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Friday, September 22, 2006

Rain, Meet Parade

There are two popular theories going around the gamesphere these days. One is that the Wii will overtake Microsoft and Sony and retake Nintendo's seat at the throne of gaming. The other is that Microsoft will ride it's early lead and overtake Sony.

So that would be Nintendo, Microsoft and then Sony in the next few years. At least with theories combined. I often hear the first two swapped.

They're kinda fascinating theories ... it's almost sad that they are products of reacting to PR hype than facts. Here's the facts that seem to be constantly ignored:

PlayStation 2 remains the dominant console
It's consistently outsold the Xbox 360. It's got somewhere five times the installed base over any other machine (the only real rival? The DS). Development continues to be quite strong on the platform and the holiday library definately outshines it's upcoming sibling and likey the 360 as well.

The Wii is still an experiment
Everyone wants to love the Wii. I want to love the Wii. It's still the only console I'm contemplating as a replacement for my trusty PS2.

I think Nintendo is going to have a very happy holiday season. I just think we need to realize a few things:

The wiimote could backfire with hardcore gamers
There are still very real, very open questions about the wiimote being able to replace the standard controller wholesale. Control schemes on shooters like Red Steel and Metroid Prime 3 are still being adjusted ... even this close to launch. Certainly, many games will provide unwiimote controls ... but that somewhat defeats the purpose.

The wiimote could intimidate casual gamers
This is completely contradictory to Nintendo's very public scheme to garner new players ... but in some ways the wiimote is a bit scary. At least, from the pictures where people are off the couch and pretending to bowl, swing, jump, swerve or do the hokey pokey and turn themselves around.

We're Americans. We're a self-conscious people. We only do karoake when we're good and drunk. Not everyone might be in for crowding into a small living room and waving their arms around. Not when that couch is looking oh so comfy.

It's not that simple
It was easier when you had three consoles released at basically the same market for similar prices. Course, even then you had to take into factors of what you considered a "win". Microsoft, with it's sales numbers and massive loss of money in the project? Nintendo with it's diminishing market but high profit margins? Even then, Sony and Microsoft were playing one game while Nintendo was playing another.

Now, we have three products with three different philosophies. Microsoft is sticking to the "traditional" model: subsidize hardware to acheive marketshare. Nintendo has completely changed up: lower hardware costs and strike the lowest common denominator (potentially the "nongamer"). Sony has shifted course: use their current marketshare to sell a heavily subsidized component of their next gen consumer line (tied to HDTV).

They all have different goals. Microsoft is just looking to expand their market until the Xbox 3 when they hope to achieve some profitability. Nintendo is trying to expand theirs into untapped markets (which they've had success with the DS) to create their own niche. Sony is hoping that in three years, high def means Blu-Ray.

Until these markets all collide - in other words the nongamer starts gaming and does it solely on an HDTV and acquire an HD movie library ... it's going to be a very fragmented picture in the gaming world.

I'll say it again - 2007 is going to be a very interesting year. My guess is still that by 2009 it will look something like a three way tie. Perhaps one company will have enough of a margin to appease fanboys.

Until then, I'll be trying to convince The Girl that waving our arms around in the living room will actually be really, really fun.

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Unknown said...

Nintendo has a history of trying unconventional things. Sometimes they succeed (you're going to create a hand-held portable gaming system? Are you nuts?) and sometimes they fail (you're going to create a hand-held stereoscopic 3D video game system that requires the user to hold a special device to their eyes? Are you nuts?)

Josh said...

I kinda wonder if the Wii won't straddle the middle - be enough of a success that it keeps them in bacon and booze, but not enough to dominate console gaming.

Course, I thought the DS was a gimmick and might flop as well.

Anonymous said...

Heh, Virtual Boy, I remember straining my eyes for that. God, I miss the VB, when you're 10 its quite an experience.

I think the Wii is all about the 3rd party support, something that has to a degree been true of all consoles, but is especially true of this one. I'd also incorporate some kind of easy calibration in the options menu, so that people can make slight adjustments with their wrist while sitting, or go full out crazy in the living with massive waves.

But its the designers who find robust interaction models, which map the pitch/tilt/yaw sensors in a consitent (or consitent by context) manner, that will really ring with the audience.

Corvus said...

We're Americans. We're a self-conscious people. We only do karoake when we're good and drunk.

Heh. You just reminded me why I no longer live in the midwest. ;)

Josh said...

I'm revealing my "downstate" Illinois roots now, ain't I.