Roundtable Discussion – Early Adoption of New Consoles

Image by Flickr user Javier Domínguez Ferreiro
Image by Flickr user Javier Domínguez Ferreiro

Is it worthwhile to be an early adopter of a new game console? Are early adopters truly important to a console’s long-term success? There are always questions surrounding the launch of a new console generation, but somehow these and others like them tend to be overlooked, but not anymore!

We decided to have a community discussion to try to determine some answers and we’re joined by Ben Lake, Chip (of Games I Made My Girlfriend Play), and Niall Tucker (of Niall’s Ramblings). What did we find? Read on to find out!

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Hatmonster: I guess I’ll get the ball rolling here; I don’t think early adoption is all it’s cracked up to be. Sure you get to be “first” but there really isn’t much else to it than that. It used to be better, but this and the last gen really don’t make a strong case for it.

The Duck: I feel the same way.  I wouldn’t ever get a new console right after it’s released because of all the bugs they tend to have (I heard about all kinds of problems with the original PS3’s, and some of the original Wii’s apparently couldn’t read the double-layer discs of Super Smash Bros. Brawl).  Plus, lately, there never seems to be enough good games when a new console comes out to justify buying it yet.

Ben: New consoles seem to force people into two camps. Those who get massively excited about new hardware and those who are happy to wait and see how things develop. I think that you need both really. Companies need those early investors so they can carry on releasing better and better games. I’m totally with everyone else on the early adoption front though. First wave games tend to be disappointing. A lack of development time usually being the issue. I’d ask the question of us all, what would make us an early adopter? I’d personally, normally be swayed just be the childish excitement of a new console but I don’t have the money to back it up.

Niall: Hm, this is a tough one for me, i am definitely an early adopter where gaming is concerned, I work full time so I’ve been lucky enough to get both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One at launch, the difficult thing is trying to explain what I get out of it. When a console launch occurs it is almost always two consoles together, the 360 and PS3, PS4 and Xbox One, and the logical thing to do would be to wait it out and see which is better, the reason I try to get my hands on things as soon as possible i think is down to the thrill of having something that Is currently on the forefront of technology at the time, it’s exciting to have the latest thing, I almost see it like the thrill of gambling, you know you might lose, but the hype and buildup coming up to a launch is always great, being there at midnight, that kind of thing it’s all very exhilarating as silly as that may sound, is it worthwhile however I think depends on how the console turns out. I mean, for example if you were to get a console at launch and it was fantastic, worked smoothly, great games, and then was sold out everywhere, yes it’d be worth it, but the reality is you end up paying a lot of money, there are always issues, and I do think although the new generations launch games are great, they lack originality, so are you really playing something new? Probably not. I’ll still always try to be in that midnight queue though, like I say I love being in that bubble of hype, being a part of the excitement, you can’t beat it!

Hatmonster: In reference to Ben’s question, I think it takes the same thing to make me an early adopter as it does for anyone else: a combination of rarity and hype. I’ve held early-adopter status for only one console: the PS3. I was super pumped for it before it came out thanks to a love of several Playstation-exclusive franchises and those awe-inspiring ads they were running in the months up its release (creepy dolls anyone?). As they were incredibly hard to find during the 2006 holiday season, I took my first opportunity to get it (I was lucky and happened to be at my local Best Buy when they received a fresh shipment of ‘em). Nialls, you’re right about it feeling really cool being at the cutting edge, and especially so when the launch consoles wind up with functionality later versions don’t. I suppose that excitement can be enough for awhile, but it must still be frustrating sitting on the exciting new tech until the real games start rolling out.

Cary: I have to admit that part of me *wants* to be an early adopter (maybe the part of me that also *wants* to believe that money grows on trees), but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a console at launch. (Even when my parents were the one doing the game buying/gifting, it’d at least several months to a year before we got something new.) As you guys have said, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a launch; and there really is some special about being part of that small group of people that gets to experience all the “newness” first. But I don’t know that there’s much difference anymore between being a “day one” user and a “month one (or two or three)” user. We got a PS3 in early 2007, and presumably it was just like the ones that were released at launch. (I mean, I guess they could have worked out some bugs by then, but still.) We got a couple then-old launch titles. Sony still got our money, and we didn’t have to stand in line at midnight or deal with wonky hardware or overburdened servers. I guess I’m saying that game companies need to create hype and excitement to get their machines to sell at launch, but I think the real test for any consoles occurs in the months following. Selling a million consoles on launch day is only a drop in the bucket compared to what could/should sell over the course of six months to a year.

Ben: I suppose the big deal here for Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo is being either first out the door or having largest unit sales means everyone else is playing catch up. I know numerous groups who buy consoles in groups. By that I mean, everyone buys the same console because they want to play together. Not usually planned from the start it just evolves that way.

Having a higher installed base to begin with must play into this for console makers. Plus getting your console into more people’s hands means you sell more games, assuming people didn’t buy the console to have an incredibly expensive and inefficient paper weight.

So returning to my earlier point of what does a company need to do to get your attention, like Hatmonster alluded to it’s super hype. Often lauding games that aren’t out for months. I personally can’t wait for Titanfall but have to keep reminding myself it’s not out for months. There’s no need to indebt myself to the evil banks for my that particular expensive box of electronics.

The Duck: Like what you were saying about Titanfall, Ben, I’m super excited for Kingdom Hearts 3 for the PlayStation 4, but we very well could have long over a year left to wait for that to come out, and unless something else exciting comes out sooner, I can wait on getting the PS4. The price should go way down by then, too.

And I think console-makers need more to get us to buy stuff than just hype about games that will come out someday.  Perhaps they should already have awesome games to play when the console comes out, hmm?  I think they just release consoles early to try to get a head start in sales, but that’s not really the most important thing in the long-run.  Like Cary said earlier, it’s also important to consider the sales in the months to come.  A console needs to have good features and good games in order to get as many people to buy it in its lifetime as possible.  It needs, well, staying power.  The hype isn’t enough to make me buy a console, but I often buy a console years later once enough games have been released, so they still get my money in the end.  If the hype is the only thing the console has going for it, what late-adopters want to buy it years later once this hype has worn off?  The people that buy a console early are certainly important to get the console going, but they shouldn’t forget the late-comers, either.

Hatm0nster: In reference to the Duck’s point, in most cases I don’t think they forget about the latecomers, but rather they sort of take them for granted as the main audience. If the console gets proper support, there will always be a steady stream of games coming out to entice people to pick up the console. There are exceptions of course, just look at the PS Vita.

Ben is right though, there really should be more to entice people other than the hype. If you look at the release list for this year, many of the “important” games used to advertise the consoles aren’t out for a long time. Watch Dogs isn’t out until June, and Destiny isn’t out until September! Is there a tangible reason to own one of these consoles right now?

Cary: Hatm0nster, good point about Watch Dogs and Destiny — this is exactly why we’re waiting at least until Titanfall‘s release to get a new system! Otherwise, why spend the money on a next-gen console when the games aren’t really there yet? If any of those games had been released at launch, as Ben alluded to, that would have been a whole different story; and I bet we’d be seeing even higher launch sales figures than we’re already seeing. (Also very much hoping that a Titanfall bundle will be released — how cool would that be?!)

So I’m honestly not sure that the early adopters made a huge difference with the leap into the next generation as maybe they did with past generations. I mean, the graphical and processing capabilities between the PS3/Xbox 360 and the PS4/Xbox One are better and noticeable, but they’re nothing like the the giant steps made between the PS1 to PS2 to PS3 or the N64 to the Gamecube to the Wii (to the Wii U). Those then-new consoles were so much more improved over the previous consoles that the choice to buy early seemed so much more necessary. Throw in the fact that PC gaming has significantly risen over the past couple decades and that today many gaming PCs are statistically better (though more expensive) than the PS4/Xbox One, and that intense need to adopt a next gen console early doesn’t seem as intense.

The Duck: Yep, I agree with Cary’s points.  For one thing, I’m less motivated to get a new console as soon as it’s released because there isn’t enough of an improvement.  When the GameCube first came out, I played it at a friend’s house, and I saw that the graphics were so much better than those on the N64, and it really excited me to get it as soon as I could.  Plus, there were already many new games I wanted on it, such as Pikmin, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Luigi’s Mansion.  So once I had the money, I bought the console.  Now, I am not that impressed by the new consoles, nor am I motivated to buy it based on the games currently out.  If Kingdom Hearts 3 was out already on the PS4, for example, I’d be pretty tempted to buy it now.  But, it’s not, and it won’t be for over a year, no doubt, so I’m waiting.  In short, for me, there is much less motivation to buy a new console soon after its release when it isn’t much better than the last one and when I can’t even get any games I want for it yet anyway.

Chip: All great points, gang.  I do feel like hype plays a huge part into the “first run” purchases of a new console.  At my workplace, it seems like the folks who camped out to buy an Xbox One or a PS4 fell into two camps:

1) Those who wanted a specific game at launch, hell-no-I-cannot-wait, I have to play with all of my friends who are waiting in line with me.

2) The sort of person who buys every freshly-baked bit of tech, no matter what the purpose, just to add it to the pile and drop your glorious ownership into conversation with those mere mortals who decided to wait on the new consoles.

Both of these types seem to make up the target audience for the new product hype that is advertised by the console-makers.  I suppose there is something to be said for having an Xbox One or PS4 at launch, but I never really saw the appeal.  With first-run consoles come first-run tech problems and glitches, as if these products are part of some worldwide beta-test.  I still remember so many of my friends who picked up the Xbox 360 at launch, only to encounter the red ring or an E93 screen mere weeks later.

Ultimately for me, it comes down to what games are exclusively available for each console at launch.  It seems like ages since there has been a truly worthwhile launch line-up for any  single console.  Just think about the comparison between launch games for the Sega Dreamcast versus any of the new consoles.  The Dreamcast had Sonic Adventure, Power Stone, House of the Dead 2, and SoulCalibur all on Day One in America.  Each of these games were console exclusives and all of them were pretty fantastic.  Compare that to the line-ups for the last two launches, which are made up of lackluster sequels and games that can already be played on the previous generation of systems.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t games in development for each system about which I am excited (Smash Brothers, Transistor, The Witness), but most of these games are months away at least.  So to me, unless you fall into the two categories I mentioned before, there is really no reason to pick up a console at launch.

As an aside, why don’t consoles come with a fantastic pack-in game anymore?  I know these things are only getting more expensive to make, but come on- where is the next Super Mario World?

Niall: I don’t think there is any doubt that the new generation have been poor launches, I’ve touched on it in a blog some time ago, the Xbox One launched with basically no “new” games, they were all sequels, FIFA, Battlefield, COD, Assassin’s Creed, it’s all been done before,  this is why I was so gutted when Watch Dogs was pushed back, it was the one game I was really looking forward too! And when you look back at what games launched with older consoles they seem to have at least that one huge iconic game, whether it be Super Mario 64 on the N64, or Halo 3 on the 360, neither consoles in this generation have that in my opinion. Yeah, I think it’s fair to say I’m a sucker for the hype..

Ben: I think Chip’s point there is crucial, about pack- in games. One of the key of the Wii’s massive success is the fact it came with Wii sports. That showed off what the tech could do and was instantly an all round family favourite. I believe the same was done with the original Sonic the hedgehog on the Megadrivie/Genesis.

Getting a brilliant game with your console gives you reason to buy it and, vitally, gives you something to do with it except look at dashboard menus. This is really the best way a company could make early adoption a reasonable proposition at such a high initial price point. As Microsoft and Sony are moving away from having internal studios to develop games as well as tech it makes the combined development of games and console difficult. This is the key benefit Nintendo has. They make the consoles AND the games. The two aren’t considered disparate entities. If they could just sort their marketing and release schedule out then they may just take over the world.