Yesterday Microsoft had it’s big Xbox reveal and pulled the cover off of the Xbox One, the next generation of — well, the actual classification is seemingly causing some confusion and concern in Internetland (honestly, someone forgets an apostrophe and it’s a cause for catastrophe in Internetland).
What We Know
The presentation was an hour long, and the talking heads were few. The subjects were concise: the reveal, a feature demo, tech specs, partnerships, and closing.
Much of the focus was on the new Kinect and how it was used to interact with the system, including gestures and voice commands. They spent some time on the technical specifications of the console, Kinect, and the controller. They also talked a lot about how the Xbox can be used in conjunction with live TV, and also about their other media offerings, including an upcoming live action show set in the Halo universe. Sports was a big topic, and appeared many times in other segments. They showed footage from a new Forza game, and a new Call of Duty game.
What We Don’t Know
Price, for one, but price is rarely mentioned this far out. Availability was left at a vague “later this year”. There’s been a lot of questions surrounding how the XB1 will actually work with live TV, but the current explanation is that the XB1 sits between the TV and your cable box, a la Google TV. There’s some murky and conflicting information out there regarding how the Xbox will handle used games. And, of course, we know practically nothing concrete about upcoming games.
What We Think We Know
Microsoft is abandoning gaming via the Xbox because they only showed two games, and then only briefly. They spent a lot of time talking about TV and sports. Overall, the pitch worked very hard to promote non-gaming activities as the primary focus of the XB1.
The prevailing wave seems to carry a resounding “meh” from the middle-of-the-road crowd, a silence from folks who haven’t heard about it, and a concerted groan of anger from the “hardcore” gaming community. None of that is good, although being an Xbox, you’d think that the anguish of the gaming community would be the worst of it, but it’s not.
What Microsoft Would Like You To Know
I personally think that MS did a good job with their presentation. These reveals are never about in-depth discussions of each and ever feature, but yet people always go into them with personal expectations. Usually those expectations aren’t met, and people leave disappointed, but when you make a decision to judge on the merits of what is there, things are what they are, and they’re not that bad.
Despite the usual hijinks that we get from these dog and pony shows, I think that Microsoft treated the crowd like adults. It’s a given that the XB1plays games, so they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about them because, you know, it was obvious, being that it’s an Xbox. They felt it wasn’t necessary to explain absolutely everything in their short amount of time, like adults do to children who don’t yet have the capacity to grasp without repetition. Instead, they promised that a dedicated discussion of games would happen later at E3.
Instead, MS opted to focus on what the XB1 does beyond games. The 360 started out as a pure games console, and over the years has had a lot of additional stuff tacked on like scaffolding on the superstructure, present, but not part of the DNA. The presentation was about letting people know that in addition to doing what is expected of it — playing games — it will bring value to your living room when you’re not playing games. They tried very hard to tell people that the XB1 doesn’t need to be put away when the gaming is done; it can be used by anyone at any time, for almost any entertainment purpose.
What Gamers Heard
Hell hath no fury like a community of gamers who think they’re getting a raw deal. The problem isn’t necessarily in what gamers heard, but in what they did not hear, and what they did not hear was about gaming on the XB1. We saw a Forza sizzle reel, and something about CoD (I had shut down the stream at this point, as they said they were pretty much done), and that was about it. There were no names dropped when they mentioned the 15 or so first party titles, and they didn’t go into depth about the 8 or so new IPs included therein. Only a single utterance was made that we’d “hear more about the games at E3″, but I think the nerd rage was too strong by that point for anything other than “we’re sorry” to have registered.
For many, this presentation translated into the belief that Microsoft thinks that console gaming is dead. They want nothing to do with gaming as a focus of the XB1. Your mom is more important to the Xbox brand now, with her reality TV shows. Your dad and dudebro brother are more important to the Xbox brand now, with their need to consume as much sports as they can fit into their faces. Thanks for supporting us all these years and making us the #1 home console brand, gamers…now get out.
What Others Heard
In a particularly hypocritical editorial, Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra believes that Microsoft is stuck in a time warp where increased graphical face-lifts on tired franchises played on the archaic medium like TVs passes for newsworthy. Her proof? Her own self-satisfaction with mobile and tablets and hipster-on-the-go culture as being “where it’s at”. It is an editorial, and at it’s core there may be truth there, but the vehicle used to reach that truth is about as out of touch as the post claims of Microsoft.
Then there’s the general Microsoft haters who are cackling in selfish glee with every dismissive post they read about XB1. Xbox was the shining jewel in Microsoft’s otherwise corroded crown, and with this lukewarm-to-outright-hostile reception, these haters see the Obliteration of Microsoft on the horizon. Nothing short of an announcement that the XB1 would provide an endless supply of weed and hookers would have made these people feel otherwise, though.
What matters is perception, and this post has been about presenting perceptions of the XB1 based on Microsoft’s single presentation. It doesn’t really matter what was said — I can’t even recall the specs on the device, myself — but how it made you feel when it was over. Were you satisfied? Let down? Angry? Indifferent?
The feeling I’m getting from the wider Internet is that the whole of the next generation of consoles is generating indifference. The XB1 was the last potential saving grace of the console revolution. As the current console champ, there was a lot riding on Microsoft’s presentation from the gamer’s point of view. As the term “video game” has become a stand in for “console game”, not only is people’s interest on the line, but also the potential fate of the gaming industry as a whole (as they count numbers today). Interest in the PS4 hasn’t been awe inspiring either, and with the opinions on XB1 starting at “meh” and trending downward, “video games” are screwed.
But things change. There’s a lot of variables not yet in play as far as the XB1 and PS4 are concerned. Price, for one. Game lineup for another. Gamers can talk a good game, but when it comes to following through with their promises not to buy into something for “moral reasons”, they lose their high-minded resolve as soon as they see something that they want. At this point in time, no one is under any illusion that the XB1 or PS4 will blow away the sales figures of the previous generations, but we’ll have to wait and see — something gamers aren’t well known for being able to do — how things shake out before truly calling the game.
The Real Winner
If we had to look ahead a year and point the finger at a winning platform, it has to the PC.
Yeah, the dying, dying, dying, dead platform that was killed off by consoles, then handhelds, then phones and tablets, yet still seems to be ignoring those claims to keep chugging along and satisfying it’s fan base. I’ve seen more people re-affirm their commitment to the PC as a gaming platform in the wake of the PS4 and XB1 reveals than ever before.
I don’t buy into the “mobile and tablets as the future of gaming” rhetoric. Right now, the sales charts and figures support the growth of phablet gaming over other forms, much in the same way that sales charts and figures once supported the growth of console gaming over other forms. Now look where we are. Consoles are seemingly on the wane. What we’ve seen at the crest of these “revolutions” were periods of extraordinary growth and revenue on other platforms, which attracted the companies who want to “strike it rich” in these brave new markets. This massive aggregation of attention merely cast a shadow on the slow-but-steady PC gaming scene, but didn’t smother it. If the console bubble is close to bursting, what does that bode for the phablet gaming bubble?
We’re all poorer for having fewer choices, and platform partisanship aside, no one wins if the XB1 or PS4 fail to find an audience sizable enough to call the video game industry “healthy”. Ideally, analysts would get their heads out of their asses and start pushing for PC digital download sales to be added to the industry overview, because I have a sneaking (and biased) suspicion that the “video game industry” is healthier than is thought, if only we’d count the whole of the video game industry, and not just consoles and mobile.
But losing the choice is what hurts. Having more opportunity to do more with more is never a bad thing. Damning the XB1 because one presentation talked a lot about TV and said practically nothing about games doesn’t mean squat unless you are clinically allergic to television. You may never use a lot of the features included, and hell, you may never even buy one, but come on…admit it…you’d try it if you had it in front of you. You might even like it.
I’d suggest we at least try to like it, because the alternative is a world where we have to pick between Angry Birds and Temple Run clones, and that’s a world I know I don’t want to live in, and I suspect that any gamer who’s angry at the lack of games mentioned in the XB1 presentation will agree with me on that.
The Gateway is in beta, as is the game (“beta”), so it may not be working 100%, and not all features are enabled, possibly, but so far, it seems to be firing on all cylinders for what I’ve been using it for.
So what is Gateway?
- It’s a way to view your character online
- You can buy and sell through the auction house.
- You can send and receive in-game mail
- You can do…stuff…with your guild (Not in a guild yet, so I don’t know what is offered)
- You can update your professions progress (crafting)
I’ve been playing MMOs since the dawn of the “modern” design, and the one concept that has always been at the forefront of conceptualization was the idea that so long as we’re accessing game data through a client via the Internet, why can’t we access the same or a subset of data through other clients via the Internet? Granted, we’re talking about product data, which is essentially what we’re paying for, and what we’re paying the operators to keep safe on our behalf, so there’s the data integrity concerns, but if a company employs enough smart people who can create and run a real-time game that allows thousands of people to simultaneously dance naked in a virtual town square, I think they’d be up to the challenge of creating a web app to allow me to check my auctions and launch my crafting tasks through a browser. Why this hasn’t become standard is beyond me.
Granted, not everyone wants or needs to take care of game business…you know…from work or school. Here’s the thing: we’re rapidly transitioning from a gated model of online gaming to an honest to goodness ‘Murican buffet model. We have so many games to choose from that we buy them now at stupidly low prices or download them for free and promise that we’ll get to them some day before we die. Loyalty of the customer is, quite frankly, a thing of the past, or is relegated to those few with unusually strong wills. Not everyone can make a good product, which means even fewer people can make the kind of product that causes people to forego all other opportunities that are too good to pass up, or that they’re peer-pressured into adopting. If you want to attract people, and more importantly, to keep them playing your game, why not give them the opportunity to never leave? It’s an insidious plan worth of Illithid, sure, but it’s wrapped up in so much fun that folks will thank you for the privilege. Thanks, Cryptic!
More importantly, and as loath as I am to say this, the ubiquity of mobile devices practically begs for some kind of way to play without playing, and for companies to keep their product in the thoughts of it’s users no matter where they go. To be honest, if your online game isn’t offering some kind of portal that gives your players an opportunity to keep playing while on the go, I have to wonder if you’re as dedicated to being as “cutting edge” as your About Us page claims you are. Technically, this would have been cutting edge in 2000. Now a lack of extra-game tools is just a gaping hole of pure let-down in 2013.
Sometimes, we arrive at a destination sooner than we should. Under normal circumstances, discoveries or innovation arrives precisely when it means to, and the world continues on from that point.
But there are also a lot of instances when something is brought to our attention long before it can really be appreciated. One example is augmented reality or location-based apps. These aren’t new, and you’ve probably seen them in various incarnations on your smartphone. Some of them pair your camera with your phone’s GPS to provide a visual overlay displaying restaurants or points of interest, but in keeping with the theme of this site, we also have location based games like QONQR or Parallel Kingdom and soon, Ingress from none other then Google itself.
In these games, you have some sort of a task in a real geographic area of the world. You can change things up by taking a walk, or getting in your car and driving somewhere. You can collect things, fight things, and set up things in a virtual world based on where you’re physically standing with smartphone in hand. The more advanced examples will provide an augmented reality overlay like what you’d see in Generic Sci-Fi HUD Example #3761, but because most smartphones have a built in mapping app (at least the ones that work), you’ll see a lot of these games simply place their overlay on top of that.
The main problem with these games is that you can only stay in one place for so long before the “game” becomes entirely reactionary. You fire it up, tap some buttons to make stuff happen, and that’s about it. Ideally, you’ll be competing against other people in your area…which is great if you live in the urban sprawl, but if you’re like 99% of the rest of the U.S. and live outside the city, chances of you running into someone who’s also playing is fairly slim. Your only recourse in that case is that the games are technically “location neutral” by allowing the fruits of your running around to be contributed into a massive pool that benefits your chosen faction.
These games are designed around the notion that people are moving around far more frequently, and possibly much further, than they really are. It’s great when you take a weekend vacation to another town, state, or country, because you can really put the app to the test, but for those of us who mainly commute between home and work, there’s not a heck of a lot of daily variety to keep interest. But beyond that, when the game treats it’s players like a bunch of honey-bees who’s sole job is to collect resources and then throw them in a pile, one should question the MOTIVE that the game is trying to impart. What’s the driving force that makes people want to “play”? Character development is nill, and there’s barely any room for any kind of story progression, so unless the game is offering tangable rewards (hell, even a coupon to McDonalds would be SOMETHING), convincing people to log in after that initial “this is so cool!” phase is no doubt a herculean task, and a nut that has yet to be cracked.
Although people seem to be excited about Ingress, unless Google has some unheard-of plan to make it break the mold of previous location based games, I don’t see it being ground-breaking in any way. There are some whispers of being able to use Google Glass (those goofy looking, privacy destroying headset cameras) for this, but unless you want to LOOK like a character from a video game, while avoiding a beat-down from the general population that you’re filming, you’d best stick with a smartphone. Naturally, there’s a lot of people who think this is a “new thing” because Google is doing it, but at the risk of sounding like a hipster, folks waiting for an Ingress invite should check out how other AR location-based games tackle the situation. I don’t suspect Google’s will improve on it, aside from making it a lot geekier.
I’m trying something new: In Brief. I realize that most of my posts are tl;dr, so I’m going to limit posts in this series to a link (if the post is inspired by an external source), and three paragraphs: an opening, a point, and the conclusion. It may not be what your 7th grade English teacher wanted in your essays, but who the hell cares? I do…about you.
* For Creators of Games, a Faint Line on Cloning (nytimes.com)
Mobile development started off like the 1800’s gold rush, with seemingly everyone dropping their responsibilities to head to the Promised Land of “easy money”. The mobile gaming space was an open frontier, a vacuum, and there was no shortage of opportunity for both large and small (even a single person) developers. They quickly filled that vacuum, and now it seems we’re into the “…and then some” phase where the benefits of mobile development – small teams, little-to-no money down, rapid concept-to-market turnarounds – is catching up, and the result is apparently quite dire for developers and this segment of the industry.
I’m not under any illusions about the amount of time it takes to develop a game for mobile like, say, Tiny Tower, which is quite a feet for the tiny NimbleBit team, but I do think that it’s not quite as herculean a task for a company the size of Zynga to release Dream Heights so soon after Tiny Tower hit it big. The same benefits that smaller teams or individuals enjoy in mobile development are also their worst enemies when wielded by larger companies with deep pockets and teams of developers who have the luxury of skipping the design, prototype, and trial-and-error phases of software development. There’s nothing to stop a company from making a “me too” game; it’s practically a given in a risk-adverse industry like this one. However in other creative industries, an artist may have copyright laws at their backs to defend against blatant clones; software does not since it’s only the products themselves that can be protected, not the ideas behind them. With AAA game development for consoles and PC, the best defense against blatant rip-offs showing up on your doorstep is time. No one can make a Mass Effect clone and release it within days, weeks, or even months after the release of the official Mass Effect. When time is eroded as an effective barrier, all kinds of things are possible, and we’re just now waking up to the reveal that not all of them are beneficial.
This isn’t going to cause the death of mobile development, but it could easily winnow the developer pool and chill the atmosphere for smaller developers. Up to this point most of the stories and anecdotes we’ve been subjected to have been about the rosy picture of mobile development as the “future of game development” and happy stories about bedroom developers who have struck oil in this (once) wide open field. Now it seems that we’re finally getting stories about the underbelly of the mobile world, populated by the scammers and underhanded dealings of people who do what they do because it’s easy, and because there’s nothing to stop them. This is really an eye-opening opportunity for current and future indies who think mobile is the path of least resistance towards a big break into the industry, and will hopefully force starry-eyed “mobile as the future of gaming” boosters to return to reality of what they’ve wrought.
Hoo boy. I’m going to take a quick trip down Psychosis Street and give you a bit of stream-o-consciousness here because I just read something that lit up the small 60 watt light bulb over my head, and like any blogger worth his/her/it’s salt, I had to come out and pummel you with it.
It’s no secret I prefer Windows Phone over the other smartphones. I’ve had an iPhone, and it was good. I had an Android phone, and to put it bluntly, I remember having a more stable experience with Windows 95, but otherwise it was OK. I had to accept early on that I was really going to take a hit when it comes to developer support on the WP platform. This is always pointed out as the weakest link in an otherwise stellar platform when pundits report on their time with WP: It doesn’t have the app support that either iOS or Android does.
Why does everyone develop for iOS and Android, and not WP? Maybe because there’s this belief that if you develop for the platforms with the furthest reach, you’ll have a much better shot at scoring big. After all, if you’re pulling your wagon into Times Square and start hawking your wares, you’ll probably get more
suckers customers then you would if you parked it in the middle of Main Street in Backwater, Arkansas, right?
Well, I’m not entirely convinced, and it seems that not everyone is either. So much of what we base our expectations on (and this goes for almost everything) is supported by a bed of nothing more than supposition; it’s all PR telling us what we like to hear or which reinforces our established opinions, and that makes things sound like everything’s coming up Millhouse. Apple has been generous in featuring apps on their ads which surely elevates their visibility and (we’d like to believe) sales. Their “What’s Hot” and “Staff Picks” sections of the App Store rotate frequently enough that millions of eyeballs see a steady stream of apps paraded past them every week. It’s a developer’s dream to be featured in a commercial or to show up in those rotations, so in picking a platform to develop for, the choice of iOS is as easy as:
- Make a great product
- Since it’s great, it’ll rise to the top
In reality, I think this quote from the IndustryGamers article says it all:
“So much reporting concentrates on the gold rush aspect of iOS development. […] It’s like when you walk into a casino, all you hear are success sounds, slot machine payouts and sirens. If you heard all the failure sounds, you would be deafened. If the press reported the reality of our market, the same would happen.”
Bet you never thought of it that way, did you? I know I didn’t, but now that I see it in black and white, it makes so much sense that I kick myself for not having recognized it sooner. Knowing something and coming to terms with what we know are two different things. We all know that there is no guarantee that simply putting a good app – or even a great app – in front of a crowd is a golden ticket to riches, but when it comes down to where to direct your efforts it should fall to logic that the larger the reach, the better the chance, right? Right?
“The biggest mistake a developer can make when starting iOS development is to expect he or she will reach a hundred thousand users just because there are millions of iPhone users.”
So, maybe not. As the piece goes on to say, it’s easy for a developer to blame the avalanche of churning apps in an overcrowded marketplace as the reason why theirs didn’t do as well as they’d hoped it would, and while there are certainly other factors (like “luck”, as the article alludes to), being just another face in an otherwise ginormous crowd can’t be discounted. Marketing is nice, but the ideal is to create an app so outstanding, so desirable, that marketing will be superfluous. It will sell itself strictly on word of mouth. It’s just a hell of a lot harder to get that word of mouth when you’re lost in a sea of apps with the exact same aspirations, put in front of millions of people who have an embarrassment of choices to the point where choosing one isn’t so much an exercise in picking the best, but in weeding out the worst. Those kinds of decisions are usually based on seemingly arbitrary and personal aspects that have nothing to do with what makes your product unique. People don’t have unlimited time to review every app, so when two (or more) apps are strikingly similar, it comes down to a virtual coin toss to decide which one the user will favor.
Naturally, I’ve got ulterior motives in posting this, and that’s to hopefully make a case as to why more developers should be writing their apps for Windows Phone. Not writing your app for Windows Phone because of it’s current market share is like leaving money on the table, and I say that because it seems that too many developers are thinking this way. What’s happening in the WP market right now is that the community is filling the void that you, the loyal iOS and/or Android developer, are creating – they’re stealing your thunder, which is great for them because they’re the heroes of the community, but they’re also taking what could be your revenue by either pocketing it for themselves, or they’re giving away their stop-gap applications for free. There’s third party Dropbox and Pandora apps on the WP market because both companies have yet (or may have refused) to release official versions. Grooveshark has flat out said that they had no plans to make a WP app, but we’re OK to use their HTML 5 website version. That’s potential ad revenue that they’ll never obtain. Don’t even get me started on the games. Don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s a lack of real quality titles; there’s a comfortable amount to be sure, but we’re at the level where even 10 new high-quality games a week couldn’t satisfy the demand. There’s plenty of room to present your products to an audience that not only appreciates well-made apps, but which probably appreciates each and every high quality product more than iOS or Android users do because…well…we don’t get that many. Our time isn’t taken up by trying to figure out why your “Where’s My Water?” clone differs from someone else’s clone. We’ve got time – and the desire – to try them all and to let each stand on their own merits, specifically because we do not need to clear-cut our way through our marketplace.
When it comes down to it, there’s probably a better chance that you’ll sell more copies of your product in Times Square than you will in Backwater. Today. So, you can go home at the end of the night and fist pump to your successful positioning and might even secretly hope that this is your first step on the road to a long-term career as an iOS or Android developer…at least until someone else comes along and builds on your success, your mechanics, your ideas, makes a clone – and improves on your original. Whoops! There goes your thunder. You’re now back at square one where you have to convince your customers from yesterday that you’re next product is going to be better then the one offered by the hundreds of other shops that have sprung up in Times Square since you went home last night.
Or you could pack your wagon and go to where you could not only be “yet another contender” in a specific market, but could be responsible for growing that market as a leader by selling your product to, yes, a smaller market, but also a more appreciative, less blasé consumer segment who will remember you the next time you roll through town.
This is a wildly incoherent rant. I’m recovering from some kind of flu, and I’m lucky if I can spell my own name right now.
Sometimes I think people are trying too hard to court controversy where really there shouldn’t be any.
I GET that a lot of developers are looking at iOS. But are they looking at it for “the right reasons”? I figure that a lot of developers are developing for iOS because it has a massive user base, so I suppose “the right reasons” in any business are spelled with dollar signs where an “S” might appear, but when we phase it like that, it sounds an awful lot like what we take companies like Zynga to task for: profit over everything. We can’t fault the lower barrier to entry for indie developers, either, and for them, I think it’s a good place to get started.
But what creative person likes treading water? A lot of the talk from interviews with game developers seems to showcase a certain level of hubris (or PR which becomes the mask of the company, for better or worse) that needs to be in ample supply in what is certainly a cutthroat industry, where the people you work with today will certainly be the people you compete against in the market tomorrow, and where the high cost of development means less innovation and more impersonation. But where’s that unchecked bravado when the next product is merely a re-skin of the previous? How many iterations can a studio produce while expecting people to buy this “we’re on cutting edge of innovation” B.S.? If a developer makes a name for themselves on a mobile device, then I think that’s great. It’s a true success story the likes of which everyone loves to hear.
At some point, every bird needs to leave the nest…and to grow. It makes sense to me that in order to improve, one would need to expand, to take on new challenges, and to learn new things (and make new mistakes). For others, it’s apparently OK to get fat on name recognition by churning out the same low-level palp because it’s more important to sell where the people are then it is to stretch one’s personal and professional boundaries. I wonder how many of the rank and file developers in those companies are outwardly excited because they have a job, but who cringe on the inside because as creative people, they’re being tied down by the bottom line?
I don’t work in the games industry, but I do work in a tech industry. We had a meeting just this morning about how we’re going to be moving forward as a company. It’s going to be painful, involving some decisions to scrap old technology and begin anew. I’m sure this is not any different then what you’d see in other mature industries who realize that sitting on your ass and spinning your wheels benefits neither you nor your customers…it only benefits your competition, who is moving ahead into the space where you could be. I think I’d shoot myself if I had to churn out the same cookie-cutter product year after year, when what I really want to do is try something different, risky, more forward-thinking, farther-reaching, and then to reap the benefits of kicking the competition in the nuts.
When I see companies who are making a good product on iOS stay on iOS, I weep. I really do. If they’ve pushed the bounds of the platform, yet fail to move beyond the limitations of an all-purpose technology, is the money worth it? Sure, the smug answer is that yes, it is. That’s got to be what the CEO of Zynga tells his employees. I’m sure it’s what Mark Zuckerberg tells his employees. Creativity is for people who want to live on Ramen for the rest of their lives. We’re in this to make money, and building your skillset takes a back seat towards building someone else’s nest egg.
This isn’t so much a pro-Vita post as it is a “let’s stop comparing dedicated gaming platforms to the iPad” post. Nothing Apple produces as a “tablet” or an “iPhone” will ever be able to touch what a dedicated gaming device can do. The day that it does, it ceases to be on the “non-gamer” side of the line, and has to give up on it’s claim to that heritage. It can’t be both a general consumer device and a gaming system. Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony know this, which is why they aren’t making Wii, Xbox, or PS tablets. They’re still focused on the very specific use devices and in doing so are making devices which handle things that a tablet never will. There’s a problem with trying to be all things to all people, because it leads to a dilution of any one purpose. Simply because so many people are high on Apple doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for their pet iOS device to be compared to anything that’s new in the tech world, any more than it’s OK to compare a Swiss Army Knife to a real screwdriver, can opener, or a pair of scissors.
I started playing Harvest Moon: A Tale Of Two Towns on the 3DS (which was probably brought about by the Wurm Online immersion), and I mentioned this in a conversation on Google Plus this morning. For context, I brought it up to talk about the incessant amount of exposition every day brings at the start of the game. The Japanese aren’t quite solid on the idea of “tutorial”, opting instead to cram slowly-scrolling text, line by agonizing line, into your eye-sockets, accompanied by comically designed cardboard cutout personalities. Normally I think this would be maddening, but Pete asked me if I was OK with it because the game was on a handheld system. The answer is that yes, I think that is the case, because I know I’d never sit through this on the PC. So that got me thinking of other ways that I subconsciously prioritize my gaming platforms between PC, consoles, handheld, and mobile devices.
Top Spot: PC
The PC is my longest-running gaming platform. I started out on the Timex Sinclare, which was the American version of the British ZX Spectrum, I believe. Then the Commodore 64. Then the Amiga. Then to the Intel-based PC, and it was off to the races after that.
I pick the PC as my go-to platform because I can find something to do whether I have 30 minutes or 4 or more hours. There’s also digital downloads. And it’s an all-in-one device: IM, web browsing for info, VoIP, and the game all operate on the same box without breaking a sweat. Plus, my PC is mine.
First Runner Up: Consoles
I have all of the major consoles (2 Xbox, even) because in my eyes, a true “gamer” is platform agnostic. They don’t play favorites; they play anything, anywhere. If there’s a game on console X, they will get the console for that game, partisan bitching be damned. I can’t sit idly by and not have experienced Halo, Uncharted, or the latest Super Mario game.
Consoles are difficult for me, though. Unlike the PC (which is always on), consoles require a “process” to get started: Turn on the TV, switch the input, power on the console (wait for the logos, and the dashboard to fire up), log in (waiting…), insert disk, sit down on the couch…and not move for several hours. Although the whole process takes a matter of minutes, it is a process, and in my mind, I need to be able to devote at least two hours of time to whatever I’m doing on the console. Add to that the fact that TV time is at a premium in my house, with a wife and daughter, that when it comes time to monopolize one of them, I have to hold on to it for dear life.
Second Runner Up: Handheld
Handhelds are still squarely in the domain of Japanese imports and translations, at least in my mind, and that’s OK. Their content runs the gamut from action-y to puzzle-y to RPG-y to strategy-y, making it a pretty close second to the PC when it comes to variety. But everything is still locked into cartridges, at least until we get the Vita, and Nintendo broadens it’s digital download opportunities for the 3DS.
Handhelds are good for anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour of gaming at a time. For me, they don’t generally have longevity of session. What they do have it portability, naturally. If I don’t feel like sitting in the computer chair (like I do all day) or can’t get the TV scheduled for consoles, I can sit in the living room with the 3DS and play. I played Harvest Moon last night, in bed, before falling asleep. They are also starting to really play up the mobility aspect, with 3DS’s Streetpass, and the Vita’s mechanism of the same ilk (who’s name escapes me now), making it worthwhile to bring your device with you everywhere so it can sniff the butts of other people’s devices. You’re welcome.
Dead Last: Mobile
I can’t really even consider mobile gaming to be on this list, but for completion’s sake, I’ll add it here.
To be fair, some mobile gaming is OK. Word games are tolerable, but the idea that mobile will kill handhelds just because developers and publishers are filling a low-barrier-to-entry vacuum of this relatively new market is laughable. It’s nothing but a land-rush, and a bubble of the kind we’ve seen in other markets, so don’t be surprised when we see a similar outcome.
Mobile gaming is for plebeians because everyone has a cellphone, and more and more people are trading up the inexpensive smartphones. It makes sense that devs and pubs are waking up with dollar signs in their eyes as they look out across this pristine plain filled with nothing but fat, simple-minded cattle ready for a good, hearty milking.
But that grossly unfair metaphor aside, mobile gaming is disposable. For me, it’s good for maybe less then 30 minutes, tops, and that would only be and option if I forgot to bring my handheld system with me (thanks to the inclusion of perks for taking the handheld with you everywhere, though, that’s a rare occurrence). I have yet to meet a mobile game that not only makes me want to download it, but to spend time with it when I have three vastly more preferential and diverse platforms available to me.
I’d actually be happy to move on from this, if other people would also agree to move on from this. Sadly, it ain’t happening any time soon, it seems.
First up from iOS game developer Andrew J. Smith. Let me start by saying this: I totally get where he’s coming from, and on the surface, I agree with his assessment. However, as G.I. Joe has always told us, knowing is half the battle, which is why I’m confused as to why someone would persist knowing the score as Mr. Smith apparently does.
In a recent Gamasutra article, he wants to tell mobile developers that “players are not your audience”. Eye grabbing headlines aside, he goes on to state that when developing your game for a mobile platform, you can’t focus on who you want to play the game; you have to walk the line of the platform controller (Apple, Android, Microsoft, etc). That means, in his opinion, that you should work-in the features of a specific platform like the cameras, back-touch on the Vita, or Kinect on the Xbox, in order to make it attractive to the approval committee and the people who pull the strings on marketing for the products on the storefront.
From a developer and realism standpoint, I understand where he’s coming from, but from a consumer standpoint, this is really the last thing I want to hear from someone who probably prides him or herself on their creative abilities and no doubt has a high desire to make something fun and entertaining. I read what Mr. Smith has to say and all I can picture is someone in chains being paraded around in front of an audience by the platform controller. It’s hardly the kind of relationship that I would expect a creative, fun-loving developer to willfully enter into, unless being seen and making a mad grab for cash is far more important the reaching the people that you want to reach, which I always thought was one of the reasons indies chose to go it alone as opposed to jumping on board with a larger dev/pub, but I’m just an outsider here. This is another reason why PC gaming will never die: there is no dog and pony show that developers need to perform for approval; just their consumers.
The second point about mobile gaming that I saw today was made as a comment (also from Gamasutra) in an article about the “worst things to happen to games in 2011 according to analysts”. I’m no so much concerned with the contents of the article, but this comment by Bob Johnson struck me almost immediately:
iOS gaming is both a blessing and annoyance. It’s great I can buy some 1-trick pony kool idea games for $1 or $2. It is great that is extremely easy to do so. It is great also because we might not otherwise see some of these games.
But man soon I find myself buying a ton of them for $1 or even getting them free. And then I have 50+ games on my iPad that I barely have even played. And that might be a month’s worth. And there are a thousand more out there that were released last week. And every site says try this one and that one. And …this is good and that’s good and it’s only a $!. There’s too many!
My kids even say Dad you don’t have to buy any more games. We have enough. It has almost become uninteresting to them.
IT’s gaming junk food that is readily available so you get sick of it almost.
That is where I land in the spectrum of mobile gaming, and I suspect a lot of other people do if you were to ask them (or are one). Analysts and pundits look at graphs and charts and see sales in terms of quantity, distribution, and dollar signs. In that light, people pissing away a dollar here or two dollars there looks like everything is healthy, and that the mobile gaming tide is forever rising. But from the consumer angle, it’s a total whitewash. Cheap, bite-sized games means you never have to – or often times can’t bring yourself to – stick with a single game for long because there’s always a deluge of newer, cheap games each and every day. At some point, I suspect we became numb to new releases because we’ll look back at what we have bought and realized that we’ve never played it, or never played it for long before shelling out for the new Utopia which was really just another bust. Like Mr. Johnson’s kids, it’s all white noise now, and wholly uninteresting, without staying power.
The PlayStation Vita. If you’re a gamer and/or technophile, and the idea of carrying around a PlayStation 3 in your pocket doesn’t make you salivate, then you’re either dead, or aren’t being honest with yourself. Sure, you may not want one, or will be quick to point out that you wouldn’t be caught dead with one, but you cannot deny that this thing emanates power like a leaky nuclear reactor. Massive OLED touchscreen? Motion controls? Dual cameras? Wifi and (optional) 3G connectivity?
But that all sounds like a smartphone, doesn’t it? After all, smartphones have touchscreens, most now have motion controls, dual cameras and, of course, wifi and 3G. And they play games. Judging by the statements of many media outlets, you’d think that the Vita was already consigned to the junk heap of time, a relic, and an absolute waste of time, resources, and cash because smartphones – and tablets – are where handheld gaming is headed.
Not so. I’m talking from a my position as a gamer, the kind of person who pre-orders these kinds of things, sight unseen, because it raises the hairs on the back of my next whenever I see obviously airbrushed PR photos, or when I read and re-read the specs as if it were some kind of vintage erotica. This is the evolution of hardware for the gaming community. First came the early consoles, then the PC, then more powerful, dedicated and tethered consoles, and now a first class gaming machine that is free of the in-place restrictions that we’ve been saddled with thus far. Hallelujah!
But “mobile” gaming nowadays is all about smartphones, right? Publishers and developers are eschewing desktop or console titles to bring their little works of art to the iOS, Android, and, yes, Windows Phone. For $0.99 USD, you can have a game in your hand – a tiny, tiny game in your relatively not-so-tiny hand – that can compete with whatever you’ll find on the 3DS or the Vita, right? If you listen to the breathy statements of pundits, you’d think so, but the truth is that the Vita is made for games, while mobile devices have games available. Being a gamer and being told in no uncertain terms that the Vita is DOA because so many people have smartphones is missing the point. There will ALWAYS be a market for devices like the Vita or the 3DS. Of course, unless the market is overwhelming the competition, pundits usually declare it a “failure”, which is the same thing in my mind as calling every movie ever made “a failure” because Avatar made more money then they each did on their own. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? So why would we consume the same rhetoric when it comes to situations like the Vita versus smartphones, and games versus apps?
The question now being asked is “will consumers bite” when the Vita is released at $250 USD, considering you can get a 3DS for $170 USD, or a 16GB iPod for $199. As a gamer, my knee-jerk reaction would be to punch someone in the face and scream “HELL YES!”, but the key lies with a single word: consumers. Although mobile games can’t hold a production-quality candle to what we’ll see on the Vita, there are now, and will always be, more smartphones in the hands of the general public then there will be Vita in the hands of gamers. That is a fact. Then – and only then – when you throw in a morass of inexpensive, “throw away” apps, you’ll see that yes, smartphones will bury the Vita through the sheer force of numbers. But numbers do not equate to quality, nor is it a barometer of potential satisfaction with what you’ll end up finding on your app store of choice. With a lower barrier to entry for developers (I use that term lightly in many cases), you have to wade through a lot of shit before you find the diamonds that the mule ingested in order to smuggle them through customs. So sure: smartphones have the number advantage. But you can’t tell me that the PlayStation Junior isn’t going to blow these wannabes out of the water in tech specs, performance, features, and visuals when it comes time for it to take the stage.
Leave the smartphone games to your mom and grandparents. If you’re a gamer who’s disenfranchised with the 3DS, support the Vita and show the industry that we as gamers aren’t going to hang our heads and simply agree to get our mobile gaming from the sub-standard fare being dumped into app stores around the world. Put down your fanboy placards and smarter-than-thou troll quills and realize that there’s a huge chunk of the gaming industry who is ready to chase the shiny of mobile gaming, and to hell with their current constituents, and take a good, honest look at the Vita. Do you want this to be the last hurrah for gaming hardware designed and dedicated to gaming? Doesn’t matter that it’s from Sony. It’s platform neutral, because it will the last hope of all gamers before we’re swept into the mediocrity of the tower defense clones or the physics-based platformers that clog in the smartphone ghettos.
So some people see Microsoft as an “Evil Empire”, although I’d offer that others have since firmly and definitively usurped that mantle. Some people also see Microsoft as old and antiquated, lumping it in with IBM and HP, the companies which brought us to where we are in the world of computing, but who have ceded the field to more agile competition. But the one place where Microsoft seems to really be killing it is in the living room, thanks to the Xbox. Sales of the console have far outstripped the PS3, the successor of the insanely popular PS2, and while everyone has an opinion on Kinect, no one can question it’s success compared to Sony’s Move.
Microsoft recently dropped a few products and updates on consumers. The first and probably most obvious to the regular crowd is the Xbox 2011 dashboard update which brings it’s Metro UI into the living room. Metro is Microsoft’s new UI strategy, currently on their brand of smartphones, now the Xbox, and in the future, Windows 8. It also expands Kinect integration to a degree, but the main thrust of the update is to give media equal footing with gaming on the device. Music, movies and TV shows are now more prominent, and the console is going app-centric, promising more widgets from SyFy, Comcast and other providers in the future.
The second product of note is the Xbox LIVE app for iOS. Yes, *gasp*! This app allows Xbox users to message people on their XBL friends list, manage their friends list, change their avatar, and view their achievement progress. I suppose this is pretty exciting for iOS/Xbox users who use XBL as their primary social network, but the real score is having this Microsoft branded product on iOS. As it provides content from Microsoft HQ, there’s absolutely no reason why Microsoft can’t stream information about their products, including…
Windows Phone has a new app as well: the Xbox companion app. This works in conjunction with the new Xbox dashboard, and while it’s pretty cool on paper, I’m not sure if it’s really a useful app. Once it syncs with your Xbox using your XBL ID (which should already be set up on your phone), you can view and launch XBLA games from the phone, on the console, search for info on the movies, TV shows, music or games that are being played on your console, and it even allows your WP7.5 device to double as a remote control for navigating the Xbox dashboard. It’s a good start, but it’s not as cool as it could be (like as a secondary monitor for game elements).
Where’s the stodgy, Evil Empire Microsoft that people insist still exists? OK, they may still be getting the lion’s share of their money from Windows and Office, which are about as cool as the ribbon candy your grandmother insists on putting out when you come over, but they are trying, and not just trying to catch up, but trying to catch up and differentiate themselves in certain areas. The Metro UI isn’t iOS/Android, and a lot of people claim to hate it, but haven’t actually used it. Microsoft is slowly unifying different and previously unconnected lines of business much in the way Google is bringing it’s own products together (G+, Blogger, Picasa, YouTube, etc) to form some kind of consumer product Devastator. They still bet on the installed desktop, but are winning the battle for the family TV, a place where both Google and Apple have fallen flat on their faces.
I know this sounds like a “rah rah Microsoft” post, and to a degree, it is. I’m a fan of the company, but not the point where I badmouth others; I use all kinds of products from all kinds of companies, but I think Microsoft’s different LoB offerings had been so disparate that it was a case of one hand not knowing – or caring – what the other was doing. Now using one device will immediately make you familiar with the others, and the transition will be simple and I’m sure Microsoft would hope, desirable. Plus, the sum seems to be greater than the parts, with integration between devices being at least a priority. Basically, I think Microsoft does have a strategy in this iPad-crazy world, and it’s short-sighted to see it as just releasing their own tablet with Windows 8 on it in order to be relevant.