Nintendo this weekend made a big deal of their
upcoming release schedules; for their next console,
"Revolution", the idea is to release just before Sony releases
the PS3. Both Japanese companies, the #1 and #2 in Japan (but #1 and #3
in Europe and America) in the home console market, are openly scoffing
at Microsoft's plans to release the Xbox Next sometime in 2005.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is trying to improve sales and their place in the
market after turning the Xbox, in a single generation, into a powerhouse
of the market everywhere but Japan.
In truth, there are good sides and bad sides
both to holding off, and to releasing early. Let's explore:
The Ups: Releasing Early
Releasing a console early has a few benefits,
and a few flaws. Every console with a competitor has faced these; some
have done well, others poorly.
The largest upside is the early adopter market.
Once someone has bought a system, they're much less likely to buy
another; after all, at anywhere from $300 to $130 (original launch
prices to present-day prices for today's Xbox and PS2) a game system is
a big expense. Plus, most games are produced by third-party makers that
will put the game out for either platform. Absent a slew of must-have
titles, in the way that the original NES blew away the Sega Master
System, making your system a "must have" item when everyone
already owns your competition is a much tougher sell.
The second part is the game developer market.
When your game console comes out, sure, you may only have 10-20 release
titles. If you beat your competition to market by 6 months or more, your
existing library of now 50-100 titles can look a LOT better than your
opponent's 10-20 release titles (absent again a must-have game, like
perhaps Halo). Beat your competition by a year, AND have a slew of
titles out as the Playstation2 did by releasing early and incorporating
the PSOne's library, and you're nearly unbeatable.
The last part is the price point. Release at
$300, and you cost a lot. Combine a larger library with a price cut just
as your opponent releases - say, dropping to $250 while they are still
at $300 - and you look like a bargain to those who are just getting into
the generation. With $50 the price of two decent used games, a $250
console looks a LOT better.
The Downs: Opponent Advantage,
There are of course downsides to releasing
early. To start with, your opponent can see your advertising strategy
and adjust accordingly. If you're going for online gaming (for example),
they ship with a built-in network adapter and much easier to use (we
hope) network game-finding out of the box. If you're trying to look
"cool", they can counter you.
Additionally, their hardware may be superior.
The Xbox is gaining steam in part today because it's the most powerful
console; games on the PS2 just don't look as good, or are forced into
awkward control tradeoffs. The four console ports on the Xbox, compared
to hooking in a Multitap adapter on the PS2, are better placed. Two
years ago, the Xbox's hardware advantage was there, but wasn't as big
because games hadn't quite found the maximum capabilities of the PS2.
Now, of course, we're learning exactly where Sony messed up in the
design, and we're seeing how it's hurting many of the games.
Known quantities also play a bigger role. It's
a LOT easier for Sony and Nintendo, in Japan at least, to say "oh
leave the Xbox alone and wait for US, look what WE have coming" and
get gamers to indeed wait for all the consoles to be available at once.
They've got the street cred, after all. Similar things happened to Sega
when the Dreamcast launched in America - gamers saw it, liked it
somewhat, but we KNEW that the PS2 was coming, we KNEW it played all our
old Playstation games, and Sega didn't get any must-have titles to bait
us into buying their console.
Microsoft could learn a few lessons from
history. They've got a big chance to get it 100% right with the Xbox
Next, and I'm hoping they don't mess it up.
Got Comments? Send 'em to
Michael (at) Glideunderground.com!
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