The dust has settled, speculation has been cast aside, and gamers can finally clock out of the rumor mill: We now know the release dates of Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen consoles. Microsoft today revealed that the Xbox One will hit shelves in 13 markets on November 22nd—exactly one week after the PS4’s Gamescom-announced November 15th date. The news comes in stark contrast to proceeding, Walmart-flavored rumors hinting that the Xbox One would beat the PS4 by a full week but, nevertheless, drives the final stake in into the coffin for console obscurity. Thankfully, we can also put an end to the recondite debates that more closely resemble political showdowns than console discussions and get back to arguing about the important stuff, namely games. Likewise, both sides of the console fence are now all but forced to concede that the PlayStation 4 has set the stage to score an early victory come November.
However, while significant, that victory could easily prove inconsequential as the months progress. The console wars have a bad habit of granting the alleged victor—which, for a majority, has been the PS4 this time around— far too much credit. There will always be a place for predictions and name-calling (i.e. the Internet), but the fact of the matter is that no amount of prerelease information can offer any reliable context for post-launch events. This becomes truer with age; consoles only become less disparate as they rack up years. With that said, the PlayStation 4 is still slated to enjoy one hell of a launch period.
Sony is simply holding too many wild cards. It’s laughable, really. The PlayStation 4 is cheaper—which, as Sony president and CEO Jack Tretton himself stated, “Is never a bad thing”—has a larger launch demographic, and will be in consumer hands a full week before its prime competitor. That seven-day gap is made far more valuable by how rapidly both consoles will sell thanks to the Black Friday/Cyber Monday surge, and by the PS4’s pre-order count, which has been confirmed to be skirting above the one million mark.
The issue of launch markets, on the other hand, is much more debatable. The PS4, much like the Xbox One, actually has two launch dates: one on November 15th, and one on the 29th. The latter applies to approximately 30 countries, from the UK to Latin America, while the big players (most notably North America) will be riding the earlier date. The Xbox One is in a similar situation: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland won’t see an Xbox One until “early 2014.” Unfortunately for Microsoft, its straights are a bit direr. Sony was able to capitalize on the Xbox One’s absence, and all eight of those countries and the millions of gamers therein will have access to PS4s come November, albeit two weeks after the system’s initial launch.
I could spout off about PlayStation Plus’ projected growth of 900% and the free games available through the service, but nothing speaks as loudly as “cheaper, sooner, and more.” And, holistically, this all boils down to the same spread of results. A week-long head start allows Sony to set a precedent, to set a bar that the Xbox One will invariably be held to when it releases. Whether or not you prefer it, the PlayStation experience, whatever it may be, will color the perceptions of the Xbox One, if only because it will be the first next-gen ecosystem to be seen. Simultaneously, a one-sided market will make it far more difficult to hold out for an Xbox One when a comparable, cheaper alternative is already available. Again, while most of us can bite our tongue for a week, the enormous purchasing surge of mid-November must be accounted for, as it will ratchet sales up considerably, making any potential deals all the more enticing. In the end, Sony has an enormous, glaring, and well-deserved edge over Microsoft.
The future of the two consoles, on the other hand, is entirely undecided at present. Launch day is just that: an initial boost, a catalytic beginning that quickly burns through its fuel. True, Sony has several of the bigger factors under its thumb and will likely come out on top in the short term as a result (though how dramatically remains to be seen), the true competition—the console war that everyone is raving about—will only begin when November calms down. Because at that point, consoles will remember what they’re all about—you know, games—and promises will stop selling systems.