A Prediction Revised: Iterative Consoles Might *Not* Be Here to Stay

[Originally published June 29, 2016]

A while back, I made the prediction that Iterative Console Launches might become a practice of habit – that we would, perhaps, see the death of the traditional console life cycle.

I now believe I may have been wrong.

Microsoft chose to go out this E3 with a whisper, rather than a bang. More of a wheeze, really. Phil Spencer got up and did his darndest to sell us the Scorpio. He really did. But a poor pitch is a poor pitch is a poor pitch, and boy howdy was the Scorpio a poor pitch. The strangest part – in my eyes – is that Microsoft seems to be repeating the mistakes of the past. They seem to believe that 4K is the future… sort of. Phil Spencer actually advised the consumer base against purchasing a Scorpio if they didn’t have a 4K display. You know what’s a colossal red flag? When even the manufacturers advise against purchasing their product. It’s just bad capitalism. If you think 4K is such an optional feature, then why, why, oh why would you develop an entire line of consoles around it? I understand some of the thought process – many thought HD would be a huge factor in The Last Great Console War, and they weren’t wholly wrong. HD TVs have set the standards for gaming visuals, however, they didn’t necessarily become a part of the conversation until the end of the last console generation’s lifespan. The Wii was – by far – the Capitalist Victor, vastly overshadowing its opponents in terms of sales [ed. That is to say – overshadowed by the time of the release of the Wii U]. As much as we all would have liked to see an HD Mario, it didn’t stop us from throwing our money at Nintendo.

Graphics don’t define games, nor – it would seem – consoles.

Microsoft’s failure to garner interest in a new iterative console has not only damaged their own brand, but Sony’s as well. The Neo seems to be Sony’s attempt at a very similar move towards perpetual commodification vis a vis console lifespans. A deeply speculative part of my brain wonders if Microsoft’s loose, unconvincing Scorpio presentation was an attempt to get out in front of the Neo. Unfortunately, in doing so, they may have disrupted the integrity of iterative console launches.

Economics, while a game of numbers, is also largely about ideas. Concepts. Theory. At this pre-launch stage, that’s exactly what the Scorpio and Neo are – hypotheticals. That’s why it’s crucial that these companies make their statements well – or the whole enterprise falls apart. This is especially important in the face of what Nintendo’s doing right now with the NX. The NX is an unknown player in all of this, but the one thing we can definitively say is that it’s not an iterative console launch. The NX is its own thing, and that’s really dangerous for other manufacturers attempting to reinvent the console lifespan wheel.

 

You don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at this GameInformer Poll. You can see where I’ve cast my vote, but the more important part is where everyone else’s votes are. Right now, an overwhelming majority – 79.2% – are either undecided, or unwilling to purchase an iterative console. My God. If you’re a Microsoft/Sony exec – and you see these numbers – you’re sweating bullets. Hell, you’re sweating artillery shells. 79.2% is a downright dangerous number. Sure, there’s a near 50% group that you could, potentially, sway, but this is not the type of market you want to jump into.

Granted, this is one poll, and polls themselves aren’t always representative of the broader scope. Things can change, opinions can sway, Microsoft and Sony might come out on top. But this is a real crossroads. You have two of the major players banking on changing the very nature of console lifespans – a point Phil Spencer himself made sure to highlight during E3 – v. the other major player, Nintendo, sticking to the traditional release model. If Sony and Microsoft botch this – which, at this stage, they full-well might – and Nintendo throws down a successful console launch, then M/S will have lost one of gaming’s great economic battles. Console launches will likely retain their traditional form, and it’ll likely be a long while before things have the potential to change again.

The way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if we maintain the status quo.

But – hey – I’ve been wrong before.

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