Itís been the rallying cry of Sony fanboys from the beginning. Things might be bad right now, but you just wait until Metal Gear Solid 4. Then weíll see the PlayStation 3 rise up to conquer, just like the PS2 did, and youíll all be sorry for doubting it.
But will we really? Thereís a very good argument that Metal Gearís release wonít make the blindest bit of difference to the PS3ís fortunes as a format, however good it turns out to be (and thereís every chance that it will be brilliant). The reason? Things just donít work that way any more.
The industry has changed a lot since Metal Gear Solid became a killer app for the PSone. Itís changed almost beyond recognition in just the last twelve months in fact. Two major differences separate the way things are now from the way thing were then: The cost of making games and the kind of people who play them.
As much as the original PlayStation did to expand the games market past the old Ďkids and nerdsí group, gaming back then was still a relatively niche pastime compared to what it is these days. A console only had to appeal to the hardcore gamer in order to be successful, and if it had a couple of big exclusives that could snag a decent chunk of that market, it had a pretty good grounding for success. Now though, there are a lot of other people to consider. Gaming is a mainstream, mass-market pursuit, and consoles have to cater to that. Metal Gear Solid 4 unfortunately, just isnít going to cut it as part of the bigger picture.
The game looks incredible. Really incredible. But who does it look incredible to? We, the hardcore gamers. Those millions of new players who are buying consoles as part of the new expanded audience arenít the people itís going to appeal to. Put simply, thereís a very good chance that Metal Gear 4 just isnít going to sell many new consoles.
Think about it this way. Konami have repeatedly said that the reason they want to release MGS4 as a PS3 exclusive is that the PlayStation brand has been good to them over the years. But that synonymity is the problem. Hardcore MGS fans are often hardcore Sony fans as well, meaning that a lot of those machines Snake will sell have actually already been sold. And donít go thinking that this is going to be a situation like Gran Turismo, where a hardcore game sold a metric shedload of consoles by having massive cross-over appeal. GT sold to the masses because it was about driving. It was a hardcore game about something that everyone relates to in real life. Metal Gear Solid 4 isnít.
And as for all those people who became MGS fans when some of the previous games got their later multi-format re-releases? They were happy to wait then, so can you really see them rushing out to buy a second console now because Sony are saying it really is an exclusive this time?
Which brings us onto our last point.
While itís incredibly hard for any exclusive to have the broad appeal to sell to all of todayís eclectic games market, a bigger problem is that exclusives of any kind just arenít happening like they used to any more. Of course, weíre not going to say that Metal Gear Solid 4 is going to go multi-format. That way lies only the despair and bloody carnage of a fanboy turf war. But itís very easy to see how many of even our diamond-tipped granite-core gamers are going to be unconvinced to switch formats for Snakeís latest.
Modern game development costs are spiralling ever higher and itís getting less and less feasible to make a profit with a game on a single format. EA have been putting games out on every possible format as a matter of policy for years, but now everyone else is doing it too. Thatís just the way it has to be, and gamers are all too aware of that.
A new-gen Metal Gear Solid game was only ever going to be an expensive undertaking. We all knew that, and the quality of the footage weíve seen so far has confirmed that knowledge. A big budget videogame now has to sell around a million copies to be considered a worthwhile venture and so far numbers like that have been a rare occurance on the PS3 despite improving hardware sales.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is obviously going to sell very well when itís released next year, but having all of this knowledge combined with the fact that nearly all of the previous (non-PSP) Metal Gear games have migrated eventually, itís understandable that a lot of gamers arenít feeling an urgent need to buy Sonyís big black box yet. Current hardcore PS3 owners are going to have a great time on launch day, but will significant numbers of newbies be joining them for the party? Itís doubtful.