To borrow from Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi, Christmas time is here, or nearly so, which means you’re looking at a scant few hours of frenzied final sleuthing — probably in vain — to find a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One before 2013’s holiday window closes forever. All these reports that both systems are sold out everywhere bodes well for Microsoft and Sony, and if both companies can maintain momentum through 2014, console gaming in general.
By all accounts, sales have been very close in the U.S. since launch. In official figures, we have Sony’s claim of 2.1 million PS4s sold worldwide, versus 2 million Xbox Ones. Microsoft claimed the higher initial sales rate in the U.S. (during the Xbox Ones first nine days of availability), though if you factor in all of North America, Sony says it’s the world record holder, with over a million PS4s sold in just 24 hours.
If demand’s outstripping supply, how do you gauge actual demand? Whip out your Magic Eight Ball — or glance at a secondary market like eBay. According to Baird analyst Colin Sebastian, Sony’s PlayStation 4 is outpacing Microsoft’s Xbox One on the multinational auction site at a rate of 2-to-1, to date.
But with eBay we’re in a kind of demographic fog, further muddled by supply questions, further muddled by a lack of information on average selling prices (the latter being a potential supply/demand indicator if one system’s selling on average for significantly more than another). Anecdotal reports hold that Sony’s PS4 has been more supply-constrained at retail, but then anecdotal, by definition, is just another word for hearsay absent official retail figures.
When I spoke with Sony Computer Entertainment America president and CEO Jack Tretton in New York at the PS4’s launch event, he beamed about the company’s production yields, noting that while he expected to shatter launch sale records, he wasn’t worried about supply keeping up with demand. Perhaps Sony managed to slip more product into the chain than anyone’s realized and savvy eBay sellers are simply capitalizing on this media-led sales narrative that the PS4’s in higher demand. Or perhaps the opposite is true, and Microsoft’s been able to supply enough Xbox Ones to mitigate demand through outlets like eBay.
See the problem? Secondary market sales could mean anything, leaving us in journalistic la-la land, speculating about possible outcomes based on demographic hypotheticals premised on supply chain assumptions.
Before you wave this off as economic overemphasis, don’t conflate shallow analysis with topical irrelevance. We scrutinize platform sales in part because they will, invariably, determine which third party games and exclusives go where down the line. It’s simple compound interest. Look at what’s happening to Nintendo’s Wii U and Sony’s PlayStation Vita — both fantastic systems in the potential-for-greatness department, but both hamstrung by paltry third-party support.
Enjoy your holiday break with or without a PS4 or Xbox One. Be wary of unofficial sales reports (and especially anything sourced to a “market intelligence” firm). It’s still anyone’s game. If you’re waiting for one system to surge ahead of the other, don’t expect January’s U.S. figures to hand you your mandate. If I had to guess, based on official sales to date, I’d wager it’ll be close.
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