Did Microsoft’s Xbox One Really Beat Sony’s PlayStation 4 in Black Friday Sales?

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If you’re only half-paying attention to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sales, you might have the sense that both consoles are tied. Sony issued a press statement a few weeks ago claiming it sold around one million systems in 24 hours. A week later, Microsoft did the same, claiming it, too, had sold about a million systems in a day.

There was one crucial, underreported difference: The PS4 launched in just two markets (the U.S. and Canada), while the Xbox One launched in 13; that, said Motley Fool’s Demitrios Kalogeropoulos, is kind of a big deal. Garnish with news that Sony’s PlayStation 4 both outsold Microsoft’s Xbox One in the U.K. last week (250,000 vs. 150,000 units, reports MCV) and simultaneously broke every games console sales record on the country’s books, and everything looks to be coming up roses for Sony.

But then you have this little Black Friday sales story making the rounds, which suggests the Xbox One won Black Friday at U.S. retail, and by a significant margin. It comes from InfoScout, a beta startup that launched last year and claims it can track Black Friday sales in real time.

Before we go over the numbers, a word on InfoScout’s methods, which sound a little like a page from a voodoo cookbook: a roux of “computer vision & crowdsourcing … natural language processing & machine learning … social media & big data analytics” and apps that encourage customers to voluntarily snap pictures of receipts in trade for cash- or charity-related incentives; this, says InfoScout, lets the company provide “a nationally projectable sample of American shopping behavior.” But survey methodology is tricky business, and sometime what sounds like voodoo isn’t voodoo at all.

Without getting too much into the weeds here, the word you want to pay attention to in that last quote is “projectable,” which means something very different from “representative.” Since InfoScout’s survey results are based on voluntary data (provided by a subset of the population with the sort of technology necessary to furnish said data), they’re not necessarily representative of the general population, even with formula fixes designed to shore things up. Bear that in mind.

But yes, on its face, InfoScout’s data shows the Xbox One and Xbox 360 snatching a whopping 61% of console sales at Walmart and Target, or about 30% each; contrast with PS4 and PS3 sales, sharing 30% combined at those two retailers, or about 15% each. InfoScout attributes that disparity to PS4 unit shortages, but then it sources that attribution to a tech blog post that claims as much based on “tips.”

In other words, we’re in the wild west here, folks: none of this information is bankable.

That said, if we stick to the official sales figures, both consoles are doing very well, which should assuage fears that consoles weren’t long for this earth, though it’s impossible to know whether this momentum’s sustainable once early adopter enthusiasm fades and players burn through each system’s limited stack of launch titles. Neither the PS4 nor Xbox One let you play older games, so both systems are going to languish once players exhaust their picks of the launch lineup.

While I’ve been enjoying what I’ve played of Forza 5, Ryse and Killzone Shadow Fall, for instance, I’ve spent more time with LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, FlowerAssassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Need for Speed: Rivals and Battlefield 4 — all available on the older systems. (I actually spent most of the holiday weekend finishing Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 3 before delving back into The Last of Us.)

When I head home for The Holidays Round Two in a few weeks, it’ll be with older games I’ve been meaning to play or finish, say Tomb Raider, Super Mario 3D WorldNi No Kuni, Pikmin 3Grand Theft Auto V, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and XCOM: Enemy Within. In other words, I’ll probably leave the PS4 and Xbox One behind, because that software ship has sailed until well into 2014.

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