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Analysis – Gamers Are Playing The Big Releases On PS4, And That Should Worry Microsoft

by Mike Futter on Jul 17, 2015 at 07:59 AM

Yesterday’s NPD report for the month of June revealed that the video game industry is in an upswing. Amidst the very good news was the latest in a long of line of major titles that definitively swung toward the current market leader.

Before NPD released its report, Sony issued a statement letting press know that it had claimed the top spot for software and hardware in June. Specifically, Sony cited strong sales of its Batman: Arkham Knight bundle. Not only that, but more retail standalone copies of the PlayStation 4 version of Arkham Knight were sold.

What this means is that on top of Sony winning the fight at retail, even more Batman: Arkham Knight copies were put into circulation (and motivated some console sales) on PlayStation 4 units. This comes a week after Ubisoft released its quarterly earnings report, which mirrored some of the same data. We cite Ubisoft because, unlike most other companies, the publisher routinely breaks down its shipments by platform.

For the first quarter of the publisher’s fiscal year, its software rankings (combined retail and digital) by platform are as follows:

  • PlayStation 4 - 27 percent
  • PC - 23 percent
  • Other - 14 percent
  • Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3 - Tied at 11 percent
  • Wii and Wii U (combined) - 3 percent

For the full 2015 fiscal year (ended March 31, 2015) the results looked like this for a 12-month period:

  • PlayStation 4 - 32 percent
  • Xbox One - 20 percent
  • Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 - Tied at 13 percent
  • PC - 12 percent
  • Wii - 4 percent
  • Wii U - 1 percent
  • Others - 5 percent

What we see here is a potentially widening gap (though more data is needed as the year progresses to see how this crystalizes) between PlayStation 4 and Xbox One software sales – a trend that has likely had Microsoft concerned lately.

Batman: Arkham Knight, while an important title given its critical standing, is only one title. We looked back at other multi-platform releases to see how this compares against the trend.

New multi-platform releases leading on PlayStation since September 2014:

  • Assassin’s Creed Unity, PS4 - November
  • Batman: Arkham Knight, PS4 - June
  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, PS4 - March
  • Dragon Ball Xenoverse, PS4 - February
  • Dying Light, PS4 - January
  • The Evil Within, PS4 - October
  • Final Fantasy Type-0, PS4 - March
  • Grand Theft Auto V, PS4 - November
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, PS4 - September
  • Mortal Kombat X, PS4 - April
  • NBA 2K15, PS4 - October
  • NHL 15, PS4 - September
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, PS4 - May
  • Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, PS4 - April

New multi-platform releases leading on Xbox since September 2014:

  • Battlefield Hardline, Xbox One - March
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, 360 - October
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, 360 - November
  • Destiny, Xbox One - September
  • Disney Infinity 2.0, 360 - September
  • The Elder Scrolls Online, Xbox One - June
  • Evolve, Xbox One - February
  • Lego: Jurassic World, 360 - June
  • Madden NFL 15, 360 - September
  • Skylanders Trap Team, 360 - October

From this we can see that of the ten multi-platform releases “won” by Microsoft, six were more popular on Xbox 360 (and not Xbox One). Sony’s 14 were all on PlayStation 4. What we don't have, due to its proprietary nature, are digital sales numbers. Those are held by the publishers and platform holders, and were we able to account for that data, the results might be different if certain titles skew heavily away from boxed copies.

Some of what we see above is certainly attributable to Sony’s larger install base this generation (20.2 million PS4s sold as of March 1 versus "over 10 million" Xbox Ones shipped as of December), but that simply enhances the point. Microsoft needs to find a way to jump start console purchases.

Part of what will certainly help is the company’s better first-party and exclusive lineup this fall. Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5: Guardians, and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition will certainly drive uptake.

However, just like last year, I anticipate aggressive bundling strategies. These increase the value of an Xbox One purchase without adding to the cost, though Microsoft might also choose to repeat its limited time $50 discount strategy this holiday.

I expect that for those lingering with last-generation hardware, backward compatibility will be a major selling point. I have no doubt, Microsoft is actively and aggressively speaking with publishers to make that lineup as large as possible. This would give Xbox 360 owners more reason to “keep it in the family.”

Combined with retailer incentives for trade-up from Xbox 360 to Xbox One, and Microsoft could make its biggest holiday push since the launch of its new console. All isn’t lost, and Microsoft has major bullets in its exclusive gun, but success means keeping the pressure on and wooing the customer harder than ever this holiday.

Note: The Ubisoft full-year percentages were incorrectly transposed in the original version of this article. The percentages have been updated for accuracy. The analysis remains the same, as PlayStation 4 led Xbox One.