Tuesday, September 20, 2011


DQ Fitness Advisor Doug Walsh recently sent me this:
Like you, I’ve been finding much more pleasure in independent titles in the sub-$15 price range of late than I have full-priced retail ones. In fact, XBLA and Steam are where I do all of my shopping these days. Gamefly the rest.

Unlike you, I don’t have any desire for a new console, nor feel there is a need for one.

I don’t feel as if the Xbox 360 has run its course at all, as I’m fairly confident no amount of new tech will jolt the major developers out of the rut they’re in. Sure, enhanced graphics would be nice, but given the relatively low-tech requirements of many of the games that you (and I privately) have been praising the most, what would change? The independent studios don’t have the capital/staff to take advantage of the current consoles’ power. If they’re the only ones making games right now that truly feel innovative, I fail to see how expanding the graphical fidelity and processing power of those machines would improve what the indie developers are already capable of. And whereas the leap from GC to Wii was significant and maybe the one to Wii-U will be every bit as startling, I can’t see the next Xbox making a technology leap beyond Kinect. Or the PS4 doing more than a mimic of Kinect/Wii-U. Personal anecdotes aren’t worth all that much, but I have to say that of all the guys in the group I game with regularly (these are guys I know in real life and work with) there’s not one of us that would buy a new console if it came out this year. Maybe we’ll feel differently next year or in 2013, but I think Sony and MS are right to be delaying the new console to 2012 or beyond.

So here’s my question for you: Given that you’ve publicly stated that you think we’re past-due for a new console, but that only the indie developers are making anything worth playing, how would a new, presumably more powerful console change this dynamic?

Boy, that's a great question.

First off, we are way past due for new consoles. A prediction: there's no holiday miracle coming this year to save 2011 sales. So far this year, look at U.S. unit sales compared to 2010 (to this point):
360: -6%
PS3: -14%
Wii: -33%

The big news here is not that the Wii is declining--we all knew that, and Nintendo has already announced its successor--but that Microsoft and Sony have declined as well.

Kinect gave Microsoft quite a boost, but what's come out for it since the beginning of the year? Anyone? Besides Child Of Eden (which about five people bought, unfortunately), I can't think of a single title that anyone cared about. That's quite a drought. And while I know Microsoft has games lined up for this fall, their sales aren't going to match what happened last year, when Kinect was new and everyone seemed quite giddy about it.

PS3? Forget it. Down.

Wii? Nope. Down

I don't think there's any question that hardware sales for all three systems have started the inevitable decline into obsolescence. That doesn't mean there won't be periods where the patients have good days, but the patients are terminal.

Doug brings up an excellent question, though--what exactly will the next generation change? Unfortunately, the trends that we all dislike--lack of innovation, too few titles being released from major publishers, nothing but sequel, sequel, sequel--won't change as new consoles get released. There are endemic issues with the gaming industry right now, and new hardware will not reset the problems.

It's changed my attitude, certainly. I'm curious about what new hardware can do, and my interest in new hardware has really not declined significantly.

I'll buy the box.

But I won't do though, is buy nearly as many games. I don't think I've gotten more than a few hours of play out of any $50/$60 console game this entire year. I'm not paying that kind of money for three hours of entertainment. Sorry, but it's all Gamefly until I feel like there's something worth spending my money on.

I'll buy the portable hardware, too. But again, I probably won't buy that many games, unless developers try harder to innovate and decide to copy less.

Here's a tangent.

Like I said a few weeks ago, I've spent less than 10 hours with my 3DS since I bought it on launch day. I want to, but there's just no real reason.

For Nintendo, this launch has been a disaster. What stuns me, though, is that they launched the most successful console in history, then didn't follow the blueprint.

Here's the blueprint: release a new system with a pack-in game that clearly shows off the capabilities of the hardware. It can't just be a tech demo, either--it has to be a game that people want to play.

Wii Sports? Maybe the ideal pack-in game ever. It was totally fun, it completely demonstrated the capabilities of the motion controller, and it gave everyone something to play.

In marketing terms, it's great to have a lot of people talking about your system, but it's much, much better to have everyone talking about a game, particularly when it's the same game.

Why? No dilution.

Everyone was talking about Wii Sports. It was incredibly concentrated. Everybody had a story, and everybody could compare stories. There was a shared experience around Wii Sports that was like rocket fuel for the Wii.

In a business sense, it was absolutely brilliant.

So what does Nintendo do with the 3DS? No pack-in game. Well, a handful of games that were basically tech demos, but nothing anyone could put much time into.

They had a chance to define the conversation, but instead, they gave us nothing to talk about. That's why 3DS sales have been awful, and why Nintendo had to roll out a massive price cut.

Would it have been a lot easier just to make an excellent game and include it with the system?

Seriously, any executive who claims that new gaming hardware doesn't need a pack-in game should be fired.

Sony Vita? Almost FORTY launch games confirmed. Forty separate conversations. Dilution. Is it better than launching with eight games? Sure. Is it better than launching with eight games and a great pack-in? No. Too many different conversations.

How many games out of those forty can possibly sell well? Five?

Just have one great story at launch, and let everyone experience that story. In a few months, follow up with more.

By then, everyone will be ready.

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