Thursday, November 30, 2006

Nintendo's not dumb (for once)

[source article] The Wii is on track to sell all 4 MILLION units by December 31st of 2006, which is great news, but what gave me pause was how Reggie says they are handling the GameBoy Advance (GBA).

Microsoft brilliantly ceased production of XBOXes to try to "force" consumers onto the XBOX 360, ignoring the fact that new consoles don't make developers much money during their first year, and that the old systems continue to make money.

Sony, while still producing the PS2, doesn't talk about it much.

Nintendo, on the other hand, recognizes that the GBA still nets sales and makes money and has new games coming out for it. They're still pushing it.

That's paying attention to the bottom line, not market share. That's making money where it's to be made, not worrying about who newspapers say came in first place. That's smart.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This Guy is Stupid: What Wii Really Means

I read the three pages of this articulate, well cited article.

Quick Summary:
The tone of the article is a dismissive one. It attempts to show why the Wii's control scheme isn't really revolutionary (because, so far, we're really seeing the "same old games" with a new control scheme, forgetting the fact that the "same old" boxing game on a gamepad with buttons feels vastly different than the game with a Wiimote and Nunchuck) because evolutionary controls don't mean developers will make evolutionary games.

Well, duh. I don't expect 2001: A Space Odyssey from the new games, but I would prefer the new controllers to playing Fist Person Shooters with my thumbs.

Programmers should make New Games for Ancient Consoles?
Lastly, he says that the greatest asset the Wii has is its ability to play old gaming systems - such as the NES, Sega Genesis, and Turbo Grafix 16. Why? Because programmers could, in his mind, make games for little money and they would still sell because "These computers enthralled millions of people, people who were not merely biding their time waiting for better technology."

While that's true, given that the Wii has far less graphical fidelity than the XBOX 360 or PS3, it is not also true that flat, 2d graphics are more engaging to gamers than 3d ones. That was, after all, why games started moving in that direction in the first place.

The Personal Agenda that makes the whole article Wrong:
The last page really highlights that the author has a personal agenda: He loves old games. He loves nostalgia, and he would like to live in a world where programmers made new games for the 20+ year old Nintendo Entertainment System, and people bought played those games.

Given this, as accurate as he is about the notion that revolutionary controllers does not mean that revolutionary games will come out (it just makes it more likely, to a lesser extent as the onset of 3d gaming revolutionized games), the whole article is really a large, intelligent bend at an agenda the author has, and that's sad.

When good minds wrap themselves up in their feelings and then layer themselves in so much self-serving information as to believe themselves, when a few doses of the reality of how the world works tears it all down.

The Reality of the Author's Dream:
Wal-Mart has a great many "legacy style" game consoles in a controller that you can buy and put on your TV. Amazingly, my kids actually played these, but not very much. So while he's not entirely off his mark (folks can write simple games and people will play them) he's in the wrong market:

People who want games that simple will buy a $15 or $20 gamepad with a built-in console and a few games (that you can never add more to) and be happy, or put it on a shelf. People who buy a $250 or $400 or $600 console do NOT want these kinds of games, by in large, and their family members, having experienced what the Wii has to offer, probably won't care for the old push-button fests either, albeit the normal puzzle games may still apply.

Jose Francisco - the Luchador?

[General pictures, but not of Jose Francisco wrestling]

Jose Francisco loves to wrestle. It's not something I taught him, I think he just enjoys the feeling of grappling someone to the ground and getting on top of them. He has various ways he accomplishes this with his sisters. With the 4 year old Alejandrita, he likes to take one of her dolls and throw it on the floor. When she bends over to pick it up, he grabs her back and pushes her down and they start to wrestle. She's giggling the whole time.

With my 7yo, Dulce, he goes for her legs, which makes her get on her knees, and then he grabs her hair (which normally he never does), which gets her on her hands and knees, if not her side, and then he climbs on her.

Now Dulce is my sensative, skinny cuddle bunny, but I was still surprised when I heard her call me for help and found Jose Francisco had grappled one leg around one of her arms and the opposing arm around her leg, and she told me "I can't get Jose off of me..."

He's 19 months old. So I told her to tell him to get off without sounding like she was playing, which she did, and then I said commandingly "Jose! Escuchan tu hermana!" which means "listen to your sister" and he got off. Since then she's got safe words and thinks it's fun. Fun, for Dulce, is always knowing there's a way out.

Fun, for Jose Francisco, is proving that there isn't.

Outdoors he also likes to grab a fistfull of dirt and put it down their backs. I asked my 9yo, Maria, how he learned to pull open the back of their color and stuff dirt down their shirts, and she paused a while, and said "I taught him." The other thing he does is quickly points at Maria, who points at him, when my little girls look for whodunnit. Of course they know the truth — they were both in on it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wii Cannot Decide

Well I admit to being confused. I am a gamer and gaming things interest me. As much as I hate to admit it, I like how the Wii plays on video. But I'd also like to upgrade my old computer and make it a more capable gaming device to multiplay with my 9yo daughter.

Maria/Lupe, my eldest, wants a Wii. She says so because it's a casual game system that features controls you move around (not buttons you press - as much), supports four players (a magic number at our house) and doesn't cost a fortune (initially).

I told her that my friend Kevin advised I upgrade my old gaming rig (now my wife's PC, and Maria's multiplayer gaming platform) and she said "I don't mean to be rude, but Kevin thinks everyone enjoys what he does."

Actually he doesn't, but she's right that his advice is colored by that. I concede to his point: a PC can do loads of things. However, every time I come home and my baby boy feels left out, or my 2nd and 3rd daughter, I feel like a jerk every time I think about spending a few hundred dollars on something exactly one in four children can enjoy.

On the other hand, I hate consoles for their cyclical games and high-upkeep costs, and as a gamer things like graphics matter to me, not just visually but spacially. Now that I have experienced Operation Flashpoint and (more famous) Morrowind and Oblivion, I want more of these open games. Can the Wii's hardware deliver? If it's a toy for my kids (like their two GBA's) will it matter?

Wii are, as of yet, undecided. All that I know is a PS3 is just too expensive for too little gain.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Nolan Bushnell's smart commentary on the PS3, Wii, and Gamers

Nolan Bushnell, Atari's founder, founder of Chuck E Cheese, both of which I despise in their current incarnations... is a "good idea" man. Like any idea man, he seems to move quickly after an idea's time has passed.

Here's the full interview.

I found his commentary on his new restaurant franchise "uWink" interesting, but y'all might be more enticed to read his thoughts on the PS3, the XBOX 360, the Wii, Sony's past successes, and Atari as it stands today.

I colored the parts that are most profound red.

Q: (About his restaurant chain that combines touchpad screens at every table with social games and ordering food, he touches on core history of videogames)

"I saw a very large and untapped market, which is the entrepreneur’s dream. There was no real venue for social games. Games got violent in the mid 1980s… that lost women. Then they got long-form and complex. That lost the casual gamer.

There’s always been this desire to play games. What you really want when you’re out and about is a social [experience] using games... [snip]"

Q: (About his thoughts on the game industry)

"I’m very curious and interested in the Nintendo Wii. I think it may expand the market beyond the hardcore [18- to 24-year old]. Xbox Live is interesting because it potentially becomes the platform for the living room."

Q: (About his thoughts on Atari)

"[Atari] really isn’t a part of today’s gaming world in any meaningful way. They lost the cachet of being a leading technology company in the games space."

Q: (His thoughts about the PlayStation 3)

"I think Sony shot themselves in the foot… there is a high probability [they] will fail. The price point is probably unsustainable. For years and years Sony has been a very difficult company to deal with from a developer standpoint. They could get away with their arrogance and capriciousness because they had an installed base. They have also historically had horrible software tools. You compare that to the Xbox 360 with really great authoring tools [and] additional revenue streams from Xbox live… a first party developer would be an idiot to develop for Sony first and not the 360. People don’t buy hardware, they buy software."

Q: (About the success of the PS2 and the PSX)

"It wasn’t anything brilliant that [Sony] did. With the PS and PS2 it was timing. They had the right pricing at the right time [and were] almost the accidental winner. It would not surprise me if a year from now they’ll be struggling to sell 1 million units. [Factoring in the PS3’s price], I think in the U.S. the number of early adopters you have is actually around 300,000."


Gaming hasn't just lost women (and found them again in games like "The Sims"), it's losing actual gamers who grow up - like me.

"Casual gamer" is such a maligned term because all American males seem to want to think that, at their core, they're really a manly man waiting to bust out of an unmanly body. Saying "Casual" is akin to saying "not serious" or "loser." Everyone loves a winner in America.

But somewhere, someone is going to find out that casual games, that is to say, games that don't require my twenty four years of experience to handle, is a lucrative area. We see it pop up with things like Tetris, sandbox games (Railroad Tycoon series, Rollercoaster Tycoon series, Sim City, etcetera) and -- perhaps -- the Wii.

The Wii is severely underpowered , so much so that I doubt "hardcore gamers" need apply. But "no loss" there as hardcore folks will probably own an XBOX 360 (if they don't already). The Wii could still be something else they pick up at its price-point, something Bushnell cited the inverse of with the PS3. But I have serious reservations as to its ability to satiate the hardcore gamer who, when he comes home, finds a videogame to play and sits down. I doubt the Wii will have enough titles to handle the load; from what I have seen, Red Steel will bomb and only the new Zelda game can hold down a hardcore gamer. No matter -- that's not what it's designed for.

Like Bushnell, I think Nintendo has struck upon an idea that is centered around "untapped consumers."

Bushnell thinks uWink will tap some hidden consumer group, folks who want food and fun in a more adult setting; that's great, but I think the Wii stands a better shot (link to a Japanese family trying out baseball).

Of course, no console or restaurant can withstand the might of the Personal Computer, but once again - that's hardcore.

So will the Wii be, as early Atari was, a stepping stone to get the rest of the population into games? There will always be more casual gamers, I think, and there are folks who just aren't us, which is to say, they will never be hardcore gamers. Whether or not I ever get one, my main hope is that the Wii's control scheme puts an end to the decades-old handheld gamepad (which is really a mini-version of an arcade desk with a stick and buttons that we suddenly found we liked to hold rather than place on the floor [source]), that twenty years from now, all games I play will involve motion, not my touch-typing skills or... thumbs.

Let's face it, we use our thumbs to grab things. They are not meant to be dexterous.

My points? I'm forcing myself to have those lately:

  1. Sony is stupid. The PS3 will fail.
  2. The Wii has the potential to rid me of my hated enemy: the thumbstick!
  3. There's a real market for unmanly men and women who play games sometimes but not all the time.
  4. Nolan Bushnell is fairly smart, and has insightful comments on these subjects:
    1. How we lost women gamers
    2. How we lost casual gamers
    3. Sony isn't as smart as they think they are
  5. Having a great family means you're not as compelled to log in those hardcore hours into games.
- David