Every time new video game consoles come out, we hear the same antagonism.
Why on earth would we functionally pay a premium for a brand-new piece of hardware that
a.) is at its most expensive upon the launch window,
b.) naturally begins with fewer games than any time in its lifecycle,
c.) has not been tested for longevity or long-term reliability,
d.) is unproven for consistent support in games and accessories,
e.) has full priced, first generation games that likely cannot compete with the slew of hardware pushing, cheaper games made during the last few years of the previous console,
f.) requires an entirely new batch of full-priced controllers, accessories, dongles, do-dads, batteries, pieces, parts, gumballs, etc.,
g.) almost always have a dreaded equivalent to the Great N64 Game Drought, and
h.) will have a better, cheaper, newer version out by the time it proves itself?
To that, I say: ...yup.
Really, if someone is not the type to buy a console at launch, they are probably not wired to be convinced by exciting sales pitches or exuberant fanboyism. I've worked in video-gaming retail for over a decade, including the two biggest retailers, as well as mom-and-pop stores (R.I.P., Endless Entertainment), and while I've convinced some folks who were on the fence about buying a launch console, I learned not to trying changing the mind of a level-headed nay-sayer.
And I understand their logic! If you're not 'into' a launch system, it would likely be a colossal waist of money. However, that does not mean early adopters are automatically being ridiculous either. This far into our industry's history, there are now visible trends that help make launch window purchases more palatable, even preferable.
(Keep in mind this is being written by a guy who bought an Atari Jaguar and all the trimmings at launch. If your name is not Redd, you probably just winced.
First off, the most important thing for a game console: games.
Everyone knows that it takes at least a year or two for a console to come out with some games that would make it worth owning. (Or longer, in the case of Game.com. We're still waiting.) Except, that's not universally true. Sure, it takes years for a console's library to pick up steam, but there are too many examples of launch window games that carried their respective systems enough to warrant the initial purchase, at least for many people.
Some of the best examples include:
Donkey Kong (Coleco)
Super Mario Bros. (NES)
Blue Lightning (Lynx)
Super Mario 64 (N64)
Ridge Racer (PSX)
For many gamers, the cost of the system was justified simply to play these launch games, with the expectation that other great games would eventually follow. Of course, no discussion on the topic is complete without mentioning the greatest selling video game of all time (as of April 2013), Wii Sports. Sure, it makes many of us groan just to mention it, but it cannot be denied than much like Tetris on Gameboy, gamers and 'non-gamers' alike bought the system just to play that game without really having an expectation to play anything else on it. There is such a mass appeal to play that one thing that the cost of the system is worth it, as if it were a machine built with just that game to play. I have to admit all these years later, I still enjoy a round of Wii Sports Bowling. My guess is that many of the 'haters' who initially liked Wii Sports before the Wii became known as the Great Waggle Shovelware Box would still have fun with a few rounds of multiplayer Wii Sports.
There are other reasons early-adopters are not necessarily unthinking fanboys. As much criticism (often earned) as Gamestop and its ilk get from their pre-order schemes, often folks use pre-orders as a lay-away plan to get a system they could not afford otherwise. $400+ is a lot to come off of at once, but $20 every two weeks for a few months? Much more do-able. Obviously, it would make more sense to just save that much out of each check and exert self-control, but I'm no money coach. Plus, often there are pre-order incentives for reserving, or perhaps the system is a gift for a specific date (Christmas, birthday) and the cut-off for system availability is much earlier. There are indeed a few scenarios in which buying a launch system makes practical financial sense, as much as buying video games ever makes practical financial sense.
For 'core' gamers, there may be another incentive for early adoption. Historically, as consoles reach later redesigns of hardware, the thought that a console gets better with each iteration is a bit of a misnomer.
Sure, there are stacks of broken 1st gen 360s and PS2s to argue otherwise (many of them are stacked in my garage.) but consoles almost universally begin to lose
features for every revision. The examples are everywhere;
As much desired as a top-loader NES is, it outputs exclusively in RF, and has visible line noise.
Buying a Sega Genesis with the best components requires a weekend college course and study guide (http://www.sega-16.com/fo...-Genesis-2s-from-bad-ones
) but its pretty universal to say that the last versions, Model 3, are stripped down and incompatible with certain games and hardware.
My Super Nintendo Model 2 has no power LED and no native RF, S-Video, or RGB, all supported in the first model.
The original Playstation revisions lost ports used for cheat devices and (more importantly to me) system linking.
The PS2 lost its own system linking iLink port. The slim model, designed without the necessary expansion bay for the hard drive, was released the same year as Final Fantasy XI, a game that required the HD. (Boy, do I remember that. I finally convinced myself to invest in FFXI a week before the Slim was revealed.) As problematic as the PS2 system became for disc read errors, the lack of effective internal cooling meant that the Slims had their own hardware problems.
The PS3, in a rush to follow its lineage, has lost everything from USB ports, operating system options (linux), and video playback with anything besides HDMI, to backwards compatibility options (as has the Nintendo Wii.)
The Xbox360 lost its own propriety memory card ports (while gaining USB drive options, which did not help my stack of memory cards used for LAN profile swapping.)
I miss being able to play GBA games on the later DS models, and newer, brighter screens also included more ghosting.
Even the new, slimmer Vita is catching criticism for replacing the OLED screen for a newer LCD tech.
Admittedly, sometimes the difference is just personal preference; I like the feel of the original, wider Atari Lynx, and the second, smaller model (despite better battery life) was still way too big to be truly portable. Another example for me is the PS3; despite how monolithic the first generation was, all of the revisions felt cheaper and cheaper.) I prefer the heft and locking mechanism of the PSP 1000, and though it does have ghosting I like that better than the artifacts on the 2/3000.
Granted, most of what was lost in these revisions do not effect the majority of people playing games on them, and were dropped to save cost accordingly. Many features can be restored or even improved through hardware modification. And the last generation continued to add to a console's abilities (and ads) for everything from better video output to Netflix support. But a case can be made that early versions of gaming hardware include features that make them preferable to later models, and are therefore worthwhile investments. (I'm not joking when I say that part of my desire to buy an early model PS4 is directly related to Sony's history of re-designs.)
In the end, its about what a gamer wants to play. The same rules apply to a launch console as it does to every other console: don't buy a system if nothing is out or on the horizon that you want to play. I'm excited for Battlefield 4 and Destiny, and I don't game on PC, so a launch PS4 fit my parameters, especially since I have one reserved and pay a little at a time. With the Playstation Plus service promising free games starting at launch, it made the most sense to me.
Even if a difficult economy wasn't a concern, any large entertainment purchase should be a matter of thoughtful consideration, and not a snap-decision. Perhaps the same could be said about being critical of early-adopters.