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Your game will never reach a broader market – motion controls and 3D will not save you
by David Marcum on 03/25/10 03:23:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

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. Why did the Wii succeed, when their motion control technology was inconsistent (at best)?  The answer is not that non-gamers are stupid and didn’t notice the unreliability of the wiimotes.
  2. How are Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo using/planning to use their tech to expand their market? The answer is different for each company, because each company has positioned itself in a different space, with different goals, and view their target from a different perspective.
  3. Should I adopt the new tech or would it be possible to ignore the new tech and just carry on? That depends on the game you make.

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”:

            fun [fʌn]

            n

            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]

            n.

            1. Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or

             experiece.

            2.

            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”.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/129815/ign-project-natal-interview

http://www.hulu.com/watch/79469/attack-of-the-show-xbox-lives-major-nelson-talks-project-natal

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.


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Comments


Groove Stomp
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Wow, this is definitely the best analysis of motion controls I've yet read. Just look at how Just Dance has been received. Despite being critically panned, it's selling like hotcakes. Do you know why? The inexact controls that the critics hate are actually leveling the playing field, exactly as you say.

Chase Beadles
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Very insightful. Sounds like a pretty honest evaluation. This actually gives me a little bit of hope for Sony's Move and 3D, but you're right, it's not going to suddenly bring non-core gamers in to skill based games. Like always, the technology is released and it's really up to the developers to make good use of it.

Adam Flutie
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Interesting article. I'm one of those people that wishes the wonkyness of motion control would just go away, or at least I would get an option to take the 'motion' out of the controls... except for the pointer, man I love the pointer. Too bad few seem to like it except those Atlus guys.

Tim Tavernier
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There's a lot of elitist bull-shit in this article and a lot of very very shallow analysis.



Did the Wii sell because it was fun? Yes. But not because motion controls made Wii-games into a game of rolling six-sided dices. Wii-games are fun because of the values behind them. Wii-games are made with the philosophy of 70's and 80's videogames: easy to learn, hard to master. So any notion that Wii-games don't require "skill" is just idiotic. All these "non-gamers" are in reality lapsed gamers, people who quit gaming after the US videogame crash or when gaming went into 3D and as sales of the Wii has proven, they number in the tens of millions.



These games do require skill, even from a starting point, but these starting skills are far more intuitive-based then learning button combinations of a 14-button controller. Wii-games require people to refine these intuitive-based skills to the same degree as "core-gamers" would their button-smashing skills. The so-called skill you're really talking about is a not so cleverly disguised elitist notion of "Real gamers at least put effort in to learn all the combo's!". People don't want to wrestle with a games' controls or playfield rules to exact some measure of fun from them, mastering this is not skill, its having a high putting-up-with-bullshit-level. All games require a certain starting level of skill as a rule.



Also, very smart of falling in the DS3D trap Nintendo has left out. Really, is everyone extremely dense or something? Motion controls are not what Nintendo aimed at, it are the values behind the Wii. The motion controls are actually far more a decoy (that has worked marvelously so far seeing how everyone "hardcore" is still following it) then anything else. The DS3D announcement is the same. They only said anything about the output of the machine, nothing about philosophy or input methods behind it (which are far more important). The original DS was the same thing: Nintendo said it would have two screens and nothing more. This put a lot of people in "eh?" mode and some pretend smarty pants people in "aha it's just a gimmick, tsk, Nintendo is teh doomed!" mode. With Nintendo you cannot make an entire analysis without considering all the sides of gaming hardware: Values, Input method, Output method, Hardware and Software. It's because Nintendo is a rare case of where all the software and hardware departments are highly integrated.



The same for analyzing Sony and Microsoft which you fail at as well. Sony is a far more hardware aimed company and will try to solve things and do business first in that area. That's why Move will fail, good hardware but Sony will fail at the software side. Microsoft the exact opposite. Natal is conceived to have wide software-base applications but will fail horribly at a hardware design level, and MS sucks at game software to boot.



Also...ALL VIDEOGAMES ARE TOYS, don't pretend its not, this is what videogames are, toys. No matter of elitist idiotic drivel about "skill" and others will change this fact.

David Marcum
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Thank you all for your replies.



@Aaron -

I hadn't really been looking at sales recently. After reading your post I looked at Just Dance on a few sites. One of them said they thought that they had made a pact with the devil. LOL



@Tim -

Yes, "everyone is extremely dense". I agree people don't like "putting-up-with-bullshit". I like Nintendo too.



BTW- At the company I work for the team has decided to deploy a browser-based version of an Alpha build for testing the multiplayer portion of our game. If anyone is interested in playing it (it is a skill based core game), send me an email at david.marcum -- that A thing with the circle around it -- crystalrunnergames.com. You will not find info on the game at the site, as the site will go up closer to the games release.

Chase Beadles
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@Aaron

"People don't want to wrestle with a games' controls or playfield rules to exact some measure of fun from them, mastering this is not skill, its having a high putting-up-with-bullshit-level."



I much prefer a more complex control system with (Heaven Forbid!) "combos" and "button smashing" than the so-called refinement of "intuitive-based" skills that you speak so highly of. I'm not alone. Different gamers have different tastes. There is clearly a difference between different types of gamers that David is trying to contrast here. Perhaps his word choices offended you?



I really fail to understand the motivation behind your ridiculously negative response to such a well thought out article. Any subtext of elitism you seem to see is likely a self projected reflection of your own opinions. Pretty embarrassing on a site where most people successfully express their differences like grown-ups.

David Marcum
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@Chase -

Thank you, very much.



btw I think you meant Tim not Aaron.

steve roger
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"The goal of Project Natal is to bring people to the X-Box 360, not to games."



This statement I don't agree with. Of course, MS intends to have Project Natal bring people to games--on the xbox 360 that is. MS gets a royalty for every game sold. If Project Natal causes people to dip into the 360 pool instead of just the Wii, then they do so to play games with the Project Natal features.



Saying that Project Natal is merely to bring people to the xbox means that Nintendo only intended to bring people to the Wii via their motion controls. That is preposterious. Nintendo sells games too. Millions and millions of them that use motion controls. You see bringing people to the console itself is not profitable. Better for Nintendo as a cost per console, worse for the 360 because of the high cost of the console.



You are missing all the economics of the gaming business. The money is not in the hardware. The money is in the games. This true for all three, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony.



The advent of motion controls doesn't change the economics of the console gaming business. This where your article goes wrong.



However, I enjoyed it very much.

David Marcum
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@steve,



You are right -- maybe "the goal of Project Natal is to bring people to the X-Box 360, not to games" was too strong. It should read "The primary goal of Project Natal is to bring people to the X-Box 360, not to games."



Xbox Live has the following services, which -- for those not into games -- Microsoft can monetize on: Last.fm, Facebook, Twitter, Zune, Netflix; streams from MSNBC, MSN Autos, The New Yorker and Dilbert in the US; the Sky Player which offers Sky News, Sky Sports and the Disney Channel in the UK.



I also agree that Microsoft would like to grab some of Nintendo's market, and Project Natal can do just that.



Although how each company monetizes their console was not within the scope of the post I will speak on that briefly.



Yes, I agree. "The money is not in the hardware. The money is in the games. This true for all three, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony." I would go farther and say, if it was a hardware business, Sony and Microsoft would not have made consoles that actually cost them money to sell. Those companies have invested a lot of money, time and thought into their products. They will continue to monetize their consoles in many ways not directly related to games and use games to monetizes in other areas. This is going to be a long product cycle. Just looking toward the gaming arena to monetize their hardware would be foolish. But don't believe me, listen to them -- they say it all the time.



I am glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you.



But at this point I am jacking this thread away from what the post was all about in the first place. I will shut up now.

Erwin Coumans
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You probably didn't play Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii, did you?



It was a lot of fun, and it required skills. The WiiMote is precise enough to play that game, and hardcore gamers liked that game too.



The interesting bit of that game is that others can join the fun, without being a hardcore gamer: collect the stars, hold the monsters etc. That makes it family fun.

David Marcum
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@Erwin

No you are right I haven't. Sounds like fun. Nintendo most definitely knows what they are doing. Getting core gamers and non-core gamers working together is no mean feat. Thanks, I'll check it out.

Yiannis Koumoutzelis
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You are right, motion controllers might not save the day, but they will make users feel better for now being part of their own revolution :)



The game though is not about controls now anyway. The controller bird has flown. The mass market (money) is putting a bit more focus on PC and web based games as it seems. Unless people are going to access their Facebook from their consoles.



Now is time for nintendo to start thinking about their next move carefully. PS3 has gained good momentum with some really good games. 360 has natal which is awesome but there will be the issue of games designed properly with Natal in mind... Nintendo has to come back soon with something really big. Smells like Zelda time and it better be! I also agree with what was said that do not take the 3DS as a gimmick. These guys hopefully have learnt their lessons well with all their earlier failures and they do not seem like they are making the wrong moves lately.

Billy Stever
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I've been gaming for 21 years now and in my opinion motion controls like on the Wii, Natal and Move are just a gimmick, same with the Rock Band/Guitar Hero games and all those long forgotten experiments like the Power Glove and Virtual Boy. It is the same for 3D tv/gaming also.



The only gimmick I stupidly bought into was Rock Band. I got it for real cheap one day and I think i've played it for no more then an hour since I bought it a year ago.



It seems a lot of people like these sorts of things. But I'll stick to what i've liked about console gaming for the last 20+ years. A console, a normal controller and kick ass games.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Amir Sharar
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I think there has to be a separation between 3D and motion based controllers for the sake of this article.



Motion based controllers were used to (and with Natal and Move, are planned to) expand the market. It was used to make gaming more accessible to the general public. In a nutshell, getting someone who has never played games to start playing them.



3D technologies are targeted towards existing users, as a new way of experiencing media that they are already open to. In a nutshell, getting people who watch TV and movies currently to watch them in 3D.



3D isn't seeking a broader market, and it isn't getting people who don't watch TV or movies to start watching.



So the purpose of 3D and the purpose of motion controls are very different.



Going back to motion controls, the purpose of the Wii was to make games more accessible to people. The Move and Natal are seeking to serve the same purpose. Why is this? Because the expanded market has proven to be quite large, and as such there is a lot of potential in making money from this market. To monetize this you need to sell games to this new market. So I don't think "navigation" is even a big reason for the introduction of Natal. We will see how much of either (navigation vs. games) will be stressed at E3 to make a final call.



Your article states that Aaron Greenberg said, “you would not want to play Halo Reach with your body… It is not designed to replace the controller”. My interpretation of his comment is that it has less to do with Natal being an navigational device, and more to do with the fact that the controller plays traditional games just fine and there doesn't need to be a new way to play traditional games. Natal is being used for it's own games, and nothing more. Much like how a Guitar Hero guitar is used for it's own titles, and isn't used to play traditional games like FPS titles.



I would argue that the Move and Natal will definitely create a broader market for both consoles provided that they work and are packaged and marketed (I'm not talking about advertising) correctly. I suppose though I can type an entire essay as to why and how, and so I should perhaps write this as a seperate blog entry rather than flooding your comments section with a wall of text.



I think you made an excellent point about the expanded market requiring forgiving controls to allow them to enjoy titles. The key word when it comes to catering to the expanded market is "accessibility" (IMO) and forgiving controls are a good way of making a game much more accessible.

Adam Miller
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I have to agree with Tim Tavernier, to a degree. It's funny that this article focuses so extensively on the lack of precision in the wiimote -- it's actually quite precise when implemented well, as in Mario Galaxy, and motion plus helps a lot. That said, my wife can often win at wii sports, whereas she can never beat me at a traditionally controlled video game or a real sport, for that matter. There just is a certain amount of chance factored in, which is due to the way the games are controlled (though not entirely the precision of the wiimote).

David Marcum
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Thank you all for your comments -



The point of my article was basically that we, as gamers and developers, value one primary type of fun in our games, consisting of challenge rewarded with fun. Of course, the process of attaining the challenge should be fun as well. But games that do not value challenge and, instead, cater to any of the different ways people have fun, are considered lesser products. I argue that the system manufacturers don't share this view.



I agree with most of what I have read in the comments. Much of Tim's analysis of Nintendo's success is valid, even if I don't agree with his analysis of my post. But that can be attributed to my failing in expressing my point more clearly and not a failing on his part.


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