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Xbox Scorpio and PS4 Pro are Threatening the Beauty of Console Launches

With the Xbox Scorpio and PS4 Pro hot on the horizon, one lowly gamer is worried that iterative hardware will threaten the beauty of console launches.

So the gauntlet has finally been thrown in terms of half-step console iterations being introduced during the midpoint of a generation. The PS4 Pro has recently been revealed and Microsoft’s Xbox Scorpio is set to be the most powerful video game console ever released, and I’m concerned. Why? Not due to my entertainment set-up’s inability to output in 4K or my unwillingness to dollar dip so soon after purchasing a new console. Not even due the highly likely possibility of parity divide amongst players. I’ve found myself asking a far less important question: "Are console launches at risk of becoming less special?"

As silly as it may sound, I actually enjoy the thrill of venturing out to buy a new console on launch day. It helps set the template for the upcoming gaming generation ahead. It builds up the excitement by being among the first to set our hands on the newest, latest, and best. It's just generally a blast. With the introduction of the forthcoming PS4 Pro and the much later Xbox One Scorpio taking on a more iterative, almost smart phone-like form of launch, novelties such as this are at risk of evaporating -- and quickly.

A world in which consoles follow the smartphone launch model

If consoles begin to follow the same trend as smartphones, not only are they at risk of becoming less memorable, but more predictable too. When you purchase the latest iPhone you’ll be more than aware that at least a year later (or possibly less), the C or S variant will become available. Ever since 2007, the mobile phone market has been caught in this repetitive loop, which makes sense for those who want the hottest technology currently available -- yet I’m not so sure it’s something I want to see infect the video game space.

Prior to the official reveal of Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro, Xbox's Head of Marketing Aaron Greenberg was quoted as saying that the Xbox One and PS4 represent “…the last great console generation” -- implying that the need to in effect “launch” a full-blown console might no longer be required, with hardware companies instead choosing to improve upon the already established specs of current console architecture to bring it more in line with the market of PC customization and upgrading.

Admittedly, Greenberg here is getting ahead of himself just a little bit. From a practical perspective there will always be a need to “launch” some form of additional hardware, even if it is something which doesn’t represent a fully fledged home console system. In just a few weeks' time the Pro will undergo a release -- albeit quite subtly. With the same being true for the Xbox One Scorpio, the sad truth is that unlike November 2013, nobody will seriously care, or at least care enough to make a fuss.

The power of anticipation and excitement

Currently, the original SKU PS4 still remains one of, if not the fastest selling home systems to date -- so much so that for the longest time it’s been outpacing the PS2. Should gamers, players, and the general retail market become accustomed to a standard system refresh every 12 months as with Apple’s iPhone, it’s pretty much a guarantee that this wouldn’t be the case for future console launches.

Although simple, the power of anticipation is indeed a strong one. Just look at the crazy amount of hype and build-up a game called No Man’s Sky was subject to earlier this year. Take that and multiply it tenfold, then you've got what console players felt during the 7 year period between the launches of this console generation and the last one.

When the PS4 and Xbox One launched towards the very tail end of 2013, there was so much excitement and build up because the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 had been in our homes for this record breaking 7 year period -- and players were hungry for what the world of video games had coming next. Needless to say, if you were someone disappointed at the leap in performance from the PS3 era to this one, you’ll be very let down should Aaron Greenberg’s predicted future come true.

The PS4 remains the fastest-selling console of all time, beating Nintendo’s Wii by dishing out an impressive 1 million units on the first day alone in North America. What this tells us is that people will make an effort on the first day of a console’s release to treat it as an event, and that they love to be tantalized. I personally love being part of the excitement that builds around it. For all intents and purposes, it’s essentially a far safer black Friday exclusively for gamers, where nobody is at risk of getting trampled.

A novelty event at risk of disappearing

Whether the importance of a console generation’s launch comes down to an impressive leap in hardware, success the publishers had experienced with their brand beforehand, or simply the market evolving perfectly with manufacturer intentions, it’s a small yet novel part of being a gamer that is slowly being threatened.

Whereas up until now gamers have remained united as a group of dedicated fans who swarm to a Target, GameStop or Wal-Mart every 3-7 years to pick up our new hardware, prospects like the Scorpio are set to reduce the usual excitement you’d typical find surrounding the launch of a console and that makes me sad. Perhaps I'm the only one who cares?

Published Oct. 3rd 2016

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