PlayStation 3 hits 70 million milestone, catches up to Xbox 360

Sony’s console overcomes growing pains to catch up to Microsoft’s game system

Following its launch November 2006, the Sony’s PlayStation 3 has now sold 70 million units worldwide.

With Microsoft reporting in September it has sold 70 million Xbox 360 consoles worldwide, this marks the first time Sony’s game system has caught up sales wise to the competitor.

Sony’s achievement becomes more pronounced when one considers the fact that the Xbox 360 launched one year ahead of the PlayStation 3, meaning Microsoft had the entire next generation console market entirely to itself for that period.

Despite achieving the milestone, the reality is that both Sony and Microsoft are tied for second place, as Nintendo’s Wii console still retains the top position with 97 million in worldwide sales.

This generation has been an interesting one for Sony, as it marks the first time the vendor has been relegated to the underdog position having come out clear victor in the 32 bit era with the PlayStation (102 million units) and 128 bit generation with the PlayStation 2 (over 150 million units).

Initially, the high retail price of the PlayStation 3 and the lacklustre software in those early years meant that many consumers turned to the Wii and Xbox 360.

While the inclusion of DVD playback in the PlayStation 2 enabled it to be an early hit with consumers, the inclusion of Blu-Ray into the PlayStation 3 did not seem to resonate the same way with the public, even after the format’s victory over HD DVD in 2008.

Other factors that affected the success of the PlayStation 3 was the loss of numerous software exclusives on the PlayStation/PlayStation 2 from third party publishers, namely Capcom (Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, etc.) Namco Bandai (Ridge Racer, Tekken, etc.) and Rockstar (Grand Theft Auto), as they increasingly adopted a multiplatform approach.

The tricky architecture of the PlayStation 3, which consisted of a specially developed Cell processor and RSX graphics card, also meant that that the early multiplatform titles were often less polished compared to the Xbox 360 versions, which had the benefit of a year head start and more traditional hardware architecture for developers to work with.

Return of the king

In the years since, Sony has taken feedback from both publishers and consumers on board to gradually improve the experience for PlayStation 3 owners.

Following the reshuffling and eventual departure of “father of PlayStation,” Ken Kutaragi, from Sony in 2007, the vendor quickly made key changes that turned around the then struggling PlayStation 3.

In addition to cutting out unessential features such as card readers and PlayStation 2 compatibility, the latter viewed controversially by some, Sony was able to reduce the cost of the console by further sliming it down and thus attract a larger audience.

At that time, Sony also successfully rebranded the PlayStation 3 with a new logo after initially adopting the title font used its “Spider-Man” Hollywood films.

A departure from earlier PlayStation hardware, the PlayStation 3 has upgradeable firmware, which has allowed the vendor to consistently add new functionality and features to the console, in particularly with its PlayStation Network online service, which continues to remain free to this day.

The passage of time has also meant that publishers have become more familiar with PlayStation 3 development, so titles that were initially limited to the Xbox 360, such as Capcom’s Lost Planet, BioWare’s Mass Effect and THQ’s Saints Row, have eventually found their way onto Sony’s console.

Aiming for the top

With the playing field now levelled between Sony and Microsoft, the question remains which of the two companies will be able to maintain their momentum and be the first to hit the 100 million sales mark.

With what is already becoming the longest console life cycle to date, it also remains to be seen whether the two vendors will continue to rely on their existing products, or move ahead instead with successor consoles in the near future.

Both Sony and Microsoft are no doubt keeping a close eye on how the recently launched Wii U by Nintendo will perform, as the success of the new console may prompt them to release their own competing products.

If the Wii U does not resonate with consumers, it may also demonstrate to Sony and Microsoft that there are still a few more years left in this console cycle before they decide to unveil their next products.

In addition to the PlayStation 3 milestone, Sony has announced that its PlayStation Move motion controller has sold more than 15 million units worldwide.

In comparison, Microft’s Kinect add-on has sold 18 million units as of January 2012.

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Patrick Budmar

Patrick Budmar

PC World
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