The back-and-forth battle between Xbox One pre-orders and PS4 pre-orders has waged since Microsoft and Sony announced their respective consoles’ pricing and release this holiday season. But while the posturing among fanboys has focused on hardware pre-orders, nobody’s discussed how game pre-orders are performing. That tale is equally interesting, because the trend in Xbox One games pre-orders may not bode well for Microsoft’s console. In fact, Amazon data shows the Xbox One may be overly reliant on first-party games, perhaps to the same degree as the ill-fated Nintendo GameCube.
Sony seems to have a pre-order advantage when it comes to hardware, with two options for stand-alone PS4 pre-orders and four separate PS4 launch-day bundles still available at Amazon. (For what it’s worth, if you want a PS4 at launch, those PS4 launch-day bundles may be the only way to nab one, so order soon.) The Xbox One has just one option at Amazon, the Xbox One Day One Edition, which is still available for pre-order in spite of its significant increase in popularity following Microsoft’s reversal of its DRM and used-game policies. As a result of Sony’s bundle barrage, the PS4 owns the top spot in overall pre-order volume, even as the Xbox One has the greater short-term momentum.
The software side of things tells a far different story — and that’s not necessarily a good thing for Microsoft. Xbox One games pre-orders show a decided advantage for first-party titles over third-party ones, a position that’s not often favorable for a gaming console. Four of the top ten most-popular Xbox One games pre-orders at Amazon are first-party titles (Forza Motorsport 5, Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome and Kinect Sports Rivals), while six of the top 20 Xbox One games are published by Microsoft. The PS4, on the other hand, has two first-party games in the PS4 top 20 pre-orders (Killzone: Shadow Fall and inFAMOUS: Second Son), and none at all in the top 10. When you remove hardware from the equation — again, because Sony has four PS4 bundles — you still end up with only one first-party PS4 game in the top ten and three in the top 20. In both consoles’ case, the third-party winners are Activision, EA and Ubisoft — but the real long-term winner may be Sony and its PS4.
Nintendo is synonymous with first-party console dominance, a trend that goes all the way back to the original NES and Super Mario Bros. In many cases, being associated with Nintendo isn’t a bad thing, but when it comes to first-party dominance on a given platform, it’s a place to tread lightly. The Wii U is one recent example, as EA announced it has no third-party games in development at all for the system while Nintendo trotted out a deluge of first-party games as a sign of the console’s vitality. But those first-party games are generally all the system has, even a mere seven months after release. The last time we saw this trend was with the ill-fated GameCube, which stayed afloat only due to of first-party games before finally petering out.
The third-party situation with Xbox One games seems to be following a similar path. Microsoft has some great-looking first-party Xbox One games on the horizon, but its strongest third-party titles are multiplatform and will also appear on PS4. One could make the argument that Sony has announced fewer first-party games in general, thus leading to a lower uptake of first-party PS4 games pre-orders. The flip side would be noting that Microsoft has nabbed first-party publishing rights for some titles that in previous generations would’ve been third-party Xbox One games. For instance, Microsoft is publishing Dead Rising 3, which comes from a Capcom series, and the first-party game Sunset Overdrive is being developed by Insomniac Games, traditionally a Sony partner.
Still, seeing the sheer dominance of first-party Xbox One games could be great news for gamers wanting reassurance that there won’t be garbageware on the Xbox One — or it could be a warning sign that the Xbox One could become the next Nintendo GameCube. Is the prevalence of first-party titles a sign of Microsoft’s internal dedication to an outstanding launch, or a sign of its overreliance on its own studios for Xbox One games because outside publishers have been more keen on the PS4 behind closed doors? Most third-party booths at E3, for instance, showed the PS4 versions when there was a behind-closed-doors demo. What do you think? Is the Xbox One games pre-order trend a good or bad development for Microsoft? Sound off in the comments below.