With E3 behind us and the holiday season ahead, one has time to contemplate where the video game industry is headed. This summer held a lot of huge announcements from the Big Three and the holiday season promises to have something for everyone, but is the path the industry has chosen in the best interests of the companies and, more importantly, their audience.
There are a couple of choices made by the front runners in the video game industry that concern me and that should worry anyone who considers themselves a gamer. The first of these is motion sensors. The Nintendo Wii was the first home console to use a motion controller as its primary controller. This innovative technology was announced in September 2005 for the next generation Nintendo console which, at the time, was called the Revolution. When the Wii launched in November 2006, it was a turning point for Nintendo. Since the days of the SNES, Nintendo had been slowly dwindling, constantly struggling to keep up with the competition. The Wii proved to be the console they needed to win the hearts of consumers. The motion control technology made it the desire of gamers the world over, even reaching out to the elusive crowd of non-gamers. Even though it was initially dismissed by critics as a passing fad, the Wii earned the respect of the other companies when the numbers came back. The last few years have shown that Nintendo is still a top competitor in the video game market.
And it seems that Microsoft and Sony have caught the bug, after all it was no secret that they were looking to get a piece of the action. Sony has been in development on a motion controller for several years now. At this year’s E3, both Sony and Microsoft had tech demos showing what they had up their sleeves in the motion control department. And who would blame them? Nintendo has seen an overwhelming response to their new technology and it’s only logical that the other major companies would want to capitalize on this new market. This year, Sony revealed their motion controller. I admit, the first thing I thought when I saw that thing was, “Oh my goodness, what is THAT?” I breathed a sigh of relief when the speaker said the look would change, it’s only an engineering model.
* Whew *
“But what I want you to notice … is this glowing sphere on the end.” …EXCUSE ME?! Some people have even gone so far as to say this thing is basically a Wii remote with a color changing sphere on the end. I don’t dare discuss this further for fear that I make enemies with some of you wonderful gamers out there.
Microsoft unveiled Project Natal as well, a full-body motion controller. Who can forget the avatars contorting in ways no one could have imagined? We’re all better off since Kudo was kind enough to show us the bottom of his avatars foot… WA-BAM! I also wowed at the flailing demo player and as two demonstrators got too close for comfort for the sake of art.
But this decision to jump on board with motion controllers is exactly what worries me. “Why?” you ask? Because the reason the Wii has been so successful is due to its appeal to casual gaming. The Wii has lead to a syndrome amongst developers known as a waggle stick mentality. Since the Wii Remote offers a nontraditional control system, developers often want to utilize it in some way. Unfortunately, it all too often resorts to swinging the Wii Remote around like an overactive toddler.
This “easier” approach to gaming is exactly what makes motion control so appealing to the untapped supply of potential gamers out there. The pairing of easier controls with games made for these easier controls results in a thriving environment for casual gamers. But this focus on casual gamers is what the Wii has been criticized for in recent years. The Wii’s game line-up was weighted down with an overwhelming amount of causal games compared to the handful of titles that appealed to core gamers. But at E3 this year, Nintendo didn’t forget its core crowd, announcing several games that appeal to the franchise fan boys (and girls) out there.
My concern is that Microsoft and Sony will follow in Nintendo’s footsteps and exhibit the same symptoms. If they’re not careful, both will have a disproportionate amount of causal games available and run the risk of alienating their hardcore followers. In order for this switch to motion controllers to be successful and painless for both company and gamer, third party developers have to commit to making hardcore games on the same level they always have. Developers must resist waggle stick syndrome when determining play controls and make sure they’re making the gamers that have been with them all along happy.
My second concern lies in something Nintendo revealed when discussing an upcoming video game, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. During the slew of E3 interviews, Shigeru Miyamoto confirmed that the upcoming title for the Wii will include a feature called Demo Play:
“…If a player is experiencing an area of difficulty, this will allow them to clear troubled areas and take over when they’re ready. And yes, we’re looking into this for future games, too.”
Some writers have speculated that it goes so far as having the game play itself. If this is the case, it concerns me because it is yet another avenue through which games are being watered down. Although it does confirm that Nintendo plans to have some challenging aspects to its games, it does offer an easy way out at the same time. If this is successful, other developers may consider using it in their games, making it the next step in the video game market.
I think that as long as it is handled well, it may be positive though. Many gamers get stuck in a game and never finish it. Demo Play offers a way to get past this hang up so the game can be completed. Also, it allows developers to push gamers farther. Currently, many developers make their games so the average gamer can play through it. Obviously developers want their consumers to see everything that they’ve spent hours making. Demo Play gives them the option to push the envelope and to make games more challenging, because the player has the option of Demo Play to get past a place they’re having too much trouble with. On the same note, games don’t have to be on a casual level to accommodate the newest players because Demo Play can help them get past tough parts.
Microsoft and Sony may have caught the Wiinfluenza bug, but they can still prevent the symptoms. The future could be bright, as long as publishers and developers alike are smart about how they utilize the new technologies that are available.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Kristie Barber.