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:
Ryse: Son of Rome
Dead Rising 3
Killzone: Shadow Fall
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