The PS4 is out! So is the XBox One! The gaming world is on fire! Sales charts and review scores for launch games and "first impressions" and everything in between is slamming the front page of N4G at a startling pace. And of course, plenty of people are drawing allegiances, declaring winners, and pledging their loyalty to their favorite brands.
But it doesn't really matter. The real battle is still ahead.
Historically, console launches play very little role in the ultimate outcome of a console's lifespan. With a few exceptions (Wii Sports, Halo, Super Mario World, for instance) consoles do not typically have breakout hits at launch.
And yet, we all seem to place a microscope over each and every review score, every console sold, every hardware flub, every PR statement, every single triumph and failure within those first days of a console's life.
Launch sales are pretty much pointless. The Wii-U sold like gangbusters when it launched last year and yet it has struggled to make waves ever since then, despite quite a few great 1st-party games coming out for the system. Heck, I remember when the Dreamcast came out. The Dreamcast's launch was also around the same time that online gaming websites were really going full-swing and I recall the glut of praise and excitement for the Dreamcast's launch, especially when it launched in the West. We all know how THAT turned out.
"But Dedicated," you might be thinking. "How can you say launch sales don't matter? The PS4 and Xbox One just broke all sorts of records! Are you ignoring that on purpose?"
No. I'm simply saying that it does not matter. Launch sales are from the people who were going to buy the console no matter what. They're from the most devoted of fans, the people who just cannot wait, the people who don't care if the available library is sparse or if they run into hardware problems. Launch sales mean one thing and one thing only: supply is good. There will always be a loyal mob of fans ready to buy brand-new tech. These fans are the low-hanging fruit. No offense intended, but that is the truth. As we saw with the Wii-U, what we need to wait for is the sales numbers and the game library in a few months. How will the console be when people in the USA start getting their tax returns? How will the console be once Summer hits? THOSE are the sales that matter and by that point in time we will begin to get a better overall picture of the console's vitality.
Now, please do not misunderstand. I am not trying to belittle Sony nor Microsoft for their great launch-week sales of their new consoles.Nor am I trying to belittle people who went out and got a next-gen console during launch week. Rather, I wish to point out that it is incredibly premature to call any winners or even to say "this one is the better buy". It seems very short-sighted to buy a game console based on its launch-window titles. It seems even more short-sighted to declare a winner based on the sales brought on by early adopters.
The real battle comes next year. Both Sony and Microsoft will have non-launch games available. For these games, the standard will be higher. There will no longer be the excuse of "it's pretty good...for a launch game". These are the games that need to WOW. These are the games that need to prove the console is worth it to the general public. Games like Infamous and Halo are going to be more important than the sum of all the launch titles we've seen so far. Next year, we'll see the avalanche of indie titles finally come out and we'll see just how important indies are to the future of console gaming. Next year, we'll get a more complete picture of each console's sales. We'll also be able to get a far more accurate view of the console's reliability. The hardware failures within a console's launch are always overblown, but if there are actual hardware problems, we'll be able to see that within the first year of the console's life.
Lastly, we will be able to see how Sony and Microsoft treat their fanbases. After all, isn't that what matters? We will be able to see how complaints are handled, how glitches are snuffed out, how problems are dealt with. Will Microsoft go back on their word and bring back DRM? Will they focus on gaming again or will the Xbox One be a media machine? Will Sony be THE gaming destination, or will they break their word and focus too much on social media and movie streaming? Will Sony's PS+ requirement be worth it?
It is too early to answer these questions for most people. Sure, you can grab a handful of fans and they will tell you - loudly and passionate - if they think Microsoft will focus on gaming or if Sony will deliver the goods with PS+, but for the general public? That remains to be seen and the real battle is stil ahead.