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

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