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Wanted: System Sellers

by Matt Bertz on Apr 09, 2014 at 12:40 PM

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Last week I spoke with several friends who are console owners, but not the sort who wait in lines outside of retailers to buy new systems on day one. The talk inevitably shifted to my impressions of the game lineups for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. They aren't jumping at the prospect of laying down another $400 or $500 for a new box, but are curious about what must-have games that you can only experience on new-gen will motivate them to make the leap. Thinking it over, I had to admit that a sizeable pool doesn't exist yet.

Sure, a handful of carryover franchises like Infamous and Killzone have debuted on PlayStation 4 and Microsoft promises new Halo and Gears of War games for Xbox One, but my friends aren't likely to make the leap purely due to continuations of pre-existing series. They want to be wowed by new worlds that take advantage of the promise of increased horsepower.

At this stage last generation, my friends already had the date lined up they planned to pick up these systems thanks to reading about several games that spoke to the potential of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Third parties were teasing a wealth of era-only games like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Mass Effect, Saints Row, Prey, Dead Rising, BioShock, and Too Human (which, believe it or not, people were excited for at the time). Platform holders had already announced exclusives with great potential like Gears of War and Crackdown. Right now, neither the PlayStation 4 nor the Xbox One has that deep of an era-only lineup on the horizon.

The only upcoming PlayStation 4 exclusives that have been publicly announced thus far are The Order: 1886, DriveClub, and a handful of indies, most of which look intriguing but hardly motivate me to encourage my friends to join me in the hardware deep end. New IP are similarly scant on Xbox One, with only Sunset Overdrive, Quantum Break, and Microsoft's own collection of smaller profile games to convince players to adopt the platform. So where are the new IPs?

Business realities have caused publishers to cut back on the amount of games they release each year compared to 2006, but third parties are hardly devoid of blame for this dearth of era-exclusive games. Evolve and The Division headline an extremely short list of new IP. You don't have much incentive to drop $400 on a new system when you can play Destiny, Watch Dogs, Titanfall, and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor on your current system.

The cross-platform approach is justified during console transitions – if publishers are to make back their considerable investments in these multi-million dollar games, they need a larger base than the brand new systems could provide in the first year. But carrying this philosophy into the second year may stymie growth.

The lack of information about new era-exclusive games could be attributed to publishers taking shorter promotional cycles – many now prefer to ship games within a year or even six months of its announcement. Let's hope that's the case. If this year's E3 isn't a convincing coming out party for a bevy of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One exclusive new IPs, it could be time to hit the panic button.

Millions of people love big franchises like Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, and the like, but those games won't drive player migration alone. Publishers need to create brand new experiences to entice players to make the jump, not simply reinvest in the franchises that carried them over the last generation. If things stay status quo, with only a few new bells and whistles and a slightly sharper resolution for new-gen versions of games that are also available on the older systems, then perhaps my friends and the millions of people like them will decide to spend that half-grand on something else. 

Give the developers the latitude to build new experiences that are only available on new-gen consoles, and the gamers will come. But if platform holders and publishers continue to play the cross-generation game moving into the next holiday season and beyond, platform sales will slow, software sales will suffer, analysts will panic, and everyone may find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to convincing shareholders that doubling down on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is a smart idea moving forward.