“The stakes are high for what we are going to show you,” Andrew House, head of Sony Computer Entertainment’s PlayStation division, said at a recent event in New York City to unveil Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 4 console. House’s admission seemed like a rare moment of candor from a high-level corporate executive seated atop a struggling tech company. But the trials that Sony and its close brethren Nintendo (PINK:NTDOY) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) are facing for the next-generation of dedicated video game consoles are no secret. The stakes are high for each company’s new console, and Sony needs the PS4 to be as much of a hit as Nintendo needs the Wii U, or Microsoft needs the (allegedly titled) Xbox 720 to be.
But the stakes may be even higher than any of the big three console developers had anticipated. According to a new report from the market research firm NPD, “Core Gaming 2013,” only 29 percent of so-called “core gamers” -- the type of consumers who tend to be early adopters, loyal fans and avid customers -- intend to buy next-generation consoles when they first become available.
That estimate comes from a survey NPD conducted over the course of January. Of the 6,000 people polled, only 887 fit within NPD’s category of “core gamers,” an admittedly vague taxonomy which the firm defined as users who played “core” games (action, adventure, fighting, shooting, racing, sports or role playing) for at least five hours a week.
In fact, 42 percent of core gamers explicitly said they were not planning to purchase any new consoles upon initial release.
The study did find “three groups that are more inclined to make a purchase of next generation consoles at the time of release relative to their counterparts,” however: gamers between the ages of 25 and 44, current console owners who play games on the console (as opposed to using it primarily for its other entertainment features), and people who spend 15 or more hours playing games per week.
As with GameStop’s (NYSE:GME) recent study warning against the perils of blocking used games on new consoles, there are certain qualifications to be made with any prospective survey. But the numbers don’t look good for console manufacturers regardless. A primary concern for prospective consumers as they size up the new offerings from Sony and Microsoft will be price. Given the fact that many of the launch titles, as Sony revealed last month at its PS4 unveiling, will be available for both the current and next-generation hardware, only the most diehard fans will have an immediate incentive to buy next-generation hardware when it first hits the market.
Waiting a few more months for the price to drop won’t be so bad for everybody else -- except, of course, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.