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Why are most of the PlayStation 4’s launch games boring?

While we still have to wait until 29 November, the PlayStation 4 has just been released in the States, and the reviews have flooded out, with the reception for Sony’s console being pretty consistent. While the hardware and UI are well regarded for the most part, the biggest issue at hand is the lacklustre line-up of launch games.

Small PSN titles like Resogun are well made, the multi-platform ports like Assassin’s Creed IV look decent, but the full-priced PS4 exclusives such as Knack and Killzone are bland. Of course, launch titles of all kinds tend to be a bit dull, so it’s not really much of a surprise that the PS4 is starting off with something of a slump.

When we look back at the birth of any console, we always find a number of underachievers. The Xbox 360 had Perfect Dark Zero, the PS3 had Resistance, and the Wii had Red Steel. While we do find the occasional gem like Super Mario World, those are few and far between. So, why do most launch games suck? Why are boring games almost always guaranteed for new consoles? Let’s think it through.

First and foremost, time is the biggest resource constraint for launch titles. Developers have a very small window in which to make games for launch day, so that limits the scope of the day-one titles. In addition, the developers are going to be inherently less familiar with the quirks of brand new hardware, so the overall quality of games tends to suffer while the development teams are bogged down. In fact, many developers started work on the prototype hardware long before the specs were finalised, so it’s somewhat unreasonable to expect top-tier games right out of the gate.

Risk management is also a driving factor for lacklustre launch titles. Why would Sony or Microsoft bother dumping a ton of money into securing a hot exclusive launch title when early adopters are going to buy the consoles regardless? Frankly, outstanding launch games simply aren’t required for a successful console launch at this point. Truth be told, it’s probably wiser to hold off on the heavy-hitting games until sales start to slow a bit after the launch window. Mediocre is good enough at launch, it seems.

Bear in mind that the launch line-up for the Xbox One doesn’t seem much better than the PS4’s. Forza and Ryse seem serviceable, but we’ll have to wait a while for any truly meaningful content on both platforms. Until then, all we can do is dry our tears with slightly better versions of last-gen games.

For more on Sony’s gaming beast, check out our hands-on with the PlayStation 4 which picks up on some other issues with the console, and in a more positive light, there's our piece on 6 of the best overlooked features of the PS4. We’ve also got a closer look at the PlayStation 4 teardown which praises Sony’s exemplary hardware design skills.