The horse race between competing gaming hardware — PlayStation, Xbox and whatever magic Nintendo is selling — has nearly always been measured by the number of consoles each company sells. Even when a company is down it typically releases regular updates noting how many of its systems are out in the wild. But recently that’s changed.
It’s been about three and a half years since Microsoft released official Xbox One sales figures. In November 2014, the company said it had sold 10 million Xbox Ones. A bit more insight was gained in January 2016 when Electronic Arts noted in an earnings call that about 18 million to 19 million of the console have been sold. But it’s been radio silence ever since.
Meanwhile, PlayStation’s dominance continues, highlighted by regular updates of PlayStation 4 sold. As of March 31, the company last said, it has sold 79.8 million PS4. That puts it essentially even with the 80 million lifetime sales of the PlayStation 3. Nintendo, which launched its Switch just last year, recently said it has sold 17.8 million as of March 31. That already tops the Wii U’s lifetime sales of 13.6 million. Despite surprisingly low Wii U sales, Nintendo provided regular updates on its sales.
But in October 2015, Microsoft announced it would no longer be releasing numbers for how many Xbox One have sold. A reaction, it seems, to being lapped by PlayStation 4 sales.
Reached for comment this week, Microsoft reiterated that it still doesn’t share the number of Xbox One sold, but this time explained why, noting that it’s using a different “key metric for success.”
“We are continuing to look at engagement as our key metric for success and are no longer reporting on total console sales,” a spokesperson told Variety. “During Microsoft’s FY18 Q3 earnings, we announced that gaming revenue grew 18% year-over-year, driven by Xbox software and services revenue growth of 24%, and Xbox Live monthly active users grew 1% year-over-year to 59 million. We continue to see strong growth with time spent on Xbox Live, and look forward to bringing more unprecedented experiences on Xbox One, Windows 10 PC and mobile.”
It’s unclear if the numbers provided by Microsoft for Xbox Live monthly active users includes those on free trials, but if they don’t, that number may be one of the only public figures that offer any sort of apples-to-apples comparison to the PlayStation 4. The console, it was recently announced, has 32.4 million PlayStation Plus subscribers, up from 26.4 million the previous year. Nintendo, meanwhile, isn’t rolling out it’s paid online service until September.
The issue of pure hardware sales and Microsoft’s likely dismal showing this generation, does draw into question what the company might have planned for the quickly approaching shift to the next generation of consoles. Microsoft, unlike Nintendo and PlayStation, has strong ties to PC game sales and a long history of trying to both support that and capture it in it’s own walled-garden store built into Windows 10. It’s possible that Microsoft could see the shift between generations as a chance to move away from the expensive console wars and closer to systems that rely on streaming games to a television using a home’s existing computer hardware rather than a gaming-centric device.
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