Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Console Post of the Week: The Thrill is Gone

We have a PS4.

Via Amazon, of course, because I buy almost everything from Amazon. So instead of the midnight launch I went to for the 360--about one hundred years ago--I waited for the UPS driver (who is the most kickass delivery driver ever) to ring the doorbell.

Late in the afternoon, he did.

I really wanted to get excited about this launch. I really wanted to think that this new generation was going to be a game changer, whatever that means.

We bought Assassin's Creed and NBA2K14, and 2K14, in particular looks pretty phenomenal. I was strangely unmoved, though, and so was Eli. Assassin's Creed didn't look as good as I'd expected, really, and the first half hour bored me to death.

The question, of course, is "Is it just me?" The answer, I'm betting, is "No." I think I understand why, too, and it relates to supply and demand.

Even back in the 1980s, there were lots of games. I remember going to Electronics Boutique almost every Wednesday (hello, manager John Harwood!) and looking through the new releases, and there were plenty. Sure, there were periods, that were a little dry, but there were always games to play.

Today, though, supply has gone from ample to infinite. I have instant access to well over ten thousand games. Actually, that might be one hundred thousand, if you just added Steam and iOS and Android together.

I think infinite supply has an effect on desire.

What this means for the new consoles, more than ever, is that the games have to stand out. They have to be brilliant, because if they're not, they will be subsumed by the infinity of supply.

Let's take a look at the Metacritic scores for the PS4 launch games. Wait, let's note something far more ominous than the scores: of twenty-four launch games, only eleven even have had the necessary four reviews to even get a Metacritic score.

Okay, here are the review scores: 89,87, 85,85,83, 82,78,77,73,66,54.

That looks pretty strong, right? It is, for the brographic--the top four rated games are FIFA 14, Battlefield 4, NBA2K14, and Need For Speed Rivals.

I believe this is what's known as doubling down on bros.

Here's the problem, though. I believe that bros, unlike game supply, are not in infinite supply. And the Xbro One is doubling down on bros as well.

I don't think this can possibly work. Not for both consoles.

Of course, the WiiU isn't like that at all, and it's completely imploded. So it's possible that all three of these consoles, by historical sales standards, are going to fail.

However, having said that, even though Sony committed my #1 Launch Sin in not including a must-have game with the system, they've done quite a bit right this time. For starters, they didn't over-engineer the console. The PS3 was so over-engineered that it was downright comical. Not this time, though--the PS4 architecture is simple and powerful, and developing for the system will be far easier.

Also, and this is huge, Sony's current cost to build the PS4 is approximately $381. So instead of losing $200-$300 a unit (PS3 launch), they're actually profitable on the box at launch. That's huge, and it means that they have a very favorable cost structure for reducing the price of the PS4 fairly quickly.

The interface is cleaner, it's quiet (when it's not installing something from the Blu-ray drive), and it doesn't run hot. That's three other items they've fixed from the PS3 generation.

The new controller? Terrific.

Here's my biggest problem with evaluating the prospects for the PS4, and this is going to be very true of most analysts (who skew older): I have zero interest in all the social gaming possibilities. I can't even evaluate those features properly in terms of their potential for driving console sales. All the social crap is my blind spot.

If you look at this strictly based on history, though, Sony has put out a well designed, powerful, meat and potatoes console, and based on the cost structure, they would appear to be in a very strong position. And if they had packed in an Uncharted game or something equally popular, I think they would be in a dominant position.

Their biggest problem, certainly, is that historical standards may no longer apply.

I'm sure we'll eventually get the Xbro One (seriously, don't hassle me about using that name, because I'm just not stopping), now that they backed off what I thought were some fairly draconian policies. As soon as we see a must-have game, we'll be there.

I just don't know how long that's going to take.

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