The  10 commandments for a console launch

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posted 2/6/2007 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
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With the launch of the PS3 and Wii 3 months behind us, we've taken a look back at those launches and as well launch of the 360 and tried to come up with a set of new rules for the next major console launch.  Let's be brutally honest here, this round of console launches was not a pretty one, as people were robbed, shot, and one person even died (albeit during a stupid radio stunt) trying to get their hands on a new console.  Honestly, the only real winner in the situation was eBay as they made a truck load of money off people selling their systems on their auction system.

In coming up with these commandments we tried to keep them based in reality.  Ideally everyone who wants a console after it launches should be able to get one but the laws of supply and demand just don't work that way.   That said we have tried to have a some fun with the commandments and they should be taken with tongue firmly in cheek.

1. Thou shall not force us to kill for your system, thou shall have at least 600,000 units at launch
Look we know it's hard to hold units as you want to get them out the door so you can start making(well, losing) money on the hardware.  Resist this urge and instead make sure you have enough consoles so that people don't have to wait in line for days or pay exorbitant prices on eBay to buy your console.  Instead wait until you've got at least 600,000 units on hand so that almost everybody who wants one on launch day can get one.  Sure, there might be a shortage for a while afterwards but make sure that everybody goes home happy on launch day.  

This will also help increase attach rate as there won't be as many eBay scalpers who are trying to make a little money on eBay.  This means more money in your pocket from accessory sales.  This also makes your game developers happy as they will have more time to finish their games as well as providing them with a larger customer base to sell their games to.  It's a win-win for everyone.

Eliminating world wide launches could helps this.  Do you really need to launch globally?  Sure it looks cool on a press release but there's something to be said for using one market to build buzz and generate hype for the others.  Of course as an American I can say that because we get everything first and the only console waiting game I've had to play was for a DS Lite so take that with a grain of salt.

2. Thou shall have enough accessories to go with the system
If you've got the hardware you should have all the extra components people need to play your system with friends and family.  This includes extra controllers, video cables, and memory cards.  Sure the Wii had nearly enough units at launch but it's damn near impossible to find extra Wiimotes, Nunchuks, and component video cables without having to buy them off eBay.  This is inexcusable given the family, multi-player nature of the system.  I know predicting sales for a system is a bit of a guessing game but it is frustrating to have such a great system and not have the components necessary to play with friends and family.


3. Honor the father and the mother, do not charge more than $350 for thy next system
We all know that new technology is expensive and that hard core gamers will pay anything to get their hands on new equipment but in the future let's try to keep in mind that not all gamers or purchasers have $400-600 of disposable income around the holidays.  When you buy a console you end up paying for the console plus another $150-200 on games and accessories which turns a $400 console into $600 purchase and a $600 console into $800 purchase, both of which are just insane. 

Sure the market wants innovation but let's keep the consumers in mind with the next generation of consoles and plan accordingly.  Pick one or two new technologies and save the new ones for add on (like Microsoft did with the HD DVD drive). 

4. You shall not bear false witness against your system specs
We know that system specs are one big measuring...erm, contest but be truthful with your specs.  Sony's the big culprit here but never over-hype and under deliver. It's always better to give out the minimum specs on a machine and to add to it later. It's never good to promise something in there only to cut it out down the road. Don't dazzle us with pre-rendered footage and claim that it's running in real time or give us numbers based on reference samples for a processor.  We know the hype machine is fun to run but it's better to set the expectations low and then surpass them than over promise and under deliver.


5. You shall not steal extra money from us by not including key components in the box
If you're going to claim to be a high definition gaming system you need to include the cables it will take to play your system in HD in the box.  I get that you're losing money on the hardware at the launch of the system but it seems cheap when people have to spend another $30-40 to play the system in HD.




6. Remember a gaming day and keep it holy (release new online content on a consistent basis)
If you're going to have a system which can download content, pick a day every week to release new content.  Music and movie fans know that every Tuesday they can hit the store and buy new content.  Pick one day a week like Microsoft (Wednesday) and Nintendo have (Monday) and stick with it.  No random day of the month crap, pick one day and stick with it.  Companies will need to plan ahead to make they have a full pipeline of content lined up though.  Gamers are more likely to accept the occasional weak release as opposed to a week without any content.

7. You shall not covet your neighbors titles, make sure you have at least three solid first party launch titles
Launch lineups are notoriously weak, you know you're going to get a few games from Activision, a shovelware version of Madden that's been hastily ported to the system, and maybe a few Ubisoft titles.  Game development for a new console is tricky as developers are coding towards a moving standard but every console launch should have at least three quality first party titles to help get gamers through that slow period at the start of the launch.  The closest thing we got with this generation was the Xbox 360 with Kameo, Project Gotham Racing 3, and Perfect Dark: Zero but you really need at least three quality titles to keep people interested (put down the torches Wii owners, I'm not discounting Zelda but it was the only first party title Nintendo released with the Wii). [UPDATE: I forgot about Excite Truck, I don't include Wii Sports as it was a pack-in for the system in the US.]

 
8. You shall not commit gaming adultery, backwards compatibility should be an all or nothing deal
Look you either support backwards compatibility or you don't.  Don't just support the top games or support the games in a crappy low resolution mode.  You either support it or you don't.  Gamers shouldn't have to check an online list to see if their games are playable on the next generation system and then pray that they will be.  In the immortal words of my father "Take a dump or get off the pot", either you support all the games or you don't.  Having a half-baked approach to this just confuses frustrates people as they have to wonder if a game is going to be workable on the new platform.


9. Thou should have good tech support and a solid replacement policy in place for defective units
Nothing is worse than purchasing a new high tech gadget only to have it break down after a few days or weeks of use. Factor in having to deal with customer service and it just leaves a really big sour taste in your mouth.  All products (especially cutting edge electronics) are going to have a certain defect rate and we're not asking for a 100% defective free launch. Just don't make getting a replacement for your defective unit a hassle as you want the consumer to continue using your console and to purchase more games and peripherals for it. A working console is a profitable console so don't make it hard for consumers to get a replacement console if theirs goes bad.

10.  Future launches will launch with one and only one SKU
Two SKUs for a console launch are something that's been tried and should now be officially buried.  Sure you can say that people still bought the lower end SKU's for the 360 and PS3 at launch but given how scarce units were at launch I don't think everyone who bought a lower end unit would have made the same decision if a higher end sku would have been available.  Not only does this cause customer confusion but it means that you add variability into the console configuration and isn't that the main benefit of consoles? 

Hopefully these guidelines will help eliminate some of the ugliness that we saw with the current next generation launch.  I'm sure there will be other problems but hopefully there won't be the violence, camping, and massive eBay profits from the next major console release cycle.