Weak Launch Line-Up
Launches are a tricky business; they involve a lot of luck, good marketing, and a strong line-up of games. When the original Xbox launched it had the disadvantage of coming a year after the successful launch of the PlayStation 2 and the same week as Nintendo's GameCube. But there was one thing that helped Microsoft pull it off ... a strong line-up of games. Okay, maybe not all of the games were solid, but there were certainly a few that really stood out. More specifically, one game that stood out: Halo. It was this game that managed to attract both traditional console gamers and those who normally only bought PC games, it was an amazing game that single-handedly gave the Xbox a years worth of buzz. But this time around we don't have a Halo; instead we get a lot of filler and ports of current generation games (King Kong, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, etc.). It's not that Project Gotham Racing 3 won't be a great game; it's just not that big of a draw to a new system. Perfect Dark Zero? With only a week to go before the launch of the system it seems odd that there are barely any pictures or videos about this game, and so far all of the buzz has been pretty negative. That's not to say it won't be a solid game, but will it be the draw that Halo was? If I had to guess, I would say that this is an emphatic no!
Those Pesky 2006 Systems
Ever since Microsoft announced their next generation system in May, both Sony and Nintendo have been chipping away at the hype surrounding the Xbox 360. Sony managed to shock everybody with mind-blowing visuals at E3, making most people completely forget about what Microsoft was doing. Nintendo hinted at the Revolution control for months, keeping people's attention away from the Xbox 360. And when we finally saw Metal Gear Solid 4 running in real time it was hard to look at Microsoft's new system quite the same way. Most people expect that we'll see two more systems next year, which may cause some cautious gamers to wait and see what happens. How is this different from the PlayStation 2's launch in 2000? When the PS2 was getting hyped by the media and consumers alike there was almost nothing known about the Xbox or GameCube. For all we knew the first generation PS2 games were the best we would ever get. But these days we know what the Revolution controller is all about and we have a pretty good idea of what the PS3's graphics are capable of. Not to mention that we have a solid list of popular franchises making their way to both systems, including everything from Devil May Cry 4 and Tekken to Mario and Metroid. And we still have major titles being released on the GameCube and PlayStation 2 in 2006, such as a new Zelda, Final Fantasy XII, and a sequel to Kingdom Hearts. This could be enough to make people wait a few months before making up their minds.
Game systems are often expensive when they launch, but the Xbox 360 has a few things working against it. For one thing, this is the first time since 1995 that a major player in the game industry has launched for $400, and the last one to do so was the Sega Saturn. Also, with two different price points it might lead to some confusion. But the real problem is that the $400 won't have everything you need. If you include a $60 game, a year's subscription to Xbox Live, wireless control chargers, and taxes, then you're looking at something much closer to $600. Without a lot of must-have titles to launch with, will people be willing to pay that much for the system? With so many uncertainties about other systems, future games, and even backward compatibility, it's not hard to imagine that some people might be hesitant to spend that much on an untested game system.
Some will scoff at the $400 price tag; they will whine and cry that there aren't enough solid games launching with the system. But the real problem is how many retailers are only selling the system as a packaged deal. Stores like Electronics Boutique and GameStop surprised their customers by dolling out dozens of restrictive bundles, all of which were a lot more money than people were expecting. Instead of just going in and buying a game system, most of these stores are requiring you to buy a game, accessories, and much more. Some of these bundles are just a little more than the system itself (the GameStop bundles start at $700. By far the cheapest bundle is coming from Costco, but even then you don't get to choose the game you want or the accessories you get. There will be stores that will not require you to buy a bundle, but with a majority of the game locations doing that, one has to wonder how many people will be willing to pay $700+ to get the system and some games they might not want.
The Bad Economy
The administration may disagree, but when you ask the American people it seems pretty clear that money will be tight this holiday season. For one thing there are a lot of people in the country that are now paying twice as much as they were last year to heat their homes, gas is also expensive, and a lot of American homes just don't have the spare money to spend on something like the Xbox 360. Need further proof? Stores like Toys R Us and Wal*Mart are warning customers not to expect the giant deals they have been used to, these companies have gone on record saying that they expect this year to be slower than any in recent history. How will this effect Microsoft's next generation game system? With consumer confidence at the lowest it's been in years, one has to wonder if there will be enough money left for people to actually buy this expensive system. It's not the sexiest reason, but with the wallet being stretched farther than it ever has, it may hurt the Xbox 360 in the long run. People don't want to admit it, but they need heat and gas more than they need a game machine. At least, most people do. I guess we'll see in a week or so.
We're not here to be all negative, there are certainly a few reasons the system could sell well. Obviously there are a lot of excited people as well as a few that just HAVE to be the first to own it. So instead of just playing up why it could do poorly, I have decided to list a few reason the system could sell out. Enjoy.
Three Reasons The Xbox 360 Will Sell Out!
First One Out of the Gate
Even if the games aren't great and the price point sucks, there are always a lot of people that are willing to buy into your system just because it's the first one on the market. Just look at how well the Sega Dreamcast did, only to be killed a couple of years later before the REAL competition hit. Even though we've seen what the PS3 can do, it's still a question of whether it will be worth it in the long run ... this may end up helping Microsoft in unexpected ways.
If the rumors are accurate and Microsoft really is holding back some systems to create and artificial shortage, then you can expect the mainstream media to do their part and call it the hottest gift of Christmas. The shortages of the PlayStation 2 certainly helped Sony promote their machine, and let's not forget that the Nintendo 64 was the hottest gift of 1996 ... but it was all downhill from there.
Halo Will Come Eventually
Sure there isn't a Halo-killer now, but that doesn't mean there won't be next year. Microsoft has been pressing the case that Halo 3 could make it to store shelves sometime next year, perhaps even around the launch of the PlayStation 3. And with games like Gears of War and Oblivion turning heads, some may buy the system now just to make sure they are ready for the hot games of 2006. Even if it's not at the launch, the promise of Halo 3 may be enough to motivate people to get up and buy the Xbox 360.