The ideal time to buy a new console – Reader’s Feature


It’s never too late to buy a new console (pic: Sony)

A reader sets out the four stages of a console’s life and advises on when the best – and cheapest – time is to buy a new one.

For whatever significance the 202nd decade AD brings to humanity as a whole, in terms of gaming it promises to be one to remember. If nothing else for the fact that the outgoing Xbox and PlayStation systems are passing their respective batons to their successors.

Generational console updates are fascinating things and are the subject as much to furore and hyperbole as they are to scrutiny. But, however much we may all look forward to the launch of a new super system, not everyone buys one at launch. Sony and Microsoft have made no secret that they’re working on new hardware, and yet the marketing juggernauts behind their current offerings have continued unabated.

For example, even though monthly system sales have slowed for the PlayStation 4 in the last holiday period, Sony still managed to sell millions of the things; even at what is a stubbornly high price point for this point in its life cycle.

Which leads me to the question at hand: when the best time is to invest in a new, contemporary console. I believe there are four distinct phases.

The Release Window Buyer
There’s nothing more exciting than owning a new console on ‘day one’. That feeling of having bleeding edge console tech before 99% of your friends is difficult to beat, and not because gamers are shameless braggarts (or not just because of that), but because sharing that new console experience with friends is a wonderful thing.

I’ve not strictly been a Day Wunner myself but had the privilege of owning an import Dreamcast before the PAL release back in 1999, so can vouch for how awesome it feels to have the system before everyone else you know. The excitement is tangible and by jumping in first you certainly influence your friends’ chosen system.

For all the excitement though, the drawbacks are numerous. A paper-thin library of titles that usually doesn’t set the world alight. For every Halo: Combat Evolved there are five games of Killzone Shadowfall or Ryse quality. Then you have your cross-gen games which are either barely distinguishable from the previous generation (see Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag) or have been truncated due to rushed development on a new engine (FIFA has form for this) and the benefits of the upgrade from a game perspective are smaller.

Add to this the more modern frustrations of half-baked interfaces, missing features and failing systems (Red Ring of Death, Yellow Light of Death, failing Joy-Cons) and you almost feel like a console beta tester for your money. And yes, it is a lot of money to buy a machine on or near release.

You may even get a motion camera you never wanted too.

But despite all this, nothing in gaming quite compares to the raw thrill of having a brand-new gaming box fresh off its launch.

Xbox One S – almost an impulse purchase (pic: Microsoft)

The Mid-Cycle Price Drop Poachers
Since most people don’t buy a console on release, given the drawbacks, the next phase I see covers a wider window of two to three years.

During this time we usually see several important shifts in a console’s life cycle. The first being that all-important initial price drop. Depending on the system’s success this can be anywhere between six months to two years (unless it’s a Nintendo Switch). By this time the library is more diverse, with more must-have gems that make better use of the modern tech.

Older games are cheaper too. The console may even have its own Platinum/Classics/Budget/Bargain bin line, so you can expend your library on your new console quickly, easily and cheaply.

You will also see hardware revisions, which will either be highly publicised like the Switch Lite and Xbox One S or deployed with little fanfare, much in the way some of the various Mega Drive, Saturn, PlayStation 1 and PS2 revisions snuck out. In either case, it usually means better economies of scale and more cost-cutting.

Most importantly, that one game that tips you over the edge may finally be available. For me, after dropping its price and the Kinect sensor, Halo 5 tipped me over the edge for the Xbox One. For the Wii U it was Super Mario 3D World, for PlayStation 3 it was LittleBigPlanet 2, for PlayStation 2 it was GTA 3, for Xbox 360 it was Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 (don’t ask). In those cases, a game I deemed unmissable coupled with a more affordable price made me take the plunge.

The Belated Bargain Buyers
Buying a console at the end of its life is an odd thing. How do you know it’s at the end of its life? Usually rumours of its successor are gathering pace and the release schedule tends to become more vague and thin as its price tends to tumble more so than ever.

You’ve seen it in every generation, where a contemporary console can be picked up for a relative pittance alongside a few games. This is the main benefit of waiting it out to this stage. Whether it’s because you were hesitant to make the jump into the generation as a whole or because you had plumped for a rival’s machine earlier on, there’s a lot to gain from picking up a console when it’s in its twilight years.

I remember picking up a GameCube, brand new, for £30 in Currys when they were making shelf space for the soon-to-be-launched Xbox 360 in 2005. That’s an extreme example. More common is seeing new consoles for around a third of their launch price or less than £100 second-hand, much like the Xbox One now.

Interestingly, the PlayStation 4 seems to have bucked this trend, stubbornly clinging to a circa £249 price point that the slim version launched with years ago, just £150 less than its launch price.

And it’s this which prompted me to write this piece, since my wife was awesome enough to buy me a PlayStation 4 for Christmas. With the PlayStation 5 less than a year away, does that provide good value? I’d say yes. The library of the console is enormously impressive and since exclusives such as God Of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Bloodborne and many more can be had for less than a tenner if you shop around, you can amass a great library very quickly.

Add to this a great selection of games due in the first half of 2020, including The Last Of Us Part 2, and it’s still a great time to become a PlayStation 4 owner. Several million gamers in the last couple of months would seem to agree.

Sometimes, buying a console in its death throes can be the best time!

It might be a while till the Switch is cheap (pic: Nintendo)

The Dead Console Dealers
Okay, death does sound a little too final in this context, given many consoles are supported after their successor is released, but there’s no argument with regards to saying they’ve dropped out of mainstream support like Windows 7.

With no new games, save for a few legacy releases, you’d be forgiven for thinking the ship had sailed on a no-longer-current console, but you’d be wrong.

Sure, there’d be no new triple-A releases, online arenas might become increasingly sparse, and you may have seen your last system update, but if you’re diving into a what is essentially a last gen system then you’re in for a treat.

If you thought games and systems were cheap before, they will be at literally bargain basement levels by now. Granted, you won’t find many new (especially if production has stopped) but they’ll all be dirt cheap, with even cheaper games. As an example, just take a look at Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 stock now in your local CeX. You could get all three mainline Gears Of War and Uncharted games and still have change for £10. And that’s just for starters!

Just don’t leave your acquisition of dead console software for so long that it becomes ‘retro’, at which point the titles will probably start becoming expensive again…

Conclusion
So, when is the best time to buy a console?

I’m predictably copping out and saying it’s up to you! I’ve enjoyed buying games at each stage of various systems lives. I had a Dreamcast around its PAL launch; an Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, and Xbox One all bought and enjoyed during early price drops; a GameCube, PlayStation 3, and now PlayStation 4 in their final years; with a PlayStation 1 and SNES both purchased after they’d been supplanted by their successors.

It all depends on the games you love and what you want from your system!

By reader Daniel Driver
Swooper D (gamertag)
swooper_d (PSN ID/Steam ID/Twitter)

The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

You can submit your own 500 to 600-word reader feature at any time, which if used will be published in the next appropriate weekend slot. As always, email gamecentral@ukmetro.co.uk and follow us on Twitter.





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