If this were December, and not the still rather toasty month of September, I’d say you should curl up with a nice cup of cocoa and enjoy this latest epic novella from Infendo resident savant Malstrom by a crackling fire of burning Lair discs and instruction manuals. But it’s not. But read it anyway. Every last word.
It’s an epic piece on hardcore gamers (and much, much more), and when I first read it I really did lose track of time. The thing breezed by, and I found myself one step closer to crossing through the Stargate to the land where Malstrom now inhabits. That little island where you can look back and see what was invisible before, because it took a paradigm shift to get there.
And with that bombastic diatribe now complete, I offer you “Washing the Hardcore Away” by Malstrom…
“O God! that one might read the book of fate,
And see the revolution of the times
Make mountains level. and the continent,
Weary of solid firmness, melt itself
Into the sea!”
-From Shakespeare’s “King Henry Part 2”
To regard the obstacle as the art- to mistake growth for decline- is to be guilty of elitism in another guise. It deserves to be studied in all its forms.
Between Man’s destitution and the satisfaction of his wants there is a multitude of obstacles which it is the goal of technology and genius to surmount. It is curious to inquire how and why these very obstacles to our desires have come to be mistaken for its cause.
Suppose I need to play a video-game forty years ago. Between that desire and the satisfaction of it are a series of obstacles. Forty years ago, video-games were on DEC PDP mainframe computers available only at elite Universities, requiring unintuitive switches to work, needed programming knowledge if you wanted to move the Space War! Program anywhere, were color-less, contained no sound, required a sense of basic physics due to the simulated gravity in the gameplay, another player for it was multiplayer only- in short, obstacles; and, to surmount these obstacles, I must exert myself vigorously and spend great time to do so. Is it not clear that under these circumstances I should have been better off if these obstacles did not exist in the first place?
If this is what gaming is, and would always be, one would have to spend considerable money, considerable time, and somehow plop themselves into a special University in order to play video games. It is clear that, all things considered, it would be better for the future of gaming, if these obstacles were as easy to overcome and as infrequent as possible.
Unconsciously, Nolan Bushnell understood this. Thirty five years ago, he adapted Space War! into an arcade cabinet and created a single player portion. The resulting game was called Computer Space. While many obstacles were removed from Space War!, it was not enough. Bushnell correctly analyzed that the obstacles of the control and complex gameplay had to be removed. It was the idea of removing obstacles that led Atari to make (or steal, depending on your perspective) Pong. Instead of a row of instructions, Pong had one memorable line: “Hit ball for high score.”
The more and more obstacles are removed, the bigger gaming gets. If I wanted to play video games thirty years ago, I could go to Sears and buy an Atari machine to play Pong. This was a far cry from the obstacles to gaming forty years ago. Twenty five years ago, the obstacles to gaming became less and less. One of the biggest obstacles to gaming, disinterest, was being removed by multiple games, by less abstract games, and more variety in controls. No one should be surprised that one year ago, when the Wii was released, the obstacle of controls and complex gameplay was partially removed allowing new growth.
What Hardcore Is
But if one scrutinizes social phenomena in detail and the attitudes of gamers as they have been modified by generations, one soon sees how gamers have come to confuse obstacles with sophistication and obstacles with cause.
”˜Hardcore’ is, today, said to be those who enjoy epic, long games encased in a digital graphical and musical orchestrations of delight. But this was not who ”˜hardcore’ gamers were fifteen years ago who enjoyed shorter, harder, arcade style gaming while the new gamers enjoyed easier, story based, epics. And this was not the case twenty two years ago when gamers preferred the keyboard input and massive scope of computer games over the harder, shorter burst style of the new consoles coming out. It would appear that the definition of ”˜hardcore’ changes with the times.
But there is a definition of hardcore that is universal: gamers who prefer the obstacles to remain. This definition would include current ”˜hardcore’ gamers as well as Space War! fans distressed at seeing the game escape the universities.
Why Experienced Gamers Prefer Obstacles
I have often asked why wealthy people prefer the obstacles to becoming rich remain (these obstacles consist of the taxes on income, legal walls, as financial education which wealthy teach themselves but universities and government schools do not). Is it raw elitism where the rich got what they wanted and want the rest of to remain poor to they can appear like ”˜lords’ over us as if they were special? Maybe. The reason why the wealthy prefer the obstacles is that they spent considerable time, money, and effort to get around those obstacles and would be furious to see younger generations not have to go through those same ”˜trials’.
It is not unlike the old man saying to the young, “When I went to school, I had to walk in the snow uphill both ways,” in a sense of irritation that, as civilization advances, those obstacles retreat. But it would be mad for him to destroy school buses and demand the young walk in snow to get to school.
Experienced gamers have spent enormous time and effort at learning games. When computer magazines came out, old timers were irritated that one did not have to learn how to program games themselves. Instead, they could just copy what was shown in a magazine. And those gamers, as they aged, became irritated when games were sold in zip-loc bags in stores. Now, gamers did not even need to put in the code! When the NES came out, computer gamers were irritated that the new gamers, the NES generation, would not know the burn of long loading times or dealing with a complex keyboard for all gaming. Arcade gamers were irritated that the 3d gamers did not have to play and replay a part of the game a thousand times until he got it right to advance. Games were becoming easier and removing those obstacles previous gamers had spent so much of their time and effort to work. Imagine the frustration of a computer gamer, having to create multiple boot discs to get a certain VooDoo graphics to work to play a huge RPG epic, become annoyed at younger gamers who do nothing but pop in a disc!
The people who are opposed to eliminating additional obstacles are those who have spent the time and effort surmounting the prior ones. Along their intense focus of surmounting those obstacles, they become confused that the obstacles were the point in the first place! For new games, they demand more obstacles to be placed in their path. In time, the gamer becomes twisted to think gaming is nothing but surmounting obstacles. The ”˜hardcore’ gamer will then begin to label these obstacles as ”˜art’. When an obstacle is removed to allow growth, the ”˜hardcore’ player perceives that some art of gaming is removed. Using my wealthy analogy, it would be as if the Government removed legal obstacles and the wealthy crying out that the ”˜art’ of becoming rich is being lost.
To Hardcore, More Obstacles Equals More Art
We have just seen that there are obstacles between our wants and their satisfactions. We succeed in eliminating these obstacles or in lessening them by employing technology and genius to overcome them. Thus, the collective result of these eliminations is called industry.
The Industry may be surprised to hear itself be defined in that way. I would bet, ten to one, that The Industry prefers seeing itself creating more and more sophisticated art (which are obstacles) and sees itself as constantly growing (which was actually declining).
”What!” cried an observer. “Does this frightful commotion on obstacles arise from confusing luddites with the hardcore?”
Friend, unlike most of the game media who rarely see history beyond generations of consoles, you know your history well. Look through the deep crevices of your fertile brain and isolate those periods where obstacles, be it user interface, price, or design, were removed. Did not a group of experienced gamers vocally rise up against these changes?
”I do recall when computer gaming shifted from DOS to Windows. There was a vocal group of people unhappy with the change. I also recall gamers annoyed when PC game companies offered their own free version of online multiplayer for they became used to independent paid services.”
And what was the reaction from these experienced players when gaming opened up?
”They called the new gamers ”˜noobs’ and themselves as ”˜old school’ or ”˜real gamers’. They considered the invasion of new players as a type of diluting effect on the gamer population. Keep in mind that these observations are not just for the hardcore of today or a specific time but for all times.”
This is very serious; the more so, from the syllogism being so admirably formed. I should very much like to be enlightened on the subject. But, alas! I can no longer command my attention. There is such confusion of the market and market watchers as if the falconer no longer understands the falcon. In the meantime here is a little work entitled Seeing What’s Next: Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change by Clayton Christensen. It may remove some of your doubts. Just look at it when you are in want of a little amusement.
”To amuse me?”
Who knows? One nail drives in another; one wearisome thing drives away another.
”I have not yet made up my mind that your views upon the market and industry are correct. But, from your musings, this is what I have gathered: -That these questions are of the highest importance; for console war or console peace, market order or market anarchy, the interpretation of growth is the root of the answer to them. In your last article, you said the Industry perceives growth in the manner that Detroit did [of market share and revenue] while Iwata and Nintendo spoke of growth as that the Japanese auto companies did [of expanding the market]. How is it that you now go on and on about obstacles and the elimination of them? Does obstacle elimination constitute disruption?”
Not exactly but it is a key part of it. Let me reconfigure the metaphorical frame so that it may be easier to see.
A smart businessman approaches consumers (and non-consumers) not unlike a smart man approaches women. He does not listen to what they say. If he does what they ”˜say’ they want, he will find his success stagnate or shrink. Rather, he will watch what they do and let that be the basis of for the action.
”Decidedly you are a frightful grumbler. The Hardcore’s complaint is that Nintendo does not listen to them anymore yet you applaud this.”
Do you not agree that the fuel of the ”˜console wars’ is about people buying one system and, due to that financial investment, invest in it emotionally?
”That very well appears to be the truth.”
The obstacle to the console, money, is a magnet for emotional investment. It follows that non-financial obstacles also attract emotional investment.
”This would include all the necessary things to learn and finish a game. It would include the adoption of the user interface, the time spent in the digital worlds, as well as applying to new games what was learned from the old ones. But what do you conclude from that?”
I will tell you. The sum of all these emotional investments in obstacles eventually rises to the point where the decrease of those obstacles outweighs the benefits. When this happens, the player becomes ”˜hardcore’.
”What an unfortunate existence! How do such gamers increase their enjoyment in such a miserable state?”
Why, through the increase of obstacles. They will interpret this as sophistication. It is the hardcore gamer who readily accepted 720 and 1080 HD gaming. This move to HD before HD has become mainstream is another additional obstacle. Hardcore will view that obstacle as ”˜progress’ and ”˜sophistication’ while normal people view it as a pain in the butt. The same can be applied to any hardcore quality from extreme game difficulty, control complexity, to paid online gaming.
”Malstrom, come quick!” While one cannot have a discussion at the time of doomsday, I bid farewell to my commentator who, I hoped, would not be caught by the waves. Following the voice, I found the person to be looking towards the Industry’s shores. “The earthquakes have stopped. The tidal waves have ceased. They are saying the disturbance was only a fad. But the words are hollow. No one really believes it.”
Sure enough, the ocean appeared to have receded leaving the Industry’s shores larger than ever. Buildings lay in pieces and debris was scattered through the streets. The people began to run around in a frenzied panic.
My friend summoned a waiter who scurried forth (yes, across the rubble!), dressed in an expensive tuxedo, and delivered us our cognac. As he left, we drank in the ruins and puffed our expensive cigars. The riots of the hardcore could be heard behind us as well as the chants that ”˜Nintendo was destroying gaming as we know it’.
“I tried to warn them,” I said. “But they didn’t listen. They never listen. If they understood what was going on, they wouldn’t be so tragic.”
A thump came at the window overlooking a store. Everyone turned to see a “hardcore” gamer’s face smushed up against the glass. With eyes bug wide, he screamed, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” And then he ran off in madness.
I put down his cigar. “We must do something.”
“But what?” the investor friend said holding his cognac. “Let them drown. They are of no consequence.”
“They need to know.”
“They cannot listen.”
“But they will hear nevertheless.”
“You can’t get them to see.”
“I can try.”
Hardcore Gamer at the Bookstore
A “hardcore” gamer and a regular gamer walked into a bookstore. Immediately, the “hardcore” gamer made a straight line to the sci-fi and fantasy section. “Wow!” he said, picking up books by their cover (the prettier the cover means a better book, of course). One had a sleek space ship with bald space marines. Another showed a knight in a dark and ancient forest that was an epic fantasy as thick as a dictionary. He held them up triumphantly, “These are the only books!” He picked up other variants to the sci-fi/fantasy such as cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history. Merrily, he proceeded to the check out counter when he saw his friend, regular gamer, looking at another aisle of books.
“What books are those?” he demanded.
“Oh these?” Regular gamer picked up a cook-book. “These are the How-To Books.”
The “hardcore” gamer’s eyes flared. “No!” He took the cook-book, threw it down, and then knocked over the shelf.
“What are you doing!?” the regular gamer cried.
“These,” he snarled, holding up his bloated fantasy and sci-fi books with space ships and space marines on the cover, “are REAL BOOKS. Those,” he pointed to the how-to books, “are the NON BOOKS.”
“Have you lost your mind!?”
The “hardcore” gamer leaped into action. “I will save the book industry!” In the middle of the bookstore, he started a fire. The flames licked the air and flared in the middle of the store. “Die non books, die!” Into the fire went the encyclopedias, the dictionaries, the self-help books, the how-to books, the technical books, and, in general, all non-fiction.
Everyone stood with their mouths hanging open, stunned. The regular gamer slowly approached the “hardcore” gamer. “Some people like the books you are tossing into the fire. Why are you labeling non-fiction books as non books?”
“No!” roared the “hardcore” gamer. “The sports books I have declared to be REAL BOOKS, and they are non-fiction. See these Romance Books I am tossing into the fire? They are fiction, but I have proclaimed them to be NON BOOKS.”
“By what right do you have to proclaim what is a REAL BOOK versus a NON BOOK?”
“Huh!? Oh, you are one of them that are out to destroy this magnificent book industry! Into the fire you go.” And the “hardcore” gamer threw his friend into the pit.
The doors burst open as firemen and policemen rushed in. “There he is,” one said as they took positions. A policeman sighed, “Not another one. Hose him down!”
“Blargh *gurgle* *gurgle*!” yelped the “hardcore” gamer as streams of water put out the fire and splashed him down.
“Put him with the other ones,” said the chief. As they put the “hardcore” gamer in a straightjacket and led him off, the chief spoke with another officer. “Ever since E3, the hardcore have gone mad. I hear incidents like this are widespread across the city. What could cause such madness?”
The officer looked at the burned remains of books and thought of Fahrenheit 451 and saw the “hardcore” gamer struggle in his straightjacket. “Freaks do not recognize themselves in the mirror.”
The Hardcore Face Reality
The “hardcore” gamer was locked in the white straightjacket inside a dark institutional room. The door opens, light floods in, and I entered.
I got straight to the point. I turned on the projector, turned to the “hardcore” gamer, and said, “It should have been the ”˜hardcore’ gamers’ greatest triumph. E3 2007 would be it for the defining year of ”˜Console War’. All the big guns would go off.”
The “hardcore” gamer just glared at me. He said nothing.
The first slide came up showing the Master Chief in a dramatic pose resembling a statue. “Halo 3, alone, should have sent hype through the stratosphere. Even a Halo 3 themed Xbox 360 was shown.”
The second slide came up. It showed Grand Theft Auto 4. “While GTA 4 wasn’t exactly shown, it should be in everyone’s thoughts. Grand Theft Auto 3 helped rocket the Playstation 2 to its success. Surely, everyone would be drooling over the sequel. Or are they?”
The third slide showed. It was the picture of the masked soldier of Killzone 2. “Killzone 2 appeared and, many said, matched the 2005 trailer. This should have been the day of nirvana for you.”
I looked at the “hardcore” gamer. He kept glaring. I smiled and said, “But what did Nintendo offer? Let us see.”
The projector showed Wii Fit with a woman doing aerobics on the Wii Balance Board. “And one”¦ and two”¦ and three”¦” she said.
“While all three presentations may have lacked pizzazz, obviously the Nintendo one was the worst, right?” I said as he paced the room. “Microsoft showed games. Sony showed even more games. Nintendo showed”¦ non games. This brings up the question, ”˜Who won E3?’”
The “hardcore” gamer stared daggers.
“Why, let us get out the newspapers and see!” I pulled out a stack and went from paper to paper, quoting them:
“Washington Post: ”˜Nintendo is star of E3 as rivals struggle to catch up.’ Business Week: ”˜Nintendo’s Wii has looked like a winner in the latest round of the gaming console wars. So the pressure was on Sony and Microsoft at this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo to prove that their PlayStation3 and Xbox 360 have plenty of fight left. Both companies needed to pull out the big guns. Yet it was Nintendo that pulled out the biggest gun of all.’ USA Today had the headline of ”˜Wii Getting Up and Moving’ with the quote: ”˜Now Nintendo and its Wii are riding the biggest wave of success at the E3 game summit, overshadowing tech giants Microsoft and Sony and their more powerful entries.’ And here,” I pull out another paper,” is the TG Daily whose column reads, ”˜Sony, Microsoft stuck in the now, Nintendo already in the future.’”
I pushed a button and the clip from the girl doing aerobics with Wii Fit went on again. “And one”¦ And two”¦ And three”¦”
“Come now, Mr. Hardcore. Halo 3 and Killzone 2, matching its 2005 trailer, were outmatched by an aerobics game!”
“Noooo! Bias! They are not video game experts!”
I pointed at the picture of the girl doing Wii Fit. “THE FUTURE OF GAMING!!!!”
“Noooaaarrrghhhh!!!” The “hardcore” gamer began foaming at the mouth.
“I need a doctor in here, quick!” I yelled at the camera. Doctors rushed in, held down the spazzing “hardcore” gamer, and gave him a shot. Once he was under control, they left the room.
“Oh, ”˜hardcore’ gamer, what is the cause of your distemper? What is this mental disease that is causing you to run mad?”
“Wii Fit will cause the end of gaming!”
“Now, now. None of that. I have an antidote to your madness. In my hand there is a red pill. Take it, and you’ll find how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
“No! It is Nintendo Kool-Aid!”
“It is the truth. Or you can just sit here in your straight jacket and foam at the mouth whenever a new article appears praising Nintendo and laughing at Sony and Microsoft. It’s your choice.”
The ”˜hardcore’ gamer considered this. He swallowed the pill. “Nothing else to do. Hell, all gaming is dead anyway.”
I, smiling, turned the projector to a new image. “You’ve been living in a dream world, Mr. Hardcore.” The image showed the Playstation, Playstation 2, and the Xbox. “In your reality, you believe gaming has been growing by leaps and bounds, that it is becoming more popular, that hardcore games are becoming more ”˜mainstream’. After all, you cite the 100+ million consoles shipped for either Playstation.”
”The PSX created a paradigm shift, and gaming became mainstream then!”
I shook my head. “This has never been true. Here is what happened. During the great 16-bit ”˜war’, whose effects have rippled until now with Nintendo ”˜surrendering’ in the console wars, Nintendo and Sega went at each other. Meanwhile, Sony was carefully studying both companies. The head of Sega marketing in America, Kalinske, devised to market the Genesis as a ”˜hip’ and ”˜rebellious’ system primarily due to gamers aging into their teenage years. Sony copied this for the Playstation except updated the age bracket which brought in the MTV crowd. Adding more rebellious ”˜content’, these games were called ”˜mature’. Microsoft is emulating the Playstation which explains why the Xbox 360 big ”˜reveal’ appeared on MTV. The pathetic ”˜console war’ between PS3 and Xbox 360 is the last gasp of that 16-bit console war. The last paradigm shift, the introduction of the NES, brought in the market while the 16-bit generation began the series of ”˜console wars’ which is finally ending with Wii’s paradigm shift. The real reason people say gaming went ”˜mainstream’ in the past is because they believe MTV and violence/perversion to be mainstream. So when games began to be interesting to MTV fans and violence/perversion, people labeled those games as ”˜mainstream’ despite not one game outselling Super Mario Brothers for over twenty years.”
”But the paradigm shift of the Playstation?”
”Do not confuse a market shift with a paradigm shift. No new paradigm was set.”
”But 3d gaming took over!”
”That is the same paradigm as before: better graphics, faster horsepower, and so on. 3d gaming existed prior to the Playstation though in simulated ways or with special chips (Starfox). Playstation followed the paradigm of bigger, better, and more that has been continuing since the NES. It is the Wii that has ended it and creating a new paradigm.”
“So Japan is saving gaming once again?”
“With console markets, the East takes pleasure in making what the West takes pleasure in breaking.””
A new image appeared. On one side, an Atari 2600 sat in the living room surrounded by families. The other was a Playstation 2 stuck in a dark room. “The metric to determine true popularity of gaming is the number of gamers.”
“That makes sense,” the ”˜hardcore’ player conceded.
“But what metric is being used to measure the popularity of gaming?”
“Does that make sense when every console, from the DS, Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 cost more than their predecessors? Does it make sense when software costs more than their predecessors? The PSP is a new addition so that is new revenue coming from nothing.”
“You are right. Revenue cannot be the metric of gaming popularity since prices have changed so much along with consumers buying multiple systems.”
“Another common metric is the percentage of homes with an installed console. Why won’t that work?”
The ”˜hardcore’ gamer thought about it. “Hmm. If gaming did become a solitary endeavor from the family thing, such a metric could not detect it. It would only register a system inside the home and that is it.”
I pulled out an expensive cigar, lit, and puffed on it. “The curious thing about the gaming industry is why gamers are obsessed with sales. Home theater nerds do not say that the best selling television or speakers are the best. And despite whatever console ”˜wins’, within five years the entire thing starts over again.”
“But this generation is different. Nintendo is destroying gaming.”
I stopped, turned, and said, “How can you say that? By your talking, you think the only games people play are Brain Age and Wii Sports.”
“It is inevitable. The best selling games breed the clones. And the clones signal a shift of the industry.”
“But it isn’t just the cloning, is it? Correct me if I’m wrong”¦”
The ”˜hardcore’ gamer narrowed his eyes, concentrating on what I said next.
“You perceive the industry is a fantastical assortment of pie charts. With all your excel market share pies, Nintendo’s strategy doesn’t fit. After all, the Wii is not aimed to take away existing market share.”
“It is to grow it. Yes. The pie gets larger. And that is the problem.”
“Yes. The problem. Here is how you, Monsieur Hardcore, view the games industry.”
I puffed on my cigar. “You view the hardcore as the center, as the axis of the industry.”
“It must be so for we buy all the games.”
“Wrong. You do not amount to a majority in the sales. Regardless, around you, Mr. Hardcore, is a bunch of ”˜lesser gamers’ who you see are not as sophisticated and tasteful as you are.”
The ”˜hardcore’ gamer snorted, “The casuals.”
“You perceive the market to be as flat as a pancake and that the entire gaming world revolves around you, the magnificent, tasteful, and sophisticated gamer. So when Nintendo talks about growing the market, you see those casuals increasing and the ”˜core’ gamers being left alone.”
“Yes. Since we are in the center of the world surrounded by imbecile casual gamers, how are we to grow? Alas, Nintendo is ensuring the future to be dominated by casuals. All my epic games will be lost!”
“No wonder you went mad! But let me ask you something. Traditionally, consoles aim at the so-called ”˜hardcore’ first and then casuals later right? But the Wii aimed at the so-called ”˜casuals’ first.”
“It was infuriating!”
“But is it true? Is the market nothing more than a pancake? Are ”˜hardcore’ gamers the axis in which the market revolves around?”
The ”˜hardcore’ gamer almost foamed at the mouth again. “That is absurd!”
“This is the veil removed from your eyes! Take a good look at it, Mr. Hardcore. You are nowhere near the center of the market. You are the fringe. You exist on the sides. The market revolves around the mainstream.”
“Do not game makers try to get their fringe franchise to enter the mainstream? Do they not try to remove the obstacles that are limiting their games’ sales? Don’t you see the push to move the game to the mainstream? In fact, the ”˜hardcore’ do not really want to become mainstream. As soon as a game enters the mainstream, it must be hated because then it is ”˜popular’.”
“Like Grand Theft Auto III. Like Madden.”
“Exactly. One can see this effect occur within individual genres. In shmups, the ”˜hardcore’ will compete among each other to name the most obscure Japanese only shmup while ignoring the mainstream hits such as Gradius or even R-Type. Hardcore confuse the obstacles to gaming as its sophistication where it is the exact opposite.”
“That explains why the Treasure shmups like Radiant Silvergun or Ikaruga were endlessly praised by the hardcore until they became popular. And then, suddenly, those games were ”˜no good’.”
“Yes. The ”˜hardcore’ are not core but fringe. They want to be different from the mainstream. As soon as something hits the mainstream, they move away from it as if it contained the plague. One cannot be simultaneously sophisticated and tasteful if it is mainstream.”
“But does the industry revolve around the mainstream? No! It revolves around us, the REAL gamers!”
“Fool!” I slapped him. “Which became mainstream, Computer Space or Pong? Pong was not the ”˜hardcore’ game. Pac-Man was made to attract female audiences. Pitfall, too, became mainstream while competing ”˜hardcore’ titles did not. Super Mario Brothers became huge while epic role playing computer games did not. Tetris became a phenomenon while the graphically richer and more epic titles couldn’t hope to match the purity and simplicity of the game. No one would have predicted that, in the era of 8-bit and 16-bit, a blocky game made of squares would be so big. The pattern goes on and on to Nintendogs and Wii Sports.”
“So what you are saying is whichever game goes ”˜mainstream’ goes the spoils of profits.”
“But in your ”˜correct’ image, you show market growth aiming from fringe to mainstream. I don’t dispute that. But how is it going inside the pancake?”
I slapped the ”˜hardcore’ gamer again. Adjusting my tie, I puffed on the expensive cigar. “You are still thinking in the old paradigm of the market being nothing but a flattened pie chart. Such pie charts do not take in account people who do not play games.”
“All the ”˜hardcore’ and analysts told Nintendo, ”˜You cannot sail that way! The market is flat. You will fall off.’ And their forecasts literally showed the ”˜Revolution’ falling off the market. But if Iwata has become the industry’s Columbus and discovered a new continent”¦”
“You are creepy,” lamented the fringe gamer.
“”¦then it shows that the market is not flat!”
“I do not know what I am seeing,” the fringe gamer admitted.
“In any market for any product, breaking down barriers between the non customers and the product allows for market expansion. The NES became popular than many gaming computers because it was more accessible. The obstacles were removed.”
“I do not deny that. But why is there gamer drift?”
“Boredom stagnate any entertainment market. This is the folly of treating the trends of the market in purely technological terms.”
“I understand the idea of the market expanding like a balloon growing in air. But how does the market move up and down? What are the rungs on that picture you show?”
“Disruption is a wonderful thing. The ultimate system is, of course, our own Human lives. Every product has a sort of barrier compared to how we naturally live. Games that require thirty buttons to play are nowhere near as natural as one that uses only two buttons and simple motion gestures.”
“So each disruption, each level the gaming becomes more ”˜natural’, it moves to a higher rung?”
“Yes. In the beginning, gaming was extremely abstract and silent. When sound was added, games became more natural. It grew more interest. The sound-less games would be stuck on the lower rung and would be confined to that smaller ”˜pancake’. Soon, games incorporated music which grew it even more. Graphical advancement removed abstraction from gaming. Numbers became symbols, symbols became sprites, and sprites became three dimensional shapes. Keyboard only inputs gave way to keyboard and mouse.”
“So would voice technology be a disruption?”
“Only if it was more natural and accurate than its predecessor. As long as one can type a letter faster and more accurately than voice recognizing software, there is no disruption.”
“But the Wii controller is more natural and less abstract than button pushing.”
“By the look in your eyes, I can see you are beginning to understand. This more natural form of gaming allows the market to elevate and, through elevation, expand like a growing cone as opposed to a growing pancake. There will be more ”˜simple’ gamers, true. But there will be more traditional players as well. Is not New Super Mario Brothers selling higher than almost all previous Mario games? Is not Mario Kart DS setting new records for a Mario Kart game? And is not Dragon Quest Swords for the Wii currently outselling previous Dragon Quest spin-off titles?”
“So it is not just the casuals that expand. Everyone does. But what happens to the lower rungs? How do they exist when a higher rung appears?”
“They become disrupted. The water level goes up. And the flood comes in sinking them, and products like them, to the underworld of history.”
Perception of Art
I took out the Author’s Remote Control (used to provide special effects in articles) and began using it to prepare for the next scene when the ”˜fringe’ gamer took the remote.
“It is time that I make the scene so you can hear my side.”
The fringe gamer made such a combination that we were now in a concert hall. On stage was an orchestra playing a symphony by Bach. The fringe gamer asked, “Is this not great music?”
“This is what gaming is all about: creating new ”˜art’ in games. Classical music may not be the best selling, but it far surpasses the sell outs.” Pressing a button on the remote, Britney Spears appeared doing pop music. “This is the garbage that sells to the masses. Nintendo’s new direction is to abandon the great sophistication that this classical music represents and become sell-outs: selling games that sell to the lowest denominator.”
“Is that how you perceive the expanded market? As idiots that must be catered to with mini-games and the most simplistic controls?”
“They cannot handle my sophisticated epics!”
“Maybe they just aren’t interested in that style of gaming? Just as not everyone likes science fiction and fantasy books, not everyone will like the same type of games you like. Just because a book reader prefers non-fiction cook-books over a fictional epic doesn’t make him a worse reader.”
“Still, those new market games will destroy gaming just as pop music destroyed classical music!”
“This analogy is dumb.” I took the Author’s Remote Control away from him. “Classical music is universal and has always been heard by the mainstream. While people may not wish to listen to symphonies in concert halls, they are pleased to listen to plenty of classical music within their movies to even their cartoons. Early cartoons had little talking, such as the Road Runner and Tom and Jerry, relying entirely on classical music. There is a reason why it was called ”˜Merry Melodies’ after all.”
I puffed on my cigar and pressed a few buttons. “Here is a more correct analogy.”
The concert hall was gone and, in its place, was a movie theater. The fringe gamer recognized the surroundings.
“Good God! We are either in hell or in the 70s!”
“There’s a difference? See those?” I pointed to the movie theater. “In this time period, the few movie watchers believed this was the high point of movies. They believed movies were, at this time, the most sophisticated and intelligent.”
The music of John Williams blared from the theater.
The fringe gamer’s eyes went wide. “It is Star Wars!”
I puffed on the cigar. “Yes. What was the market reaction to Star Wars?”
The fringe gamer looked like a deer in headlights. “It made everyone watch movies again! The special effects rekindled interest in the movies as later movies, from Terminator to Jurassic Park, would use special effects to create new thrills.”
“Right. Star Wars made the movies interesting again. The technology of special effects was a disruption that re-kindled interest in movies. So my question to you is: is Wii Sports to gaming the equivalent of Star Wars to movies?”
I pushed a button and a hologram of Reggie appeared. “This is from his 2006 column in Brandweek magazine. Speak, Reggie.“
The Reggie hologram began talking:
In the mid-70s, two blockbusters changed the nature of movie-making: Star Wars and Jaws. Each was competently written, acted and directed, but what set them apart, in the minds of both their adoring audiences and delirious Hollywood executives, were special effects. When a huge shark and an entire outer space tableau could seem so real, and generate out-of-this-world box office revenue, a new paradigm was set. Computer technology would drive the industry inevitably forward.
In the terminology of Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, hits like Jaws constituted “disruptive” technologies, overturning a predominant industry trend.
”Marketing nonsense!” said the ”˜fringe’ gamer.
“Or is it?” I said as the Reggie hologram disappeared.
Hardcore are Poor in Time; Casuals are Rich in Time
The fringe gamer stomped his feet and made a declaration. “People gravitate to the Wii because it is cheap. If they had money, they would buy Xbox 360 and PS3.”
I puffed on my cigar and pulled out a newspaper. “Let’s see here, what is this? The headline reads, ”˜Nielsen’s Gameplay Metrics shows the least expensive system, Wii, appears in the most affluent households.”
“Too many faults with that study!”
“Perhaps. But we do know that those who love epic time consuming games are not buying the Wii for them.”
“What are you getting at?”
“The difference between the poor and rich is that that the poor value money more than time. They will even work multiple jobs just to earn a little more spending cash. The rich, however, value time more than money. Time is our most valuable asset, yet we tend to waste it, kill it and spend it rather than invest it.”
“I do not understand.”
“This is because you are young. The older you get, the further you want your time to go. Wealth is not money; wealth is time. If you kept your costs low, and I gave you enough passive cashflow for you to retire, are you in a better or worse position than the guy working his butt off for a six figure salary?”
“In a better position. Often the high-up jobs, like a lawyer or doctor, have greater costs. It is not how much money you make but how much you keep.”
“If wealth is time, then the beautiful thing is that men are born equal in wealth. Everyone has twenty four hours in a day. How you invest your time determines your fortunes in life hence the Parable of Talents.”
“Fascinating. But what does this have to do with gaming?”
“What we call ”˜hardcore’ players today are those who use their time poorly. They will spend up to sixty hours or more on a game, alone. What we call ”˜casual’ players are those who are picky with their time.”
“You go too far!”
“I don’t think so. Brain Age is an acceptable game to them because they aren’t throwing away their time. Their game time has them sharpening their mind. Wii Sports is acceptable to them since it is a social game. Wii Fit will be acceptable to them since it helps in fitness. These types of people see typical gaming as a black hole for valuable time. What Nintendo is doing to appeal to this audience is to give many of these games a type of purpose, something that can help them in the real world.”
“There is no art in them! It contains no vast digital world. It does not help the landscape of gaming.”
“But from these folks’ viewpoint, your ”˜hardcore’ games are seen as ”˜non-games’ to them. They do not want to be cut off from the world in a digital womb. Shouldn’t games have ”˜non-fiction’ titles just as books do? Remember the reasons why you got arrested.”
I took the fringe gamer to the grocery store. “OK, fringe gamer, pick out some food.”
The fringe gamer returned with his arms full of candies and sweets. “These are the only food!”
“Those taste yummy. But they are not nutritional.” I put vegetables, fish, and meat in a shopping basket.
The fringe gamer’s face turned red. “Take that out! Those are non-food. What I have is the real-food.”
I snapped my fingers. Now, we were in a movie rental store. Both of us filled our arms with movies. The fringe gamer picked up dramas, science fiction, anime, and comedies. I picked up documentaries, biographies, and instruction videos.
The fringe gamer distorted his face. “I got the real movies. You got the non-movies.”
I snapped my fingers again. Now, we were in a high school. “Go gather the students. I will do the same.”
The fringe gamer returned with the football players and cheerleaders. I returned with the nerds and geeks.
The fringe gamer foamed at the mouth. “I got the real students. You got the non-students.”
“Enough!” I said. “Don’t you see your pattern? Orwell says:
It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives… It isn’t only the synonyms: there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good’, for instance. If you have a word like ‘good’, what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well – better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not.
I shook my head. “You do not say these new games are bad. You simply say that are a type of un-game, a non-game. And those who play these games are not ”˜proper’ gamers, no, they are ”˜non-gamers’.”
Blue Ocean turns into a Green Ocean
I took the fringe gamer into a sail boat, and we set off to sea. The water was eerily calm.
”It’s one thing to sail into uncharted waters equipped with radios, radar, and a GPS system, and an entirely different thing to sail virtually blind -like 15th-century explorers equipped with only an astrolabe, quadrant, and compass. Yet, this is the challenge business leaders must face: sailing into the open ocean of breakthrough strategy with inadequate tools.”
The fringe gamer was looking over the edge into the water. The reflections of the sunlight shimmered off the water. Swimming fish could be seen.
I continued. “Columbus got lucky. On his way to the Indies, he ran into America.”
”But business leaders do not like to rely on luck,” said the fringe gamer.
”Correct. No more than the ancient mariners do. Business is still a long way from radar, but the tools needed to develop new strategies are finally emerging. The principles of Michael Porter are still useful but only to the confines of the current market. Expanding the market is not a new idea as companies have considered, contemplated, and experimented with innovation for quite some time. But these ”˜innovations’ are too high risk and didn’t attract much interest due to being a different business model.”
”Ack!” cried the fringe gamer. “A thick fog has appeared. I cannot see anything.”
”Do not worry. This is the fog of the market. Where was I? Yes, others believe they are already outside the box and don’t know how to do better. And, yet, others interpret innovation to mean ”˜develop new products’ which is almost always a brief uptick in performance until competitors launch look-alike products.”
”So this is why ”˜Blue Ocean Strategy’ made such an impact? It finally gave a compass.”
I pointed to the now nightly sky. “The stars are guiding us now. And behold, here we are.”
The boat hit the edge of the rocky land. As we walked ashore, the fringe gamer asked, “Is this the New World?”
”No. This is but a proto-market. It is the beginning of what is yet to come.” A breeze came by and swept the fog away. Seeing the land before us, both of us stared in shock.
Plains of brilliant green filled the horizon. Kneeling down, I plucked a blade of grass and turned to the fringe gamer. He stared wide eyed. For in my hand was a dollar bill.
“It is a green ocean!” the fringe gamer declared. “All that green is so much money waiting to be harvested! Quickly, Malstrom!” he started grabbing and ripping the dollar bills from the ground. “Take as much as you can carry! We will be rich! Rich!”
I took the money and threw it into the air. The dollar bills swayed in the wind like feathers. “This is not why we are here. Proto-markets start out this way growing money from the ground.” I pointed to a nearby river that was filled with silver coins. “It even flows from water as well.”
”What a paradise of riches and gold!”
“It appears that way at first. But look!” I pointed to a stream of smoke come from over the hill. “Let us investigate.”
Our heavy shoes thrashed the dollar bills beneath our feet as we made our way up a hill of Benjamin Franklins. At the top of the hill, we hugged the ground and were careful to look without being noticed.
”What is that?” said the fringe gamer.
”Shh”¦” I hushed.
A Nintendo emissary, dressed in robes, stood in the center (with a small camp fire) of a crowd made of soccer moms, old men and women, and little girls. The emissary went on and on about talking about the glory of gaming. He handed a DS, with Brain Training on it, to an old woman. To a soccer mom, he handed her a Wii-mote with Wii Sports. To the little girl, he handed her Animal Crossing DS.
”Those must be the natives,” I thought out loud. “The soccer moms, the elderly and older adults, as well as most girls must live on this land.”
”What is that Nintendo rep doing? Why does he gather the natives? Is he trying to seek peace with the people of this strange new world?”
”No,” I said. “He is trying to convert them. The robed Nintendo emissary you see there is a missionary. Nintendo is trying to convert these heathens, these non-gamers, to the ways of gaming.”
“You are scaring me. Nintendo is not a Church. They do not send out missionaries to convert the non-gamers.”
”When a Blue Ocean appears, soon a Green Ocean arises from it. There are two types of businesses when this occurs. The first is the missionary type. They send over emissaries to try to convert and lead not just the natives of the undiscovered country but to the Old World to teach them the new ways. This type of business has a long term vision.”
”And what is the second type?”
Hearing a noise, we whirled around to see shapes breaking through the fog that surrounded the shore. Massive gigantic boats made landfall. Their skiffs settled onto the shore and armies walked forth. One of the huge ships had the name of Ubisoft. Another was Microsoft. And, yet another, was the titanic Electronic Arts.
We watched curiously as the soldiers drew out their swords and began to scatter out. They would find a native, slice the person down, flung the person over their shoulder, and carry them to the ships. Others began gathering the grassy currency or the silver coins that grew as berries. Some took pots back and forth to the river, filling it up, and carrying the load back to the ships.
”The second type,” I breathed, “are mercenaries. They kept their eye on the pioneer when the new land was discovered. While the pioneer is often most interested in being the missionary, they are riding in their wake and are amazed at seeing the proto-market for the first time. Greedily, they devour what they can. They have no interest in converting the natives, only exploiting them. The mercenary is interested in fast wealth, the missionary is interested in achievements and a great company. Unlike the missionary, the mercenary is only interested in the Green Ocean, never the Blue Ocean that helped spawn it.”
The fringe gamer thought this over. “This explains why those companies are creating ”˜Casual Game Divisions’ and all. They do not have the vision Nintendo has. They see them only as ”˜casuals’ and are cheaply putting out cheap products in an opportunistic fashion to milk this new naÃ¯ve audience.”
”Yes. This is why I did not let you pick the money from the proto-market. The difference is that the mercenaries see only the money while the missionaries see only the people. In the end, the missionaries will end up with ten times the profit because the stronger the conversion of disinterest to interest, they will obtain more money in the future than the combined cash you see laying about before you. Big companies are good at extracting current markets but are bad at getting to new ones. So when a new market appears, big companies act how they have always acted. Their ”˜turf mentality’ to market share and all warps their thinking.”
A slight tremor of an earthquake could be felt. Suddenly, I became alarmed. “Quickly!” I said, running down the hill. “We must get to the boat!”
The fringe gamer ran after me screaming, “Why!?”
The mercenaries ignored us as we pushed our small boat into the salty water. I handed him oars and gave myself some. “Hurry!” I rowed and rowed as he did the same. “There is not much time!”
As we furiously rowed, the fringe gamer saw the proto-market, the ”˜Green Ocean’ shrink in the distance and become re-shrouded by fog. Soon, nothing could be seen but the Blue Ocean again. “What is going on? I do not understand.”
”Pretend I am the entrepreneur and you are the venture capitalist. I am going to create a Blue Ocean. What do you say?”
The fringe gamer thought this over. “I would throw ”˜Three Letter Accronyms’ everywhere (ex: ROI,NAV,TVC,TQM,EBIDTA) because I would be drunk with business theory.”
I laughed. “Yes, you would. But what else would you say? What has everyone been saying to Nintendo at the start of this generation?”
The fringe gamer was quiet for a moment and then said, “Innovation depends on an idea. There is nothing preventing that innovative idea to be easily copied by the big guys.”
We looked to the ocean and could see all the fish begin swimming away from the proto-market. A jumping dolphin began to swim alongside the boat.
I asked, “But would a big company do it? There is more to business than money and manpower. Dexterity and context changing is more critical. A small business can do things a big company cannot despite all the money in the world.”
”But still, there is nothing to stop Sony or Microsoft from copying Nintendo.”
”There is nothing to stop Sony or Microsoft from opening hamburger joints either. The question is, ”˜Will they do it?’ Nintendo has an ace up its sleeve that Sony and Microsoft will never have: being an integrated hardware and software company. This is why Sega always feared Nintendo more than Sony. Nintendo possesses the power to disrupt the entire definition of gaming. Sony and Microsoft do not. All they can do is put out bigger hardware at take massive losses on making it cheap. Their ”˜innovations’ are nothing but PC elements crammed into a console. Neither Microsoft or Sony could create a Wii or DS.”
An explosion could be heard behind us. We turned and saw only the fog of the market. We kept rowing harder and harder.
”Still, what hope does Nintendo have against bigger companies stealing their ideas? They did it before with the analogue thumbstick and the wireless Wavebird. Nothing stands in their way. Even patents can be circumvented.”
I said, “You are still under the assumption that this would be a fast Revolution. Instead, it is a slow Revolution. Like Apple, Nintendo is turning itself into a serial disruptor. It is the missionary’s defense against a cloud of mercenaries.”
Suddenly, our boat began to rise.
“What is going on!?” cried the fringe gamer.
“We are riding the tidal wave! Hold on!”
As our boat was lifted up into the sky, our speed intensified and the air became wind hitting the face.
“Where did this wave come from?”
“Another major disruption,” I said. “That must have been the explosion back there. No wonder the fish swam away from the proto-market.”
“Is that the reason why you fled the island in a hurry?”
“Yes. The proto-market is still unstable. I could feel the small tremors. But what could be causing this new wave?”
”Wii Fit!” the fringe gamer spit.
As we approached the Industry’s shores, the energy of the tsunami concentrated and the wave grew taller and taller. It came crashing down amidst howling screams of the residents. In the chaos of splashing water and spray, I felt myself thrown to the cold hard Earth. I looked around and saw my merry little boat torn to pieces.
“Help me, Malstrom!” cried the fringe gamer laying flat on the ground. “My bones are broken! Damn Nintendo!” A scattered amount of fringe gamers were on the ground in complete shock.
Seeing another tidal wave come over us, I grabbed his hands. As the water left us, I noticed those fringe gamers, except my friend, were sucked into the ocean.
Another tidal wave came and crashed. Screams could be heard behind us. I turned. “My God,” I whispered. An epic mountain collapsed into an avalanche of mud and rock. It overran the few remaining structures. Most of the buildings of the Industry, the frame work and formulas, were in chunks and pieces.
The fringe gamer, weak, got out, “Why did the analysts say Wii would eventually fade and that the PS3 and Xbox 360 would rise? It is not about HD and technology because even the PS2 is still doing well.”
I smiled over him. “It is about pyramids. Traditionally, a console aims at the top of the pyramid and gets these early adopters and hardcore. Through price drops and a larger game library, the console ends up lower and lower at the pyramid.”
“This explains why analysts think Microsoft and Sony are set to explode. But why do they think Nintendo will shrink?”
”It is because Nintendo aimed at the bottom of the pyramid first. They are not aiming at the hardcore. So, over time, they believe Nintendo’s pyramid is upside down, and Wii sales will decline. Eventually, the declining Wii sales will match the rising Xbox 360 and PS3 sales and, in the end, the Wii will end up to the point of their upside down pyramid while Xbox 360 and PS3 become ”˜mainstream’.”
“Why is Nintendo washing the hardcore away?”
”It is because Nintendo is washing obstacles away. Those who perceive the obstacles to be gaming will, naturally, be washed away with the ebbs and flows of the market.”
Another tidal wave struck. I held on to the fringe gamer as hard as I could but his grasping hand slipped away. As the water receded, the fringe gamer was gone.
I stood up and turned toward the ruins. Those that haven’t been sucked out into the sea were evacuating. A sharp breeze came and, as if a celestial dam had broke, the rain began to pour. Lightning lanced from the sky, and thunder boomed from the heavens. As soon as The Industry thought the waves were over was when they were just really beginning.
Looking to the shore and the horizon, I wondered about that proto-market arising from the Blue Ocean. A disruption in the sea-shelf, of a land rising out, causes an imbalance in the equilibrium of the water level. Gravity equals the water out. But as the water equals out, it ripples from the rising land. As the rise in water approach the shore, the ocean may decrease as it goes to the mainland but the rise in water remains constant. The tsunami grows and grows until overcoming the land.
The few titles we know, of Brain Trainer to Wii Sports, are nothing compared to the formation of a new market, a new continent, arising from the Blue Ocean. What wonders does it hold? And what will happen to the Old World?