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

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?

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ruthan
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another thread..

Hey, bill maybe will be intered in post in Marks recent thread, because it is related.
http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/5193

And if youre very brave guy, you can try read my deep analysis of gaming hardware and software with google translate:
http://www.ceskemody.cz/clanky.php?clanek=48
Could write zillion of such articles, but im now fully concentrated to development, because there you can acctualy something change, only write some papers is easy way :)

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..

Bill Loguidice
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You're linking to my blog

You're linking to my blog post, ruthan, not the comment you were trying to reference...

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ruthan
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Sorry, but link it should

Sorry, bad link it should be:
http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/5190#comment-28217

More about WiiU, Nintendo lost majoro of HC player long time ago, because on Wii werent real good games, only few - Madworld, Okami port + Zelda maybe, Resident evil maybe. Now nintendo call for HC gamers back, i think too late, there are gone.

I think despite big advertising era of consoles are on slow decline, against desktop they dont offer much more, because hardware is very cheap, Windows are more idiot proof, and connection of gamepad and big TV already works. Multiplatform development is wasteof money and closed platform (how many great features was sacrifices, because developer spend instead time on porting..) , which dispense progress drop by drop (very slowly) are obsolete.

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..

Matt Barton
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I'm actually surprised that

I'm actually surprised that anyone is trying to release new consoles in this economy. If I were one of the big three, I'd be focusing on bringing the cost of their current platforms down. I bet there are plenty of people out there like me who still don't have one (in my case a PS3). If I could get some kind of re-designed one for $150, I'd probably go for it, and afterward go out and buy a bunch of games to see what I missed out on.

I'd kinda hate to see Nintendo go the Sega route...I'm not a Nintendo fanboy by any means, but I like having a real alternative. The Wii was definitely quite a bit different than the competition, for good or ill, but it sounds like the Wii U was over-designed and didn't manage to capture the "casual audience" as well as the Wii did. Regarding the DS, I know there are plenty of parents out there who don't want their kids having phones, so I think that's a pretty safe market. I can't imagine many kids wanting tablets over a DS.

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Bill Loguidice
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Matt Barton wrote:

I'm actually surprised that anyone is trying to release new consoles in this economy. If I were one of the big three, I'd be focusing on bringing the cost of their current platforms down. I bet there are plenty of people out there like me who still don't have one (in my case a PS3). If I could get some kind of re-designed one for $150, I'd probably go for it, and afterward go out and buy a bunch of games to see what I missed out on.

I'd kinda hate to see Nintendo go the Sega route...I'm not a Nintendo fanboy by any means, but I like having a real alternative. The Wii was definitely quite a bit different than the competition, for good or ill, but it sounds like the Wii U was over-designed and didn't manage to capture the "casual audience" as well as the Wii did. Regarding the DS, I know there are plenty of parents out there who don't want their kids having phones, so I think that's a pretty safe market. I can't imagine many kids wanting tablets over a DS.

You can more or less get a PS3 for just a bit more than that, and paired with the games from a PS+ subscription you'd be pretty much set for value gaming. While the 360 rules in the US these days and is still my overall favorite, I can't say enough good things about how the PS3 has evolved.

In any case, it's not the economy, but the competitive landscape. It's crowded. People are buying smartphones and tablets in droves, which is diverting interest from PCs and consoles. The former is growing, the latter is not and it's the same pool of available dollars.

As for the DS, that's superseded by the 3DS thanks to the price drop on the two models and current developer focus. The 3D aspects are still there, but more downplayed. With that said, I think more and more kids are and will continue to rock tablets and smartphones, even the young ones. That's clear.

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ruthan
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bad ecomony..

I think that, if big mastodonst, molochs companies, which dont work, dying, its sing of bad economy situation, but on the contrary good "healthy" economy.. Good companiew UP, bad will die.

New console could be more cheap, but there isnt something like for free, in real life.. it's always something for something. Now MS and Sony, take approximately 15$ from every retail game and Valve/Apple/Google 30% of price, what is a bit better, but still too much, for make simply normal eshop. So, you could get console almost for free, but after that, we will pay bigger "fee" per once box.

Childs and phones, here is another situace, here is even with average price 0,25$ per 1 minut of calling most cell phones per head in europe. Parents enslaved and want drive their children too much, event trying locate them by GPS.. How bad childhood i would have, if this will be possible before.

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..

clok1966
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I think we have talked about

I think we have talked about a Video Game Crash before.. I KNOW we have talked about the glut of FPS, the demise of RPG's, etc.. I think its just a big combination. Hardware is changing, as in the move from PC's to console and now to Handhelds. The glut of everybody trying to make a buck and shoveling the games as fast as they can. In a way the video game industry lost its way trying to become interactive movies (opinion).. While I really think UNCHARTED is one of the coolest video game/movie mixes.. for that one I really liked i play 20 that do it so crappy that its actually detrimental and boring to the gameplay. I have seen so many of the BF/COD that almost play themselves (one that you can actually not fire a shot and win levels). Right now when i play some games i feel like IM watching a TECH demo.. or some programmers gone wild, showing off what they can do, even if its not really helping the game be better. The world is full of bad B movies.. now the game companies are spending AAA bucks and making bad b movies in AAA games and wondering why they are failing. FMV was a fad, endless cut scenes or QTE and less game play is not a good thing.

And we can talk about the large company mentality, "we are king, why change and adapt, we make the rules" The phone companies did it.. and are dying, Cable is doing it now, and is just starting to get warning signs that they are ignoring. The game companies already almost died and where brought back to health, and they are ignoring that its happening again. Steadfastly holding onto money losing Hardware is killing them slowly. its a Double Edged sword, they make licencing fees for the game developed for the hardware.. but they lose money on the hardware.. I cant say to follow SEGA, as they have pretty much released crap.. there standby games (SONIC) have pretty much sucked.. and they are not getting into publishing and not so much dev. ANd if they do follow SEGA.. who is going to make hardware?

I think the Wii was the last "great console" MS and Sony (and Nintendo) need to "BALANCE' things a bit.. DONT make the hardware over the top.. plan to make money on games and keep hardware costs down. These $500 consoles are just not going to cut it..

we are simply in a transition.. where it will go is just a big guess right now. Tablets seem to to be growing but as I see how severely they are limited by storage space and wireless i just cant see them being the long term answer. But Hardware changes could remedy that.. the new windows tab is fairly impressive, but cost is high. (i'm not looking at this part from a a games view, but a dev for productivity).. it will sort it itself out, it always does.. the trick is for these big boys to adapt instead of force there way. And MS will have a real hard time with that.. the buy it if you cant beat it attitude can only work so long (dang long for them). Sony is simply just dying slowley (opinion) they made great products, and still do.. but they want a premium for them.. SONY high end LCD are quite awesome.. but i think almost all the buying public would be happy to pick up a $599 50 inch at wallmart then a $1599 50 inch SONY top of the line..SOny does have a budget line.. but its just that.. budget, and has so-so reliability.

I find it a bit sad to see Sony and even MS in decline.. And i wonder about nintendo.. they are buoyed by a strong handheld market.. and if i was a betting man, that will be the first to die to this new wave of phones and tablets..

sometimes you just got to advance and let old tech go away.. UNLESS its my desktpop!!!!! :) im hanging onto that "till they pry it from my cold dead hands"

Bill Loguidice
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Good stuff, Clok. I think you

Good stuff, Clok. I think you know my feelings on another Crash. We've had two, one really bad one back in the early-mid 80s, but, despite what seems like the hope of certain individuals since the early 2000s, I just don't see anything remotely like it happening again. There will be downs along with the ups for sure, and we're clearly going into a transition period now, but the reality is videogames aren't going anywhere. How we consume them is a different story, of course. The economics and atmosphere that led to the first two crashes are simply not present anymore.

It's arguable that Nintendo released the Wii U a bit early, and inarguably with not enough new technology. It's also arguable that Nintendo gambled incorrectly with two of their last three hooks, motion control (Wii), 3D (3DS), and asynchronous gameplay (Wii U). Obviously, motion control was a hit that reached far beyond the usual videogame demographic. The 3D in the 3DS is being downplayed these days, but the system itself is doing fine, so that's something of a wash. The jury is still out on how well asynchronous gameplay will work out, but so far it clearly hasn't resonated with consumers, at least in combination with the cost of the system and the presently available games. Unfortunately for Nintendo, they really couldn't wait any longer due in large part to their own failings to keep delivering software for the original Wii. For whatever reason they planned poorly and in its last 18 months it was mostly a third party shovelware box. That in and of itself did not position themselves well for launching new hardware.

Of the three, Microsoft (outside of Japan of course) is best positioned for the next gen (which doesn't mean anything long-term, but is a positive at the moment). The 360 has been selling in healthy numbers for quite some time and the parent company, Microsoft, actually has cash reserves to do a variety of things, including advertise. Both Sony and Nintendo have been so weakened of late that they've had to be more frugal. Sony taking a bath on the Vita has not helped, even though the PS3 continues to do well.

In any case, from a pundit/analyst standpoint, 2013 is shaping up to be among the most fascinating years in our history. There's going to be a lot of carnage, of course, but man, it will be so interesting to see how the usual suspects fair along with all the fresh competition (Android consoles, Steam Box, etc.).

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Matt Barton
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I think STEAM is having an

I think STEAM is having an impact, too. People like my brother, who have always been diehard console gamers, are now on STEAM and have no plans of ever going back. If STEAM does come out with its own low-cost "console," it might be a real game changer.

If I weren't part of Armchair Arcade and having a real need to stay up with the big games on all systems, I'd definitely be more than happy to settle on PC gaming exclusively. The reason I chose a Wii was that it did offer a really different experience than the PC. I later got a 360 for much the same reason; I wanted to see a different spectrum of gaming than I could get with PC. With STEAM, that gap is closing, even to the point of being able to play a lot of games with a controller. Unless you're smitten with the idea of Kinect or whatever, or enamored with the exclusives like Halo, Zelda, and Uncharted, I see little reason to shell out $500-$600 for a new console. Just no reason whatsoever.

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Bill Loguidice
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To be fair, Matt, you never

To be fair, Matt, you never were really a console gamer, so I think it's easier for you to give up on the console thing. Also, $500 - $600 for a console gets you a complete setup with quite a few games, so that's not without value. Most likely the Steam Box will come in at around $400 or more for starters, and then you begin to be presented with very non-PC problems of what exactly is and is not compatible from your library and how well it will perform. Part of the charm of the PC is that you can run things at high frame rates, resolutions, etc., and endlessly tweak things. The Steam Box fixes the resolution and necessarily limits some options, making it, yes, very console-like, and in turn losing some of the charm. With all that said, I do think it could be a compelling product if done right. I've seen nothing to this point to make me think they couldn't do it right.

Again, though, the PC is suffering from the same smartphone and tablet effect videogame consoles and handhelds are. All the interest, all the innovation, etc., is being thrown in that direction. Just like consoles marginalized PC gaming to a degree, so too will they, again, limiting some of the benefits of what makes the PC so special as a platform. It may reach a point where you'll have nothing to do with all that potential power found in a good PC. Some say we're already there.

Still, the point remains, it's going to be an interesting 2013 when all is said and done. We'll feel the ramifications in our industry for many, many years. I can see this year being one of those seminal dividing lines, like the pre- and post-Crash era, or pre- and post-Windows 95 and PlayStation, etc.

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