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How the PlayStation 4 defined gaming in 2013

Sony's PlayStation 4 defined gaming in 2013 -- and maybe for years to come -- by being affordable, consumer friendly and focusing on the games.

Blink and you'd have missed the PlayStation 4 being available in Britain. As it went on sale on 29 November, shops were selling out within minutes. By the end of its first weekend, Sony had shifted 250,000 units in the UK alone, making it this country's fastest-selling console ever and giving it a 100,000 unit lead over the Xbox One.

It wasn't just the Brits that went mad for it, either. By 1 December, global gamers had unboxed a massive 2.1 million PlayStation 4s, and that was before it had even made landfall in Hong Kong, Korea, or its spiritual homeland, Japan.

Rewind to 10 June and none of this was predictable. Before Sony revealed its fourth console at the E3 show, things were looking promising for the Japanese company, because hardcore gamers were up in arms about Microsoft's decision to severely limit second-hand games and force you to always be connected to the Internet. But no one knew how much the PS4 would cost or what its machine looked like.

Microsoft's presentation was first, revealing a whopping £429 price tag, a compulsory Kinect sensor and no relaxation of its always-online policy. Its launch games were fine, but the big exclusives like Titanfall were all in 2014.

Then Sony hit the stage with a £350 price tag and E3 -- and the Internet-- went crazy. No unwanted accessories. No restriction on reselling your games. No requirement to be hooked up to the Internet. The slanty hardware divided opinion, and the launch games were worse than Xbox's, if anything, but the price was all that mattered. Game over, or so it seemed.

But Microsoft wasn't about to take it lying down. Within a fortnight it abandoned its grand vision for an Internet-dependent piracy-fighting future-console, ditching its always-online requirement and allowing gamers to share and resell games like they did with the 360. So it was left with a machine built on existing PC architecture, very similar to the PS4, but with a Kinect sensor bundled in that apparently added nearly £80 to the price.

Now the two machines are here, and both really popular -- they've both sold out, and cost about £550 on reseller sites -- it doesn't seem to have made much difference. The next generation has picked up where the old left off, with everyone playing multi-platform games like Call of Duty and FIFA.

I'd expect the price difference to begin to make a difference next year, when supply improves and more games come out. This is pure speculation, but I reckon the millions of people who've bought the new consoles are wedded to their friends lists -- brand-loyal buyers who'd have bought the next version of their machine (or both) whatever. The next 10 million buyers will be more price-sensitive, more likely to heed warnings from reviewers.

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Of course, neither company escaped the launch without the embarrassment of a small batch of faulty products slipping into the shops.

Microsoft was left red-faced when users started to complain of faulty Blu-ray drives that made a sound "like a vomiting robot".

And Sony users saw red -- or, rather, blue -- when heavy-handed delivery drivers apparently took less care than they should have done while transporting their machines. Devices damaged in transit, which Sony claimed comprised "less than 1 per cent of those shipped", had a tendency to switch themselves off and to taunt their owners with a pulsing blue light.

Unless this turns out to be a recurring problem of Red Ring of Death proportions, Sony seems to be in the best shape going into the new year. And by listening to gamers and making a consumer-friendly, reasonably priced machine, it defined games consoles in 2013 -- and maybe for years to come.