When do you know that it’s time to replace that little black box that sits under your TV?
I received my first games console at Christmas 1990, when Santa Claus gave me the original NES console, with Super Mario Bros. and Duckhunt with the kickass orange lightgun. That was 26 years ago, and every year since then I have been in possession of one games console or another. The latest one I have is a PlayStation 3, which I have had since December 2008 (a Christmas gift from my mother. Santa Claus stopped believing in me a long time ago). In those almost 8 years, I have bought maybe 10 games. Of those 10 games, 4 have been FIFA 201x titles, and 2 have been Grand Theft Auto’s output in the past seven years. The other 4 games, I rarely played. I am not much of a gamer, but when I buy a game like FIFA 201x or GTA IV/V, I play them to death and they take up a lot of my life for a short amount of time.
Most of you reading this will know that the PlayStation 3 (PS3) is not at the high-end of games consoles anymore, as the next-generation PlayStation 4 (PS4) has been around for nearly 3 years (as well as an Xbox equivalent). Since the PS4’s release, whenever it has come up in conversation, I have always maintained that there was no point in buying one, as game graphics had peaked, and every big game gets released in all platforms (PS3, PS4 etc) anyway. Around this time last year, all of that began to change. In 2015 I decided I was not going to buy FIFA 2016 (for those who don’t know, the FIFA year refers to the next year after release), as it didn’t seem to have any new features from the previous year’s game, and due to the hysteria of Star Wars sweeping the world towards the end of last year, I was looking forward to the release of Star Wars: Battlefront instead. A few days before that game was released, I went to Amazon to order it, and discovered that it wasn’t available on PS3. Similarly, earlier this year I got excited about No Man’s Sky, and went online to buy it, but to no avail. Both of these games received quite lukewarm reviews, so I didn’t feel too strongly about switching to PS4 just yet.
Then in August this year, I decided that my tolerance for FIFA 15 had expired. I play online, and since FIFA 2016 had been released the previous September, the game manufacturers had been systematically downgrading server access for FIFA 15 online games, making it very frustrating to play. I’ve written about it here. So, I would purchase FIFA 17 when it was released on September 30. Once I had made this decision, I did what I always do whenever I am going to purchase something for over €50: I try and find the absolute cheapest version possible. So I researched it a lot online, and found a way to save €10 (of course it was Amazon), but along the journey I also saw the features and details of the game countless times, and saw that although I could buy the PlayStation 3 edition, it would be very similar to the ones I had been playing for years. The makers of the game (Electronic Arts, who are renowned bastards) had stopped innovating for the PS3 version. If I really wanted to get anything new out of this game, I would have to upgrade to PlayStation 4. This, and the two games that I was denied in the previous year made me realise that it was time.
At the start of September I started looking into buying a PS4. Within a few minutes I discovered that Sony had scheduled an online event for the following week, and it was highly anticipated that they would announce at least one new version of their console. I waited, and as expected they announced two new versions of the PS4: a “Slim” version and a “Pro” version. The Slim did all the things that the normal PS4 does, but was much smaller. I had never been a fan of the clunky original PS4 design, so this was interesting. The Pro, smaller than the original PS4 but bigger than the Slim, had much better gaming specs, could support 4k video and would be the best way to utilise Sony’s upcoming PlayStation Virtual Reality add-on. The Slim would be available on September 23rd and cost €299, while the Pro would be available on November 14th with a €399 price tag. All the details are summarised here below.
Slim or Pro?
Immediately after the announcement, the decision was simple to me. The PS4 Pro was for real gamers who value hardware specs etc., and the 4k support was irrelevant since I do not own a 4k capable TV. As a casual gamer, the PS4 Slim would be fine, as it did all the things I needed to, and was not as clunky as the current PS4 or my old PS3. Then I got thinking about my usage of the old PS3 over the previous almost 8 years, and I realised that I really did not know at all what I would end up using the PS4 for.
When I first had the PS3, I used it simply like a traditional games console: games, and possibly DVD’s or even fancy BluRay’s from time to time. After a few months, I realised that I could also transfer video files from my computer to the PS3 hard drive via a USB stick, and therefore watch (always legally downloaded) movies and TV shows on a big TV screen for the first time. In 2013 I figured out how to watch Netflix through an app on my PS3 (before it was available in my country), and this achieved the impossible: my girlfriend was motivated to learn how to use a PS3 controller. My old PS3 was a bit of an electricity hog, but between 2011 and 2015 (when I bought a Chromecast, which blew the PS3 out of the water in both capabilities and electricity efficiency), it was responsible for all audio-visual entertainment in my apartment: movies, TV Shows, and even games (when my girlfriend was asleep).
The point is, when I first received my PS3 back in 2008, I had absolutely no idea that I would use it for all the things I ended up using it for. And since I now knew that these next-generation consoles lasted quite long (remember that I have had the PS3 for almost 8 years), it was worth considering the future me in my purchasing analysis. I was not just purchasing the console for the Cian of today, but also for Cian next year, and 5 years from now, and possibly even further on than that. His needs should be accounted for.
I had to at least consider the PS4 Pro, and soon realised it was probably the better choice. The main selling point was its 4k capabilities, and while I didn’t have a 4k TV, future Cian probably did. I will buy a new TV in the next 5 years (probably just before the next World Cup), and it will most definitely be 4k capable. I will probably even know what 4k is by then. Buying a PS4 Pro would therefore be a gift to future me, who can benefit now and in the future from his shrewd consumerism. Secondly, the other main reason to buy the Pro would be to use its advanced processing capability to run the PS virtual reality headset from. I recently bought a Google Cardboard VR headset and am interested in the technology and software, and will be purchasing further VR items in the foreseeable future. The Pro would definitely be an asset in this interest. After consideration of these two factors, I decided to go for the PS4 Pro. It was €100 more expensive than the Slim, but over the course of 8 years or so, this was just €12.50 per year over the vanilla product. The needs of Future Me were probably worth that much.
Rational Consumer Behaviour
So by mid-September I had decided that I would opt for the PS4 Pro: the slick, sophisticated, future-proof product that would sit in my living room for most of the next decade. Then, in late September the PS4 Slim was released, and the release date (September 30) for FIFA 2017, the game that started this whole thought process, grew imminent. I had rationalised the features, I had rationalised the price, and I had rationalised the value over time. The one thing I had not accounted for was the time element, and specifically my ability to delay gratification. Remember I said that the PS4 Pro would be released in the middle of November? This proved to be the decisive factor in the decision making process between the two consoles. While I knew that the PS4 Pro would be better for Future Cian, Present Cian wanted a new console and to play a new video game that he had been waiting months for. The new console and game were available, and therefore I had purchased both of them (as cheap as I could find) before September was over.
I didn’t just make the decision impulsively of course. The deciding factor was that I saw Google were releasing a 4k capable Chromecast in November, and I had been meaning to buy a second one anyway. Literally within five minutes of seeing this information I had purchased the PS4 Slim, as I was looking for exactly this excuse. Even still, it is hard to escape the feeling that I have screwed over the Future Me by investing in an inferior product at a time when I was willing to spend money on such a thing, and could have bought a future-proof one that would probably be able to cope with most technological advances over the next decade. I did this just so I could play FIFA 17 six weeks earlier than I would have if I waited for the PS4 Pro. Psychologists would call this an inability to delay gratification, in economics we would call it discounting future utility. Either way, Future Me, with his 4k TV (plus knowledge of what 4k is) and abundant Virtual Reality accessories, is sure to be a bitter, bitter man. At the same time, Present Me doesn’t care too much about the needs of that rich, successful asshole and all his cool stuff.