|Ben Gonshaw: Digital Media Theorist & Game Design Consultant|
CHOPPY WATERS IN THE MAINSTREAM
19th December 2005
As far as console launches have gone, the first fifth generation foray eclipses all of its predecessors. The 360 has eighteen fully fledged titles, eight of them good enough to be must-buys. Compare this to the PS2's paltry showing of forgetten also-rans (Smugglers' Run anyone?) Sony's 1999 launch seems undernourished.
Microsoft has sold more consoles, with lower defect rates than any of the 30+ launches that have preceded it. All this was accomplished in a mightily brave simultaneous world-wide launch. This is something rarely contemplated by a publisher for a single software title. To orchestrate this for 18 titles is an acomplishment. Add to that the frantic manufacture of the most complex home equipment ever created and the intricate logistics of getting all these consoles, games and peripherals into shops around the globe within 8 weeks and the scale of their monumental achievement becomes apparent.
What Went Wrong
In terms of console launches the audacious scope of Microsoft's vision is vast beyond imagining and an incredible feat.
This is a terrifiying demonstration of power aimed at Sony, but this is not 1999 and cowing Sony should not be a priority. Today's console buyers are no longer the dying breed that is the gamer, they are just consumers, and grand gestures do not impress the public. The majority of the 200million+ households with a console have only ever owned one games machine. They bought it as a bundle some time after launch when supply was plentiful. They bought a TV, a microwave, dishwasher, DVD player or computer with no supply issues and not a fleeting thought that there might not be one available when they put down their credit card.
Microsoft's hubris and miscalculation of the market has made the most spectacular launch in history feel rushed and amateurish. Observers are no longer confined to specialist press, industry insiders and hardcore early adopters. Those interested are not used to pre-orders, queuing and limited allocations. The world at large is unaware that hardware is finalised moments before production begins. They are unsympathetic to the lengthly and fraught process of developing a game in the dark, without knowing how the console will work or what it will be capable of doing.
All consumers want is a plentiful supply and killer apps to show it off. When X-Box Future appears in shops in 2012, expect lessons to have been learned. The console will be finalised earlier, manufacturing will go on for longer and there may not be a worldwide simultaneous launch. All this extra time will give developers more opportunity to exploit the new capabilities, giving a more pronounced comparable difference in the console's visual prowess.
The major criticisms of today: too few consoles and low quality, rushed ports both need to be addressed if public opinion is to be positive. The mainstream does not tolerate anything it cannot take for granted, so manufacturers will have their work cut out if they are to deliver with generation six.
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