A Critical Look at Today's Videogame Landscape and the Possibilities for the Future

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Bill Loguidice's picture

My Nintendo Wii U (2013)My Nintendo Wii U (2013)I've been quiet on the blog front of late as I've been focused on writing three new books for 2013 (and hopefully do what I can to help get the documentary out as well). However, with the latest NPD figures for videogame consoles being dissected across the Web-o-sphere, and Sony likely firing the next salvo for next generation platforms with their upcoming PlayStation-centric announcement (and Microsoft to follow soon thereafter), I thought this would a good time to break my silence and chime in with my perspective on the current videogame-centric happenings.

First off, it's clearly not looking good for pure videogame stuff with three lackluster hardware launches in a row: 3DS, Vita, and Wii U. The 3DS recovered sufficiently with a dramatic price cut that was very much against Nintendo's previous corporate policies that discouraged losing money on hardware, which allowed it enough time to hold out for the software situation to pick up. While it will never reach the sales heights of the blockbuster DS, considering how much competition both direct and indirect there is now versus then, it should still end up selling quite well when it has run through its complete lifecycle.

On the other hand, it looks like the Vita is a lost cause, which is sad to me because not only do I have a book out that covers the platform, but also because it's actually a really solid handheld, made all the better with the newly unleashed PlayStation Plus option ("free," top quality games!). Similarly, the Wii U is not catching on anywhere the way that it needs to, not even Japan, which has always been Nintendo's stronghold. All the love over there appears to be relegated to the 3DS. In fact, the Wii U only sold around 55,000 units here in the US, give or take, in January, the worst sales performance by far for a console since before the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii generation started back in late 2005. Hopefully Microsoft and Sony throwing more power at the problem with their forthcoming successor consoles and taking slightly different approaches/strategies to the present market situation will turn the tide back to purer videogaming's favor, but if not, then what we feared all along may very well already be happening, with all the attention turning for the foreseeable future to smartphones and tablets, as well as low cost, low risk Android-powered gaming devices (and who can forget the squeeze that may soon be felt from the PC side, with directives like the Steam Box). Naturally, we'll know for sure after the holidays of this year, but the clock is definitely ticking. Of course for me, I've pretty much always been platform agnostic, so it technically doesn't matter to me since getting one's videogame fix is easily served by countless devices, including the PC, but I'll always have the softest of spots for platforms that put videogames first, rather than as a secondary feature.

There has been a general call - and one that's been renewed of late due to the Wii U's struggles - for Nintendo to release their games on smartphones and tablets, with the theory being that they'd make a killing. The problem for Nintendo is that would be admitting defeat and would not only spell the end of the Wii U, but also irreparably hurt the 3DS. It's always an option for Nintendo to go this software-only route a la Sega, but the reality is it's truly a last resort that would forever change the company, with the obvious caveat that while it would spell the end of their hardware ambitions, they would no doubt remain one of the most beloved and profitable software companies on the planet.

Certainly Nintendo has been at fault with the Wii U thus far, pricing it perhaps higher than it should be, not differentiating it enough from the 360 and PS3, and not even making it clear to the general public how it's different from its predecessor, which lost consumer favor well before the Wii U's release despite winning the generation's sales war.

Despite the snobbery of some videogame aficionados who still like the rallying cry of touchscreens not being a substitute for traditional controls and finding every possible backdoor explanation on why their fanboy-driven devotion should be validated by the rest of the planet, the point remains that smartphones and tablets sell better than anything else out there and have cut into the sales of anything even remotely similar, be it videogame- or computer-related. In fact, successful smartphone and tablet platforms can move more units in a single quarter (three months) than a successful console or gaming handheld can in an entire lifetime (greater than five years). While it's true that a device built first for gaming is generally better in most cases than a device that has gaming as a secondary function, the point remains that history has shown that being good enough is often all that it takes, and we've long since passed the point of good enough with smartphones and tablets. In fact, many of those same videogame snobs put many gaming hours into their own smartphones and tablets in addition to - and sometimes in lieu of - the "superior" console or gaming handheld experience, often taking great pains to turn those "limited" (actually, incredibly flexible) portable devices into the ideal traditional gaming experience, complete with "real" controller and TV output. If that's not a case of "do as I say," and not "do as I do," then I don't know what is. You really can't have it both ways. If we're to enjoy all types of gaming, then it's not unreasonable for the non-enthusiast to be satisfied with just one solid aspect of the possible gaming options, which again are those pesky smartphones and tablets that are easy to take with us everywhere and have a frightening rate of increasing technical sophistication that traditional videogame console and handheld lifecycles - which are measured in many years rather than many months - can't possibly match.

In any case, as was mentioned, it's well known that once you reach the point of good enough, that's often enough. It can then be argued that perhaps, despite the protestation of PC gaming enthusiasts who want every ounce of their powerful rigs tapped, the Xbox 360 and PS3 hit that good enough point, which is why their particular generation has lasted so incredibly long and both platforms are outselling the Wii U (for now). The games look good on hi-def displays, sound good, and offer solid multiplayer. They have huge libraries and are known quantities, plus they do other things well like Netflix. In other words, what's the incentive to the mass market to call out for an upgrade? Again, unlike the Wii U to this point, the next Xbox and PlayStation consoles need to make a case why we, the greater we, not the fanboy, should care. I don't envy these mega corporations the task.

It's unlikely all three will last all the way through another generation like the one we're wrapping up here in year eight. None of the three companies will have the cash reserves to prop up a device consumers don't want, meaning we'll likely see at least one of the three drop out while one or the other two press on. Whether we'll have anything after that from a pure gaming standpoint as we know it is anyone's guess, and whether it will even be necessary considering what is rapidly evolving on the smartphone and tablet sides of the equation is also up for debate. I for one hope at least one of them, preferably two of them, figures it out.

What are you thoughts on this subject? What do the big three hardware videogame companies need to do to make their next gen systems a success? Is it already too late?

Comments

Matt Barton
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Tablets, tablets, tablets.

Tablets, tablets, tablets. Bleh. I'll be glad when the tablet fad is over. ;)

Seriously, though, with the exception of the exclusive games, what does a modern console do (or the next gen will do) that couldn't be done just as easily (and cheaply) as a PC?

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Bill Loguidice
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TTT
Matt Barton wrote:

Tablets, tablets, tablets. Bleh. I'll be glad when the tablet fad is over. ;)

Seriously, though, with the exception of the exclusive games, what does a modern console do (or the next gen will do) that couldn't be done just as easily (and cheaply) as a PC?

Well, you know that answer as well as I do. It's the same old argument for/against as always. Each form factor has their own pluses and minuses, which is one reason why those oft-mentioned smartphones and tablets have become so subversive so fast. Consoles have the advantage of being designed around the living room experience first and foremost, which for most people is the place with the biggest TV, most comfortable seating, etc. Everything from the user interface to the overall stability of the platform is designed around specific ease-of-use in such an environment. Gaming on PC can easily be as good, but a PC has the problem of being a general purpose device with all the other stuff more or less shoe-horned on. Things like Steam's big screen mode, OnLive, etc., are all admirable attempts at getting there, but they're still more compromised than devices that are designed for gaming (and, increasingly, entertainment) first.

The reality to all this though is that the line between this or that is increasingly blurred. Is my smartphone and tablet a computer? Sure, they can be. Can my PC be made to work on the TV? Sure. Can my Xbox 360 be a set top box like a Roku or Apple TV? You bet. Does my TV have apps built-in? They suck, but it sure does. It's often-times the labels that we have to overcome as much as it is the usage of the devices themselves.

It's scary to some, but I think the ideal scenario is for us to be members of say "Steam," "Xbox Club," "Nintendo Posse," "Apple Core," etc., and be able to use the content on any form factor we so choose. It's likely not going to happen for a variety of reasons, but some of it will. For instance, where CAN'T you run Netflix?

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clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
I dislike Tablets too.. but I

I dislike Tablets too.. but I feel like the old guy on the porch bitching at the kids playing in the street.. I think we are heading in a tablet direction. and I'm going to drag my feet the whole way. I think tablets need to be re-thouhgt a bit more.. the keyboard covering half the screen of INFO is not good.. but we are just to used to tactical keyboards.. we need more voice, more gesture related input.. just something NEW that I dont know or haven't seen. I aslo think we need to come a bit farther on wireless or CLOUD support.. The data is no good if i can reach it only at certain times. Phones you can tether is a big step in improving this. Right now tablets are just to flawed for hardcore work.. they feel like a calculator.. they do a couple things great and a bunch very half azzed. If it wasn't for battery life being much more then a laptop.. I would totally discount them. I do love teh simple touch interface.. its keyboard/storage/and add ons where they fail.. Most the android stuff has the add on stuff licked with USB support and memory card support.

But I dont see tablets going away.. so adapt or regress.. I'm still regressing.. I still uses my ASUS netbook with a extended battery (about 7 hours) and a cell card.. ALL my work stuff works on it well.. Screen size is still an issue.. but if i was tablet i would have the screen size issue still. And while its thicker then a tabelt.. its the same dimensions closed otherwise.. neither fit in my pocket.

The run one thing on all platforms is a interesting thought. I been fighting the Netflix naysayers for a few years.. and you bring up a great point.. all platforms.. STEAM might be the closest.. Steam was in talks with SONY to bring it to the PS3 at one time. My understanding why it fell through was STEAM wants there 30% and Sony wants there 30% so in the end cost was %30 higher then anywhere else.. bad PR mojo that would have been.. My understanding is STEAM (valve) had a few games ported even (pc to PS3) to show it was not a huge mess. STEAM is the closest to multi platform of any right now.. PC-MAC-Linux

I must admit STEAM is the single game changer for me.. And now they have the new "http://store.steampowered.com/bigpicture/" thing.. nothing even remotely new.. but they are pushing games to include console controller support ( bad thing for us PC guys i guess) so it can be pumped into TV's.. a move to drag STEAM into livingrooms.. Once games are there.. maybe more will follow on the PC side.. heaven knows the PC makers have tired for years to do it..

Anonymous (not verified)
If the rumors are true about

If the rumors are true about most of the next gen consoles not accepting used games, the Wii U could gain substantially from disgruntled 720/ps4 fans. I know I have no intention of buying a console that does that to me. Not only is it an affront to consumer rights, it kills future retro gaming. The same is true to a large extent about Steam.

Bill Loguidice
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Nope
Anonymous wrote:

If the rumors are true about most of the next gen consoles not accepting used games, the Wii U could gain substantially from disgruntled 720/ps4 fans. I know I have no intention of buying a console that does that to me. Not only is it an affront to consumer rights, it kills future retro gaming. The same is true to a large extent about Steam.

Honestly, I find the idea of any notable backlash against any system not allowing used games to be way, way overblown. As you state, Steam is a prime example, but there are many, many others, including all the digital purchases already taking place on the consoles. People vote, whether intentionally or not with their dollars, which is why we get so many FPS games, so many sequels, platforms that require persistent online connections, etc. If it didn't sell, it wouldn't be done. It's already too late on the used games thing.

With that said, I don't find it likely the used game thing will go into place. I have a feeling it will be left to publisher discretion. They still want to keep the stores happy. Remember, too, this is already being done in many cases for online access/multiplayer. If it's a used copy you need to pay extra in many cases to gain access to the "full" game if the original purchaser already activated the included code. EA and several other publishers already do it, and people still buy the heck out their games.

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Anonymous (not verified)
I would question the

I would question the assumption that the average steam user is equivalent the average console user. A lot of the console market is casual gamers, whereas the same cannot be said about steam. I'm not sure casual gamers will readily accept the lack of used games/ rentals.

clok1966
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scarry
Anonymous wrote:

If the rumors are true about most of the next gen consoles not accepting used games, the Wii U could gain substantially from disgruntled 720/ps4 fans. I know I have no intention of buying a console that does that to me. Not only is it an affront to consumer rights, it kills future retro gaming. The same is true to a large extent about Steam.

from my reading inst MS and its want to emulate the App store (on windows and the next console) on consoles the only semi confirmed one.. SONY's PR machine so far says they wont eliminate used games (yet)..

way to early to know till actual specs come out.. but Yes.. I been hearing MS will, and if they do.. Sony will to I'm sure. 50% of my 360 games are from Gamefly or EBAY.. i must admit it would make me think real hard on a purchase... I tend to think if they eliminate Used games prices on retial will drop quicker.. But there is reason to think it will keep prices higher too. In the end If prices stay higher longer on current games there will be less money to buy.. right now i pick up 3-6 games for $100, if they eliminate used, it would mean one game for $65 (tax)... one game company makes its $20.. I tend to think volume will drop on lesser games.. there are the "must haves' and the "pick up later on sale or used" games.. I really think things will change with purchases.. in a bad way.

Gamefly and almost everybody who sells games is going to be hurt by this.. If one console maker does it and the others done.. i can see some free retail product pushing by them to the ones that allow used sales.

Right now they put free DLC in new games.. to reward the NEW buyers. why not allow USED games to BUY the DLC ? sure they dint get the original price.. but they are not giving the DLC for free.. and that way they can suck some extra cash from DLC and keep track of used sales.. maybe evne offer some paid DLC for USED only games.. there has to be way to leverage used games too.

And STEAM they are looking at ways to trade (not sell) used games.. and are already facing some problems in Germany (they allow used game sales). So there may be some changes in that, but I doubt it.. hard to press for anything that means less money for game companies and more flexability for end users. Gotta admit i cant see much upside for them.

Anonymous (not verified)
Actually, I think the

Actually, I think the opposite will happen and prices will stay higher longer. With no used games to compete with you have a monopoly on supply and that never works out well for the consumer.

Right now prices on steam reflect overall consumer preference for a console as well as used game prices on a console. Given even that, I can typically find used games for less than the amount on steam and I get to actually own them and possibly resell them unlike steam.

ruthan
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Joined: 01/22/2012
Future

With internet for masses - facebook, twitters crap, people now dont want what because once wanted cheap gaming device, but general purpose device with user friendly interface.. If someone like Valve / Google could deliver that most of the people will be satisfied.

Tablets - Archos gamepad convinced me that console experience on smaller screen is possible and after i go to home i can dock android console in one connector and im in desktop mode similar my pc. Problem is now that here isnt hardcore game, same as on WII, if HC games will come, consoles will die relatively quickly, becuase installbase is now 500M + againt 70M of PS3 / Xboxes. But im affraid that, developers will still make for Android only stupid casual games.. i would be nice realy see some AAA game on this platform.

Simply in terms of big companies:
MS - couldnt have bigger part of market that already have (is #1 in consoles, i on 95% of desktops), there is only way to down.
Apple - is on decline, in world is now 8x time more, Android phones and Apple devices, are very closed (without emulators, porn apss are disabled), physical controller are disabled.. - down
Google - have money, have best engiineers, is ruler of internet.. Android is the best, but definitly is fastest growing platform in industry.. As PC killed Amiga is possilble that Android will Windows in longtern.- up
Valve - leaders arent such stupid as in MS and Sony, but it is only lesser evil, i dont believe in bright future in Valves embrace - up
Sony - progress is too slow, long ago in decline, they are mastodonts.. fitest will survive - down
Nintendo - have lots of money, biggest income per head besides Valve, but Wii U is mistake and there way is too childish, not hardcore.
A lot of people are never taken Nintendo seriously , even though if they earn the most of all companies.
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Clock wrote about todays games quality, they are good in graphical fidelity, but bad from gameplay, deep players experience.. change come imho with Tomb Raider and similar games in 97, after that gaming lost the its edge, games come more and more boring.

Because before when you wanted add some feature it was easy, most work was in code and after you did few assets. But know you if you know to add new features and need shitload of quality asset for integration with rest of game (models, textures, motion capture, voice acting, testing..).. so you are thinking, counting and after you said, too expensive too complex implementation.. => from point of view system complexity are games more, more simple, although for more and more people working on them. You could easy take screeshot of system complexity, how can take great assets.. But project, like Minecraft show that, there people which still prefer design quality over assets fidelity, but is hard to show them that you project even exist.
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With games is like with women..
Old games, where becautifull in their time, beautiful enough and was also clever, fun, wise.. But now, if you didnt fucked (played) them in there golden years, you have problem found their beauty... and even if you do, i hard too felt to love again, because there are too old, too wrinkled.
Todays games, are like AAA natural redheads with big boobs nymphos.. very, very beautiful.. but after they open their mouth, you recognize, that their IQ maximally 80, they are stupid. You still could fuck them, but there are empty, you couldnt speak with them, joking, its like brother experience.
I wish us, beatiful and clever games and babes:)

Who: Brujah Zealot, the pimp of babylons bitch. / Location: Scorched heart of Europe. // Sorry for my moldavian sort of english, i have 2 possibilities, to be silent or try to say something +look like idiot..

chaiavi (not verified)
The future is Android consoles

Hi guys,

I think that the fututre will reveal a new competitor - Android devices

Like Ouya or many others - they are cheap, open and the games will cost close to nothing.

Handhelp devices will be likewise: GCW Zero and such.

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