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Gamer's Piece: Don't get sucked up in launch hype

By Joe O'Leary
On February 26, 2013


On Wednesday, the gaming world saw the next step toward the future when Sony revealed their always-on Playstation 4, complete with touch-screen controller, remote play with the Vita (now we all have to buy Vitas, gross) and a giant load of questions. 

Will its sentient store lead to millions of people unknowingly paying a fortune for their next Internet bill when it downloads seventeen games to the hard drive on a whim? Will Sony's reliance on streaming technology harm the system's performance more than it impresses people? Most importantly, will its games have evolved enough to warrant shelling out more than a few hundred bucks on launch day?

We're still years away from the true answers, which is why it's time to reassert the number one rule of gaming: unless you're a total fanboy or just hit the lottery, don't buy a system at launch. No matter how much hype gamers get caught up in, adopting early is almost never the right way.

Examining the 3DS's troubled launch in 2011, there's a clear reason why it stumbled out of the gate: it had no games! Nintendo pushed it out the door with only "Nintendogs" and two quasi-tech demos in "Pilotwings Resort" and "Steel Diver." Three months passed before its first truly great game, "Ocarina of Time 3D," made it to store shelves. That itself was a remake of a nearly 15-year-old game. Developers simply don't have enough time to get any triple-A releases onto shelves no matter what console you're looking at; the Wii U only had "NintendoLand" and "New Super Mario Bros. WiiU" at launch, the 360's killer app was "Perfect Dark Zero," the PS3's was "Resistance." The only truly arguable killer apps at launch of a console in history are "Halo" on the Xbox and "Super Mario 64" on the N64. Those were the only real games on each at the time and were necessary to sell systems.

Another trait that every console's launch has featured: a price tag that's at least $75 more expensive than it will be in a year. Nintendo sheepishly lowered the 3DS's $250 launch price to $170 mere months after launch; while the "Ambassador Program" for early adopters wasn't nothing, twenty free games weren't worth getting burned. The PS3 was, as the instantly-famous press conference phrased it, "Five hundred and ninety-nine US dollars" (giant enemy crabs and "RIIIIDGE RACER!" sold separately). The 360's $400 price tag for the premium console lasted eighteen months, but the resulting drop still left a bad taste in consumers' mouths.

Factoring in launch woes, which inevitably stalk every console launch, it's silly to get too excited for the PS4. Most famous was the 360's Red Ring of Death; a rushed production schedule led to a decent chunk of first-run consoles being completely broken out of the box, and the problem wasn't fixed until the second wave of hardware came out two years later; even then, the RRoD was all too common for years. Wii U adopters were frustrated when connecting the console to the Internet for the first time launched a mandatory update that took hours to complete; to make matters worse, disconnecting a Wii U mid-update bricked it in more than a few situations. Other consoles have seen smaller woes, like the PS3 and Wii frequently breaking their disc drives, but none of them have been absolved fully of their crimes.

Above all else, though, no console is fully realized at launch. The 360 and PS3 didn't have background downloading for at least a year after their debuts; all of the streaming video and motion controllers that are successful now took years to develop to their current forms; and most importantly, what may look like a killer app, like the Wii's "Red Steel," may reach shelves in a form decidedly less than "killer." No matter what Sony promises for the PS4, getting sucked into the hype is merely ensuring eventual frustration and pain with little upside outside of owning something before your friends or the Internet get it.

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