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Wada: Too Much Diversification Will Confuse Game Consumers
Wada: Too Much Diversification Will Confuse Game Consumers
November 16, 2009 | By Chris Remo

November 16, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC

Games are in a "Cambrian explosion" of formats and styles, says Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada -- but he warns that may be creating a confusing or unappealing image of the medium to some consumers.

"Whether content or service, there needs to be some image within customer's [mind] of a format," Wada said in his Gamasutra-attended keynote at the Montreal International Game Summit. "Once that is finalized, we will be able to [expand] the field we play on."

Right now, Wada said, "We are in a Cambrian explosion, in a sense," of distribution methods and game formats," meaning few consumers have a clear idea of what a "game" even is. (The "Cambrian explosion" phrase, referencing the Earth's seemingly sudden proliferation of early forms of life, has also been used by The Sims creator Will Wright in recent speeches.)

For example, he said, films are generally two hours long or less; television is a half hour or an hour, and runs in a series regularly for several months; and a newspaper is delivered in roughly similar size every morning.

Those mediums could have evolved in very different ways, but at a certain point, they standardized, and consumers know roughly what to expect when they experience one.

That's not to say a range of formats is entirely bad, Wada noted -- but it can go too far. "Diversification is good," he said. "The content will be more deep, and there will be more consumers, and there are more chances for monitization, and that is very good for the industry."

"It is a good thing, but if it spreads too much, the new users for the games will become puzzled at what 'games' are supposed to be."

That confusion has afflicted even former gamers: "When I ask people in Japan, they say they don't have enough time to play games, and that's why they left games," says Wada. "They all think you need to sit in front of the TV for hours to conclude a game."

"Of course, that is not the only type of game, but that is the image they all have. Once that image is settled, they will never come back to play the same game."

The answer, the CEO believes, is some degree of consolidation, and he called upon the development community to work towards that goal -- perhaps even with new methods like episodic gaming, by which an action game is split up into half-hour chunks and distributed over several months.

"Games need to be consolidated into several formats, and everyone needs to work to make that happen," Wada said. "We all take our format as a given, and nobody considered it, but I think it's going to be more important."

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Andrew Dobbs
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Two models I'd like to see more (as a developer not a consumer): tiered-payment services and episodic games.

For multiplayer games, a tiered-service model with a hamstrung free offering. Most web-hosted apps follow this. The key problem with many multiplayer games is offering too much for free. The next problem is that there is little differentiation between consumers. Some people would be willing to spend 5 bucks a month on your game (subscription or micropayments) while others would be willing to pay 20 or 30.

For singleplayer games, episodes can work much better, but you have to set up a development pipeline and create a game that can be released frequently. Only one game studio, Telltale, is doing this right now and digital distribution needs more time to grow, but I think there is untapped potential to treat games more like a TV episode. If nothing else, singleplayer content needs to find a way to start hitting 5-20 dollar price points. The amount of time and money it costs to create 60 bucks worth of content vs 10 bucks doesn't seem to scale linearly.

Andrew Dobbs
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For episodic to work better, we also need to a hit a point where the hardware is more uniform. The reason television and movies are a standard is because you don't need a specific brand of hardware you just need a display.

E Zachary Knight
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And that is the point. Look back to the HD-DVD/Bluray format war and expand the time frame to 5-10 years. That is gaming right there.

Just imagine if those two formats were fighting for 10 years for exclusive movies from studios and that people had to buy 2-3 different video players so that they could watch all the movies they want at home.

Not saying that gaming is bad in the current situation, but there are changes that could be made that could extend our accessibility to people who are not already entrenched in gaming.

Tawna Evans
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I think that perhaps the definition of videogame should diversify, more. Consumers who say they don't play videogames might be referring to console games, but they might dabble with social games on Facebook. The forms of gaming that is emerging (i.e. cell phone games, social games, Flash games, etc.) diversifies the means in which gaming via electronic medium with a video screen can be experienced. Perhaps the concept of videogame should broaden to encompass those and future forms of videogames.

Stevan Zivadinovic
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This dude is out of his mind!

kushka 53
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Nah, with the advent of the Wii, a broader population segment has woken up to the potential of video games and is looking for some diversity. And those that are already familiar with the older formats and styles are excited to see new ones. Bottom line: if the games are good, they will come. The challenge: how to market that diversity in a way that the consumer understands? Consumers aren't stupid but a diverse roll-out, marketed badly, will confuse them and the sales won't materialize.

Tom Newman
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Disagree whole heartedly. No surprise this is coming from Square.

Tomas Neme
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Is this the same asshole that threatened with staff reduction in the creative department of square enix after they came up with The World Ends With You?

I really can't have any sympathy for his views in general, and for this one in particular. I *like* (as a consumer) the miryad of games and styles there are around. I love many many PSN games that wouldn't be able to make it as retail, and I like both sitting hours on end playing Homeworld II, and playing 6 levels of Cake Mania in 20 minutes. If *their* games are impossible to play because they take too long, make less Dragon Quest and create some new IPs with a different concept (because die hard DraQue fans will complain if you change the premise of the series), don't try to get the whole industry on your train.

Chad Godsey
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I am not a sheeple, and I will not conform to your dilution of media.