PlayStation vs. Xbox: Is Xbox Making a Comeback?

Colorful design-your-own Xbox One controllers

Colorful design-your-own Xbox One controllers | Source: Microsoft

When it comes to this generation’s video game console war, here’s how the story has gone so far. The Wii U failed to catch on, leaving Nintendo scrambling to move on to its successor, the NX. Microsoft and Sony are doing much better, though the PlayStation 4 has sold roughly twice as many units as Xbox One. The reason for this is mostly because Microsoft bungled the Xbox One’s launch, making many fans cross over and buy a PlayStation 4. But the battle isn’t over, and there are signs Microsoft is making a comeback.

To put numbers to the battle, here’s roughly where each console stands.

  • PlayStation 4: 45 million units sold
  • Xbox One: 22 million units sold
  • Wii U: 13 million units sold

It may look like Microsoft is hopelessly behind Sony, but the situation isn’t quite so dire.

Xbox had a great July, and August looks good

The analyst firm NDP Group puts out U.S. console sales figures each month. For the first time since October 2015, the Xbox One outsold the PlayStation 4 in July 2016.

Why? Probably because Microsoft cut the price on the original Xbox One. You can find one for $250 now, with some retailers throwing in games at no additional cost. PlayStation 4, meanwhile, retails for $350.

Even if Sony cuts the price of the PS4, it’s no sure bet things will go Sony’s way in August, either. The price differential remains, and Microsoft has released the Xbox One S, a smaller, slightly more powerful version of the console. If the Xbox One S helps spur sales, August could easily end with Xbox One on top once again.

Xbox got its messaging under control

Xbox One S and controller

Xbox One S and controller | Source: Microsoft

The Xbox One is a very different console now than it was when it originally launched, and casual gamers are finally noticing. Microsoft has ditched the marketing pitch that the Xbox One is the central hub for your entertainment center. It even ditched the Kinect, the pricy motion- and voice-controller that used to come with every Xbox One, but no one seemed to want. Now the messaging is clear: The Xbox One is all about games.

The Xbox One S looks better than PlayStation 4

For the time being, the Xbox One S is the sleekest-looking game console on the market. Where the original Xbox One was a giant black box, the new model is much smaller and comes in an eye-catching “robot white” color. In terms of style, the Xbox One S comes out ahead of the current PlayStation 4.

That said, Sony plans to unveil the PlayStation 4 Neo at an event on September 7, so that could change. No one knows what a PS4 Neo looks like yet.

Xbox has a bold plan for the future

Messaging isn’t the only area Microsoft has gotten under control. It also has a bold new plan for the future of the Xbox platform.

The idea is that every game that’s compatible with Xbox One will be compatible with all Xbox hardware going forward. It’ll be like PC gaming in that respect: You won’t lose your gaming library just because you bought a new Xbox console. Your games will carry forward indefinitely.

In contrast, Sony has announced nothing to that effect, which could mean the PlayStation 5, whenever it’s released, won’t be compatible with PlayStation 4 games. If Microsoft makes its vision come true, Xbox One owners will have a great deal of incentive to stick with the Xbox platform going forward.

Xbox One Scorpio

A chip that's powerful enough to be included in the Xbox One Scorpio

A chip that’s powerful enough to be included in the Xbox One Scorpio | Source: Microsoft

Microsoft has already offered an idea of what to expect from the future of the Xbox gaming platform. The next major piece of Xbox hardware is called the Xbox One Scorpio. It’s set to launch in fall 2017, and it will be roughly four times more powerful than the current Xbox One.

In keeping with Microsoft’s new backwards-compatibility paradigm, the Scorpio will still play all games that work on the current Xbox One. Scorpio will also be able to power 4K and virtual reality gaming. It’s a major step forward for Microsoft, and it could pay off if gamers want it.

As it stands right now, Microsoft has a lot of ground to cover before it can hope to catch up with Sony. But the company seems to have a smart plan in place. If it keeps chugging away and doesn’t waver, I can see a future where the two companies are going toe-to-toe once again.

Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed
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