When Microsoft announced the Xbox One X (See on Amazon), it was clear the company was pulling out all the stops in its effort to close the gap between the Xbox One and PS4 sales figures. Ever since it launched, the Xbox One has struggled against the PS4 — and new data suggests nothing Microsoft has done has stemmed the tide, at least not globally.
During EA’s latest conference call, CEO Andrew Wilson said the following:
Turning to our expectations for fiscal 2019, we expect sales of current-generation consoles from Microsoft and Sony to continue to be strong, with the installed base growing to 130 million consoles by the end of calendar 2018 from 103 million at the end of calendar 2017. Nintendo Switch is expected to have built an installed base over 30 million by the end of the calendar year.
We can combine that number with Sony’s own estimates for total PlayStation 4s sold. According to Sony, it had sold 73.6M PS4’s through to customers (the phrase ‘sell through’ means that the console was purchased by a customer, as opposed to “shipments,” which reflects unsold inventory still sitting on store shelves) as of December 31, 2017. Wilson’s statement implies total shipments of 29.4M Xbox One consoles versus 73.6M PS4s. That figure implies Microsoft’s total Xbox One X shipments were extremely poor in 2017 — around 5 million units, compared with roughly 20 million units for the PS4 Pro.
EA presumably has better access to these kinds of figures than the rest of us, given that Microsoft has refused to state how many Xbox One consoles it has shipped for several years now — precisely because Redmond doesn’t want to publicize the fact that Sony has whipped the stuffing out of it. And, as Microsoft notes, these are worldwide numbers, not North American-specific. The Xbox One has historically been more popular in the US than in other countries, particularly in Japan.
The bottom line is this: Even if we grant that the EA figures are low on the Xbox side — and they are low, relative to what I would’ve expected — and we toss in another 5-6 million consoles that EA somehow missed, the results still don’t make Microsoft look very good relative to its chief competition. And that’s unfortunate, because from the time it launched right up to the present day, the Xbox One X has been one of the best gaming solutions you could buy. That’s been particularly true thanks to rampant GPU price inflation, which pushed the price of graphics cards up so high, it’s been impossible to recommend building a PC for most of 2018 so far. Even today, cards are still running hot. The cheapest AMD RX 580 at Newegg as of this writing is $309, compared with $229 launch prices over a year ago. That’s better — but it’s still not great. Meanwhile, if the Switch keeps tearing up the market, it could be closing in on Microsoft’s lifetime ship rate for Xbox One before the Switch turns two.
Hopefully Microsoft learns its lesson this time around. The company squandered the goodwill and momentum it gathered during the Xbox 360’s generation chasing content licensing deals, new game distribution methods, and mandatory always-on connectivity. Microsoft chained its entire console strategy to a peripheral virtually nobody wanted to purchase and was left with a paperweight when gamers revolted over paying $100 more for a less powerful console.
We don’t know what the precise figures are, and it’s possible EA’s are off — but when you have to add 5-6 million console sales to the relative distribution to get back to “as bad as we thought it was,” that’s not a good sign.
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