I am generous to suggest the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft are even worth $300. Many gamers who might disagree with me have not only invested their money; they’ve invested their hearts. Accusations of nostalgia about video games are rampant, especially when we talk about Mario and Zelda games. But the gaming community, which certainly includes journalists, seems relatively unaware of its nostalgia for overpriced video game consoles.
Of course, journalists will be quick to point out that they are simply informing the public about what’s new in gaming. The truth is muckier than that, however. The hype surrounding the PS4 and Xbox One has been of astounding proportions. In the name of consumer rights and other noble ideas, journalists have dissected Sony and Microsoft’s approaches from every standpoint imaginable. These reports have primarily caused more excitement, rather than reason, in the gaming community as evidenced by pre-order numbers and pre-order scalping. Is there anything wrong with our excitement? No, and if gamers didn’t get excited about gaming stuff, we would live in a strangely detached world. Money communicates more than excitement, though. Money spent on new consoles gives Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo a benchmark price that may or may not be reasonable for future consoles.
Unless a new console is a dismal failure like the Virtual Boy, people are not likely to say, “I regret spending $400 on this console,” even if the console is probably worth less (not to be confused with “worthless”). This brings us to the definition of “worth.” Many people will point out that worth is in the eye of the beholder. That is, what’s worth it to you might not be worth it to me. While this point may be valid, it also functions as a justification or perhaps as a defense mechanism. “Worth is subjective” is a point that any sucker in the world can use.
A practical definition of “worth” is needed. To address the amount in my headline, I paid $300 for my Xbox 360 five years ago. In fall of 2008, the 360 had a decent library of games. More importantly, Microsoft had taken steps to ameliorate the Red Ring of Death problem. In contrast, the PS4 and Xbox One are unproven systems. We don’t know how reliable they will be, and we don’t know how good their libraries will be. Even the recent indie craze doesn’t necessarily hold much promise for the consoles, given the multitude of free indie games that you can play on a PC. And as the plethora of cross-generation releases seems to show, there’s not much of a difference between the seventh generation and eighth generation of consoles. In fact, the 360 and PS3 are expected to be alive for at least a couple of more years. In the other console launches I’ve witnessed, I never saw as much evidence of such a small gap between console generations as I do now. It’s also worth pointing out that the Oculus Rift is planned to launch at $300. If the Rift lives up to its promise of virtual reality, it will be more of a step forward from the seventh generation.
With all of this in mind, the PS4 and Xbox One are not worth their starting prices of $400 and $500, respectively. As such, I advise anyone who has pre-ordered either system to sell your pre-order. You can make more money than Sony or Microsoft will make with the sale of one system. You will also have plenty of time to see whether the system is indeed worth more or as much as an established system like the Xbox 360.
I must address one more thing. Like all things overpriced, new gaming consoles can act as markers of social status in a community. However, the prestige of owning a $400 system and talking about its games is relatively unimpressive. Most popular gaming journalists are at least partially validated by this prestige, as their Twitter pages will show. For those with little financial integrity, it’s heaven.