Killer apps aren't worth the risk at launch

OMG new consoles! They're here! Like, for real--I just got my Xbox One in the mail. Time to hook it up and start playing some games. Let's see. There's Dead Rising. That looks kind of cool. Forza? Nah, not into driving sims much. Oh, Ryse; that one's totally next-gen, but meh. Where are Microsoft's big guns? Why am I not playing the next Gears of War? Where's the Master Chief when I need him? Where's my killer app, like the next-gen Halo?

Those big guns simply aren't here--as least, not yet. And it looks like Microsoft planned it that way. In an interview with Kotaku, Microsoft revealed why the Xbox One lacks a shiny new Halo game at launch. With developer 343 already working on Halo 4 for the 360, Microsoft felt it was a better move to release yet another Halo title on the current-gen hardware, rather than force a Spartan to hurriedly lead the charge on the next-gen launch.

It seems Microsoft isn't the only one holding back on its biggest franchises at launch. Killzone and Knack weren't the most hard-hitting franchises under Sony's belt. Seriously, PlayStation has Uncharted, God of War, and Infamous, but none of those potential killer apps were planned to release with the PS4 and kick up a next-gen buying frenzy. Hell, I don't think anyone would've minded if God of War: Ascension was scrapped entirely so that we could get a next-gen GOW launch game on PS4. It's like console manufacturers don't have the confidence to put out the big-name games at the forefront of a next-gen console launch. But really, holding off on the more popular titles until later in the console's life is probably the smarter thing to do.

You don't want to put all your eggs into one basket. The console manufacturers definitely don't want to screw up more than one of their cash cows simultaneously--which could've been the case with Halo and the Xbox One. If one failed and dragged down the other, it would end in disaster for Microsoft. That would mean Halo is no longer the shit. Master Chief is all washed up. The Xbox One is a laughing stock. And so on, and so forth. Failure in any measure would be a huge blow to those names and products. And we can't have that.

Instead, the minds behind the Xbox and PlayStation businesses put all of these high profile titles, like Halo 4 and God of War: Ascension, out on last-gen's Xbox 360 and PS3 (respectfully) in order to stay in a comfy, cozy buyer's market. That frees them up to push the inevitable next-gen sequels past the new console's terrible growing pains, sidestepping any launch snafus entirely. This seems to be the case with Halo 4's Xbox 360 release and the upcoming, unnamed Halo title.

There's an uncertainty that goes with any console launch. Hardware is bound to have problems early on, software needs gigabytes upon gigabytes of updating, and gamers need to have time to settle in with their new platform digs. It makes sense that you wouldn't want your beloved super-soldiers and god-slayers tangling with those technical monsters. It's better to let the console mascots roll up to the scene when all the major issues have been ironed out.

We haven't seen a bona fide system seller come in a console launch since Halo: Combat Evolved. Top that off with a higher percentage of console unit failures, Blu-Ray drive players munching on disks, and higher purchase prices (after you consider the expected console price drop down the line), and it looks like being an early adopter this generation is just as bittersweet as the last.

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