When you work in gaming retail, one of the biggest challenges you face revolves around the ESRB ratings system. It’s not necessarily an unwelcome challenge, since I believe that the ratings serve as the buffer between open purchasing habits and government regulation… but the thing that gets me on both sides of the sales counter is the lack of interest displayed by some parents when it comes to enforcement.
There’s a range of reactions that stem from this enforcement:
- “Why do I have to be here?”
- “I don’t care. Just sell him the damned game so that he’ll stop bothering me.”
- “I don’t really approve, but it’s what he wants, so…”
- “Can you hurry this up, please?”
- “He’s played far worse. It’s not like he’s going to kill anyone.”
These are just some quotes that I’ve heard, and they’re usually accompanied by eye-rolling or sighing and other frustrated body language. What’s worse is the delayed angry reaction of some when they actually see what games like Grand Theft Auto IV or Modern Warfare 2 show for content. Parents ask how we can sell such awful games and sometimes ask for refunds or exchanges. Retail employees can only go so far. Aside from personal experiences with certain games, all they have is the ESRB rating and the content descriptors to go on, as well as potential word of mouth from other customers or fellow employees who have played the games in question. Some retail chains enforce the ESRB vigorously, while others don’t enforce it at all.
May I ask what this action is supposed to accomplish when parents already have shown signs that they don’t care and when there’s a decent level of ratings enforcement and ID checks already in place? Is it a retailer’s responsibility to shield children from games that may or may not be right for them? Retail employees inform consumers about their goods, assist them in making positive buying decisions, and complete the sale. Video game retail, especially, isn’t just about the children anymore like it was 20 years ago. More and more adults purchase and play these games, and that’s the primary demographic is many cases.
Regardless of where the M-rated games are located in a retail store, curious children are going to be… well… curious. They’re going to want to know what games are up there and why. It’s going to further enhance the “forbidden fruit” theory about M-rated games and how “cool” it would be to play something that’s not necessarily meant for their eyes and ears. Also, if these games are located on higher shelving, how high should this shelving be? By the game kids reach their early teen years, growth spurts may already have occurred, so hiding these games is rather pointless… especially when you consider that some adults never grow very tall (I’m 5’7″, for example) and you wind up creating a potential inconvenience for the target audience while trying to play the role of Protector.
I get that advocacy groups are concerned about M-rated games getting into the wrong hands… but retailers can only do so much. At some point, parents need to play a more consistent and active role in the video game purchasing habits of their children. Parents need to learn that it is OK to say no to their children, even if it means a negative response from the child. Parental advocacy groups need to start looking in the mirror and then realize that they’re part of the problem. We always hear about the retailers who don’t do ID checks or how games get into the hands of children without much effort… but we never hear about how disinterested and nonchalant parents sometimes can be during the process. As with many other things in modern-day American society, it’s convenient to point the finger at retailers or the gaming industry instead of looking at where the problem really lies:
Protectionism starts at home and with the family unit. Nobody else is responsible for the buying decisions that you– or your children– make.
It’s almost as if someone noteworthy in the console gaming industry has been reading my blogs about this War on Used Games and decided to try and get some analysts out there to try and prive prove that, in fact, used games are gradually killing this once invulnerable activity. An article on Gamasutra talks about a study performed by Cowen Group that basically blames GameStop and the “dramatic” growth of used games for the industry’s woes. In the article, Cowen analyst Doug Creutz not only understands the recent popularity of Online Pass-like DLC in games currently, but actually thinks that more– and more aggressive– restrictions can be placed on software to dissuade consumers from buying used and “recapture value” from the used game market.
This is going to get ugly.
Publishers and developers can cry all they want about how expensive that game development is, and how used games take food off of somebody’s table, but they are far from innocent when it comes to this division in economics. The industry has decided what is best for its consumer base, which then is valiantly used as a reason why video games are $60 apiece.
In a recession.
Haven’t we gone over this before? Haven’t we talked about how an extra $10 per game means fewer games purchased per year? Need I mention that the economic climate is starkly different now than it was three years ago? If you want more people to buy more games, then you have to make them affordable. You know… drop prices. High-definition televisions and Blu-ray players are finding their way into more households because the technology and the media have both come down in price. The only entertainment expenses that have increased are movie tickets, including 3D and IMAX events. Everything else is coming down but console games, and nobody in the industry cares to mention that.
Doesn’t anyone remember when console gaming really picked up steam during the 1990s? Sony burst onto the scene with an affordable new platform with reasonably-priced games and a mentality to get everyone involved, including core gamers from the Nintendo and SEGA stables and new consumers who might not have been into gaming before. Video games started to become more inclusive, and aside from Nintendo’s misstep on media for the Nintendo 64 ($70 per game? No.), we saw the popularity of video games begin to skyrocket. Nobody wanted to price anybody out of the market; despite new technology, we saw platform prices hovering at $300 or less. The consoles that broke this rule– 3DO, CD-i, Neo Geo, Saturn– all sold minor amounts and faded into obscurity. Even into the early 2000s, prices remained the same for both hardware and software despite technological advances and rising development costs.
Let’s also not forget that used games existed during the same period.
Now, let’s review what this generation has brought us:
- Two of the three gaming platforms in this generation launched for over $300, with software prices at $60 for the first time in over a decade.
- Features and functionality that previously had been included with a software purchase have been eliminated or held back for later distribution as downloadable content, mostly of the paid variety.
- Some games require a constant internet connection to work, despite being paid for… so if your internet service goes down, some games don’t work at all.
Higher prices. Less functionality. Fewer features. And somehow the consumer is to blame when they decide that $60 is too much?
Creutz and other analysts like him who share this punitive vision are in for some surprises. Creutz may believe that consumers will conform:
We believe that consumers are likely to grudgingly accept a revised and evolving pricing strategy that reflects the value they receive outside of and in addition to the traditional single-player offline experience.
Note his verbiage here. See the word grudgingly? That means that consumers aren’t going to like it. There’s only so far that you can push a consumer base before people realize that the console gaming industry has completely lost touch with reality and that it’s just an expensive fad that’s managed to outlast most. Perhaps they’ll move on to free online gaming. Maybe they’ll go back to older games. Maybe they’ll just leave video gaming behind and find less expensive hobbies.
I know that I move closer and closer to going full-on retrogaming with every story like this that I read and comment on. Playing games like Final Fantasy IV Advance or Virtua Tennis on my Game Boy Micro remind me of a time when the industry that I love wasn’t out to drain me of every penny I make in order to enjoy myself and stay current. Playing games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on my PlayStation reminds me of simpler times, too. Maybe I’m just getting older or more cynical, but there’s a part of me that genuinely believes that these recent events and the widening divide between the console gaming industry and its consumer base is going to lead to irreparable damage.
No continues, my friends.
While catching up on gaming uber-board NeoGAF this morning, I came across this thread talking about Sony and Level 5‘s upcoming RPG sequel, White Knight Chronicles 2. According to the thread, the game is going to have DLC similar to EA’s Online Pass where users will have to enter a code to unlock online play. If you buy the game second-hand, of course, you will likely have to pony up extra funds in order to buy an unlock code– similar to what we’ve already seen with Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 11 and UFC Undisputed 2010.
Aside from the fact that we’re adding another game to what’s likely going to grow into a formidable list of games that will require extra funds to play as intended if they’re either rented or bought second-hand, the alarming factor here is that Sony is publishing the game and seems to be backing this initiative. What other games could be next on this list for this service? Could Killzone 3 and Twisted Metal be next to require unlock codes for multiplayer? What about Call of Duty: Black Ops? That seems like a prime target for Activision to roll out some sort of online pass of its own. What about Rock Band 3? The possibilities are endless– and scary.
All the while, there’s still been zero evidence to support the fear that used games are driving the industry into the ground. I’ve searched high and low for someone to supply hard data that supports this claim– which amounts to nothing more than fear-mongering. The industry continues to ignore the fact that games are not only expensive for developers to make… but also for the average consumer to purchase with any kind of regularity. $60 for each game, especially during windows of time when new releases are numerous, is more than the market can bear. This is why I am confident that May’s NPD numbers will show success for Red Dead Redemption and Super Mario Galaxy 2, but disappointment for strongly-reviewed titles like Blur, Split/Second, and even UFC Undisputed 2010. When you supersaturate the retail channel with too many releases in a short span, some games are going to be left in the wake of others… and the high cost of these games magnifies this reality.
By taking away from the functionality of a game without some form of DLC, you also reduce the game’s cost in a second-hand marketplace. When games are sold to friends or traded in at a gaming retail store, oftentimes these raised funds go towards the purchase of new games. If you diminish the value of these games, you reduce the ability of consumers to buy new ones to replace them. The gaming economy stagnates. It becomes a question of what can be afforded, rather than what’s out there based on impulse. New games sit longer on store shelves, leading to price drops and losses for the retailer… which leads to some retailers basing their purchases from publishers based on pre-orders and consumer interest.
In fact, the trend of preorder selling at retailers like GameStop is a direct result of this change in consumer buying habits. Stores tend to receive enough copies of new games to fulfill preorder quotas with a few left over. This leads to consumers walking in off the street to buy games and being disappointed because the game that was desired is not available for purchase. There’s no way to guarantee at launch whether a game is going to be hugely successful without having a high number of preorders to support the game’s credibility and sales potential. In short, retailers are no longer willing to buy large quantities of games– and pay out a high amount to publishers– just to have them sit on store shelves for weeks on end.
With Sony now on board with this kind of ransomware, there’s no telling where this trend will end. It’s safe to assume that Microsoft is looking closely as something similar. I can’t say for sure if we’ll see something for Halo: Reach or it might wait for Gears of War 3. Other publishers will likely follow suit in the months to come. Ubisoft has already said that it’s looking into its own Online Pass program, and you can bet that Square-Enix is watching these events unfold with great interest. The battle lines between consumers and the console gaming industry are being deepening with each successive release that takes away functionality and features while maintaining a high price tag and copious amounts of launch-window DLC. Consumers may still be buying, but there are lots of questions and a fair amount of mistrust to go along with fewer purchases and a sharp drop in impulse buying.
As we approach Q4 2010 and its cornucopia of new releases and technologies, the mindset of the consumer will be worth keeping an eye on. With $60 games, $100-$150 motion control add-ons, a new generation of plastic musical instruments, and the Online Pass trend continuing to pick up steam, there are equal chances of continued weakness in the console gaming sector as there are of a recovery for an industry that just two years ago was thought to be “recession-proof”. How far can the industry push and gouge its consumer base before a revolt– or worse, a general sense of apathy– occurs and a more perilous freefall takes place? I still believe that a more acute correction may take place and more publishers will shut their doors before this fiscal year ends, and used games will be the least of this industry’s problems.
Since time is short today, here are a few things that are on my mind today. Feel free to agree or disagree at will.
- Although I won’t be biting on Transformers: War For Cybertron, it’s looking like this game could be a bigger hit than many might have assumed. Preorders for this game at my retail store had been steadily mounting right up through launch, so I’m going to curious to see how it fares on the NPD software charts for June. LEGO Harry Potter should also chart well, though I expect neither Transformers nor Harry Potter to replicate the retail success that Red Dead Redemption has been over the last month.
- Speaking of May 2010′s best-seller, Red Dead Redemption copies are starting to get traded in more frequently. That’s not a huge surprise given the amount of time that it’s been available… but what is curious to me is that more PlayStation 3 versions of the game are getting traded in than its Xbox 360 counterpart. The trade-ins may also be somewhat surprising given that the free new co-op DLC pack launched today. The fact that it took about three weeks for the game to begin getting traded in regularly is certainly a longer-than-average waiting period.
- I have talked about this before on Twitter, but I don’t think that observers realize the schism that Microsoft has begun within its own userbase. The split started during the E3 press event when a good part of the event seemed targeted at a casual audience that doesn’t really make up a significant part of the current group of Xbox 360 owners… and then today’s damage report statements (which can be seen here on Kotaku) seem to indicate that Microsoft is aware of its failings last week but seems determined to continue forward on this path of casual attraction. If you pack in the motion control tools with your system from the jump, like Nintendo did with the Wii, you don’t split your userbase. Microsoft and Sony seem destined to divide, though it can be argued that Sony is at least trying to pitch to its core audience.
- Have I mentioned how easy it is to spend many hours with Yakuza 3 (SEGA for PlayStation 3) and not realize how much time has gone by? It’s fun to picked on and then proceed to beat the holy hell out of your antagonizers, and there are so many quests, side-quests, and things to do that you feel driven to do “just one more thing” before saving and ending your play session. I just started the campaign over on Monday (after losing my progress when I had to send my PS3 in for repair) and am back to Episode 4… but am at a point in the story when I feel more like doing other things than just progressing. Weapons training, golf tournaments, karaoke, and dating are just a few of the fun things that I’m doing when I’m not busting heads with the Dragon of Dojima. I will easily buy Yakuza 4 on its first day of release.
- I am still disappointed with the lack of consistent support for the Wii’s Virtual Console. Sure, Nintendo releases a game here and there, but we haven’t seen back-to-back weeks with Virtual Console games in some time. I do understand that Nintendo may have released just about all of its own first-party games that they want to release… but I have difficulty understanding why they can’t better negotiate with third-party publishers to keep the service well-stocked. I can think of at least a dozen more titles that we should be able to see without too much haggling on Nintendo’s end, but I am left to wonder whether Nintendo hasn’t gotten just about all of what it intended out of the service and is now content to let it be. If that’s indeed the case, it’s a damned shame. If we can’t see more retro compilations on disc, like we’ve seen from Konami, Data East, Capcom, and the company we once knew as Midway, then we should be able to get continued support for the Virtual Console. Worse yet is that I don’t believe that the service was even mentioned during E3– that’s not a good sign.
That’s all for now, and my mind is finally blank again… just in time to head back to work for a short shift. We’re still waiting on NPD numbers for May, and I know that you’re all as eager as I am to see them. Try to be patient; once they’re released, I assure you that we’ll break them down… and June’s predictions are a little over a week away.
Now that E3 has wrapped, it’s time to make some predictions for each of the three major home platforms spanning the rest of 2010. How, if at all, will E3 change the fortunes and direction for each company? Will we see changes in sales? Which games are surefire hits, and which ones could be financial misses? Let’s gaze into the Consoleation Crystal Ball and find out:
Number One with a Bullet: Nintendo Wii
Nintendo had a stellar E3 and has positioned itself to reign through the rest of 2010 and beyond. Coming off of what’s expected to be a strong May for the company (thanks to Super Mario Galaxy 2), Metroid: Other M (shipping in late August) will start a parade of strong software on the Wii platform that will move consoles. By delivering new games in familiar IPs, Nintendo is minimizing risk and maximizing potential. Kirby: Epic Yarn is a wild-card; we haven’t seen a new Kirby title in some time, and the little pink puff that could still appeals to younger and older players alike. If the platforming is as familiar as the character, this game could be huge. If not, it could mean lukewarm results from cash registers. Donkey Kong Country Returns scratches the itch of nostalgia and Retro Studios appears to have taken all of the right cues from RARE‘s previous efforts in the series. With a good marketing push and appropriate timing (leading into the holiday season), Donkey Kong Country could rule retail as it did 16 years ago. Third-party titles like Just Dance 2 from Ubisoft and NBA Jam from Electronic Arts will also fuel Wii sales in Q4.
Muscle in the Middle: Sony PlayStation 3
The shift is on. I know that I predicted this earlier in the year– and the prediction was short-circuited by supply shortages– but I do see the PlayStation 3 having a strong second half of 2010, especially in Q4, driven by Gran Turismo 5 and assisted by other strong software and PlayStation Move. As much as multimedia functionality is frowned upon by core gamers, it can be argued that Sony’s most powerful weapon is the PS3′s Blu-ray player… and as more people move to high-definition television sets and as the prices of Blu-ray discs continue to gradually decline, offering a piece of hardware that can function as an all-in-one entertainment device is key. Then you add games and gaming functionality. Gran Turismo 5 alone will sell consoles, especially since it’s going to be the first racing game with some NASCAR content since 2008. Little Big Planet 2 should get a decent marketing push and will be hailed as one of the most powerful content creators ever released– and with literally endless content, the game’s replay value could be infinite. I also see PlayStation Move doing moderately well in Q4; the price is acceptable, if not just slightly high, and the games will sell for $20 less than the standard. Some current games, like Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 11 and Heavy Rain, will see patches that will allow for usage of Move. If Sony can maintain a balance for Move that caters to both the core and casual sides, I think it could perform well.
Last, Not Least: Microsoft Xbox 360
Let’s get a couple of obvious calls out of the way. Halo: Reach will move huge numbers, and Call of Duty: Black Ops will sell more on the Xbox 360 platform than on the PlayStation 3. You don’t have to be Michael Pachter to figure those two things out. The real question is whether the Xbox 360 can continue to outpace the PlayStation 3 over the balance of 2010– and I don’t think it can. Fable III is tough to call, and after an underwhelming showing at E3, I’m not convinced that it will be able to match the sales success of its predecessor. Aside from these three pieces of software, Microsoft of pinning its Q4 hopes on Kinect– and if the $150 price point verifies, it will stumble out of the gates in November. It’s already facing the unenviable position of being the last of the motion-control technology to arrive and could be the most expensive tech out there, plus the reviews from E3 of the technology were mixed and the games were skewed almost completely in the direction of the casual audience… which is NOT the audience that is prone to dropping a ton of money for early adoption. Even with the expected marketing blitz behind Kinect, I can’t buy a scenario where the Xbox 360 is able to keep up with Sony or come close to challenging Nintendo. I could be wrong on this, but my instincts tell me otherwise– and E3 did nothing to change that.
I expect the rest of Q3 to be pretty slow. NCAA Football 11 and Madden NFL 11 will predictably sell well, and bumps from LEGO Harry Potter and Transformers may occur, but the summer doldrums will otherwise rule for the next couple of months as we prepare for what hopefully will be an extremely busy Q4. Look for my NPD predictions for June to be posted right around July 1st, and we’ll also be breaking down May’s NPD numbers when they are released… which hopefully will be within the next week or two.
As the 2010 edition of E3 draws to a close today, I can’t help but to find myself talking about Microsoft’s misadventures once again. I didn’t know what they were going to bring to the table for the remainder of 2010, aside from Halo: Reach, but to pin future hopes on a potentially expensive peripheral that now allegedly requires users to be standing in order to use it seems to be grasping at straws and I really do believe that the company is set up for disappointment for the remainder of this year.
The big issue, of course, is Kinect. Formerly Project Natal, Kinect is Microsoft’s answer to Nintendo’s Wii and attempts to do away with tactile feedback altogether. I challenge you to count how many times during Microsoft’s press event from Monday that the phrase “no controller”– or some derivative– was uttered. I’m still trying to grasp some idea of when controllers became evil and unnecessary. Did Microsoft conduct focus groups at some point, gaining the notion that controllers are bad from the participants? Are they having trouble making controllers, or are they worried that their rechargeable battery units are finally being recognized as crap? Or… are they just so sure that the root cause of Nintendo’s runaway success during this console generation is motion control, and it therefore must be copied and (allegedly) improved upon?
Whatever the reason, Kinect is a big reason why Microsoft’s press event was a complete bust. The idea is to try and sell your audience– which is full of writers who influence buying decisions every day– on the greatness of Kinect. Instead, Kinect is the laughingstock of the industry right now. There’s evidence that the Forza Kinect demo was staged. A few of the other demos– like for Kinect Sports and Kinect Joy Ride– seemed artificial, forced, and just not believable. Kinectimals may look cute, but also appeared to be little more than a tech demo. Kudo Tsunoda came off like a more pompous Murgo the Trader from Fable II, hocking an item that may or may not work. We got demonstrations of how Kinect is a glorified remote control for your music and movies, and it’s also– get this– a webcam that can do video chat! (Amazing stuff right there.)
Kinect quite literally killed any momentum that Microsoft had tried to build early on in its press event. The rather impressive demonstration of Gears of War 3 and the announcement of timed exclusivity for Call of Duty DLC were all but forgotten as we all (attendees and viewers at home or from work) sat through well over 30 minutes of hollow demonstrations and repeated calls for the end of tactile controls. Even the announcement of the new Xbox 360 hardware was tempered by what everyone had witnessed just prior.
Then comes the “we said, they said” argument when it comes to whether you need to stand up in order to use Kinect. IGN claims in their piece that developers say that you have to stand while Microsoft representatives claim that you can sit for “some” games. It seems pretty apparent that Microsoft is in full damage control mode here when it comes to this issue, and with good reason. You don’t have to be standing up to play Wii games. You don’t have to be standing up to use the PlayStation Move wand. It’s a choice. Kinect, if the accounts are true, denies users that choice. In my case, my job requires me to stand for hours at a time; when I get home from work or on my time off, the last thing that I want to do is to stand for even more hours. Many other potential consumers are likely in similar situations. Since when did playing video games require physical exertion?
This trend of flailing around just to accomplish actions on-screen that used to be executed with the press of a button has gotten way out of hand. Yes, unique motion controls are a part of why the Wii is successful… but if you look at key first-party software for the Wii, motion controls are more subtle in many cases. “Waggle” isn’t tacked on, just because the technology is there, as it’s been for more than a few third-party Wii titles. Let’s also remember that motion controls aren’t the only reason for the Wii’s success, either; the price point has always been cheaper than its competition and the platform has always had a more diverse library of games to offer for family, friends, or solo play. Why would Wii owners want what would amount to the same kind of experience on another platform and pay for the new hardware and software when the Wii already does this? It may be easier for Sony to attract potential buyers because of its Blu-ray functionality and free online capability. Microsoft missed the boat on this, no matter how much they claim that Kinect is better technology (which is unproven). Kinect Adventures is literally an idiot simulator, where you fidget around and make silly faces for a camera– just to have the pictures shared on Facebook. Nintendo hasn’t done anything of this magnitude, and they were the first with the technology!
Kinect is going to have an uphill battle. It arrives at retail 6 weeks after PlayStation Move, its chief competition. There are few–if any– games designed for core consumers, stripping away any initiative to buy at launch. The price is still unknown, and if the rumored $150 price tag winds up being true, it will kill any possibility of early adoption by the mass market– especially considering that another big mass market title, Call of Duty: Black Ops, will be available just a week after Kinect. Most importantly, Microsoft now has to convince its userbase that Kinect is also for them, and not just potential and future consumers who want another Wii experience. With the potential exception of Harmonix‘s Dance Central, which has received mixed reactions from those at E3, there’s nothing out there that even remotely commands any attention from current Xbox 360 owners.
The only thing that Microsoft has managed to accomplish at E3 this year is to dis-Kinect themselves from their core audience by severely changing their focus to the casual side of the fence. Aside from Halo: Reach in September and Gears 3 next year, Microsoft’s future success is bound to motion controls and the hope that they can convince consumers that controllers are relics of the past.
Good luck with that, Microsoft. Good luck, indeed.
The biggest part of E3 for those of us who are not in Los Angeles at the show is over. We’ve seen the press events and heard the announcements and surprises. It’s now time to talk about the winners and losers, the surprises and the no-shows, and talk about how the balance of power may shift for the next 12 months– if at all.
If you’ve read my summaries of all three press events, you know that I gave Nintendo’s press event the highest grade. While some may argue that nothing really new came from the event, since the games are largely from existing IPs, it doesn’t really matter. The games tickled the nostalgia bones of those in attendance and at home, and it’s no secret that Nintendo did their homework and understood that E3 is not the forum to appeal to the casual set. While the event covered a few casual games, it was largely aimed at the group in attendance and the effect was unmistakable. Nobody expected a new Kid Icarus game for the 3DS. Donkey Kong Country Returns was a shocker. Nobody knew about a new Kirby title. Then you throw in the games expected for the 3DS, including IPs like Star Fox, Animal Crossing, Metal Gear, Assassin’s Creed, Street Fighter, and more? There wasn’t a better press event than Nintendo’s, and it was driven by Reggie Fils-Aime, who continues to exude confidence and charisma.
Sony’s press event had its fair share of problems, if you judge it based on the flow of the event and the prominent speaker. Jack Tretton continues to struggle with his speeches and stage presence, and this year was exceptionally bad. When Tretton is on stage, he is the face of Sony… so when he stutters, stammers, or even uses wrong game titles, it affects the credibility of the brand that he represents. The game content was occasionally all over the place, with lots of montages and constant closing branding for each video piece that Tretton repeatedly tried to talk over. Despite that, the event contained significant information. Unlike other newly announced technology, like Nintendo’s 3DS or Microsoft’s Kinect, Sony proudly gave a release date and price points to PlayStation Move. We finally saw a firm release date for Gran Turismo 5. PlayStation Plus was also priced, even if some of the other details were less than clear during the event. What was clear to me was that Sony has the games and the technology, along with strategic partnerships with third-party publishers for exclusive content… which puts them solidly ahead of Microsoft at this point in time.
Speaking of Microsoft… what the hell happened on Monday? I sure hope that there were some angry Microsoft people after the event, because it was an embarrassment. If it wasn’t for Gears of War 3 and a brief look at Metal Gear Solid: Rising– which is multiplatform and doesn’t really help or hurt MS here– the event would have been unspeakably awful. The differences between Sony’s presentation of PS Move and Microsoft’s presentation of Kinect are stark: Sony’s demos were relatively short and came across as natural while the Kinect demos felt forced and were plagued by a few problems. Aside from the arguably ineffective announcement that Call of Duty DLC was time-exclusive to the 360 starting with Black Ops, what was was there? ESPN? Fine, but that’s nothing that a PC can’t also do. Halo: Reach? Sure, it looked impressive and space combat adds a new wrinkle, but fans had already made up their minds to buy before E3. The only other impressive– though anticipated– announcement was about the new Xbox 360 hardware. It was a surprise that it was ready and shipping to stores, but the price cuts for legacy hardware weren’t announced until after the event and attendees got free hardware, which almost felt like a reward for having to sit through so much fluff.
So… how does this week change the console gaming landscape?
Nintendo should have no problem keeping their position of dominance. Despite the ever-present threat of hardware saturation, the games that were shown at the press event and will be on display this week will help to fuel both hardware and software sales for the Wii for the rest of 2010 and into next year. GoldenEye 007 has a chance to be a bigger hit than many expect, Just Dance 2 will look to capitalize on the popularity of the original, and titles like Metroid: Other M, Kirby: Epic Yarn, Epic Mickey, and Donkey Kong Country Returns all point to continued success for the Wii. The DS platform is a little less certain right now. Nintendo didn’t announce a launch date for the 3DS, so the current platforms are in a bit of limbo now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag. Dragon Quest IX and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn should help to drive sales for awhile, but all bet are off until Nintendo outs its 3DS plans.
I was pleasantly surprised by Sony. The content exclusivity announcements, acceptable PlayStation Move pricing, and news that Gran Turismo 5 will hit this year means that Sony once again has some momentum to work with. With Sony getting its supply issues under control, the missing piece of the success puzzle may be ready to be placed. Publishers seem to be exhibiting a more positive response to the PlayStation 3 platform, which makes sense given its run of momentum recently, and this can only mean good things for at least the near-term. It’s also important to note that, at least from observations, PS Move seems like the real deal. The price seems right, the technology seems fairly accurate, and many games may have it as an option– and not a necessity. That helps to alleviate any possible split in the userbase. If Sony can keep supplying systems to sell, this could be a happy holiday indeed for the company.
Microsoft won’t openly come away from E3 showing disappointment, but it should. Having already bungled an exclusive game release last month with Alan Wake, the company’s early E3 showing indicates weakness moving forward to me. Microsoft has clearly hedged its bets on Kinect. There are really two scenarios here:
- Kinect sells well and the Xbox 360 has a new lease on life.
- Kinect bombs this holiday season and Sony storms ahead of Microsoft.
The games aren’t really the issue here. We know that Halo: Reach will sell truckloads, but then what? Wait for Gears 3? The new Xbox 360 hardware may help drive sales for at least the short term as users trade in or sell older models or they replace broken equipment. The Xbox 360 platform still does have a strong library of games to choose from, and publishers aren’t exactly getting off of the Microsoft bus any time soon. The issue here is that, if E3 is any indication, there’s a significant shift going on with Sony and Microsoft alternating spots behind Nintendo… and Microsoft is as responsible for this shift as Sony is.
Like many of you, I’ll be reading impressions and viewing pictures from the show. For now, my work is done. Unless, of course, you have your own thoughts or comments on the press events. Feel free to share them!
In a span of about 80 minutes, Nintendo went from stumbling out of the gate slightly to absolutely dominating the early landscape at E3 with their press event. Games that we knew about got some time while new games and the unveiling of the 3DS stole the show. Reggie Fils-Aime kept the chest-beating to a minimum and the event was literally introducing one game after another. Some details were conspicuously absent– most notably details on the availability and price point of the 3DS– but this event was generally about the games, and there were quite a few.
The show kicked off with the unveiling of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Shigeru Miyamoto talked about the game and then appeared on stage to demo it for the crowd. The game’s title is telling: The term Skyward Sword is a reference to being able to have Link hold the Master Sword up high towards the sky to charge it for a power strike… but the sword– and the shield– are big for this game. The Wiimote functions as Link’s sword and, via MotionPlus, will detect movement on a 1:1 scale. As you move your wrist and the controller, the sword mimics those movements. The Nunchuk will function as a shield, and Miyamoto showed how the shield bash can be physically performed to reflect rock attacks back at Octoroks, for example. There were some technical issues with demonstrating some items, which was attributed to “wireless interference”, but all in all, the game looks great and certainly shows potential. Between the tech issues and the announcement of a delay until 2011, Nintendo’s flagship looked a little leaky and audience seemed apprehensive.
Mario Sports Mix, due in 2011, was shown via a trailer. Building on previous Mario sports games, this title will feature Mario and friends playing Volleyball, Hockey, Basketball, and Dodgeball. Basketball looked like it drew inspiration from NBA Jam with fire shots, and all of the sports looked like simplified (yet fun) versions of their real-life counterparts. Wii Party, termed a “bridge” game by Fils-Aime, was also shown in trailer form and looks like a Mario Party clone with Miis. It will be available late this year. Just Dance 2 also a got a trailer, which is no surprise given the resounding retail success of the first game… Just Dance 2 will be in stores this fall.
Golden Sun for the Nintendo DS, which we hadn’t heard much about since last year, was shown in trailer form with a new title and new in-game footage. Now dubbed Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, the game moves from the GBA 2D model to a more modern visual style and appears to have some sort of stylus interaction along with some great-looking summons. The game is slated to hit retail during the holiday season this year, and the crowd responded warmly to the new information. Personally, I just bought the original Golden Sun for my Game Boy Micro, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the excitement is about.
Although we knew that GoldenEye 007 was going to be a Wii exclusive, there was very little known about it. It was thought to be a remake of the Nintendo 64 original, and that much is true. Seeing the trailer certainly raised my excitement level a bit as the visuals look pretty good (although I’m not a fan of removing Pierce Brosnan for Daniel Craig) and it seems like it will be a familiar and yet updated experience. The game rightly plays on nostalgia and, if the play controls hold up, this could be a bigger hit during this holiday season than analysts give it credit for.
Epic Mickey was shown next and was demonstrated on-stage. Warren Spector‘s vision for this game, combining RPG, action, and platforming elements, is a grand one. The game will have levels covering three different zones: Quest Zones are much like towns in RPGs as you receive quests, interact with characters, and buy items. Action Zones are just what they sound like, although these were not demonstrated on the stage. Travel Zones take Mickey inside of several side-scrolling platforming levels that are based on Disney cartoons. The Steamboat Willie level that was shown on-stage looked great. This title is another one to watch for the holidays.
Kirby: Epic Yarn was then revealed for the first time and shown in trailer form. The game has an interesting art style while maintaining the expected level of platforming brilliance that we have come to expect from Kirby titles. It really does look like yarn, shaped into familiar Kirby characters, moving fluidly against variable fabric backdrops. The game looks like a lot of fun, based on what was seen in the trailer, and surprisingly is targeted for a Fall release. Not bad for a game that’s been completely under wraps.
Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS and Metroid: Other M were then discussed, with a new trailer for the latter. Fils-Aime mentioned that a Nintendo employee has logged well over 100 hours on Dragon Quest IX and feels like it’s just getting started. Yeah. The new Metroid trailer further enhanced my desire to play it, and the date of August 31st was cemented for Other M‘s release.
The next game reveal and associated trailer blew my mind.
Fils-Aime segued from Other M to talk about Retro Studios and how they’d been looking for a new challenge after their impressive work with Metroid. There had been rumblings that Retro had been working on a Donkey Kong project, but when I heard the familiar music from Donkey Kong Country… I was in disbelief. Then came the trailer. Retro has managed to recapture the feel of RARE’s 1994 original for the SNES. New enemies are combined with familiar foes and settings for a long-overdue return to the jungle. The sights of mine cars and swinging vines to go along with the classic music were enough to literally make my eyes well up with tears of elation. The trailer noted that the game, called Donkey Kong Country Returns, is slated for release during this holiday season. The crowd was dazed.
Satoru Iwata took the stage to officially unveil the Nintendo 3DS. Here are the basics:
- 3D Depth Slider for top screen: This will adjust the 3D effect for games and media to the user’s liking, ranging from full 3D to completely off.
- Slide Pad: This is basically an analog nub.
- Motion and Gyro Sensors
- Three Camera Lenses (one inside, two outside): Allows for 3D digital photos.
- Able to run 3D movies
- Auto Wi-Fi Finder / Always On: Able to download updates, ghost data, rankings, new levels/quests from any WiFi automatically
The unit isn’t much larger than a regular Nintendo DS, though it’s a big thicker and the top screen seems to be raised slightly. Accounts from colleagues who got to check out the unit at the event mentioned that the 3D effect is legitimate and fascinating. Neither Iwata nor Fils-Aime commented on the launch date or launch price of the unit either during or after the event.
The surprises didn’t end with the introduction of the 3DS. A new platform needs games, and Nintendo kicked off the list in shocking fashion by taking the wraps off of Project Sora, a title that’s been in development for quite some time. What Project Sora morphed into elicited cheers from those in attendance: Project Sora was a new Kid Icarus game. Titled Kid Icarus: Uprising, the game looked solid with Pit fighting both in the air and on the ground. Granted, it wasn’t possible to see the 3D effect in use with the trailer, but the visuals looked tight and the action was intense; even the Eggplant Wizard made his return towards the end of the clip.
Kind Icarus: Uprising was the first 3DS game revealed, but not the last. Here are some others:
- DJ Hero 3D
- Resident Evil Revelations
- Super Street Fighter IV 3D
- Madden NFL Football
- FIFA Soccer
- Sims 3
- Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle
- Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D: The Naked Sample
- Ridge Racer
- Pilotwings Resort
- Nintendogs + Cats
- Animal Crossing
- Star Fox 64 3D
- Paper Mario
- Steel Diver
- Assassin’s Creed: Lost Legacy
In fact, well over 50 games were made public just after the event ended.
All in all, Nintendo’s E3 press event was amazing. New games were announced, familiar games were highlighted, the 3DS turned heads, and the software list for the 3DS holds incredible promise. Microsoft has clearly been outclassed, and Sony has work to do in order to clear the bar set by this morning’s announcements. Nintendo’s dominance looks to continue for the foreseeable future, and, for a change, both core and casual consumers have lots to cheer about.
Final Grade: A-
- 3DS specs are impressive, eclipsed only by its software lineup
- New Donkey Kong and Kirby titles have lots of potential
- Something for everyone at this event
- Tech issues with Zelda: Skyward Sword demo and delay of game into 2011
- No price point or launch window announced for the 3DS