In just a few weeks we will finally see the release of Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One here in North America. For the past several months, fans have been eager to get their hands on these “next-gen” video game consoles, which tout better graphics and improved social connectivity over their predecessors. But, despite the optimism coming from both the companies and their fans, it is almost inevitable that both consoles will underperform throughout the course of their first year on the market, at least from a sales point of view. If you take a look at the history of video game console launches, you will see why.
First of all, the crammed nature of a console’s launch line-up means fewer titles will be released for the rest of the year. Both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 will be launching with two dozen or so new titles developed by a variety of different companies. That may not seem like a lot, but consider this: the Xbox 360 saw the release of only 24 titles in the past seven months. This means that gamers are getting what is usually seven months’ worth of content crammed into a single day of the year. It also means that we will be seeing little to nothing in terms of new games for the first seven months after launch day.
This is evidenced by none other than Nintendo’s Wii U console. The Wii U launched with a total of 29 retail titles in North America last year. In the months following, sales for the console tanked, as fewer and fewer developers released their games on the system. Sure, there were a few notable titles like “Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate” and “Lego City: Undercover,” but two high-profile titles in seven months is not enough to revive sales. To this day, Wii U is still struggling to grasp an audience.
The unfortunate thing about this situation is that it is nearly impossible to fix. Publishers want to put out their games at a console’s launch because they get more sales that way. Thus, it is almost guaranteed that we will see the same with the PS4 and Xbox One.
Another problem is the fact that many of the launch titles found on the PS4 and Xbox One will also be available on their predecessors, the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Of the 23 new games that will be launching with the PS4, 17 of them will be available on older platforms. This means that there will be less incentive for consumers to upgrade from their current console to a newer one.
Furthermore, Sony has announced that they will continue to release new titles on the PlayStation 3 even after the PlayStation 4’s launch, giving even less reason for consumers to pick up a PS4 at launch.
But perhaps the biggest thing going ing against the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is the fact that there really is no new “must-have” feature that differentiates each console from what already exists on the market. The reason why Nintendo’s Wii was such a huge success was because it introduced motion control, something that gamers have never seen before. It was novel, and thus was sold out throughout its first two years on the market. Microsoft’s own Xbox 360 saw a boost in sales after the release of their Kinect motion controller, another new product that dramatically altered the gaming experience.
Neither the PlayStation 4 nor the Xbox One have anything similar to Nintendo’s Wii or the original Kinect. Sure, the Xbox One ships with an upgraded version of the 360’s Kinect controller, but it is technology that already exists, and does not give off as fresh of an impression. The PlayStation 4 is, quite frankly, just a more powerful PlayStation 3, which certainly does not excite the average consumer much, especially when home PC’s have surpassed the PS4’s power long ago.
It also does not help that history often repeats itself. In the past decade or so, we have yet to see a successful console launch (with the exception being, of course, Nintendo’s Wii).
Yes, the Nintendo DS (2004), PlayStation Portable (2005), Xbox 360 (2005), PlayStation 3 (2006), Nintendo 3DS (2011), PlayStation Vita (2012), and Wii U (2012) all had or are having terrible launch years. Will the PS4 and Xbox One break this trend? Perhaps, but all evidence point to the answer being “no.”
There is currently little to no reason for any gamer to get the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at launch. And if you do end up buying one, do not be surprised when you are left with little play in the coming months.
Bryce Tham is a first-year computer science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.