“PS3 has no games”, “Wii U is doomed and has no games”, “The PSP has no games, it’s a sh***y console.”
We’ve heard phrases like these time and time again for most recent console launches. Grave portents of company closures, deaths of systems, and waning fanbases dart around like aggravated spirits of fanboys past, and kick the dirt over early adopters’ fun. The difference is, this hasn’t always been the case with console launches. The PS1, the Gamecube, and the Xbox, were all met with great response at their respective debuts, and flourished from then onward. So what is the difference between now and then, and what does it mean from here on out?
Past To Present
Gaming has changed. Although it’s always been a sensational pastime, hobby, and now sport, it didn’t always have the benefit of financial zeal back in the early days. We face a time of prolonged zenith, where the gaming industry’s profit peaks make novelists and film directors (and basically most people) weep. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (published in 2009) enjoys the grand status of having had one of the highest-grossing entertainment launches in the world, making $324 million on its opening day.
Paltry last-gen titles can not even look at that figure without wilting.
So it’s safe to say that in the gaming industry today, there is more money involved than there ever has been. Also safe to say is that technology has advanced with a rapidity unpredictable by pre-Y2K minds. But with the modernity of our entertainment systems comes complexity. Perfection of hardware comes with trial and error, and often these trials are carried out en-masse for years before hardware designers know what’s wrong – or what can be improved on – in the tech.
The schism from cartridge to disk-centric media was a rough transition, with skeptics skirting at the feet of change, lobbing predictions of success and those of doom. This trend has been with us always, following advancements such as the Dreamcast’s online connectivity innovations, the implementation of polygons in games, Xbox Live’s progress in integrating social features, and the rest of all the riveting technological developments that influence our gaming in ways large and small alike. And where that puts us now, where that aims our skepticism, is the advent of the true digital age.
Think on it. The preceding weeks have been littered with headlines tearing down SimCity’s poorly executed always-online functionality. More recent are rumours (which, true or false, are still significant) that the next Xbox/Microsoft system will operate under that selfsame “always-online” tenet. Some years ago was the movement against DRM. Before that? We were challenging online distribution itself, which of course now is a staple distribution method which effectively shutting down stores. Now the burgeoning presence of internet connectivity, where once was it merely a feature, is becoming the focus.
A New Age
The truth is, this is how gaming works now. While there may today remain an equilibrium between physical copies of games and downloaded ones, special editions with statues and those with DLC, it’s just the way it is. It’s how it’s become. And that in itself, is not bad. It’s a state, one that bad things as well as good things can sprout from, just as any other generation has had. And one of the more unfortunate things that exist today is that console launches are unanimously slow. They simply are. When facing the hardcore gaming market solely, sales across the board will be near-identical for every platform. Don’t believe me? Here’s a statistical illustration of multi-platform launch windows (first 5 months):
Notice how the Wii has at least a third more of the sales of the others. The reason being, primarily, they reached out to other audiences. Audiences other than gamers, and making it a family-friendly console. More people above and below the average gamer-age bracket bought this console than any other, and to look back at the Wii-U’s stats, actually re-affirms that they’ve made the bold move of moving back into hardcore-gamer territory, leaving the casuals (mostly) behind. Casuals are no longer their focus, shaving off a massive percentage of their Wii audience. And so, their sales are slower, their game releases are slower, and people are overreacting.
Don’t. This happens every time a new console is released nowadays. The PS3, Vita, 3DS, Wii U, PSP and the Xbox 360 (to a lesser degree) lacked third-party support early on, and as the past generation has told us, it picks up, every time. Dire starts and dry release-windows are followed by a year or a little more of relative silence, and then the curve turns upwards from there. This is a trend that’s difficult not to notice and not to heed, and honestly, it is time to acknowledge that. Gaming is an expensive entertainment, and it goes to say that a console’s beginnings do not define their future anymore, even if they shape them somewhat. We face a more dynamic generation of comebacks and turnarounds than the earlier understanding of “bad start – declare dead.”
Markedly, what I’m saying is that consoles – including quite obviously, the PS4 and Xbox 360′s successor – will continue to have these symptoms until the next market transformation. These symptoms are not healthy, but they do not show systems in decline.