PS4, Xbox One Nearly Tie For Hardware Sales, But Software Slumps Year Over Year

The latest data from NPD is in and it shows a significant jump in Xbox One's relative sales position versus PS4. In January, reports indicated that the PS4 had been outsold by the PS4 nearly 2:1, but February closed that gap with the Xbox One moving an estimated 258,000 units against the PS4's 286,000 units. Year-on-year hardware sales increased 60% over 2013, but software sales still fell 11% over the same time period.

The NPD, however, is upbeat despite the decline in game sales. Because these consoles are at the beginning of their life cycles, they must generate insane attach rates to actually drive those figures <em>up.</em> To put it in perspective, consider that assuming there are 12 million Xbox One's and PS4's put together, a game with a 50% attach rate sells just 6 million copies across both platforms. Meanwhile, in the existing PS3 and Xbox 360 world, where a combined total of over 160 million consoles have been sold, a game with a 10% attach rate would move 16 million copies.

Clearly, this is a long-term game, and the catch-up is particularly vital for Microsoft, whose console has been dragging compared to the PS4. It's possible that sales in February ticked up in response to Titanfall, the epic and highly anticipated multiplayer mech-based combat shooter. if so, we should see a further uptick for March, now that the game has launched, been well-reviewed, and sold well.

It's clear that the Xbox One will have to claw its way back to parity, but the previous generation demonstrated that this is possible. The Xbox 360 led the PS3 for the vast majority of their life cycles, only to have Sony's console claw its way back to an even standing in the last few years. Today, the two have sold nearly identical numbers.

In other news, Microsoft Studios executive Phil Spencer has acknowledged that he and his team could have done a far better job with the Xbox One's original messaging and took responsibility for attempting to "sugar coat" information in ways that ultimately frustrated and confused buyers. "I learned a ton last summer as a leader of our groups and in our company about being true to your core vision around what a product is, not being confusing, and frankly, when you're going to say something to a consumer that might put them off, it's better to just be direct and honest, rather than trying to sugar-coat something that might be controversial," he said."

This is an odd lesson for Microsoft to have learned. The problem with its product messaging wasn't that the message was sugar-coated, but that the original no-resale, always-watching, phone-home, Kinect-required Xbox One was a fundamentally unattractive product. The Xbox One could still become substantially more attractive by restoring the Family Plan features that it originally offered (the actual excellent core of the console), but that appears to be off the table for now.