Dear Xbox One & PS4 Gamers: Launch Titles Don’t Matter Long-Term

We are beginning the launch of a new console cycle, and that’s something to be excited about, right? Well, it sort of is. Yeah, it’s always fun to shell out a ton of money for new hardware to play games on, but it’s not as if the very first day that a console was released was typically the most exciting time to get in on that madness. Hell, the first year is usually not even all that exciting, to be honest.

That’s not to say, of course, that it’s pointless to buy one of these new consoles at launch, but I would assert that, looking both backward and forward, there may not be a whole lot of value in doing so if you already own a legit gaming PC, PS3 or Xbox 360. If we’re looking at games exclusively available for the new consoles at launch, here’s what we have:

Xbox One
Ryse: Son of Rome
Dead Rising 3
Forza 5
Crimson Dragon

PlayStation 4
Killzone: Shadow Fall
DriveClub
Knack
Super Stardust
inFamous: Second Son (scheduled for the end of the window currently).

Everything else we currently know about that will be released on those new platforms within the first three or four months will also be available either on PC or current-gen consoles.

If you don’t have a high-end PC (like this one), of course, then you’ll need a new console for The Witcher 3, The Elder Scrolls Online and The Crew. Those are the games we know about, but naturally there are tons of games that have been announced for the new platforms with only TBA for a release date, and it could be that some of those, like The Order: 1866 on PS4 or the new Halo or Sunset Overdrive on Xbox One or any number of unannounced digital-only titles could worm their way into the holiday launch window somewhere, but probably not.

How Console Launches Have Played Out in the Past


Console launches are, historically, not very exciting if you’re looking for new exclusive games that require you to pick one up. Call of Duty 2, for example, had the highest attach rate of any Xbox 360 game between its launch in November 2005 and the end of that year at 77 percent, but that was a game that had been available on PC for a month prior to the 360′s release. Furthermore, that platform had more retail exclusives than either of the new platforms this year have, with Kameo: Elements of Power, Project Gotham Racing 3, Amped 3, Perfect Dark Zero and Ridge Racer 3. How many of those would we actually look back on as having made a real impression beyond graphical fidelity? Yeah.

A few months later, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion would be a big hit, but that was another multi-platform game also available on PC. Early 2006 exclusives for the console would include things like Full Auto, Rumble Roses XX, Far Cry Instincts: Predator and The Outfit. Does anybody even remember what any of those games are?

A year later, the PS3 launch made a similarly bland impression, with only the launch title Resistance and early 2007 racer Motorstorm being at all memorable. Let us not forget, though, that Resistance was a pretty average shooter more notable now for the franchise it spawned than its own existence, and Motorstorm was an arcade racer that did not allow splitscreen multiplayer.

In the case of the 360′s launch in 2005, it didn’t receive anything resembling an exclusive killer app until Gears of War, a full year after launch. 2007 was actually the big year for both the 360 and PS3, with the release of multiplatform console games like Rock Band, Assassin’s Creed and Skate, and each had a couple of platform exclusives that made a real impact like Halo 3, Mass Effect, Uncharted and Ratchet & Clank Future.

By now, each of those consoles has moved about 80 million units worldwide, which is a pretty successful run. But it took years and price drops for them to get to the point where they actually started to sell well on a regular basis and establish libraries that made them seem like worthwhile investments.

If we go back a bit further in time, to the launch of the PlayStation 2 in October of 2000, we see a similar theme. While it took months for Sony to actually satisfy all the pre-orders for the console due to stupid demand, IGN tells us that a recurring theme in the reader mail they received between launch and the end of the year is that “there wasn’t a killer game that has truly sold them on the ‘power’ of the PS2.” The top-selling title for the platform in that launch window, indeed, was that year’s edition of Madden, which should tell you all you need to know about what that initial game library had going for it. As Rockstar co-founder Terry Donovan noted at the time, “I want a next-generation game to be at the top of the charts for a next-generation system, and Madden, while great, isn’t a next generation game.”

Former Capcom CEO William Gardner said something similar regarding a recurring theme with new console launches, one we may have skipped last time around, but certainly do face this year. “There wasn’t one great killer title out there that people had to have. Remember back in the transition from the 16-bit systems to the 32-bit systems? The first wave of 32-bit games looked a whole lot like 16-bit games. I think the same thing happened here.”

In fall 2001 of course, we had the phenomenon that was Grad Theft Auto III, a truly 6th-gen experience which was the bestselling game in the United States in 2001 and the no. 2 bestselling game of 2002 behind, you guessed it, GTA: Vice City. Meanwhile, Gran Turismo 3 also entered the scene in 2001 and went on to become the second highest selling game in the world in the PS2′s lifespan behind only 2003′s GTA: San Andreas. Those were the games that truly kicked off the PS2 era, and they are the reason that it moved more than 100 million units by the time the PS3 launched in 2006.

Beyond all that, there is a psychological aspect to “events” like a new console launch to consider that Donavan described quite well back then, and I think what he says can also apply this year. “Psychologically, when something of this magnitude is launched, you always expect so much. The way video game marketing is done — in movies, screenshots, and in the efforts of publishers to make their games look good — it begins with technology specs. The mind reels at technology specs. If you have anticipated anything for any length of time, in my experience, you never are fully satisfied, and psychologically there is no way to avoid this feeling.”

History tells us that it will take time for new platforms to hit their stride, and that early adopters will just have to deal with that. The good news: once the Xbox One and PS4 launch, new console games will usually make it to the new platforms, as well as the old ones. Meaning, you’ll get plenty of use out of them regardless, and your version of the games will be slightly prettier.

Here’s how we should look at this: if a console is defined by its launch games, it’s a bad console. A good console will improve dramatically over time in terms of the experiences it provides.

The beginning is just that, a beginning.

Follow Phil Owen on Twitter at @philrowen

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7 Comments on Dear Xbox One & PS4 Gamers: Launch Titles Don’t Matter Long-Term

Swcloud99

On July 18, 2013 at 5:49 pm

When The Phantom Pain or Final Fantasy XV launches, I’m getting a next gen console. Everything else before that are games that look only slightly entertaining nothing more.

Troy

On July 19, 2013 at 7:35 pm

You forgot killer instinct on Xbox one as a launch title.

Cemth

On July 20, 2013 at 4:40 am

Do you think we don’t know this already? Launch titles can only ever be an indication of a console’s direction. But in spite of this, I really think you’re downplaying their impact. They’re still an important tool for getting across what you intend your system to achieve.

If the PS4 launched with Everybody’s Golf 3, Virtua Tennis 5, and a port of God of War Ascension while Xbox One launched with a new Halo game, an exclusive COD game etc. then that would be a huge message. It wouldn’t automatically make Xbox One the superior console – and it certainly wouldn’t prevent it from still being the most anti-consumer piece of fail in the history of this industry – but it would get a fair few casual gamers on side from the off. They might change their minds later on but momentum is key at the start of a console cycle. If your console doesn’t get out the blocks as quickly as its competition then developers start wondering if it’s worth making exclusive games for it.

I think you’re seriously naive if you don’t see the value of having a strong launch line-up.

JT

On July 20, 2013 at 6:14 am

Sony is announcing more games next month that they have previously not mentioned.

Doowangle

On July 23, 2013 at 2:59 am

Why must you try to urinate on gamers parade with this article? The zombie-style consumerist load blowing that comes with a fresh console launch, is one of the few truly fun things left about American style capitalism.

Is it a super solid investment to be a console early adapter? Of course not. It never is when it comes to technology. Yet few events in the gaming world feel as immensely satisfying as opening up a brand new, shiny, day one console. Letting that new technology smell fill your nose, as you pull it out of the box with kid gloves, and hook it up hastily to your tv. Sliding that disk in its slot and watching your TV with wide eyes, knowing that you are going through the same thing as millions of others around the world as you feast your eyes on that first game of the new generation.

The feeling if getting into a game lobby and talking excitedly about how amazing and slick the new console looks, the new controller feels, the colors of the new UI, the glow of the new LEDs. All of it triggering the same pleasure in your brain that a first time heroin user must feel. It is just irresistible.

No amount of logic or reasoning is going to take away that feeling. So quit trying

bj

On July 23, 2013 at 8:29 am

@Doole – so your point is that people should aim to be as short-sighted and impulsive as possible for the sake of consumerism? Not that I agree with the article (it’s deeply flawed, for the reasons given by Cemth) but I don’t see how yours is a valid counter. If you’re honestly saying that the only value of a console is based on when you first start playing it then you’ve already lost the argument. My excitement for new titles on PS3 was significantly higher last year than it was when I first bought the console in mid-2008. If a console’s entire stock is based on how it begins its cycle then there’s no reason to even have a console cycle – you’d just release a new console every year since in your mind nobody cares beyond the first couple of months, if that, but always gets giddy at the prospect of an upgrade.

I recognise that what you’re describing is an intangible and that isn’t in itself a bad thing, but your complete dismissal of a legitimate viewpoint as “urinating on (your) parade” is at best questionable.

Also, logic is not your enemy. You used a degree of considered (if somewhat myopic) reasoning in your comment to counter the article itself, so you obviously know this.

bj

On July 23, 2013 at 8:30 am

Are you serious, Gamefront? W-A-N-G is censored? It’s not even remotely offensive.