(No pics, sorry I'm lazy. I originally planned to find some, but spent more time writing this than expected.)
The PS4 and X1 are coming out in November! For the first time ever, I've got a video game console on reserve because I'm planning to buy it Day 1 and worried that it might be sold out. But, should I be? A lot of us are thinking of November as the "start" of the 8th generation of consoles, but it really started two years ago with the release of the 3DS. All three 8th gen consoles currently on the market--the 3DS, the PS Vita, and the Wii U (I'm not sure that it's even fair to count the Ouya)--have had relatively slow starts with regard to sales. Though the Vita and the Wii U both show a fair amount of promise, I'd say the 3DS is the only one that's been able to pull off a rebound. I'm positive that the PS4 and X1 will be flying off shelves during the holidays (as did the Wii U last year), but I'd wager that sales start to slow come January due to a lot of the same issues that have plagued the other 8th generation consoles.
[u]1. No Games[/u]
The 3DS had 8 months of N64 remakes. The PS Vita had a mediocre version of Uncharted, followed by abysmal versions of Resistance and Call of Duty. The Wii U had a new New Super Mario Bros., a zombie game that I didn't enjoy, some ports of games you could already get on the PS3/360, and then NOTHING until recently. In all three cases, gamers blamed the lack of sales squarely on the lack of games. While the 3DS's rebound seems to have coincided with the release of some high profile games, the verdict is still out on whether the Vita and Wii U's recent and upcoming efforts will be enough to do the same.
I'm expecting to get a PS4 at launch. What am I going to play on it? Well, I can't remember if Outlast is supposed to be a launch title, but, if so, I definitely want to play that. There are a couple free-to-play shooters I might mess around with--Warframe and Blacklight: Retribution. A few "launch window" indie games like Transistor look enticing. As for AAA games, I might get Killzone and/or Watch Dogs if they're heavily discounted on PS+. So, we've got a few free-to-play and/or indie games leading the pack. I'm going to be honest, if my PS3 hadn't gotten YLOD a few months ago, I would not be buying a next-gen console this year. I'm not as familiar with the X1's launch lineup, but it doesn't appear to offer much more. You basically replace Killzone with (the gradually becoming more and more appealing) Dead Rising 3 and the f2p games with that dragon game and you have what I would be buying if I had reserved the X1 instead.
Of course, it's hardly a good idea to judge a console entirely by it's launch lineup and I'll address what I consider to be the primary issue both consoles might face in 2014 in the next section. However, I do want to take a moment to point out that I do think Sony made a smart move by choosing to release Infamous (the PS4 game I am most interested in) in February rather than at launch. No doubt, this move was at least partly inspired by seeing Nintendo's struggles with its lackluster lineup in early 2013. It looks like Microsoft is trying to do something similar with Titanfall.
[u]2. No Reason to Upgrade[/u]
When the 3DS came out everyone was busy with Pokemon Black & White on their original DS. Why play watered-down versions of Uncharted & Resistance on the Vita, when you can just play them on your PS3? Didn't I just play a New Super Mario Bros. game on my Wii? None of the 8th generation consoles have offered anything at launch to truly set themselves apart from their predecessors. I expect the PS4 & X1 to fall into the same predicament.
Most of the games available at launch on both consoles are also available on current gen consoles (they're also mostly published by Ubisoft). Now, there were a handful of games available on both 6th and 7th gen consoles around the 7th gen launch. But, I expect games to be produced for both 7th and 8th gens for much longer due to the astronomical cost of game development. Sony is hoping that the PS4 will move 5 million units by next April. Even if this lofty goal is achieved, AAA developers still will not be able to make a profit releasing games exclusively for that platform.
Let's look at Tomb Raider. Squeenix infamously expected that game to sell 7 million copies across all platforms. Roughly, the 360 and PS3 had each sold 70 million units at the time of that game's release (likely more). So, Squeenix only had to reach 5% of gamers who owned either a 360 or PS3 to succeed (they didn't, but that's not the point). Even assuming that the PS4 & X1 sold 5 million units each by April, Squeenix would have to reach 70% of gamers owning either of those consoles to be successful with a similarly expensive game. And so, we have Thief being released for 7th and 8th gen consoles.
Will mainstream gamers be willing to upgrade to a PS4 or X1 if Call of Duty 2014 & Assassin's Creed 2014 are being released on 7th gen consoles as well? Will Microsoft be able to keep up sales of the X1 if it's biggest title, Titanfall, is also available for the 360 and for Windows? With the cost of AAA development growing exponentially more expensive, how long will cross-gen releases persist? Will the 7th gen be known as the "the generation that wouldn't die"? I'm interested to see what happens in February/March of next year.
[u]3. Collateral Costs[/u]
Can't I just get a DS with better graphics? Why should I pay for 3D when I'm never going to use it? A Vita at $250 sounds decent, until you factor in those expensive memory cards that only have room for a couple games. Wouldn't the Wii U be a lot cheaper without the Gamepad? Sales of all three 8th gen consoles have been held back by the increased cost of the system due to features that consumers have deemed "unnecessary". The PS4 and X1 (especially) look to be headed in the same direction.
We all hate Kinect and the fact that it increases the cost of an X1 by $100. There's nothing more to say on that topic. It's unclear the extent to which Sony will push that EyeCameraToyThing that is (thankfully) not included on us. Regardless, Sony fans who aren't used to paying for online play might be a little hesitant to jump onto the PS4 right away, even if PSPlus is a STEAL.
I don't want to see 8th gen consoles fail or even struggle. But, based on what I've observed happen so far this gen, I wouldn't be surprised if the PS4 and X1 face some tough times after the holidays. I think the heart of the problem is the rising cost of game development, which will encourage publishers to drag out the 7th generation longer than necessary, thus preventing the 8th gen from taking off as it should. I'll be getting my PS4 regardless, but it'll be interesting to see what happens.