Grand Theft Auto V's record-breaking billion-dollar plus run last month made the video game industry's health a front and center topic, putting both the game's now-standard controversial content and the role of video games as an influential entertainment medium up for debate in media outlets small and large. And NPD Group's recent round of sales stats proves that even one title, albeit one that cost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to make, can jump-start an entire market.
But an interesting statistic found buried in NPD's report is more telling of how the industry's upcoming jump -- a tectonic movement to the next generation -- will play out with with respect to the showdown between Sony and Microsoft slated to take place next month.
For the first time in 32 months, Sony's PlayStation 3 dethroned Microsoft's Xbox 360, punctuated by the the fact that the top five best-selling games in September were multi-platform and only one exclusive for each console held a place on the top-10 list.
The PS3's climb was attributed, says NPD, to Sony's GTA V bundle that included the console with a 500GB hard drive for only $270. It's also important to note that, understandably, non-PC hardware sales are down 13 percent from last year with the industry on the edge of a massive changeover.
But with the current generation of consoles said to have lifespans stretching until 2016, sales figures spell out more than just the internal motives of penny-pinching gamers finally splurging for a discounted console. Rather, they are an indication of a deeper sentiment shift in the industry, where players are putting more weight on the platform now that a next-gen jump no longer hinges on the difference between high definition and its absence.
Furthermore, buying a new console, and favoring one over another on title merits alone, has been made increasingly more irrelevant within a gamer's cost-conscious standpoint when you consider that a number of high-profile titles -- Watch Dogs, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Metal Gear Solid V to name a few -- are both multi-platform and cross-generation, coming out on four consoles simultaneously. Exclusives are almost an nonexistent incentive, save for the diehard Halo fans, in modern console gaming.
While pre-order numbers are murky, initial reports do put the PS4 slightly ahead of the Xbox One. But again, more important is the realization that Sony is beginning to expand its platform even more aggressively.
With the announcement of the Vita TV, an updated Vita handheld, and a home console price point $100 lower than its primary competitor -- strategically achieved through an unbundling of its motion-capturing accessory -- Sony's ecosystem is looking far more appealing these days.
Xbox has no handheld counterpart, and its parent company has long had its mobile gaming lunch eaten many times over by the iOS and Android ecosystem and Nintendo's still strong handheld offering (The 3DS was yet again the best-selling piece of hardware in NPD's September sales roundup).
Another hurdle in the path of the Xbox One's dominance is Microsoft's slow and complex rollout of its indie game development tools and certification process, which lucky for them is more inviting thanks to walking back of its previous policy to disallow self-publishing.
Still, the company doesn't expect new titles to hit its store until early 2014. Meanwhile, Sony has made a number of early partnerships with developers -- even giving the stage to developer Jonathan Blow for his new title The Witness at the console's initial unveiling -- and has long had a better standing in the blossoming indie game community that only continues to soar in success and notoriety.
While it's too early to place crowns and pointless to do so on sales figures alone come November, a simple changing of the current-gen sales tides is illustrative of where the ecosystem strengths are and what will, in the long term, prove to be the true selling points of a device touted as the future nexus of our living room.
After all, if one offering is cheaper, has better handheld and second-screen content on an proprietary platform, contains a lower-cost streaming accessory, and is more favorable among the developers behind the ever-growing number of low-cost yet fantastic indie games, it's a no-brainer which one consumers will choose.