Nov 20, 2006

Warning: "only for complete gaming geeks"

Read an interesting take on the commercial prospects of the video game console I just camped out in the rain to shell out hard earned dollars for. Thar article is HERE

My response is below:
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I'd disagree that the gaming industry isn't ready for a major change.

I fit the demographic of the average gamer you describe almost perfectly. I'm a white, middle class male, nearing 30 years of age. I played a lot of games from the late eighties, to the late nineties. The last major systems I bought was the Sony Playstation and the Sega Dreamcast. Like a lot of people in my age category, who have followed the gaming industry for a couple decades, I became extremely jaded after getting stuck with a large number of Sega systems that went nowhere. That experience certainly turned me into a more cautious game consumer (particularly in terms of hardware.) And while it may have been Sega's poor hardware management that turned people like me off, I think there's a lot of folks who never saw enough innovation from Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft to plunk down a serious investment for any of their systems.

The gaming industry has gone through a lot of changes since the Ataris and Coleco Visions of the 70's and eighties. One of the main changes is the budgets attributed to games now compared to then. Obviously now, they are much larger, some even outdoing the average movie production budget. But with this kind of capital expenditure on game production, and a much more saturated market of competitors, innovation suffers, because investors are far more likely to fund a game that has a "tried-and-true" formula as opposed to something completely new and adventurous. No one wants to fund something refreshing and innovative, when they can maximize their investment with the latest shiny FPS. And sure people are buying these games. The vast share of marketing in the gaming industry is going towards promoting these carbon copies. And without the same climate of development that we had in the early days of the gaming industry, when maverick programmers bucked conventional trend and come out with innovative milestones like M.U.L.E, or Starflight... large software developers are going to continue to go with the "safe-bet" games like Call-of-Duty 27, and "Heroes-Without-Arms 16."

In many ways, this is what has lead to recent growth in interest of retro games. Many gamers in my demographic ARE getting tired of the same old FPS, survival thriller, or racing/sports sim - regardless of how shiny it is. To a lot of us... graphics really DON"T matter as much as the fun-factor of a game. A friend of mine at work who's in his 40's, and has even more experience watching the industry than I do recently said to me...

"You know, if I wanted to watch something so real I thought it was a movie... I'd watch a freakin' movie." Nintendo's "Ice Hockey" for the NES, and EA's "NHLPA hockey" for the Genesis in 1992 aren't classics because we couldn't tell if we were watching a real hockey game or not... they rocked, and continue to rock cause they're so freakin' fun.

In many ways, I think it took Nintendo getting battered from the undisputed leader of the industry 20 years ago, to third place today, to figure this out. If it were still profitable for Nintendo to pump out cookie-cutter games like Microsoft and Sony do... they would. They're in a unique position right now, however where they've got a lot of talent left over from their heyday, combined with a waning presence in a market they helped shape, which has forced them to take some innovative risks.

Does this insure Nintendo's reclaimation of the gaming industry's throne? Sure doesn't.

Both Sony and Microsoft have a lot of money to throw around. Both can afford to take losses for years, just to starve competitors out and dominate by attrition. Right now, Nintendo has to rely on new ideas and innovation... and that only spells positive things for gamers.

I think the Wii will sell better than the GameCube for the same reason a game like Guitar Heroes is such a mad success today. I also think it's a bit of a longshot to assume that Nintendo will overtake either Microsoft or Sony in terms of market share during the lifetime of the three most recent consoles.

But most importantly, I think both Sony and Microsoft will find themselves emulating a lot of innovations Nintendo has developed in an attempt to keep Nintendo in third place.
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