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Microsoft’s Crappy Valentine

on Friday, Feb. 14th

The NPD numbers are out! The NPD numbers are out!

Once upon a time gamers would await the monthly reports from industry watchdog NPD with bated breath. Technically speaking we still do, even if the public facing reports are not as nearly detailed as they once were. The hard numbers are given only to  corporate subscribers, who keep the real data under lock and key so marketing departments can spin to their heart’s content.

Well the January numbers are here, and from what we can see it was bad news for Microsoft’s–we can call it embattled now–Xbox One. Sony is crowing that it sold twice as many units as its closest “next ten” competitor. How many units are we talking about here? Take it away, Kyle Orland of Ars Technica:

From a raw numbers perspective, January’s performance registers as barely a blip compared to recent holiday sales numbers. The Xbox One sold an estimated 143,000 units in the US in January, compared to over 900,000 when it led the US market in December. The report doesn’t reflect sales in the rest of the world, either, which previous console generations have shown can vary greatly from the US.

What’s troubling is that the narrative of the Xbox One has been hobbled from the start, and things are only getting worse.

The first year of a console cycle is a critical one for platform holders. This is the year that the tradition of “lead sku” is established. That’s industry-speak for what system third party developers will target their game for. Other versions of the game are mere ports of that code and gamers know this. The hardcore strives to play the “best” version of a game–usually the native version–and less hardcore players tend to follow. This is particularly true of multiplayer games.

Now the one bright spot in all this for Microsoft is the coming of Titanfall, the latest game from the original makers of Call of Duty. The beta codes for that game released this week and now this is all that gamers seem to be talking about online. Even here, however, they are a step behind Sony in terms of maximizing their hype train. If Titanfall was available for the Playstation 4 there would probably be half a million Twitch.tv streams running beta footage, stoking gamers desires for the game and a new console to play it on.

Yet Microsoft still doesn’t have game-streaming capabilities turned on with their system. An official release date for Twitch streaming has yet to be declared. If they can’t get that running by the time Titanfall drops that’s a PR battle they will have to concede to their rivals.

More bad news is the likely Comcast buyout of Time Warner Cable. The Xbox One has been heavily marketed as the center of the home entertainment experience, which translates into “taking precedent over the cable box.” A consolidated Comcast/TWC will have more leverage over Microsoft when it comes to negotiating the place of the Xbox One in the living room ecosystem. Comcast, you see, has spent a lot of time and money on their own living room hubs: the X1 and X2.

This console war is far from over. There are wildcards in the mix that haven’t even been played yet: the Oculus Rift, Steam Machines, and possible Apple’s revision of the Apple TV. What is almost over is the battle to win the hearts and mind of the trendsetting hardcore gamers.

 

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