Xbox One and PS4 sales numbers don’t matter right now (but you don’t care)

Editorial: Microsoft and Sony are going to toss out a lot of numbers over the next couple months. They're fun to follow, but they don't mean much (yet).

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We’re in a war of numbers.

But sifting through all the noise, these numbers don’t really mean anything. Not yet anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re big, impressive numbers for consoles that aren’t even a month old. After all, Nintendo’s Wii only sold 600,000 in its first week, and the PlayStation 2 only sold 500,000. But nobody is arguing that those consoles weren’t incredibly successful.

All those numbers really mean is that Sony and Microsoft have been more prepared for consumer demand than at any previous console launch. If more consoles were currently available for either system, they’d sell even more.

Sales numbers are meaningless for determining how “successful” either console is until after supply starts to surpass demand. Until you can walk into a store and pick one up. At that point, you’ll get objective numbers, minus the spin, and the popularity contest winner will be revealed.

But you probably already know that it’s going to be the PS4.

Going over the results from data provided by the market research portal GameSpot Trax, you can see a clear preference for Sony’s console among general gamers. In a series of surveys over the last year where respondents were asked to rate their likelihood to purchase either an XB1 or a PS4, here were the results. Although both consoles were relatively close around this time last year, the gulf widened considerably as we approached launch.

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And while respondents who definitely will not purchase a PS4 have declined slightly, the number who do not want to purchase an XB1 rose constantly until August.

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In a separate, completely unscientific survey of retailers I’ve talked with over the past couple weeks, they all told me the same story. XB1 and PS4 are both sold out, but the PS4 sells out immediately, while the Xbox stock tends to hang out for at least a few hours.

None of that means Microsoft isn’t going to be successful or even that the sales between both consoles won’t be relatively close. But just like the Xbox 360 lead sales for years in the US, the PS4 is probably going to stay just ahead of the XB1.

Does that really make a difference, outside of message boards and comments in stories like this one? As long as both consoles are selling at least decently, the actual number shouldn’t matter, should it?

Both the PS4 and XB1 have a similar lineup of games, and they’re both going to get the same wide-range of third-party support. They both have their own specific launch hardware problems. The real difference comes down to personal preference.

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If you prefer Microsoft-published exclusives (e.g. Halo, Fable, Forza) and want a Kinect, XB1 will make you happy. If you prefer Sony’s games (e.g. Uncharted, Killzone, Gran Turismo) and the PlayStation Plus subscription benefits, PS4 is the way to go. That choice isn’t going to become moot just because one console sells more than the other.

And even a successful launch isn’t a strong indicator of future success. The Wii U sold over 3 million in its first month, but the console has underperformed in sales. I don’t regret buying a Wii U at launch, but I also know that there are a lot of games that will never make it to Nintendo’s system.

So why do we care about these numbers, even if they don’t mean anything? Like film box office numbers, it’s just fun to see how sales numbers play out and how our own preferences compare to everyone else. When our biases match up, we get to feel validated. And when we’re in the minority, everyone else sounds like an idiot.

Justin Haywald on Google+

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