I’d like to build upon the Satoru Iwata post from this morning by stealing his quote from the Barron’s article and using it from here on out as my own.
“We are not fighting against other companies ’ we are fighting against ignorance of video games.”
I guess my main quarrel with game companies today is that they refuse to take risks, and then repackage yesterday’s games and sell it to we the gamers as a completely new title at a premium price. And they act as if they are entitled to do this. We’re partially to blame though, right? (I own every Final Fantasy up to #9, and bought every one without thinking twice about graphics or story or originality). Still, it is refreshing to see someone as filthy rich as Iwata take a stand (to become even more filthy rich, natch).
Truth is though, the audience for gaming is shrinking. And it’s shrinking thanks in no part to stale titles and — dare I say it — the need to kill things violently. The original GTA3? A great game that took up my entire sophomore/junior years at college. But these titles, like all genres, must arrive on shelves in moderation, because an elite cadre of gamers now exists that enjoys playing roughly the same fare year over year. That kind of environment stifles innovation and systematically reduces our number with every month. It’s a well discussed topic, and one that was driven home by Nintendo execs when they revealed the Wii/DS at E3 (and people snickered, as people are wont to do when they’re threatened, no?).
It is the epitome of foolishness to think that having more girl gamers, older gamers, and otherwise non-traditional gamers in the mix is a bad thing. More in the mix means more ideas; more potential; better games. It means collectively we win. To dismiss a game like Nintendogs or Animal Crossing as kiddie fare is irresponsible and short-sighted. You’re missing the point. Look past the puppy, and see how an interactive, lifelike dynamic like raising a virtual animal can be applied to a FPS or open world game like GTA. Don’t feel like playing “GTA5” today? Better be careful, your character could get sick in-game, or starve, or meet his end as he “sleeps” off a hangover at your apartment save point (this exists in one form or another on some MMORPGs, I believe). I’m no expert on the inner workings of the Wii, but its “always on” promise could fit that model perfectly. In addition to the Wiimote, it would be yet another level of immersion for the player. For a real world example of how stale and predictable titles are stifling innovation, look no further than the sales numbers for titles like Okami. The audience for this game exists in the millions, I’m sure, but they are turned off by gaming because of the current environment. The result? Games inspired by this title are never realized. We all lose.
There’s also an argument against mini-games on the Wii, or more specifically, too many of them at once. To a point I agree, but again I think blasting the mini-game approach is short-sighted too. While playing Smooth Moves the other day, I counted no fewer than 10 mini-games that could have served as simple platforms for far more robust titles. With games like Wario, Nintendo is trying to sell that game, yes (and it was a decent, full featured game — for multiple players), but I imagine there was an immense amount of R+D going on behind the scenes as they looked at which mini-games were a bit more robust than others (using Samus to knock down barrels just worked for some reason). Several mini games in Wario Ware, given time and support, could very well be tomorrow’s quirky “casual gamer” bestseller. But to get to that point, there needs to be that Wario Ware-type title to take that first step, that risk, to start tearing down the ignorance Iwata speaks of and make gaming more popular, and therefore better for everyone. Even FPS-o-philes.
So forgive me if I seem biased about this particular issue sometimes. It’s because I am.