but some people will notice.” Meanwhile, Sony took advantage of the opportunity to claim that native 1080p allows you to “be a better gamer.”

Battlefield 4, meanwhile, suffered from a problem that affected almost every version of the game, especially next-gen and PC -- persistent bugs and crashes. A post originally appeared on an Electronic Arts help site that seemed to place the blame on Sony, but this was taken down almost immediately. EA eventually acknowledged the crashing issues and, over the course of the month, continued to escalate the issue internally until work on other additions and future DLC was put on-hold and all resources were put toward fixing the game’s issues.

The problems became severe enough that EA is now facing potential lawsuits from multiple parties who are seeking to represent the company’s stockholders. EA has replied that the “claims are meritless,” and that they are “confident the court will dismiss the complaint in due course." Ironically, EA had almost followed Watch Dogs' example and delayed Battlefield 4 on Xbox One and PS4.

Microsoft and Sony were not the only participants in the 2013 next-gen console race, but Nintendo confirmed in an investor meeting that the company had failed to establish the Wii U as a “worthy” successor to the Wii. Nintendo placed a strong emphasis on the tentpole title Super Mario 3D World and winter titles like Wii Party U and Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Mario failed to break into the top 10 US game sales in November, but the Wii U’s sales saw a dramatic 304% spike. With a one-year lead over its competition, a lot of attention in the coming year will focus on whether Nintendo's console can maintain its current lead over the Xbox One and PS4 in terms of total sales.

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Closing out the year, the Internet experienced a huge row over copyright infringement with YouTube. After a drastic spike in the number of claims made due to new auto-detection software the company put in place. Despite outcry from users who were flagged for making Let’s Play videos and developers who didn’t have a problem with their games being played on camera, YouTube stood by their policy.

Blizzard, Ubisoft, Deep Silver, and Capcom all offered their support to affected gamers and are currently looking for long-term solutions to make sure that YouTube users are not automatically flagged for playing their games online. Even director Kevin Smith spoke out saying, "Don't stamp down someone's creativity; even if it's someone else's creativity with other people's material, because you make found art out of art that you find."

While YouTube has been working to close off gaming content, the US government has been working to become a closer part of online gaming worlds. Documents came out in December that revealed the government as been monitoring online behavior in World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Xbox Live in order to hunt down terrorists. No terrorists have been apprehended through the program and both Microsoft and Blizzard came forward to say they were unaware of and did not consent to the invasive monitoring.

But to close out the 2013 news round-up on a more positive note, Riot Games revealed that League of Legends events rival both the Super Bowl and the Oscars on Reddit. And over 32 million people watched the League of Legends Season 3 world championships -- for comparison, the final game of the 2013 World Series between the Red Sox and Cardinals only drew 18 million viewers while the 2013 Super Bowl drew 104.8 million. But some players are still pulling in celebrity-size salaries; Carlos "Ocelote" Rodriguez makes nearly $1 million per year as a professional LoL player.

And that concludes our 2013 retrospective, covering all of the biggest, most-read stories on GameSpot.com. Now that the new consoles have (probably) been revealed (you can never rule out a surprise dark horse), let’s hope 2014 will be just as fun and exciting as this year has been.

Happy New Year!