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Console Launch Postmortem: 5 Lesson’s From Historical Wins & Fails

Summary - Console launches are exciting and have a lot to teach. Analyzing the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Nintendo 3DS, Xbox One, and Sega Saturn launches shows exactly where they went wrong and what they got right.

Marco Morales, Blogger

December 16, 2020

11 Min Read

Do console launches excite you? Bonding over a new release is a great experience.

Everyone starts talking about a launch when it happens. Memes flow like water, and even non-gamers become true believers. There's no escape. 

Many historical console launches have been absolutely terrible though. It's the reason why recent ones are quite good.

The past can help us understand how companies learn from their many mistakes, while painstakingly improving all the while. It's quite inspiring.  

Ready to see how people of the past made fun of large companies? Let’s dive straight in.


1) Wins and Fails from Xbox 360 Launch

A gaming classic, the Xbox 360 was powerful for its time and had amazing support from publishers. 

Photo by Peyman Farmani on Unsplash

It also took full advantage of the rise of online gaming and Xbox live established itself as the premier destination for multiplayer titles.

Although not an unsuccessful system by any means, we can't ignore that the original launch was overwhelmingly plagued by a high system failure rate. 



Released in November 2005: Xbox 360 was the first of a new wave of consoles. 

The Red Ring of Death: Microsoft cutting corners to beat Sony's PS3 to the market led to the Xbox being dead on arrival.

Pathbreaking Graphics: Its High-Definition graphics proved to be a major improvement over previous generations

No Family-Friendly Games: Launched in November 2006, The Nintendo Wii quickly captured the market for family-friendly games. Xbox 360’s titles were meant for “hardcore” gamers.

Seriously Affordable: Starting at an affordable $299, the console sold off the shelves quickly. 














Learning From The Xbox 360 Launch: Winning Hearts With Customer Support 

Good support from publishers is depressingly rare these days. 

However, Microsoft redeemed itself by extending its warranty coverage to three years. It repaired systems for free and even covered shipping costs.

The moves cost their earnings around $1.15 billion but went a long way to ensure the Xbox 360’s commercial success.

Their renewed focus on family-friendly games combined with the release of Kinect in 2010 reminds us that all of us, even mega-corporations, can learn and grow from our mistakes.

No wonder the 360 became a lasting cultural icon in its own right.    



2) Wins and Fails from PlayStation 3 Launch

Entering the market as a multimedia device, Sony’s PlayStation 3 boasted the Blu-ray HD disc standard, built-in wireless network interfaces, and a hard drive. 

Photo by Nikita Kostrykin on Unsplash

Sony even provided several ports for all kinds of media and cards. However, they seemed to have overlooked something: the games!

The launch titles weren’t all that impressive and its price of $600 compared to the Xbox 360s $299 was a real drawback for many.



Didn’t Break Down: Although released late, the PS 3 was sturdy and reliable unlike the 360.

Problem With Games: PlayStation 3 was notoriously hard to develop games for, and initial titles weren’t that good leading to the “PS3 has no games” meme.

Nice Multimedia Features: The PlayStation 3 could play videos, music, and display pictures. It also supported Linux!

Too Expensive: Consumers balked at its launch price of a jaw-dropping $600.












Learning From the PlayStation 3 Launch: The Game’s Not Over Till It’s Over 

PlayStation 3 actually went on to sell more consoles than the Xbox 360.

Sony initially had several problems. The PS3 was released late, was quite costly, and everyone made fun of its historically accurate giant enemy crabs presentation.

However, by March 2017, it had sold 87.4 million units as opposed to the Xbox 360’s final recorded tally of 84 million in 2014. Microsoft seemed to have just given up and did not even keep records after 2015.

In hindsight, it wasn’t that surprising. Sony continued pumping out the era’s defining games at a time Microsoft complacently coasted on the success of titles like Halo and Gears of War.


3) Wins and Fails from Nintendo 3DS Launch 

Another landmark product from Nintendo, the Nintendo 3DS aimed at revolutionizing video games with augmented reality. 

Foto de Dids en Pexels

It has a top screen that could beam games out in full auto-stereoscopic 3D, without the need for 3D glasses!

While it eventually sorted its deal out for the most part after launch, the 3DS was hampered by a terrible trifecta of things: an extremely high price, unappealing games, and an overhyped feature.




3D and AR: As the world’s first handheld 3D games console, the 3DS made history. Augmented reality provided depth to games and made players feel they were in charge of an adventure set in an aquarium.

High Launch Price:  Nintendo realized that it had overestimated what people were willing to pay and they dropped the price point from $250 to $170. 

Great DS Graphics: The 3DS had twice the resolution of the Nintendo DSi.

Poor Battery Life: The console’s three-hour battery life was pretty lackluster.










Learning From the Nintendo 3DS: Set Price Points Correctly Before Launch 

Nintendo reducing the price of the 3DS in a matter of months after launch irritated quite a few people who had paid full price.

To make amends, the company created the  Nintendo 3DS Ambassador Program which offered a bunch of free NES and Game Boy Advance titles to people who bought the 3DS at the original price.

It wasn’t really an ideal solution, but getting games like Yoshi, Metroid Fusion and others was actually pretty great.


4) Wins and Fails from Xbox One Launch 

Microsoft had great momentum running into the 8th generation, but with Xbox One’s reveal, they shot themselves in the foot. With a nuke.

Photo by Kamil S on Unsplash

The launch was a PR nightmare. It couldn’t convey Microsoft’s intentions and came across as being too focused on the Xbox as a home entertainment experience. 

Viewers were first forced to watch what films and TV shows could be seen on the Xbox One. It took a full 30 minutes of this before the first games even made their appearance.




Controller Design: The controller had a minimalist, ergonomic design with a simple plug to play compatibility that made it appealing to many.

Underpowered: Compared to rivals, the machine was underpowered. 

Excellent Multimedia: The Xbox One could play 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays. A Nov 2017 update also addedDTS:X and Dolby Atmos for audio lovers.

Mandatory Kinect: The Kinect was cool, but should have been packaged separately. 

Voice Navigation: Cortana was a pretty decent virtual assistant, although just falling shy of being great.

$100 Costlier: The Xbox was the weaker system, but priced $100 more than the PS4. That $500 tag really turned off people.
















Learning From the Xbox One: Be Clear in Your Messaging

Microsoft blew its 7-year lead in the console wars with how they portrayed the Xbox One.

Unclear messaging on the ability to share games and the Xbox needing a persistent internet connection really did them in. In fact, Sony capitalized on this with a hilarious ad about “how you share games on PS4”.

Microsoft knew Sony had made a mistake pricing the PS3 at $500. It still went ahead and did the same thing thanks to the mandatory Kinect controller.

That being said, it's perhaps a good thing for gamers that Xbox messed up so bad in its launches. Their mistake led them to provide things like cross-platform gaming, backward compatibility, and Games Pass, which were pretty consumer-friendly moves.


5) Wins and Fails from Sega Saturn Launch

Sega Saturn’s 1995 launch was objectively the worst console launch of all time. 

Photo by Adam Valstar on Unsplash

The Saturn was originally set to be launched in September 1995 on “Saturnday” and was highly anticipated.

However, the President of Sega’s Japanese branch Nakayama believed that they had to launch early to secure their presence over Sony. In the E3 event, Tom Kalinske of the American branch announced that the Saturn was already on the shelves at a price of $399.

There weren't enough machines available though. Only a few major retailers had got them, alienating the rest including Walmart. Even the games weren't ready yet.  

The final nail on the coffin was when minutes after this announcement, Sony’s Steve Race calmly approached the stage, simply said “$299” and left while the audience went wild.




Good for 2D Games: The dual CPUs were able to outperform Sony’s PlayStation when it came to 2D games.

Launch date debacle: Sega’s launch date debacle effectively killed the console by turning retailers against it.

Japanese Dominance: Its decent hardware and 3D ports made it become a best-seller in Japan.

Hard to Code For: There were several standardization issues that made it hard to develop games for it. It also had poor performance when it came to rendering 3D games.

High Price: Sony’s famous “$299” speech at E3 has gone down as one of the shortest mic drops in history.













Learning from the Sega Saturn: Be Consistent

Sometimes surprises are good. Other times they leave everyone around you feeling unprepared which is exactly what happened when SEGA decided to release the Sega Saturn several months early. 

The price point of $399 also set up Sony for one of gaming's greatest mic drops when they simply walked up during their presentation and said “$299.” 

The console may have been named Saturn but North American consumers definitely did not like it and they did not put a ring on it. The key takeaway here is companies must be consistent.



These were the top 5 lessons from history’s wins and failures. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Happy gaming!

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