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Statistically, launch is the worst time to buy a console
The excitement of new gaming hardware is all too hard to contain, especially for someone that’s owned one of the Xbox 360 or PS3 since they launched in late 2005 and late 2006, respectively. So all is forgiven if you fork out a few hundred dollars for either the Xbox One or PS4 (just like this author is).
But the reality is that when we buy a new console at launch, we’re really falling for the excitement of it all, making an irrational purpose based purely on the expectation of years worth of enjoyment.
That’s okay: we all need a little fun in our lives, and it’s okay to give in to the excitement every now and then. It’s what makes us imperfect: that nature of our vulnerability is actually quite beautiful when you think about it.
Beautiful like my black heart, frozen from years worth of neglect and malnutrition …
Anyway, there’s a consistent theme in the slow progression of game quality over a console’s life cycle, which suggests that the launch of a console is statistically the worst time to actually buy one. Obviously the initial launch price is a big deal, with price cuts inevitable down the track, but from a software perspective, feeding your launch day cravings is probably the most irrational thing a consumer could do.
The launch games always tend to … well … suck
The initial launch month for both the Xbox 360 and PS3 weren’t all that flash. Sure, both had a stack of decent games on offer, and their best of the best -- Call of Duty 2 (89% on Metacritic) and Resistance: Fall of Man (86% on Metacritic) -- were fun games to test on your new piece of hardware. But the rest made hardly any noise.
Of the PS3’s 14 launch games, 50% were PS2 ports with a coat of paint. The 360? 70% of its launch lineup was made up of Xbox ports like Need for Speed Most Wanted and Gun.
The first two years are a mixed bag
The Xbox 360’s first two years were great: games like Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, Bioshock, Mass Effect and The Orange Box, among others, came out to grace 360 gamers with their awesomeness.
But they’re a few of only 10 of the top 50 ranked Xbox 360 games on Metacritic that were released prior to November 2007. That means that of the Xbox 360’s top 50 games, 40 of them came into and beyond the console’s third year on sale. We had to wait three years for a consistent stream of great games.
For the PS3, only 8 of its top 50 ranked games came prior to late 2008, meaning 42 of its best games came into and beyond the console’s third year on sale.
Then why are we rushing to buy Xbox One and PS4 now?
Because we’re suckers, that’s why!
No, I’m kidding (actually I’m not really), but after eight years of waiting I think we deserve something new and fresh. It’s no secret that launch games are never the best way to gauge the worth of a console, and these days we need to look beyond what a console offers to determine whether or not the launch is actually worth it, because the games sure as hell don’t dictate forking over $500+ on new hardware.
But does that matter? Do we even need the games to determine whether or not we buy a console?
Why shouldn’t we care about the games?
Well … you should care about the games, but what’s important is the context of your purchase: you’re contributing to a collective, a growing market that will, in turn, dictate the games.
Rockstar hinted that the reason next-gen consoles weren’t a viable option for GTA V was because the install base didn’t exist yet. That’s a totally acceptable response for a game that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make.
So I should buy a console then? I’m confused ...
I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I just want you to know that a console never really “takes off” until a few years into its life cycle. Well, that’s at least what Nintendo fanboys say about Wii U …
Basically, it’s a combination of developers getting to understand the hardware, and publishers having confidence that their investment is worthwhile.
Yesterday I wrote an article talking about what I’d consider a “pass” mark for the Xbox One’s first 12 months. At the very least, I want something new and fresh, something that breaks away from the “launch game” feel we all know Ryse and Killzone: Shadow Fall (and *ahem* Knack) are going to have. I want a BioShock, or a Gears of War. Titanfall should do that, but I’m hopeful something as fresh and exciting can hit the PS4 in its first 12 months.
When it’s all said and done, numbers do tell a story, but they can never bury the excitement that takes over with the release of a new console. Xbox One and PS4 might lack the gaming pizzaz from the get-go, but we all know why we buy these consoles at launch.
Or do we?
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