In each generation of video game systems, defining which console is the best is a tedious debate. This started mainly since the launch of Nintendo and Sega on the market with respectively the Nes/Famicom and the Master System.
Today, with Sega out of the hardware market and Nintendo focusing more on mainstream gaming, the main debate centers around Xbox360 against PS3. Almost the same game library, same sales volumes, same target audiences, etc. There is no one who can resist comparing these two systems without getting fanboys raging over the question.
Don’t even get me started on the “PC master race” issue…
Either way, defining, in an objective way, a video game console as “great” requires to have a good library of games to support it. I can agree that it is not the only condition, but to me, it is the most critical one.
Just take a look at the Atari Jaguar. Released in 1993, it was marketed as a superior 64-bit console surpassing in terms of processing power the SNES and the Sega Megadrive (Genesis in North America). While its competitors were only 16-bit consoles, it was a huge flop because game designers were not accustomed to the console architecture and could not exploit all of the capacity. As a result, third-part support was not great and it was a commercial failure.
Stressing out the issue of having the good games for your system is critical. You would think that the industry would get the point from the Atari Jaguar case, but it is not the case. Two particular consoles are under the spotlight concerning poor sales, Nintendo’s Wii U and Sony’s PS Vita.
In January 2013 – 2 months after its launch-, the Wii U sold only 57,000 units in the US market. I used the word “only” because in that same amount of the time, Wii’s sales reached a sales number almost 8 times bigger (435,000 units). This led Nintendo to downgrade its sales projections. Some experts even compared Nintendo to Sega during the 6th generation, who got out of the hardware market after the Sega Dreamcast lost the battle against Sony and its PS2.
The PS Vita saw its sales level in Japan drop sharply (80%!) two weeks after its release. Even after its worldwide release, sales continued to drop. Despite being a previous generation model with lower performances, the PSP even managed to outsell it! This led Sony to perform some price cuts in order to better appeal to consumers.
What is the main cause behind these two similar situations? Even though there are numerous causes behind these sales figures, you can narrow it down to one big issue: not enough major releases.
The launch of a console is a very decisive step in its lifecycle. Firms are aware that in order to attract gamers to the system, you have to offer them enough titles that would make them desire your console. Getting those games to exploit the whole technical capacity that your system offers is the icing on the cake. Although technically inferior to its competitors, the Wii U is designed to offer a new way of playing, mostly focusing on multiplayer experiences and connecting the independent gamepad with the main system. The premise is good, yet, until now, the biggest releases on Nintendo’s system are just enhanced versions of games that already appeared on the PS3, Xbox360 and PC. Assassin’s Creed III , Mass Effect 3, Batman Arkham City, Darksiders 2… You name it. Even exclusive titles for the Wii U are now getting released on the other platforms.
PS Vita, same idea. Can you name a really good title for the PS Vita that could also drive sales up? I had the opportunity to try out Gravity Rush, which looks amazing and fun to play but not enough to allow Vita to get up. There was also a rumor that there would be an HD remake of Finaly Fantasy X, but nothing is still confirmed. No wonder Sony is pushing towards connecting the Vita with the PS3 in order to get exclusive content, so PS3 owners would be incentived to get a PS Vita too.
In a nutshell, launching a new system is a critical stage for a company. Initial investments are usually very high and this engages the company on a long term. For instance, Nintendo began working on the Wii U in 2008 before releasing it late 2012. Getting the right games that would boost from the start the sales is an issue requiring the involvement of third-part providers in the launch process. I can not stress this enough, especially in today’s context. Nowadays, almost every electronic device cans give you access to numerous ways to entertain yourself, and more specifically games. Smartphones, tablets, TVs… Competition must be considered not from an industry point of view, but from “a need of entertainment” point of view. This way, you get a better big picture of the situation before deciding on anything.