New console launches are a peculiar time. We spend a year or more in eager anticipation of any kind of definite news that they even exist and then several months breathlessly awaiting their arrival. And then they launch and that stomach-twisting vacuum is suddenly filled with new boxes of microchips and new games, new controllers and new applications. New arguments about graphics and resolution and infinitesimal hardware details that the vast majority of us do not entirely (or even partially) understand.
But it never lasts as long as we hoped it would (except the arguments, those last much longer than we’d like). Before long, you’ve noticed the uncomfortable quirks of the new user interface and you’ve finished playing the handful of launch titles you were most excited about; Killzone: Shadow Fall is back in its case and Ryse: Son of Rome is wedged between a couple of dusty DVDs on your shelf. You wonder why that interesting secondary feature of the system software still hasn’t been patched in and you gaze forlornly at the pile of peripherals you bought for your previous consoles, which show no signs of functioning with your new electronic sweetheart.
This is the unfortunate reality of being an early adopter. You get the breathless launch excitement and the water-cooler bragging rights but all-too-soon you’re fielding awkward questions about what you’ve been playing recently and how long it is until the next big flagship exclusive is released. This is where we are now, but it won’t be forever. Redemption is just around the corner with the second wave of big games.
Titanfall is doing a good job of taking the pre-launch media cycle by the throat and everyone I know that has played it is overwhelmingly positive about it. While that’s due on PC as well as Xbox One, with the Xbox 360 version coming a few weeks late, it seems to be primarily being pushed as an Xbox One flagship game. A tentpole of their second wave of releases and a good reason for them to hasten work on correcting a few software missteps that had social functions of their console feeling like a lower priority.
Microsoft is rushing to address the initial round of complaints about its user interface by adding those social elements, getting their official headset out and making voice controls less frustratingly temperamental, hopefully just in time for Titanfall’s release. Sony too are starting the incremental patching process that adds back the features we hoped for at launch and makes their users more comfortable to recommend it to their friends.
It’s not something that will happen overnight, far from it, but the system software patching process is a key area in which the new consoles are set to defy their detractors and capture another stream of eager purchasers who are caught up in the anticipation for their next flush of shiny new games.
You might be most looking forward to the gorgeous looking smoky particles and neon bloom of inFamous: Second Son. Who could blame you? Sucker Punch’s exploration of a new character within their super-powered world of moral choice and immoral miscreants is the most exciting big-budget PlayStation exclusive on the horizon. The success of the first two inFamous games seems on course to be surpassed in accomplishment, if not sales.
That’s another thing we have to get used to as early adopters in the console arms-race: we’re no longer part of a huge and very financially attractive user base. We’re starting again. It’s true that this generation of consoles, well the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at least, has rocketed off to an exceptionally promising start. But the combined sales of around 8 million pales in comparison to a user base on last generation’s consoles from the same manufacturers of somewhere close to 160 million. That’s why EA isn’t making a FIFA World Cup game for your Xbox One or PlayStation 4. There just aren’t enough of us to justify its production costs.
It’s not just EA, either, every major publisher will doubtless be having these sort of discussions. Is it worth the work hours to port something onto new hardware when the potential user base isn’t quite large enough to guarantee a return on that investment? Development cycles last many years and cost millions of dollars/pounds/yen, it’s impractical to change the focus of development halfway through a project and it’s unreasonable to expect a release on a platform simply because that’s the platform our selfish little hearts desire it on.
Luckily, this means that there are still some potential gems on the horizon for those who put off their consumerist evolution to the next generation of consoles. Gran Turismo 6 stubbornly graced the PlayStation 3 just a week after the PS4’s European release, Lightning Returns is out very soon, Persona 5 is a little further off and World of Tanks just arrived on Xbox 360. These alongside the games and developers who are straddling both generations with their releases meant the more frugal (or simply more restrained) among you still have plenty to look forward to.
So our joyous little pastime is at a peculiar stage in its development. There are a few remaining big names on the way for each company’s older hardware and there are a few on the way for each company’s newest hardware. That’s a balance which will shift over the coming months though, as we enter the period I like to think of as “announcement season” and the industry’s big publishers dust off their megaphones and prepare to take centre stage.
Evolve has already burst onto the scene and GDC is just around the corner. Starting on March 17th, it’s not traditionally the place for new game announcements, but we are likely to see some new details on things we already know about and we might see a few publishers capitalise on the extra excitement around the industry to release information about their upcoming projects away from the conference itself. Then we’ll have PAX East in April where we’re should see a little bit more from publishers and certainly some smaller developers capitalising on the fan engagement at those events.
But the big show is still in Los Angeles. This year’s E3 might not play host to the new-console excitement when it kicks off with stage presentations on June 9th, but it will doubtless be the stage for a plethora of exciting next-gen game announcements. Some of those, at least, should see release before the end of 2014 and many will hopefully provide compelling reasons for those still clinging to their previous generation consoles to splash out on the new machines, increasing our collective allure as an install base.
As early adopters, we’re weathering a kind of dry spell with our new consoles right now. Have patience and that will give way to verdant pastures and many new friends amid the refreshing downpour we’ll get during the spring. We’ll soon have those water-cooler bragging rights back.