Why the PS2’s Sales Record Will Never Be Beaten

Despite recent successes, it's doubtful that the PlayStation 2's sales record will ever be beaten.

Photo: Sony

As the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S set incredible sales paces in the midst of strange times, and the Nintendo Switch continues to exceed all sales expectations, many fans find themselves wondering whether or not any of those consoles can eventually dethrone the best-selling video game console of all-time: the PlayStation 2. 

Well, as you probably guessed based on this article’s headline, my answer to that question is “No.” The PlayStation 2’s position atop the best-selling console chart isn’t an accident and it’s not a record meant to be taken lightly. It’s arguably the one video game sales record that will never be beaten.

Here are just some of the reasons why the PS2’s astonishing 155 million unit sales record likely isn’t in danger of falling anytime soon.

PlayStation 2’s Release Date Gave It One of the Most Notable Head Starts in Console Gaming History

By November 30, 2000, gamers in Japan, North America, Europe, and Australia were able to get their hands on a PS2. The PS2’s only real competition at the time of its global release was the struggling Dreamcast (as well as previous-gen consoles), and the Xbox and GameCube wouldn’t be available worldwide until 2002. 

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By the time that the Xbox and GameCube were finally released worldwide, all-time great games like Grand Theft Auto 3, Silent Hill 2, Final Fantasy X, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, Gran Turismo 3, and Devil May Cry were already available on the PS2. What was already seen by industry insiders at the time as an incredible head start is now viewed as the kind of head start that will likely never happen again. 

PlayStation 2’s Price Set the Industry Pace

The PlayStation 2’s U.S. launch price of $299 was reasonable enough at the time ($100 more than the Dreamcast and the GameCube and the same launch price as the Xbox), but what pretty much guaranteed the PS2’s victory was Sony’s decision to drop the price of the PS2 to $199 in May 2002. 

Microsoft and Nintendo immediately responded to that price cut by dropping the prices of the Xbox and GameCube to $199 and $149, respectively. It was bad enough (for them, at least) that those price cuts came just as those consoles were properly entering the global market, but they sent a clear message to consumers everywhere that the PS2 was setting the pace of the console race. 

PlayStation 2’s DVD Player Advantage Will Never Be Replicated

It’s no secret that the PS2’s built-in DVD player was a big part of the reason why the console was so successful in those early months and years. DVD players at that time were expensive, scarce, and, rapidly becoming the must-have accessory for anyone trying to keep up with the Joneses. The PS2 simply offered one of the best ways to get one.

Years later, I’m convinced that there will never be another multimedia accessory a future console could theoretically include at launch that would have as much of an impact as the PS2’s DVD player. The technological world is just different these days, and most people just don’t have to rely on a console to get the multimedia entertainment they’re looking for. Just look at the Nintendo Switch. It’s breaking sales records and doesn’t even officially support the Netflix app.

PlayStation 2’s Backward Compatibility Was an Early “Secret Weapon”

It’s easy enough to overlook now, but anyone who owned a PS2 at launch (or around thereof) knows that the console’s backward compatibility features were almost as big of an early selling point as its DVD player. Indeed, I don’t know if the PS2 would have gotten the full advantage out of its year-long head start that it ultimately did if it weren’t for this feature. 

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You never really heard anyone talk about the PS2’s mostly dry early game lineup largely because those who owned a PS2 at that time were having more than enough fun watching DVDs and playing upscaled versions of PS1 games they hadn’t yet gotten to. Of course, it wasn’t long before those great next-gen games started rolling in…

PlayStation 2’s Game Library Was One of the Most Diverse Ever

I was originally going to write one entry for the PS2’s library of games and call it a day, but when you’re talking about one of the greatest video game libraries ever assembled, it’s worth spending a little more time on what exactly made it so special. 

So far as that goes, the word I keep coming back to when describing the PS2’s lineup is “diversity.” Yes, the PS2’s popularity among Japanese developers gave it a distinct advantage (more on that later), but the PS2’s final library includes all-time great action, open-world, RPG, and horror games from developers across the world. 

When a list of the most underrated PS2 games is more impressive than a list of the best games for many other consoles, it’s hard not to argue that the PS2’s success will never be equaled or surpassed

The PS2 Was the Home of Numerous New Franchises

Every year, it felt like there was either an incredible new franchise launching on the PS2 (Devil May Cry, God of War, Kingdom Hearts, etc.) or a franchise that was using the platform’s power/popularity to firmly establish itself as one of the biggest in the industry (Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill). The excitement surrounding new PS2 games wasn’t always focused on sequels but rather what kind of new experiences we were going to get next from often surprising places.

I think most gamers are still open to such new experiences, but the industry has just shifted in a way that makes it incredibly difficult for any console to boast such a consistent onslaught of truly new experiences.

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PlayStation 2 Quickly Established Itself As The Ideal Third-Party Console

The PS2’s true exclusives certainly put it over the top, but the thing that impresses me most all these years later is just how much popular the platform was for most of the major third-party, multiplatform titles. Obviously, timed exclusives like the GTA games were pretty much soft PS2 exclusives in the minds of many, but even franchises like Madden sold significantly more units on the PS2 than anywhere else. 

This is one element of the PS2’s success Sony has certainly tried to replicate over the years. They understand that once you get that momentum going and convince people that your console is the best place to go for games they could technically get elsewhere, then you’ve most likely got a hit on your hands. 

The PlayStation 2 Had Little True Competition

Before you go running to the comments section, let me make it clear that I actually love the Xbox, GameCube, and Dreamcast. I think that’s one of the best console generations ever from a pure software quality perspective, and, in a perfect world, you would have owned every console and a great gaming PC as well. 

Yet, the PS2’s immediate competition just couldn’t replicate (or offer a consistently viable alternative to) what Sony’s console brought to the table. Microsoft had almost no Japanese developer support, Nintendo alienated so many third-party companies, the Dreamcast died out, and PS2 owners ultimately ended up with exclusive (or early) access to many of the generation’s best games. The PS2 just offered a little bit of everything. 

The PlayStation 2’s Longevity Was Stunning

Even if you tell yourself that the PS2 “died” when the PS3 was released in November 2006, that still means that the console enjoyed an incredible run of six strong years. However, most people know the PS2 didn’t really go anywhere until much later than that. 

The PS3’s weak launch, the novelty of the Wii, and the Xbox 360’s hardware issues meant that a lot of people didn’t abandon their PS2s quite so easily. If anything, the PS2 enjoyed a second life when Sony released a new PS3 model that no longer supported native PS2 backward compatibility. To this day, the PS2 still commands a surprisingly high resale price. 

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The PlayStation 2’s Biggest Flaws Never Really Caught Up With It

The PS2 was not a perfect console. Its launch lineup was relatively weak, its DVD player was quickly replaced with better options, it wasn’t especially durable (and suffered from disc read errors in the long-term), its online options were generally terrible, and the console’s initial shortages were some of the worst the industry has ever seen. 

Yet, none of that really mattered in the end. All those little things that should have strengthened the PS2’s competition turned out to be just that. Little things. Sony never really derailed the PS2’s success, and no major console of its generation was able to capitalize on the console’s most notable flaws.