TIME Video Games

The PlayStation 4 Won February, but by a Lot Less Than It Did in January

Sony

But the Xbox One crept up on the PlayStation 4, and the reasons why may be related to December's results.

I’m a little late getting to these figures because I was out last Friday, but the NPD data for February is in, and continuing an unsurprising trend in month-to-month hardware sales, Sony’s PlayStation 4 beat Microsoft’s Xbox One.

I say unsurprising because the PS4 remains 100 simoleons less than Microsoft’s $500 Xbox One. Kinect or no, if the PS4 wasn’t in the lead, given the historical relationship of dominant game consoles to their prices, then I’d be surprised.

But Sony thumped Microsoft in January by a ratio of 2-to-1 (according to Sony), whereas in February, it appears Sony only beat its rival by tens of thousands of units. This is all transpiring a month before the arrival of Titanfall, mind you, which presents something of a conundrum if your predictive theory of success hinges on economics alone.

Recall that in December, the Xbox One outsold the PS4 in this country by hundreds of thousands of units. Sony reacted to the news by claiming the PS4 had been sold out everywhere much of the month, and that it was still outselling the Xbox One worldwide. In short: Sony was implying it hadn’t been able to meet demand in this country given that the PS4 was available in many more markets than the Xbox One (53 countries at the time, compared to the Xbox One’s 13).

That may partly or wholly explain what happened in February, though it also may not, because it’s speculation extracted from a marketing claim. The New York Times notes that PlayStation marketing executive Guy Longworth said the PS4 was experiencing “severe inventory constraints,” but that’s an unverifiable claim, and it’s worth bearing in mind how important it is to control the narrative when courting buyers who view these systems — not incorrectly — as risk-related investments. A sense of momentum is critical, especially early on, before the Halos and Uncharteds start showing up. When you’re shelling out $400 to $500 on a platform, it’s in hopes of being able to play all the non-exclusive stuff you’d want to down the road, and we need only look at Nintendo’s beleaguered Wii U to get a taste of what third-party abandonment looks like.

What’s missing from this picture? Worldwide sales. If Sony’s producing as many or more PS4s as Microsoft is Xbox Ones, the question is who’s selling the most, all told, and to what extent that’s impacting allocation. Sony just launched in Japan in February 22, which probably impacted its U.S. allocation (Microsoft hasn’t yet announced a Japan launch date for the Xbox One). At last count, Sony said it had sold 5.3 million units worldwide, and that was as of mid-February [Update: Sony announced PS4 sales recently surpassed 6 million worldwide]. The last we heard from Microsoft in early January, the Xbox One had sold in the vicinity of three million units worldwide.

March should be interesting because it’ll test both systems in unique ways: New IP Titanfall is going to give the Xbox One a major boost, if only because Microsoft marketed the bejesus out of it, so count on that. But Sony has inFamous: Second Son shipping late this week (March 21), exclusive to PS4, and both of Sucker Punch’s prior inFamous games were as critically lauded as Titanfall‘s been (that, and however anticipated Respawn’s online-only first-person shooter was, inFamous has the incumbent advantage).

Then again, if Sony really is experiencing inventory issues and it hasn’t sorted them by week’s end, it could be in for a stateside drubbing when NPD’s next report drops a month from now.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

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