One of the lingering threads from last week’s E3 I keep revisiting is the set of challenges gaming console manufacturers face as they prepare to launch new systems in 2017 at a midpoint in this current console generation. It’s a tightrope, made all the more difficult by the history of console marketing.
PC gamers are generally accustomed to purchasing decisions that balance power against price – when you can spend thousands of dollars on the highest end systems, most users must ask themselves serious questions about what they want vs. what they need out of their investments. Given my budget, am I willing to pay hundreds more for a marginal performance improvement? What selection of components/hardware will give me the most bang for my buck?
That’s never really been the case for the console community. Owning the best possible system (with whatever terms you use to make that judgment) has been a dominant cultural and consumer driver for decades (those forces exist on PC, as well, but the cost of entry to maintain a top-class system is so high as to naturally limit their impact). It’s a culture of exclusives, and by their very definition, exclusives are meant to make some people feel left out.
And that matters now that console makers seem to want to iterate on their hardware more similar to the way phone or personal computer companies do. Announcing a shiny new toy, then immediately having to explain to your audience why they maybe shouldn’t look at it just yet (either because you still want to sell less powerful systems this holiday season, or because 4K televisions are still cost-prohibitive to many consumers) isn’t just awkward – it’s a direct refutation of how gamers have been taught to think for decades.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Not everyone wants to spend the time and money it takes to maximize every last aspect of their entertainment experience, and I respect a company willing to say to customers, “maybe this specific expensive thing isn’t for you, at least not yet – not everyone demands the same product, and we’re trying to recognize that with the choices we offer.” But that’s a nuanced message, which game companies aren’t always the best at delivering, and gamers aren’t always the best at processing. It’ll be interesting to see how that conversation develops over the next year.