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Why The PlayStation 2 Will Never Be Outsold

You may have recently heard that the PlayStation 4 recently outsold the Nintendo Wii and the original PlayStation. The final figures aren’t quite in yet, but it’s pretty clear at this point that the PS4 will comfortably rest as the second best-selling console of all-time. It’s a fitting legacy for a console that many consider to be the best of its generation.

However, there is no way that the PlayStation 4 will ever outsell the PlayStation 2. In fact, it’s becoming pretty clear that no console ever will.

At this time, it sounds like the PlayStation 4 has sold about 103 million units. That put it roughly 53 million units behind the PlayStation 2. It’s a daunting gap that raises two very important questions “Why has the PlayStation 4 been so successful” and “How did the PlayStation 2 achieve such a shocking level of success?”

What’s remarkable about those two questions is how answering them seems to cast the PS4 in a slightly better light.

For instance, the PS4 was cheaper than its closest competitor, the Xbox One. The PS2 was more expensive than Sega’s Dreamcast and Nintendo’s GameCube. It was the same price as the Xbox at launch, but it was also less powerful than the Xbox (and the GameCube, for that matter). The PS4 was roughly as powerful as the Xbox One and certainly more powerful than the Wii U.

The PS4 also arguably had better launch titles than the PS2 (which arguably featured one of the worst launch lineups of an otherwise successful console). For that matter, it’s generally agreed that the PS4 has the best exclusives of this generation of gaming. The PS2 had tremendous exclusives, but the GameCube and Xbox also featured several notable exclusives that rank comfortable among the greatest games of all-time. As such, the PS2 had more competition in terms of the overall quality of exclusives on competing consoles. The PS4 also featured an excellent online play system, whereas the PS2 was arguably even further behind in that department than the Dreamcast.

The point of this isn’t to belittle the PS2 or raise the value of the PS4. The point is that when you look at so many of the metrics which traditionally define console success, you’re left with the realization that PS4 looks like it should be the more successful console (at least on paper).

So why isn’t it, and why will it almost certainly never be? Well, it has a lot to do with the ways the industry has changed since the launch of the PS2.

Again, the PS2 was a great console. You really could argue it might be the best console ever made in terms of its exclusives and longevity. However, it was a great console released at a time when the market was ready for a console like the PS2.

Many will tell you that the PS2’s early success can be attributed to its inclusion of a DVD player, and there’s certainly quite a bit of truth to that. However, people forget that there were many gamers that just trusted the PS2 more. Sega had a rough history that the Dreamcast didn’t completely smoothe over in the minds of many, Microsoft was still an unknown quantity in the console market, and the delayed release of the Nintendo GameCube and some of Nintendo’s strange design decisions left some wondering if it was worth waiting for.

The PlayStation 2 was just that: the second PlayStation. The PlayStation was an overwhelming success, particular amongst demographics not typically associated with gaming. The PlayStation 2 simply offered more of the PlayStation experience.

The PlayStation 2 also had a foothold in Japan that the Xbox could never achieve and the GameCube and Dreamcast never really seemed to find. Given that Japan was still a market monster at that time that largely played console titles, this added quite a few million uncontested numbers to the PS2’s eventual sales figures.

In fact, it’s important to remember that console gaming at that time was generally a much bigger deal. PC gaming was still daunting to the average gamer, handhelds weren’t nearly as prolific as the average mobile device with gaming capabilities today, and a larger emphasis on exclusives inspired more people to buy multiple consoles over time if they had the means to do so. More homes had consoles in them that people used as their sole source for video games, and the PS2 was the most appealing of those consoles for several reasons.

The PS4 has been a resounding success, but it will never top the PS2’s sales figures. Of course, that may have more to do with the market than it does the machine.

Matthew Byrd

Matthew Byrd covers the gaming industry including indies, consoles, PCs, iOS and Android apps, as well as topics related to entertainment and technology.