We are a month away from the official start of a war of industry titans that will unfold before our eyes. In the first battle, Microsoft and Sony are set to release in November updated versions of their ever popular gaming consoles with the introduction of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The current generation Xbox 360 was released 8 years ago, while the PlayStation 3 launched a year later, making the head-to-head comparison of their performance out of the gate difficult and littered with caveats. This time around, the consoles are launching just a week apart. These new systems are arriving in a market (and economy) that is considerably different from the one in which their predecessors have thrived, with the rise free-to-play gaming made popular through social and mobile platforms.
Based on our analysis of online shopping activity (the consoles have been available to browse and pre-order online since the spring), it appears the PS4 is better positioned to grab the lead at the start. Over the past four months, online shopping interest in the PS4 has consistently outpaced that of the Xbox One by a margin of over 2 to 1. Online at least, three out of four next-generation console shoppers have considered the PS4, with 61% considering ONLY the PS4. Contrast that to the 39% that have shopped for the Xbox One and the 27% that shopped the Xbox One exclusively.
The fact just 12% of these online shoppers have shown interest in both systems, suggests that at least so far the next-generation consoles are attracting platform loyalists, rather than casual gamers. Given the nearly equal worldwide install bases of the Xbox 360 and PS3 (estimated at nearly 80 million each) the interest advantage currently held by Sony’s PS4 may well subside as the general public tunes in as the pre-launch hype builds.
Following a spike in June when some retailers began taking pre-orders, interest in both the PS4 and Xbox One has gradually waned. The number of consumers shopping online for either console in September was down 52% from June. With marketing now picking up, one of the first salvos being Sony’s tie-in with Taco Bell, consumer interest in the consoles will soon rise in anticipation of the launches.
Sony and Microsoft aren’t the only brands preparing for battle
The other industry heavyweights prepping to battle in the console wars are the retailers who, like millions of consumers, have been waiting for these new consoles for years, hoping their introduction will give a boost to the lagging category and invigorate game title and accessory sales.
Retailers hoping to a grab a large slice of the next generation gaming market include Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Target and Game Stop. Here again, Amazon’s online dominance is evident. Amazon was one of the first retailers to offer pre-orders for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 earlier this year and quickly grabbed two thirds of the nascent shopping activity. Since May, Amazon’s share of shopping activity for the two systems has remained relatively stable, averaging 41% each month, leaving rivals to jockey for second place. GameStop.com attracted heavy pre-order interest, leveraging its loyal customer base and PowerUp Rewards program. Walmart.com, on the other hand, has seen steady gains and its online share of the shopping activity even eclipsed that of BestBuy.com and GameStop.com combined in September.
Sony and Microsoft, as well as their retail partners and millions of consumers are anxiously awaiting the arrival of these 8th generation gaming consoles in November. We will be releasing updated data throughout the holiday season as this console battle unfolds.
As VP of Millward Brown Digital’s financial services, retail and consumer products practices, Matt is responsible for vertical growth and strategy and the delivery of digital insights and best practice marketing consulting to leading Fortune 500 advertisers. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattpace.