The gaming industry moves at a lightening pace. In my time as a gamer I’ve witnessed many different technologies come and go as well as the rise and fall of various hardware manufacturers and software developers. Each of these devices/companies has or has had a legion of fans at their back but, if the loyalty of the fans was as strong as some would have you believe, how come Sega stopped producing hardware or the Gamecube didn’t do as well as it should?
The fact that one console can dominate an entire generation only to have its successor do roughly half as well (but still very well despite circumstances) is evidence that even the most loyal fanboy can ‘switch sides’ in the turning of a hardware generation. This and more suggests to me that there is almost a ‘blank slate’ at the beginning of each console generation. Of course, having a legion of die-hard fans is a factor that can help a fledging console get off the ground but, it seems to me that, the console itself, its launch games and marketing are what truly matters and the fickle fans will turn on the drop of a hat.
The rise and fall and rise (and fall?) of Nintendo is an excellent example of how ‘bad’ decisions during the development of a console can come at the cost of the ‘loyal’ fanbase. I put the word ‘bad’ in that last sentence in inverted commas for a reason, which I’d like to highlight now. It’s hard to call the decisions of a manufacturer bad when they have to pretty much guess what people want from them. It’s like having to plan your meals five years in advance; you don’t know what you might fancy next week let alone years down the line. This is made worse by the fact that the consumer doesn’t even know what the hell they want either, take the Wii for example, the majority of gamers were against the very idea of it at first but now it’s this generations highest selling console. All this goes to show how, with the coming of a new generation of hardware, there follows a level of uncertainty that far outweighs any amount of fanboyism.
I’m getting into this now because I think that next year will possibly see, at least, the unveiling of ‘next gen’ consoles as well as the launch of the Wii U and many people will base their estimates on how well a follow-up console will do depending on how well its predecessor did. This is probably a mistake; however, there are some nuggets of wisdom to be mined from the lessons of the past. Take a look at hardware failure rates this generation; how many people will be picking the next Xbox knowing what happened to the 360 early on in its life-cycle? As a usual early adopter myself I will be looking for MS to offer an extended warranty from the get-go before I repeat my mistakes. Anyway my point is that pretty much anything can happen with every generational step and you should go into each with an open mind as to which console best deserves your hard earned cash (if you can only afford one). It’s a lesson that I probably won’t even heed myself as I tend to pick up any new hardware on launch, like the tech-whore sucker that I am, but I recommend anyone with a stronger will to really think about it.