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Mid-generation: The Fight for the Late Adopters

What's going to be the trick to getting casual gamers on board this console generation?

At this point in the generation, most core gamers have made their choice, siding with Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo (or opting out of consoles and turning to PC instead). It's an interesting time then when the first-parties do their best to try and widen the audience of their console, typically by making it more affordable and offering software that's designed to pull in those who might not otherwise buy a console.

Microsoft famously kicked off the generation with this sort of strategy and it backfired completely. The key is that you get the core users on board first, their positive word of mouth is vital to late adopters coming on board. Switch is obviously in a different position than PS4 and Xbox One as it is the new kid on the block, but Labo certainly signals that Nintendo is ready to look beyond the 25-40-year-old veteran gamer males who make up the bulk of today's Switch owners. And while Switch may be some years off its mid-life point, the generational cycle doesn't really change much. If anything Nintendo seized the opportunity to become the "second console" for a bunch of early adopters of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

At this stage of the generational cycle, you're looking for a few different sorts of users. Early adopters looking for a second console. Kids who have grown old enough for a high-end console during the generation (and parents looking for an excuse to get one). More casual gamers who may not feel the urge to have the latest console right away, but still enjoy a game of Call of Duty, FIFA or Madden every now and then. There is a number of ways to appeal to these groups, and they do have some things in common with regards to what they're looking for.

What's key to making a successful mid-generation push then?

Pricing is naturally one key. While both Sony and Microsoft made an effort to double down on core users with PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, the real weapons here are the cheaper slim models that can be bundled with appropriate software. Nintendo naturally are in a different position where they'll likely want to maintain the price as high as possible for as long as possible, but they've got a unique selling point and are still the new ones on the market, so as long as they stay within the same sort of range as PS4 and Xbox One S they should be fine. They also have a particular edge when it comes to the younger segment given their child-friendly profile.

We're very curious to see who gets the privilege of promoting their console with Red Dead Redemption 2 as it drops during the second quarter, and by "gets" we naturally mean who gets to pay up.

Mid-generation: The Fight for the Late Adopters
There's no doubting that Red Dead Redemption 2 will be key to console sales this spring.

Software for a broader audience

In the past, Sony has had some major success catering to a more casual audience. The height of the Singstar era and even things like Buzz and EyeToy come to mind. This generation they've mainly been focusing on catering to core gamers, but an initiative like PlayLink is clearly aimed at providing an experience that is more approachable to a wider spectrum of gamers. The main problem with PlayLink is visibility, and it's doubtful that Sony reaches out to its intended audience with these smaller digital titles. It does have the potential to gain interest via word of mouth or trying it out at a friend's house but compared to something like Singstar it just doesn't command as much attention.

It should be said though that compared to the competition Sony are throwing out the widest net when it comes to first party offerings, whether that's the Ratchet & Clank remake, their PlayLink titles, providing something as rare as a baseball game (a big deal for the American market), VR offerings, Dreams, to stuff like Gran Turismo, God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and The Last Guardian. Surely, they'd love to find something that's a mainstream hit to go with this, but the breadth on offer exclusively on PlayStation 4 is already a very good selling point.

Mid-generation: The Fight for the Late Adopters
Sony surely wants to do it again, but what's their next casual stroke of genius?

Where does Nintendo Labo fit into this?

Some were shaking their heads at Nintendo's new cardboard plans, while others were enthused by the potential for fun. Surely, many parents considered the many potential trappings of having their kids play with what's essentially very expensive cardboard. Nintendo has sometimes been said to approach the market with the mindset of a toy company looking to provide the market with the "toy of the year", the limited release of NES Mini being an example of this. And Labo certainly has that sort of feel to it, it could be massively huge one Christmas season, but will it have staying power? Regardless, it's easy to see Labo taking up a lot of space and attention in stores come the next holidays and that's what Nintendo is after. They want a big presence and they're looking to capture a new generation of gamers with Switch and Labo in combination. The one big problem they'll run into is whether or not parents will deem that combination affordable or not, but if there's enough kicking and screaming, kids tend to get what they wish for underneath the Christmas tree.

As usual, Nintendo goes their own way, and that typically works out well for them. If it doesn't, they'll have something else to turn their attention to.

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What about Xbox One?

Microsoft already made a play for this space early on with the Xbox One being pitched as a device to sit in the middle of the living room rather than up in a teenage boy's room. It backfired and the strategy was completely revamped. This time around Microsoft are essentially making a move that makes sense to the wallets of potential console owners. Xbox Game Pass was great value when it launched last summer, but as it will now include all the first-party exclusives going forward it means it will have a much more prominent place in the promotion of the console. The lure of getting an Xbox One S with six months of Xbox Game Pass offering you access to more than 100 games, including potentially a new Halo or Forza that's just been released, is going to be hard to compete with for Sony in markets where Xbox isn't already completely irrelevant (this is already the case in many parts of Europe).

Sony may have similar plans in their back pocket and their superior first-party line-up would make it all the more enticing, but as the market leaders, they're unlikely to want to shake things up and launch a potentially disruptive subscription scheme. Xbox Game Pass will appeal to casual fans looking for their first new console this generation, but also to old Xbox 360 users who picked up a PS4 at the start of the generation. Now they've got an opportunity to pick up a cheap Xbox One S (or even Xbox One X) and they'll get to play all those exclusives they've missed out on for a rather cheap (£7.99) monthly fee.

The key for Microsoft moving forward is naturally to supply those enticing first-party titles, if they don't then no-one will care about Xbox Game Pass. The last couple of years have not been great from Microsoft Game Studios, and perhaps we'll also see them pick up some decent third-party titles for day one launch on the service in the future.

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What about the software?

Microsoft's new move also distracts from the fact that their next few exclusive games were unlikely to be million sellers at regular pricing. In all honesty, it would have been surprising to see Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3, and State of Decay 2 lighting up the charts, even more surprising if they had an impact on hardware sales. This way, thanks to the Xbox Game Pass initiative, the barrier to entry is lowered, and particularly for Sea of Thieves (a game that will rely on a thriving community), this makes all the sense in the world.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Sony who appears to have a stellar 2018 ahead of them with first-party titles that will likely sell a lot (God of War, Spider-Man) and titles that will offer something different (Detroit: Become Human, Dreams, Concrete Genie), and wildcards (Days Gone).

Nintendo seems to take a slow approach to the first half of the year, with a couple of Wii U ports and a new Mario Tennis lined up, but the potential for a new main Pokémon title, Super Smash Bros., Metroid Prime 4, and Animal Crossing this year (to go with the wild card that is Labo) means they could have an amazing second half, but as usual with Nintendo it's purely speculation.

In all of this we haven't mentioned the biggest gaming platform (apart from mobile) there is, namely PC. In many ways, it sits alone without the same sort of strategies as employed by first-party console manufacturers. It's an organic platform that moves and changes according to the audience. It's both extremely hardcore (PC Master Race) and casual (Candy Crush on Windows 10), quite frankly it's difficult to factor it in as it's such a sprawling platform. What we can say is that when consoles fail to meet the expectations of players there's a rise in the number of PC players. Somewhere in the Valve offices there's someone hoping Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all fail to win over the late adopters.

We're in for an exciting time and while typically the mid-generation war is won by the company with the most momentum going in (Nintendo or Sony), there are actually valid arguments to be made for each of the platforms. We do, however, have a sinking feeling that once 2018 is summed up, Switch will have sold the most consoles, but we've been known to have been wrong once or twice in the past...

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