Opinion: Competition And Console Wars Are Two Different Things

by Mike Futter on Nov 04, 2013 at 03:32 AM

Console launches are joyous and exciting times. Anticipation is high, but so are the price tags for adopting a new platform. New consoles, controllers, games, and other accessories add up quickly. Many gamers have budgetary constraints that force a decision. It’s just not possible for everyone to get both new systems this month. Enter: the console wars.

If you look at the tone of discourse on social media, the conversation is heavily polarized. Many aggressively support either the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One. We haven’t seen this kind of head-butting for years. Platform-based bickering typically decreases significantly over a console cycle as more gamers go multi-platform. 

We haven’t outgrown it, we just moved away for a while. It’s part of the cycle, and one that can be explained.

Post-purchase anxiety is normal when making high involvement purchases (those that typically require larger resources and research to execute). Have you ever purchased a new car, television, or other expensive item and continued to do research after the fact? That’s post-purchase anxiety.

People want to know that they spent their money wisely and will go a long way to put aside that nagging feeling that the wrong choice was made. That’s where console wars come from. They are less about brand loyalty than they are about people expressing a need to affirm their investment decision.

Because of limited launch supplies and the pre-order culture we live in, post-purchase anxiety manifests before the goods are in-hand. This pre-purchase anxiety is far more problematic, though. 

We are beholden to PR cycles, hands-on opportunities, and the shifting sands of console features. Those that pick one platform to pre-order likely have limited opportunity to successfully change their minds and go the other way. Because of that, consumer stress is high.

Unlike post-purchase anxiety, pre-purchase stress can’t be alleviated by interacting with the item. We can’t go turn on our PlayStation 4s or Xbox Ones and comfort ourselves with the features on-hand. 

Instead, we obsess with finding information. We scour news outlets, message boards, and company promotional material. We find peace in the things that align with our decision and we become stressed when we learn something that forces us to question our choices. Many choose to lash out to defend their choices. This doesn’t improve the discourse. It pollutes the waters.

It’s critical to realize that this is something wholly different from competition. Competition is positive. It breeds innovation and helps all involved improve. 

Without competition, Sony likely would not have added trophies to the PlayStation 3. Microsoft may not have introduced Games with Gold. Neither may have been interested in Netflix or other video services if other devices in the living room weren’t pulling people away from consoles. 

The industry is interconnected, and having multiple successful competitors is better for everyone. Let the manufacturers wage that war, though. 

It’s not worth your energy to use message boards and social media to reinforce your own choices. Whichever way you end up going at launch (even sticking with current-gen for a while), you’ll have plenty to do and play. There is a lot to be excited over right now, and I suspect you’ll enjoy it more if you focus on the good things instead of petty bickering.