Microsoft's corporate VP of the Xbox division, Phil Harrison, told CVG News that some “really amazing engagement numbers” show that Xbox One console owners are “not only buying the console, but loving it”. He then went on to declare: “Each Xbox One owner is spending five hours a day on average using the console, which is just extraordinary.” That is ‘extraordinary’. In fact, I’d go further to say it’s unbelievable. Chewbacca is properly living on Endor with that one. But then, as someone who works for GamesRadar.com, I am thinking about it in terms of gaming, and that's not what Mr Harrison means.
I contacted Microsoft for clarification and was told that, according to Microsoft's internal data, “On average, Xbox One users around the world spend more than five hours a day on their console watching TV, playing games, using apps like Hulu, Netflix or Skype and spending time on the dashboard.”
I'd love to think that gaming is the primary use for Xbox One. I really would. We’ve all got stories to tell of mammoth gaming sessions. For me it was playing Advance Wars on GBA so hard at university, I got through a new set of batteries in one day. It happens. But not every single day. Does anyone really game that much? No, I mean apart from Boogie.
I fear the answer is more mundane. According to Microsoft's data, this could also count people who leave their Xbox One idle on on the dashboard, 24 hours a day, when they're not doing something with it. Or they could just be gaming a bit, then watching TV through the HDMI input. If your TV is connected to the Xbox One, the only way you can watch it is by switching on the console. And that counts as 'using' it.
Tellingly (although I am in serious danger of looking like a dick when I say this), Harrison also failed to specify which average he is talking about. He’s likely talking about ‘mean’. Let’s say the ‘average’ in this case is the average most people mean when they say it (funnily enough, ‘mean’ is exactly what it’s called’), where you add up all the hours played and divide it by the number of players.
Supposing Harrison is using that method, if two Xbox One owners ‘average’ 5 hours of play time a day, that could mean they both play for 5 hours. But it could also mean one played for 10 hours and the other didn’t even switch their machine on. That means for every Xbox One owner who used the console for less than 5 hours, someone else had to play that extra time for them as well as put in 5 hours a day on their own.
Think that's the sexiest use of maths you ever heard? You ain't seen nothin' yet! Different types of averages can also yield data that isn't necessarily a true reflection of the data. Mode is is a good example. That is the most common occurance of any one result in the data. So if ten people played with an ‘average’ of 5 hours, that could mean two people played for exactly 5 hours, but everyone else played for different times all of less than five minutes. The 'average' is 5 hours. It's not a lie, but not wholly truthful either.
After that... I've reached the limit of my GCSE maths recollections. Like a boss.
The thing about statistics is that they can be used to prove anything. Forfty percent of all people know that. And who wouldn't work the system to put a positive spin on a product they represent? But the main reason I find it hard to accept this statistic as a massive win is that Microsoft never seems to be transparent about how well the Xbox One is doing, even though it's reported as being the best-selling console in the UK for the past three weeks. That’s why we hear about ‘units shipped’ not ‘units sold’, and ‘percentage increases’ instead of actual sales figures.
All this '5 hours' stat does is raise questions in my mind about how people are using their behemoth new console. And the answer, unless the world really is more addicted to Titanfall than I could ever imagine, is logically that--on average--they're not using it like a console at all. But then, isn't that exactly what Microsoft wanted all along?