Yes, it’s that time again that every gamer anticipates, the next-gen console launch and with Christmas just around the corner – how very convenient. Both Sony and Microsoft having been doing battle over the last year pitching to the consumer why their system is ‘the one to buy’. There have been many punches thrown from Sony and a few missteps from Microsoft, but it looks like they are arguably on par and ready for launch!
But what console to choose? Both systems are fairly even matched, almost identical. They together carry 8GB of RAM, 500 GB of Hard Drive storage, Blu-ray Optical Drive but importantly very similar CPU and GPU hardware. Naturally most gamers have a controller preference, a price budget in mind and may have brand loyalty, but the reality is that both consoles are practically the same machine. So what is the real selling point that makes each system different to the other and what helps influence the buyer to purchase their brand of machine?
In many ways, a console’s launch titles are the most important tool in selling a next generation console. Sure, the systems may have the most advanced technology to date, and deliver beautiful visuals, but combo the console with below average launch titles and it can spell disastrous from the very beginning. History shows that with strong software titles at launch, it increases interest and helps push the new system off the shelves. Without the day one release of Super Mario 64 in 1996, the Nintendo 64 would not have been as successful. If the Sega Saturn had released an original Sonic the Hedgehog title at launch in 1995, it could have easily stayed in the console race and give the system a longer shelf life.
There is one system that got it right from the get-go. Nintendo undertook intensive research in the US market and strategic planned the debut of the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) in the best way possible, the company basically wrote the book on how to launch a new system with excellent titles to trigger worldwide success. At the time, it was known for being the biggest selling console, but it wasn’t without its risks.
Home video game consoles didn’t always have today’s sunny image; the infamous crash in 1983 saw a massive drop in sales and the future of the industry was not looking very bright. The crash brought about little support for home consoles and the arcade business, and instead favour towards home computers, such as the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum as they became a popular and affordable option. Honestly, It looked as if the home videogame console would become a thing of the past.
For many years the industry was suffering, it wasn’t until the launch of the NES to the US market that the home console was revived. In 1985, Nintendo tested their system ‘The Famicom’ in New York to see if the American customers would pick up interest. Already a success in Japan, it had to be re-marketed for the Western audience and disguised to be anything but a games console. At the time, the term ‘video game’ was taboo and so it was decided to brand it as an ‘Entertainment system’ to label the it in the same class as the VCR.
But for the new machine to be successful and revive the videogames industry, it couldn’t just be another system. It had to carry promising and exciting titles to influence the punter that they were purchasing a new form of entertainment unlike what you would find from a home computer or arcade machine.
In October, 1985 the NES was released nationwide to a roaring success, dominating the home console market throughout the 1980s thus making videogames popular once again. The games business was back in the limelight because of the quality of launch titles that boast a diverse range of gameplay styles while accommodating to all target markets. Out of the 18 launch games released, it was 3 titles that stood out as the ‘must buy’ software to own and set the trend for future console debuts.
Super Mario Bros.
Without a doubt one of the most influential games of all time and repopularised the side-scrolling genre. Super Mario Bros was a worldwide success since day one and anyone would know it’s the first game you associate with the NES machine. Mario Bros deserves a bulk of the credit for saving the industry after the crash and for that became an undisputed video gaming icon. With addictive gameplay, beautiful colour palette, 32 fun filled levels, an assortment of enemies and stage design to keep the players interest, Nintendo was on a sure winner.
The colourful shooter Duck Hunt introduced the world to the peripheral ‘Zapper’ and the infamous laughing hunting dog we all love to hate. It offered its own style of gunplay and featured two different game modes. One mode focused on duck shooting and the second on shooting clay pigeons. It may be a repetitive game nowadays but at the time it was an original game that garnered positive sales selling an unbelievable 28 million copies worldwide.
The classic NES game that offered entertaining and addictive motocross gameplay. Excitebike had players speeding though scrolling tracks, avoiding dangerous hurdles and balancing the speed of the bike to avoid overheating. The fast side-scrolling style and the ability to pop daring wheelies made for an exciting day one purchase.
Because the success of excellence games released on launch day and the many titles that followed, the NES had a lengthy lifespan and were still manufacturing consoles in the US till 1995. If it wasn’t for the tactical advertising of the system and more importantly the innovative launch titles, there is little doubt that the videogames business might have been quite different today. To this day, strong launch titles are paramount in accomplishing the biggest lead in the console race, to grab the gamer’s attention and to encourage them to commit to their console for the life of the machine.
Both the Xbox One and PS4 appear to be launching with an exciting line-up of launch titles. Admittedly, Microsoft currently holds the most exclusive titles, which might appear to be a sizable advantage. However, Sony have done a fantastic job in embracing the feedback of their fans, and have experienced minimal PR backlash since the announcement of the PS4. With that in mind, it’s difficult to tell who will come out on top, both machines display many positives and advancements, and thus, the launch titles will become the real point of difference.