Xbox Live or PSN? One requires a paid subscription to play, the latter does not. Despite the costs to players however, American gamers generally prefer the Xbox 360 over the PS3 when playing online, according to the NPD Group's 2013 Online Gaming report.
NPD's numbers that "nearly 50 percent more online console gamers use Xbox 360 for playing games online than PlayStation 3." The findings are somewhat interesting considering that the PS3 surpassed the Xbox 360 in worldwide sales earlier this year and both sit very close in terms of lifetime unit sales. That being said, the Xbox 360 has outsold PS3 in the U.S. for almost three years so the numbers aren't surprising.
Many contributing factors can help explain the significant difference in online player activity between the systems in addition to the obvious fact that there are more Xbox 360s in North America. The PS3 for instance is the most-used platform for Netflix subscribers and unlike its competitor, features a Blu-ray drive, supporting the idea that the PlayStation 3 serves more as an all-purpose home entertainment system rather than a more games-focused device. Looking a the games themselves, the most popular Xbox Live games include Call of Duty, Minecraft and Halo 4, two of which are currently exclusive to the Xbox 360, with Call of Duty selling more units on the Xbox platform. Many of the flagship Sony exclusives primarily embrace singleplayer experiences (Uncharted, Beyond: Two Souls, The Last of Us, etc.) even if they've begun adding in multiplayer modes.
The hacking of PlayStation Network may have factored into these recent statistics out of the NPD Group as well, with Sony earning negative publicity for the controversy and downtime. Considering the fact that many PSN subscriber's financial information was compromised, it's hard to not overlook this fact. Although the hacking took place over two years ago, you have to wonder what sort of long-term impact - if any - it had on the PS3 online subscriber base in the days since.
Another crucial factor to consider about conflicting online features, is the simplicity of the voice communication. The ability to plug a headset into the Xbox 360 controller (that comes with the console) is much easier to deal with than setting up a Bluetooth headset for the PS3. And adding to this, PS3 was shockingly never able to support cross-game party chat, the most basic of voice communication features for an online community.
Gamespot also reports that the online numbers are growing even as console sales slow down, as both Microsoft and Sony push more online features, and aim to get players comfortable with "cloud" services on their upcoming next-gen consoles.
"Microsoft said in the past 12 months, the company has delivered more than 20 billion hours of online gaming and entertainment through Xbox 360. This represents a 17 percent year-over-year growth."
Microsoft did not specify what portion of those hours are designated to other forms of entertainment vs. gaming specifically. An interesting question to ask is how these statistics will factor into the next generation when both hardware manufacturers begin with a clean slate. The favorable Xbox Live features represent one of Microsoft's biggest assets heading into the release of the Xbox One, but analysts and polls suggest a stronger start and more positive buzz surrounding the PS4. On the next-gen consoles, both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will require paid subscriptions in order for players to play online, free-to-play titles being the exceptions.
Surprised by the numbers or do they make perfect sense for the current-gen systems?