Opinion: PS4 and Xbox One's launches are all glitz and no glory
You've handed your hard-earned cash over and picked up a shiny new console. You take it home, and unpack it with a level of delicacy more typically reserved for a nuclear warhead. You plug it in. You slip in those first few discs.
And then you spend the next few days desperately trying to convince yourself that it was worth the money.
This week saw the PlayStation 4 take its first steps for Sony in North America. Next week, Microsoft's Xbox One will take a punt at Europe.
It doesn't matter which system you pick up, whether you pre-order, queue up at midnight or spend hours trawling up and down the high street in the vain hope of finding one in stock, the feeling that dominates once you've lugged said prized possession home is always the same.
Convince me that you're worth it. Show me something that one of the machines I've already spent thousands on can't possibly do.
Dispel those deeply buried feelings that I am, in fact, an idiot who has just dropped a stack of cash I can't afford on something that won't prove its worth for months or possibly years in the future.Been there, done that
Of course, while I've been party to such feelings in the past my Dreamcast was a week one purchase, while my Xbox and Xbox 360 were opening month gambits I say this as someone who has no intention of picking up either a PS4 or 'Xbone' any time soon.
Yet, there's a definite lesson that both Sony and Microsoft could learn from the mobile market. Or, more specifically, Apple.
There are many commentators who make a pretty penny foretelling Apple's doom.
Yet, while there are undoubtedly many issues surrounding the firm's iPhone business right now a lack of real growth outside the US and Europe, for instance there's one thing you can count on every time the Cupertino giant unveils a new iOS device: millions of people the world over will put down a pre-order as soon as as its big reveal has finished.
iPhone 5S's launch was, predictably, rather big
Without spending hours scanning Apple's shipment figures, iPhone remains on an upward trajectory and, while iPad sales appear to have fallen off the pace a touch of late, the firm's tablet is firmly in charge of the market on a device-by-device basis.
Lets put it this way: Apple sold more iPhones in 5S and 5C's opening weekend than Sony or Microsoft will sell next-gen consoles in an entire year.
On one level this rush for new smartphones year after year goes completely against logic.
I'm sure we all know someone who upgrades their phone as often as many of us change our sheets. For some reason, the mobile industry has been able to convince the average consumer that buying a new phone every 12 to 24 months is not just something they should tolerate, but actually embrace.
Consoles, however, appear to be a harder sell, even though the lengthier wait between fresh hardware should, in theory, build anticipation.
Despite their newfound multimedia platform status, consoles rarely get off to a flying start in the way iPhones or iPads do.
While Sony and Microsoft will no doubt release impressive launch night stats illustrating growth over PS3 and Xbox 360's respective debuts more to do with changes in retail practice than actual demand, I'd say I'd be willing to suggest that, within 6 or so months, we'll begin to see articles pouring over the reasons why neither system is flying off the shelves.
Both PS4 and Xbox One catch the market at a time when most people are still reluctant to loosen their purse strings.
In particular, PS Vita's abysmal run to date has in part been blamed on the state of the world economy, though that's a harder pill to swallow when compared to the continued growth of the equally expensive mobile and tablet scene.
The bigger problem the machines will have to contend with in the months ahead is the fact that, rather than coming to the table with anything genuinely innovative, both PS4 and Xbox One offer refined versions of the high-definition, multiplayer and multimedia equipped consoles they're looking to supersede.
They also launch just months after two of the most significant games of the last generation Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us 'raised the bar', making the task of those shit-we-need-to-get-this-game-out launch titles all the harder.
Flying the flag
Indeed, when you look at the launch line-ups of both systems Killzone: Shadow Fall the flagbearer on PS4, Forza Motorsport 5 and Dead Rising 3 leading the fight for Xbox One Microsoft's decision to pitch its new machine as a multimedia hub isn't surprising.
It sounds daft, but console's continued reliance on 'killer-apps' to sell units early on must be especially frustrating for executives at Sony and Microsoft.
While a certain amount of momentum is carried over from the previous generation, new consoles essentially reset the score to zero, and it's especially easy to go from the soaring heights of the Wii in one generation to the plunging depths of the Wii U in the next.
PS4's launch highlight - Killzone: Shadow Fall
The fact is, most people even hardened gamers won't consider picking up either of the new systems until they think there's a game available that will truly test the hardware behind them.
Microsoft was lucky with its first crack of the whip Halo was on Xbox from day one and, looking back, is the game that saved the console from an early extinction.
What I expect we'll see this time, however, is something more akin to PS2, where millions of consumers waited for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty to hit the stands before picking up a machine.
For Xbox One, that moment looks like being Titanfall, coming in the spring. For PS4, DriveClub is looking like the exclusive game most likely to impress.
Should either title suffer a (further) delay, that sluggish start both systems look set to endure could prove to be a rather extended one.
It is, of course, yet more evidence that the console model hardware refreshes every 5-8 years is utterly flawed.
It'll be years before either party makes a profit on their respective systems (if ever) and with the technological leap between generations shrinking with each run, convincing consumers that it's worth taking an early risk on a new system looks to be getting more and more difficult.
Will it be worth buying an Xbox One before Titanfall launches?
The days when platforms exist beyond individual units of hardware in our living rooms can't come soon enough in my book, and I hope both Sony and Microsoft take steps to evolve both PS4 and Xbox One into formats that span multiple devices. We'll have to see.
At the moment, these console launches look positively archaic compared to roll out of even moderately popular mobile hardware, with its ability to tap into stores packed full of existing and, most importantly, proven software.
If Sony and Microsoft want to move beyond these traditionally painful console launches - bonanzas that take years to plan and bleed their coffers dry before they actually pay off - they might want to tap up their friends at Apple and Samsung for their top tips.
On this score, mobile's the real next-generation.