The PS4 has now made its way around the gaming and tech media outlets, and the reception is pretty consistent. While the hardware and UI are well regarded for the most part, the biggest issue at hand is the lackluster launch line-up. Small PSN titles like Resogun are well made, the multi-platform ports like Assassin’s Creed IV looks decent, but the full-priced PS4 exclusives like Knack and Killzone are bland. Of course, launch titles of all kinds tend to be a bit dull, so it’s not really much of a surprise that the PS4 is starting off with something of a slump.
When we look back at the birth of any console, we always find a number of underachievers. The Xbox 360 had Perfect Dark Zero, the PS3 had Resistance, and the Wii had Red Steel. While we do find the occasional gem like Super Mario World, those are few and far between. So, why do most launch games suck? Why are boring games almost guaranteed for new consoles? Let’s think it through.
First and foremost, time is the biggest resource constraint for launch titles. Developers have a very small window in which to make games for launch day, so that limits the scope of the day-one titles. In addition, the developers are going to be inherently less familiar with the quirks of brand new hardware, so the overall quality of games tends to suffer while the development teams are bogged down. In fact, many developers started work on the prototype hardware long before the specs were finalized, so it’s somewhat unreasonable to expect top-tier games right out of the gate.
Risk management is also a driving factor in lackluster launch titles. Why would Sony or Microsoft bother dumping a ton of money into securing a hot exclusive launch title when early adopters are going to buy the consoles regardless? Frankly, outstanding launch games simply aren’t required for a successful console launch at this point. Truth be told, it’s probably wiser to hold off on the heavy-hitting games until sales start to slow a bit after the launch window. Mediocre is good enough at launch, it seems.
Finally, you have to remember that the new consoles will have a very limited audience in the launch window. At best, you’ll see a few million sold around launch, but the previous generation consoles already have upwards of 80 million users each. Big titles like Grand Theft Auto 5, The Last of Us, and Gran Turismo 6 will simply sell more copies on the older hardware right now, so it comes down to a clearcut decision focused on maximizing profit.
Keep in mind, the launch line-up for the Xbox One doesn’t seem much better than the PS4′s. Forza and Ryse seem servicable, but we’ll have to wait a while for any truly meaningful content on both platforms. Until then, all we can do is dry our tears with slightly better versions of last-gen games.