Why Video Game Console Launch Titles Don’t Matter

The past year has been an interesting one for the video game industry and its many fans. Not only are we treated to 2 brand new video game consoles, but another is even on it’s way this year.

New hardware comes around once every 5 or more years, so excitement should be fever-pitch by now, however certain media organisations and bloggers have slammed console makers for launching their products with “no games”, or a “lack luster lineup”.

As you’re about to see, the first few months – or indeed year – does not really matter in terms of overall success for video game consoles. We look to the past console launches which include some of the most profitable consoles ever released to hopefully prove that modern consoles will prevail despite their initial release games.

(Note: in order to make this post as readable as possible, we narrowed down the consoles to companies that are still making the consoles; Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft).

Nintendo Entertainment System – 1983

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The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is largely considered the console that started it all. It was really the first popular video game console on a global scale, even though it touched down in what is known as the “third console generation”.

But for all it’s notoriety, it might shock some modern gamers to know that the console launched with only three games originally; Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye, the latter being a Donkey Kong clone.

The console took two years to land on shelves outside of Japan, by that time there were around 18 games, among them Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. While it’s fair to say that the US launch was a much bigger affair than it’s Japanese launch in terms of game volume, it’s also just as fair to acknowledge the two year difference and what that obviously meant for developers.

Despite of it’s slow start in the game department, NES was a huge success and went onto selling 62 million units. In fact, it was so popular that Nintendo actually continued to manufacture it until 2003, when the company moved it’s manufacturing out of Japan.

The NES boasts a game library of some 800 titles.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System – 1990

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Next up was the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) which hit store shelves originally in 1990 with a whopping 2 games. These titles were F Zero, a futuristic racing game, and Super Mario World.

A year later, and the SNES was still lacking for it’s US launch, this time Nintendo only managed to put out five titles, the already mentioned two including Sim City, Pilotwings and Gradius III.

The console continued to attract developers and game fans, however, and the console went onto selling a cool 42 million units worldwide; diluted, no doubt, to the competition Sega were bringing at the same time.

The total amount of games released on SNES almost mirror that of the NES; there were 786 video games released in it’s lifetime.

Sony PlayStation – 1994

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Sony’s first dip into the console waters after a stunning exit from the Nintendo R&D facility was much more catered to the Japanese market than anything else. Still, the PlayStation had a pretty modest launch lineup, with only 8 titles being released, the highest rated being Ridge Racer.

The US launch a full year later had more variety and included 8 titles again, this time starring Rayman, Air Combat and Street Fighter: The Movie.

But like we’ve already explored, the initial release lineup had little baring on the console’s overall performance in the marketplace – Sony went onto selling over 100 Million units and claim they’ve released over 4,000 games for the system (though, that’s taking into account the same game released in multiple territories – the actual number comes down to 1,100).

Nintendo 64 – 1996

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Nintendo’s 64-bit console dwarfed the PlayStation in terms of raw power, however it was apparently somewhat difficult to develop games for, as a result only two titles launched for the console – Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64.

European players a year later were treated to four launch titles, the additions being Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.

The ’64 was hardly a failure, it sold over 40 million units worldwide but thanks to Sony’s aggressive marketing and 3rd party connections, only 387 games were ever released for the console.

It’s worth pointing out, however, that the Nintendo 64 is home to the most highest rating games with titles like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time largely considered to be the very best video game ever made.

Sony PlayStation 2 – 2000

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Sony’s PlayStation 2 console is actually still being sold today, so it’s hard to consider it by any means a flop. But can we really contribue it’s success to the launch titles?

The console launched with one of the most robust lineups so far, with 10 titles being available in Japan at launch. Ridge Racer V, Street Fighter EX3 and Eternal Ring were some of the standout titles, the bulk of the rest being quick and easy puzzle type games.

Six months later, the US launch was much more exciting – 29 games were available at launch and included games like Timesplitters, Dead or Alive 2 and SSX. Still, by today’s standards, not too much catered for the “hardcore gamer”, with a lot of the titles being from the Sport genre – indeed one of PlayStation 2′s most heavily relied on genre.

Today, 2016 games have been released for the PlayStation 2.

Nintendo GameCube – 2001

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When it came to hardware performance, GameCube was king – but the console again launched with only a handful of titles.

In Japan, only three made it out for launch. These games were Luigi’s Mansion, Wave Race: Blue Storm and Super Monkey Ball. Two months later, the US version launched with a more healthy 12 titles all up, among them included Crazy Taxi, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, which was all the rage back then.

European gamers had to wait another 6 months, but in that time acquired a few more titles – 20 in total. Standout games included Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, Burnout and Donald Duck: Quack Attack.

Despite it’s flurry of awesome games (Wind Waker, anyone?), the GameCube was Nintendo’s least popular console and sold only 21 million units worldwide – however thanks to Satoru Iwata’s keen financial knowledge (which eventually earned him a promotion to CEO of the entire company), it was so profitable that the sales didn’t even matter in the end.

GameCube also boasts a fairly decent library of 638 games in total.

Microsoft Xbox – 2001

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Microsoft surprised everyone with it’s release of the Xbox in 2001. Being all American, the console launched in the US first and had 12 games ready to go at launch. These included Project Gotham Racing, Cel Damage, and Dead or Alive 3. Halo: Combat Evolved was also a launch title.

A year later, and European gamers only had a couple of extra titles to choose from at launch, the most prominent being Max Payne and Jet Set Radio.

968 games were released for the original Xbox console which only went onto sell 24 million units worldwide, just 3 million more than the GameCube.

Xbox 360 – 2005

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Xbox’s sales prompted Microsoft to jump the gun and release an all new console in 2005 which is, obviously, still being sold today as a “current generation” console.

Xbox 360 launched with 19 games in total – Kameo: Element of Power, Call of Duty 2, Perfect Dark Zero, and Ridge Racer 6 were standout titles. European gamers only had to wait a month this time around, but they were presented with only 15 titles to choose from – the bulk being sport titles, much like the US release.

Japan had even less – only 5 games were released, the only unique title being Tetris: Grand Master Ace.

So far, Xbox 360 has 887 games released, with more on the way this year and next, and has sold over 67 million console units worldwide.

Sony PlayStation 3 – 2006

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PlayStation 3 dropped in Japan a cool week before the US, but only had five titles on offer at launch. It wouldn’t be a launch without Ridge Racer 7, the others being Resistance: Fall of Man, Genji: Days of the Blade, Mobile Suit Gundam: Target in Sight and Sega Golf Club.

The US launch was a little better with 13 games in total. Call of Duty 3, 5 sports games (NHL, NBA, etc), and Untold Legends: Dark Kingdoms were highlights.

So far, the PlayStation 3 has the least games released on a Sony platform, with only 755 titles out (a far cry from their earlier claim to “over 4000″ on PSOne). To date, Sony have sold just over 63 million consoles worldwide.

Nintendo Wii – 2006

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Nintendo surprised fans when they announced the new console will not feature High Definition graphics, but a revolutionary new motion controller that ended up changing the way we interact with televisions, mobile phones and all other game consoles.

Wii launched in the USA before Japan which was very uncharacteristic of the company. It launched with a healthy 21 games in total, some of the highlights include The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Call of Duty 3, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Red Steel and Wii Sports.

Japan was treated to just 18 games, but had titles like Elebits, Wii Play and Trauma Centre: Second Opinion at launch.

Europe, on the other hand, had 23 games to choose from – probably because the console came out a month later. Far Cry: Vengeance , Splinter Cell: Double Agent and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance stand out as highlights.

Wii’s success was massive – in just 5 years, the console sold over 100 million units and currently has more games than any other current generation console, at last count there were 1,220 titles available for Wii.

Handheld Consoles

Handheld consoles have always been huge in the sales department, so let’s next check out how the launch of handheld consoles stack up.

Nintendo Game Boy – 1989

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Game Boy is a console that puts almost all home consoles to shame – it sold over 120 million units worldwide from some very humble beginnings.

Only four games launched alongside the Japanese version Game Boy – Super Mario Land, Alleyway, Baseball and Yakuman. The US version which came four months later ditched Yakuman in favor of Tetris and added Tennis to the lineup.

In total, a whopping 1,314 game titles were launched for the console in its lifetime. For the sake of argument, we also included GameBoy Colour games in this total.

Nintendo GameBoy Advance – 2000

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Game Boy Advance had a much more robust lineup than the original Game Boy console, sporting a healthy 18 titles at launch. The highlights included F Zero: Maximum Velocity, ChuChu Rocket!, Rayman Advance and Super Mario Advance.

Over 1,500 games were released on Game Boy Advance in its lifetime with a total sales of 90 million worldwide.

Nintendo DS – 2004

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Nintendo’s next generation handheld console ditched the “Game Boy” title and sported two screens – one of which was a touch screen; a first for video game consoles.

The Nintendo DS’ launch is an interesting look at how consoles may not actually have to rely on their first games. DS launched in the US before Japan with only six games and one demo. Those games were Super Mario 64 DS, Asphalt Urban GT, The Urbz: Sims in the City, Feel the Magic: XY/XX, Spider-Man 2 and Madden NFL 2005. The demo was for Metroid Prime Hunters and was packaged with the system.

Japan only had to wait a week, but received 12 titles at launch – Pokemon Dash, WarioWare: Touched! and Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits were the additions highlights.

Even though Nintendo DS had a pretty weak launch lineup, it went on to being the most successful video game console ever released with over 153 Million consoles sold worldwide – and counting. The worldwide library of games totals over 2,000.

Sony PlayStation Portable – 2004

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PlayStation Portable was a reminder of video game console releases of yesteryear – Japan had first dibs in 2004 with with six titles to choose from. They were Armored Core: Formula Front, Mahjong Fight Club, Everybody’s Golf Portable, Lumines, Vampire Chronicle: The Chaos Tower and what Sony console launch would be complete without Ridge Racer?.

Six months later, the US were given 16 launch titles to choose from – Metal Gear Acid, Twisted Metal: Head-On and Wipeout Pure were among the highlights. Europeans had to wait a further 6 months, by this time there were 24 games to choose from; Dynasty Warriors, Ape Academy and Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower were among the better additions.

PlayStation Portable had a harder time in the marketplace than Nintendo DS, selling 72 million consoles worldwide. While you can still buy one today, currently there are a modest-by-comparison 722 games available on the console.

The Latest Hardware

2011 saw the release of Nintendo 3DS and Sony PlayStation Vita consoles. The general opinion in the media and on online blogs is that both consoles failed to inspire a huge level of enthusiasm amongst customers.

Though it’s fair to point out that these are the first console launches where the internet has been a huge part of the general public’s daily life and, as such, previous console launches have never been scrutinised so severely.

But are they really that bad? Now that we’ve examined the launch of all the previous consoles and how they turned out, let’s check out these new modern consoles.

Nintendo 3DS – 2011

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Nintendo 3DS launched in Japan with 12 titles in total – mirroring the lineup total of Nintendo DS (the most popular console ever made). Highlights included Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle, Samurai Warriors: Chronicles and Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition.

One month later, the console launched in Europe with 17 games – Rayman 3D, Pilotwings Resort and Ridge Racer 3D came along for the ride. Two days later, the console launched in the US with 18 games, the notable addition being Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars.

The console has been on the worldwide market for just over one year and already has over 20 million sales under its belt. So far, there are 188 game available for the console at retail, and an extra 90 games made specifically for the 3DS available worldwide on the online-only eShop bringing the total to 270 – a mean feat for one year.

Sony PlayStation Vita – 2011

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Sony PlayStation Vita was unleashed to the public in Japan in December, 2011 with a whopping 25 games at launch – second in volume only to the PlayStation 2. Highlights included – you guessed it – Ridge Racer, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

The rest of the world had to wait until February 2012 to get their hands on the Vita, but were rewarded with a total of 32 games at launch which is more than the PlayStation 2. Included in the additions were Rayman Origins, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend, Michael Jackson: The Experience HD and ModNation Racers: Road Trip.

Despite it’s huge library, PlayStation Vita’s sales were significantly slower than it’s rival, Nintendo 3DS who launched with a much more modest selection. So far, Vita has managed 1.8 million sales since launch, and as it stands today, there are only 53 games released for the console with many more on the way.

Conclusions

As we can see, the amount launch titles of a console have little-to-no baring on the overall success of the console. The quality of those first launch titles really doesn’t seem to have much to do with the long term success or quality of the games that appear on those consoles, either.

So all this scrutiny, speculation, opinions and analyst analysis about the state of the video game industry based off modern console launches are stretching the believability incredibly thin; we can’t be expected to believe that Nintendo 3DS is failing because it “only launched with Ridge Racer” – if that were true, PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and every console since would’ve failed miserably.

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Likewise, even though PlayStation Vita has had a “slow” start, this can’t really be attributed to the launch titles. Even if it were, almost 30 years of history tells us that these consoles are on track to be winners.

This year, Nintendo Wii U will launch with over 30 titles. Will it suffer the same negativity that the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita has, simply because those titles aren’t what people have been wishing for?

What are your thoughts on the modern console launches? Do you think they will emulate the success of the past? Or will they all just burn and crumble?

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  • raindog469

    I realize you’re venturing back to consoles released probably before you were born, but while Donkey Kong was originally conceived as a licensed Popeye game and had its characters changed when Nintendo couldn’t get a license at the time, the game eventually released as Popeye doesn’t even include jumping as a play mechanic.

    The rest of the article is a pretty apt analysis of the importance (or lack thereof) of launch titles.

    • AussieGamer

      Oh! I just re-read that part now and thinking back to when I wrote it, it was more supposed to sound like “Popeye was similar to Donkey Kong”, rather than using the term “clone” as one would use it when talking about video games. My bad, Thanks for pointing that out :)

      Also, I’m a NES baby haha – not that anyone wants my life story. Mind you, one of the very first video games I remember playing was on the Apple II – it was some green and black flight simulator haha

      Thanks for reading!

      • raindog469

        I played all three games in the arcade first and then on the Colecovision. By the time my little brother got a NES, I had a Commodore 64 and was more interested in other things… the next console I owned was a Gamecube, unless you count the Atari a friend gave me to test with in the 90s when I was writing games for it as a hobby.

        I’ve been following the industry the whole time, though, and looking forward to seeing what the Wii U can do. Cheers!

  • Yogsoggoth

    Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle was not a launch title for the 3DS it launched in October of 2011. A true highlight of the launch was Ghost Recon.