In praise of early adopters
Let's hear it for friends who splash out on day one.
A few generations back, a friend and I established a pretty nice launch-day ritual. When there was new hardware to try, I'd rise at rosy dawn, grab donuts, and get on a train to meet my pal who buys every console the minute it comes out. He'd queue for video games, I'd queue for coffees, and then we'd gather at his house to spend at least 12 hours cross-legged in front of the TV.
I have no idea what he got out of this, although whenever we were in the kitchen getting refills, I'd do that hilarious thing where I make it look like the pedal bin is talking. Whatever: I can at least say that I enjoyed the whole event enormously. Early adopters are great, aren't they? Heck, there's a better than average chance that, if you're reading this, you're an early adopter yourself. Let's assume you are, and let me take a minute to show you a little appreciation. Let's catalogue the various things you do for the rest of us.
In the earliest days of a console's life, you're our demo pods - demo pods that frequently serve tea and biscuits, too, and ask us how our families are. Amazing memories! My friend and I first had our little ritual for the launches of the GameCube and the original Xbox. I can still remember those fat crows waiting for Luigi outside his mansion, the cloth physics on display as a rug disappeared into a Poltergust, those north-western climes of Halo's Truth and Reconciliation and the moment my friend first stuck a sticky grenade to the side of a sleeping grunt. Video games were amazing, but they were even more amazing than usual because they were suddenly so new again, and we weren't witnessing them on our lonesomes. We carried this on for the Wii and the PlayStation 3 and the 360, too. Bowling! Mii Plaza! The spinning, fizzing catherine wheel lights of Geometry Wars! Um, Resistance.
We failed to set a date for PS4 and Xbox One, though - probably, in part, because I now write about games for a living and the machines are available to poke around with in the office. Still, I ended up really missing our traditional launch-day celebrations. I'm not an early adopter by and large. I love games and the latest hardware, but I can never seem to get my act together in time for the big event. Over the last two decades, as a hesitant idiot, it's been a real life-saver having a friend who leaps in on day one - who's around right at the start to let me see what's really good about a new console when it's freshly in your hands and in a genuine domestic setting.
The really magical thing is this, however: even a few weeks after each generational meet-up, once I'd actually bought a console myself, the early adopters would still be there for me. Now, though, the role would have changed, and they'd be part lending library and part tech support. They'd be on hand to let me play all the games I may have missed, but which no longer had that wonderful sheen of newness that makes them truly exciting purchases. They'd also be there to fill me in when the quirks of a cutting-edge machine had me stumped. My early adopter was on hand when I had to be told my second-hand PlayStation would only really demonstrate its true next-generation power if I set it upside down. He was there when my new (silver) Gamecube only made a brzzt noise and wouldn't play anything. "Is it meant to make a brzzt noise and not play anything?" I asked him over the phone. "No, it is not," he informed me. "Does it look like the box has been dropped by the postman?"
This generation, however, the people dropping the boxes don't only work for Royal Mail. This time, Microsoft, for example, has shipped a console without basic features that its last console had - a list of features, in fact, that apparently includes various friends notifications, a hard-drive management screen, and a thing that tells you how your controller's battery life is doing.
These are not next-gen features. They're last-gen features. And who made the list of the stuff that wasn't there? Early adopters. The demo pods, lending libraries and tech support are increasingly assuming a new role: beta testers. (These days, certain betas last pretty much forever.)
Now the early adopters are helping out platform holders like Microsoft, in other words, and they're doing a typically amazing job. Here's a selection of the things we'd like you to work on, they're saying, and we've basically even prioritised them for you. This is the kind of QA department you dream of - although, granted, you'd hopefully dream for it to be internal and on a salary. It's a crowd-sourcing of precision discontent that only makes the hardware better over time.
Better for the millions of people who, for what ever reason, don't often buy consoles on day one. People who don't have to put up with a box that sometimes doesn't work, or doesn't work like it should. People who don't have to put up with friends who come round and monopolise their new stuff for huge lengths of time, even if they do pay you back by doing that thing where it looks like the kitchen pedal bin is talking to you.
Early adopters - I salute you.