In a move to widen their market, the game system manufacturers are expanding their systems functionality with motion controls, and Sony and Nintendo at least are adding 3D experiences. What does that mean for game developers? If you learn to develop 3D games and/or implement motion controls, will you increase your sales numbers? No, you will continue to fail, because your game is not fun.
In this post I will look at Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo’s strategies for reaching a wider market, and the kind of games that fit within each company’s vision of their own corporate future. To start off I will ask and answer three questions and explain what I mean by each answer later in the post.
1) If you are a core gamer and picked up a Wii at launch, you were very disappointed. Nintendo tricked you! They promised you (in your mind) unparalleled precision that would allow you to take your game (or skill) to another level. No, the wiimotes were unresponsive to your desires, and actually responded to movements you didn’t make. Wonky, terrible controls that no one wanted! But to your surprise they sold like hotcakes. Why? How? What kind of fools bought them? Gullible sheep that let advertizing tell them what they want? No, people (and Nintendo) are not as stupid as you give them credit. They found the Wii fun.
What is fun? Assassins’ Creed, Modern Warfare 1&2, Monopoly, Yatzee and Wii Sports all are games people play to have fun. Two of these games also fit nicely within another category – skill. Having or developing skill is not a prerequisite for having fun with Wii Sports. As a matter of fact, if the wiimote was as responsive as you had hoped, then after playing a few days of Wii Sports Bowling, any non-gamer would fail to beat you and will look foolish trying -- or you would have to throw the game. Neither of these options would be fun for either of you. That would not be a recipe for expanding a market.
In Monoploly you roll six-sided dice to move to a spot, pick a random card from a shuffled deck and are rewarded or punished. All this randomness gives you permission to lose gracefully without shame. This is the key reason Wii was able to penetrate so many households. The unresponsive wiimote acts as a kind of six-sided die.
By contrast, core games reward skill with “fun” and punish those who don’t acquire it. The fun Is not in the playing, it is in succeeding. There are two types of games: a) core games that reward core gamers (these are the kinds of games you make), or b) games for the rest of the people who… just wanna have fun – that’s all they really want. No, you cannot tack on randomness, social functionality, exploration, casual-type mini-games, et cetera, to a game that at its core a skill based game, and expect to grow your market beyond core gamers – even though your core gamers might find that these features add value to your game.
Here is the Free Online Dictionary definition of “fun” and “skill”:
1. a source of enjoyment, amusement, diversion, etc.
2. pleasure, gaiety, or merriment
3. jest or sport (esp in the phrases in or for fun)
fun and games Ironic or facetious amusement; frivolous activity
skill [sk l]
1. Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or
a. An art, trade, or technique, particularly one requiring use of the hands or body.
b. A developed talent or ability.
2) Microsoft – Since at least 1993, Microsoft’s mission has been to become your access point from your living room to the rest of the world. In a 1993 interview (http://www.anonymous-insider.net/windows/research/1994/0927-d.html#62), Bill Gates said:
“And already there is the mania in discussing this so-called "Information Highway" which is the idea of connecting up these devices not only in business, but in home, and making sure that video feeds work very well across these new networks. So we've only come a small way. We haven't changed the way that markets are organized. We haven't changed the way people educate themselves, or socialize, or express their political opinions, in nearly the way that we will over the next ten years. And so the software is going to have to lead the way and provide the kind of ease of use, security, and richness that those applications demand.”
Here is Bill Gates again in a 2005 interview: (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/4195177.stm)
“The vision is that people should have the ultimate in convenience. Being able to get the things they care about on the appropriate device.
So you have got to have a very simple user interface, you have got to have a richness of software that's there and available and you have to bring together all the elements.
Communication because you want to send photos around, the TV guide because you care about watching that, the latest interactive games that are always improving in very dramatic ways, you want this to be very holistic. So the user thinks: 'Hey I just sit down and I can access what I want'. “
I think this sounds a lot like Project Natal on the X-Box 360 with Zune HD (or Netflix, if you must) and, of course, X-box Live. Is Project Natal for games? Microsoft says, yes! Please! They would like to have Natal in every home any way they can bring it. Is it for games? Well, no, its main goal is to enable you to scroll through menus with a wave of the hand or change the channel with a swipe of the hand. The goal of Project Natal is to bring people to the X-Box 360, not to games. But, if you want to help bring Natal in the living room for Microsoft with a game that uses Natal functionality, go ahead. Maybe you can build a game for core gamers that utilizes Natal in a fun way. But that is not Project Natal’s mission (nor, in my opinion, its strength).
The following links are interviews with gaming sites about Project Natal. Notice that the talking point quickly turns from gaming to navigation. Arron Greenberg states that “you would not want to play Halo Reach with your body… It is not designed to replace the controller”.
Sony – Sony’s push is to sell lots of Bravia 3-D TVs. http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/03/ff_sony_howard_stringer/
They have won the Blu-ray/ HD DVD battle with the muscle of Sony Pictures. According to Wired, Sony says that 3-D Blu-ray will be 50 percent bigger than standard Blu-ray. “ 'Am I rolling the dice on 3-D?' asks Howard Stringer. 'Yeah, a little bit. You throw the dice all the time in this business. But I’m going to get 3-D right, one way or another, and then I can make life miserable for the competition.' We’re playing a 3-D version of the futuristic PS3 racing game Wipeout HD on a 50-inch Bravia TV. The gargantuan screen looks like a window into another universe; the game’s sci-fi milieu is as tangible and gorgeously rich as anything in Avatar.
Games could be a killer app for 3-D, and the PlayStation 3 has the inside track. A software upgrade Sony plans to give away this summer will allow the console to play 3-D games and movies on Blu-ray discs. The competing Xbox 360 console has a standard DVD drive, and as Stringer and other Sony execs are fond of pointing out, standard DVDs don’t have enough storage space for hi-def 3-D.
But after a few minutes of playing Wipeout with Hirai, whipping my hovership around curves and caroming off hyperrealistic guardrails, I have to stop. The experience is ridiculously intense — maybe too intense. I’m worried that I might vomit. Sony has studied physiological responses like mine, and executives seem to be unconcerned. After a period of adjustment, most players adapt to the experience without ill effects, they say.”
Is Sony's Move for games? Yes, if you can afford it make it 3D, Sony will love you. Try not to get anyone sick, though. Is Sony's Move for core games? Sure, maybe. Some will come out just like the sixaxis games did. They didn’t seem too popular, but this is new tech. Maybe you can think of a way to make a game that uses Sony Move in a core game that people will respond to. And maybe they can shed a few pounds in the process.
Nintendo – Nintendo is a toy company. The Wii is a toy with a primary user interface that does not play well with core games. Even Nintendo dropped the wiimote when they released one of its core games New Super Mario Wii. Maybe Metroid Other M will prove that the wiimote can be used for skill based games. So far the track record for the wiimote for skill based games has teetered somewhere between not-so-good to utter failure.
What about 3DS? Nintendo is a toy company. A skill based game on a 3DS could work but is the DS a core gaming device? You answer that for yourself – I will not weigh in more than I have. Okay, I think it’s a toy – a toy that will make truckloads for Nintendo. And that is just how they like it.
3) Motion controls or no? If you are making a skill based core game, motion controls will not bring in non-core gamers. It is a myth to suggest that the controller was the problem; in fact, non-core players would use the “I don’t know how to use this thing (controller?)” as an excuse for losing in a game where it is inexcusable to lose and also no fun.
I may be wrong and may feel quite embarrassed when this all pans out. But I do know one thing: it will be like fitting a round peg into a well-crafted, intentionally made, decidedly square hole.