It's been a while since my last entry. I got banned for seven days (I don't call myself Jimmy Scythe for nuthin'), played a whole lot of Zelda: Twilight Princess and read the Watchmen graphic Novel. I recommend both Twilight Princess and Watchmen BTW. If you own a Wii or Gamecube, run (don't walk) to the video store and rent Twilight Princess for a week or two. Trust me, you'll be glad you did. I highly recommend that you find a copy of Watchmen and read through it twice regardless of your interest in comic books. Aside from that I've been working.
My job isn't very mentally demanding and requires no interaction with others. As a result, I spend eight hours of my day thinking about what ever subject happens to cross my mind. For the last two weeks that subject has been the video game industry in general. Specifically I've been thinking about the split between "hardcore" and "casual" gamers as well as the industry's new attention to making "casual friendly" games. To condense a very long series of thoughts into a one sentence conclusion: Video and computer games are a novelty.
I'm not the only one that has come to that conclusion either. During some after work poking around on the internet, I came across David Wong's blog entry entitled "Life After the Video Game Crash." Go ahead and read through the whole thing so that we're all on the same page here. Done? Yeah, that's some pretty depressing stuff he's dishing out there. That blog so completely agreed with the conclusions I had drawn over the past two weeks that I ended the day feeling more miserable and defeated than I have felt in a long, long time. Cheer up though, I've had time to think even further on the subject and the future isn't quite as dark as Mr. Wong imagines. On the flip side, it's not as bright as some would have you believe either.
To start off, I'd like to clear up some things about the aforementioned blog that some of the more eagle eyed among you may have already caught. To wit:
- Yes, the Xbox lost Microsoft 4 billion dollars but.... - The PS2 and Gamecube both made money. While there is concern about the future of the XBox brand, this could actually be the first year that it makes money for Microsoft. Speaking of the PS2, Mr. Wong correctly points out that the majority of PS2 units didn't sell until after the first price drop. What he doesn't tell you is that Nintendo had sold 60 million NES units in five years, Sega moved 29 million Genisis consoles in five years and that the original XBox had sold 24 million in five years. IN JUST TWO YEARS SONY SOLD 30 MILLION PS2 UNITS!!! I think they were doing just fine on their bottom line, don't you?
- The Crash of '83 was an American phenomenon - The industry in Europe was based on home computers like the BBC Micro and ZX - Spectrum. Japan's video game market was completely self contained with exclusively Japanese consoles like the Sega SG-1000 and the MSX computer. Furthermore, the Japanese video game industry didn't really begin until the crash in America.
- Speaking of computers..... - The article never once talks about competition from the fledgling home computer market. Never once is it mentioned that Commodore had a rather extensive ad campaign that targeted video games by asking parents why they should buy their kid a video game when a computer could get their kid into college. Commodore also instituted a program where you could trade your old video game system in for a discount on a Vic-20 or C64. Finally, Commodore also went out of their way to put their machines into department and toy stores which were the traditional distribution channels for video game systems. During the two year gap between the crash and the rise of the NES, many game companies got started by making games for the home computers of the time. Electronic Arts, Sierra, SSI, they all started out on the Commodore 64, Apple II and TI-99. Video gaming didn't die. It just changed mediums.
- Atari did not run unopposed - At the time of the crash there were no fewer than TEN video game consoles on the market (Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Colecovision, Intelivision, Emerson Arcadia 2001, Odyssey 2, Vectrex, just to name a few). To make matters worse, there was nothing even remotely resembling software licensing. Anyone could make games for any system provided that they had the money to make the cartridges. This meant that all the console makers were not only making games for their own system, but for everyone else's as well. At one point Quaker Oats made a division to manufacture games!! Yeah, the market got flooded. Flooded with shitty games.
Aside from these minor points though, Wong is dead on the money. If games aren't a novelty, why do they keep carting out new consoles periodically? Why are new graphics cards introduced every six months if games have timeless appeal? Yeah, there is a problem here.
The good news is that video games can outgrow their novelty status. After all, in thirty years comic books went from the campy adolescent stories of Spider Man to the the genuinely mature and thought provoking Watchmen. If only video games had made a similar transition rather than going from a pixelated Link to a slightly more realistic Link.....
Next week I'll swing this car around and discuss how this all relates to MMORPGs and the week after that I'll make a few predictions about where all of this is taking the genre. Until then, keep on trukin'.