Despite the assurances of fanboys everywhere, there is rarely a “winner” of the console wars. Usually, we determine the winner by overall sales (at least if you’re trying to use a somewhat neutral metric), but even that system has its flaws.
For instance, the PlayStation outsold the N64, but the N64 is the home of some of the greatest games ever made and some irreplaceable gaming experiences. The Wii outsold the PS3 and the Xbox 360 by quite a bit, but it didn’t even feature support some of the best third-party games of its generation and lacked the online innovations of the Xbox 360.
The point is that the winner of most console wars almost always ends up being subjective. However, in the case of the PS4, you could honestly argue it might be the first objective console war winner.
To be clear, we’re talking about the PS4’s “war” against the Microsoft Xbox One and Nintendo Wii U. There was some console overlap during that time, but those three systems kicked off a new generation of gaming.
It’s when you compare the PS4 to those platforms that you start to see the extent of its dominance. That’s especially true in the case of the Wii U.
The Wii U was, by almost every tangible estimation, a failure. Reports indicate that it only sold about 14 million units, which means it was only moderately more successful than consoles like the TurboGrafx-16. Sales aside, the Wii U’s central gimmick (a tablet-like controller) was either rarely used by most developers or used in ways that failed to excite users. Like the Nintendo Wii, it also suffered from a lack of notable third party titles that essentially limited its library to the occasional Nintendo release or surprise hit.
The Xbox One featured many of those great third-party games, but it suffered from a list of problems that is “highlighted” by a lack of notable exclusive titles. The Xbox One’s best exclusives include largely uninspiring titles like Gears 5, Sea of Thieves, Forza Motorsport 7, and Halo 5: Guardians. Many of those games aren’t even truly exclusive once you account for their PC ports.
Besides, the Xbox One was pronounced dead on arrival by some who blasted Microsoft for the console’s high price point, controversial initial features, and its early reliance on the now mostly dead Kinect peripheral. Subsequent Xbox One releases later addressed many of those issues, but it proved to be too little, too late in terms of overall console sales.
The PS4, meanwhile, succeeded in most of the ways that its console competition failed.
Unlike the Xbox One, the PS4 launched as a reliable system at a fair price that offered the average gamer pretty much exactly what they wanted. Unlike the Wii U, the PS4 benefited from not only the presence of most notable third-party titles but an array of exclusives not just made by first-party studios. It certainly also bested the Xbox One in terms of both quantity of exclusives (an almost objective argument) and quality (an only slightly more subjective one).
On top of it all, you’ve got the fact that the PS4 has outsold its next closest competitor by nearly 60 million units so far. Sales may not be the only indicator of a console’s success, but you also can’t ignore those numbers.
Appropriately enough, if you’re going to argue that the PS4 wasn’t the undisputed winner of its generation, you’re best off abandoning the traditional metrics used to determine console winners and are better off arguing that its biggest shortcomings have to do with how it failed to innovate as its competitors did.
The Wii U was a failure in many respects, but all Nintendo had to do was tweak its best ideas in order to deliver the Nintendo Switch: one of the most innovative and exciting consoles ever made. The Switch also allowed us to see that the Wii U actually hosted some incredible games that were just begging to be rescued from the platform.
The Xbox One similarly suffered from an array of problems, but it also furthered the idea of console cross-play, introduced the incredible Xbox Game Pass service, preserved the idea of backward compatibility, and even inspired other companies to give away free games every month in exchange for online subscription fees. The Xbox One stumbled out of the gate but no other console this generation took such confident steps towards the future.
Put it all together, and you’re left with the conclusion that we began this article with: there rarely is a true undisputed winner of console wars. Still, no other console has come quite as close to claiming that title as the PS4.