Friday, July 30, 2010

Why Do Bad Games Sell Well?

One thing that really bothers me is when I hear people talking about having fun playing a game that I know is just not good. Sometimes they are lured in by some gimmick and sometimes people just don't know when a game is bad. This can lead to a bad game selling very well.

Something that surprised me during the Nintendo press conference this past E3 was when Nintendo showed a trailer for the game Just Dance 2, the sequel to Just Dance. The franchise is a dancing/rhythm game where you use the Wii remote to to copy the movements of an on screen silhouette. The game has also received criticism for its poor controls, presentation (or lack there off), and under challenging gameplay. Yet somehow the game has sold 3 million plus copies.

Why has this game sold so well? Maybe people were drawn in by the track list, an easy gimmick to persuade music lovers. Maybe they like to flail around like a fool, this kind of movement would cause endorphins to be secreted, causing the players to feel happy. Or maybe still it was the multiplayer appeal. I think that it is just simply that casual gamers often do not know any better. They don't care about researching a game, or reading reviews. They will carelessly drop money on a bad game without thinking twice to try to recreate the fun of playing Wii Sports with their family.

Bad games can sometimes sell really well. While this may infuriate hardcore gamers, it happens. These games can eventually have sequels and franchises and sell more and more. The reason this happens is because people just don't know any better. The lesson here is always research a game before buying it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Digital Versus Physical Media

A recent survey found that gamers still prefer physical discs over digital downloads. The reasons for this, as I see it, are the used game market and a basic human desire to hold something that you own.

Used games have made companies like Gamestop profitable because many people do not like to pay full price for often expensive games. Why would anyone pay $50 or more for a game that they could buy used for $10 - $50? Why would you keep a game that you have finished playing when you could sell the game? The used game market is also largely unregulated. Publishers and developers do not make any money when you buy a used game. This whole system can simply not exist in a digital download context. Everyone has to pay full price for digital downloads.

My dad resisted direct deposit, having his pay automatically deposited in his bank account, at his job for as long as he could. Even though his checks never came on time and often he had to borrow money from me, he still refused to get direct deposit. I believe this stems from a simple human desire to hold something in your hands. I'll admit, one of the best parts of buying a new game is being able to hold it and feel the weight of it in my hands. I worked to buy it and this is my reward. With digital download all that really happens is that a few 1s and 0s are changed. The satisfaction of buying a new game is diminished slightly.

There will probably come a day when digital downloads take preference over physical games. By that time gamers will probably have forgotten about the satisfaction of physical discs. Conveniently for publishers, this will probably eliminate most of the used game market.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Phones Versus Handhelds

A lot of people enjoy playing games on their iPhones. Some people even think that smart phones will replace traditional handheld consoles one day. I honestly cannot see that happening.

Phones suffer from too much competition. The main handheld systems are the DS and the PSP. Yes there are others, but they receive very little attention. With phones, many devices receive equal attention. This means that the number of games being released for one particular phone decreases drastically. The iPhone's library continues to grow, but if anyone buys a competitor's phone, even if it is a better phone, they are out of luck.

Phones are a constantly evolving technology. A new one is released every month and it's better than anything that came before it. A true gaming console requires stability. A gamer needs to know that next week their games won't be obsolete because a new system was released. Also, if a new phone is released, gamers may not be able to play new games unless they buy the new phone. The DS was released six years ago and has had numerous redesigns. The PSP was released five years ago and has also been redesigned a few times. The iPhone has proven to be more stable than most phones, but this can prove deadly in a market where the fastest phone wins. With handheld systems, the progression is a bit slower. With handhelds technological prowess takes second place to the system's game library. And usually, as development teams become more familiar with the system, the games naturally become better.

Phones were created with one thing in mind: making calls. This seemingly insignificant limitation could be the thing that keeps phones from ever truly competing with handheld consoles. There are just too many phones on the market, and they are generally not stable enough to act as a handheld console.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why the Wii Works

On the morning November 19th, 2006 I was standing outside of a Best Buy with a friend of mine waiting for the store to open and the Nintendo Wii to be released upon the world. The biggest selling point for the Wii was undoubtedly the motion controls. Nintendo built their entire system around the motion controls and used it for everything from menu navigation to playing baseball. Even though Sony and Microsoft have both introduced competition in the forms of the PlayStation Move and Kinect, respectively, I think Nintendo's motion controls will prove to be the most effective.

The PlayStation Move is technologically superior to the Wii Remote in that it uses a wider array of more accurate sensors, in addition to the PlayStation Eye, to determine a user's position and movement. This may lead one to believe that the Move would be superior in other ways also, such as gameplay, but you have to remember that the Move is not necessary to operate the PS3. The Wii Remote must be used at some point in order to do anything with the Wii console, meaning that 100% of users have adopted the Wii Remote. The Move is being released four years into the PS3's life span when most gamers are fine with their normal controllers. Yes, there are several interesting games announced that can only work with the Move, but I feel that adoption rates will be slower than Sony hopes.

Kinect is something else all together. Kinect gets rid of controllers and relies solely on tracking a user's movements. But Kinect faces the same problem as the Move, gamers are already used to their normal controllers, but Kinect does open the door for a freer experience than those offered by Move or the Wii because it does not use controllers. However, I feel that Kinect is simply uninspired. Sony released the EyeToy for PlayStation 2 back in 2003, which used the same concept of controller-free gaming. The EyeToy then led to the PlayStation Eye for the PS3, which is being used with the Move.

The Wii will always be remembered for its motion controls, mainly because the Wii remote is the main control scheme. Move and Kinect both seem to be tacked on to the their respective systems so that they can say “Hey! Look we have motion controls too!” and maybe sell a few more consoles.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How Casual Gamers Influence the Industry

For the purposes of this post, a casual game is any game that can be played in short sessions, lacks finality, can be replayed multiple times, and is directed at the average person. A casual gamer is someone who mainly plays casual games, averaging very few hours of total game time a week. In reality, this is kind of a gray area and no definition can really encompass the whole meaning.

Ever since the Wii was released, developers have realized that they can make oodles of money by targeting casual gamers. Simply stringing together a bunch of minigames can all but guarantee high sales. As such casual games have been rising in popularity. The bigger they get the more noticeable the effect they have becomes.

The most notable effect is simply more casual games being produced. A developer looks at a casual game as costing less to make and potentially bringing in more money because of the wider audience appeal. So, naturally, more casual games are made. Hardcore games on the other hand can cost more and may not even sell very well. This could lead to a hardcore development studio being closed (see: Clover Studio). So it comes down to what the developer risks: a little money to possibly make a lot more, or a lot of money to possibly make only a little back.

This has lead to the creation of many a casual game, and even worse, shovelware. Shovelware is a game made with inferior quality to capitalize on uninformed consumers. Usually targeting the same audience as casual games, shovelware can be made for even less than casual games and potentially sell just as well. The problem is that no one is doing anything to stop shovelware.

One interesting thing about casual games is the effect they have on hardcore games. More hardcore games are trying to appeal to a wider audience by making certain parts easier. For instance, Mega Man 10 features an easy mode which covers certain spike pits and weakens the enemies, so that newer players are not constantly dying. New Super Mario Bros. Wii features a “Super Guide” where if you die eight times in a row, Luigi will appear and guide you through the level. Super Mario Galaxy has a similar feature where a “Cosmic Guide” will play through a level for you. Hardcore game developers are trying to make their games and cater to the hardcore audience without alienating casual gamers.

Whether hardcore gamers like to admit it or not, casual gamers hold considerable influence over the industry. Ever since the Wii was released, casual games have seen an increase in popularity and number. I have no problem with this at all, my problem is when casual games get out of control, i.e. shovelware.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How Hardcore Gamers Influence the Industry

For the purposes of this post, a hardcore game is a game that has an experience attached to it and are played by gamers with experience. Hardcore games are usually quite long and involve many small parts and pieces. A hardcore gamer is someone who spends most of their time and money playing games. In reality, this is kind of a gray area and no definition can really encompass the whole meaning.

Hardcore gamers have considerable influence over the video game industry. Unlike casual gamers, who have influence but it is spread out across many people, hardcore gamers have more influence in a smaller group.

Hardcore gamers help to define trends in the industry. Do you think that online multiplayer would be so popular on consoles if hardcore gamers hadn't obsessively played Halo 2 online? Now many games, especially first-person shooters, have some online multiplayer functionality. Do you think that SquareEnix would be around if hardcore gamers hadn't bought and loved the original Final Fantasy? Now Final Fantasy has spanned more than 20 years and has more sequels and spinoffs than you can count. Without hardcore gamers saying what they like or don't like about games, developers would have to rely only on sales, which can be misleading.

Hardcore gamers are also the first to point out innovation. Because hardcore gamers have experience, they can see when a game does something new and does it well. Do you think that modern action RPGs would exist without the original Legend of Zelda? Those game mechanics are so strong that Zelda games today still use them. Do you think that modern motion controls would exist without Dance Dance Revolution? The idea of actually putting someone in a game is so strong that it was the basis for Microsoft's Kinect. Without hardcore gamers saying “This is a good idea” modern games today would not even exist.

Hardcore gamers are undeniably influential in the industry. Most trends and seemingly standard mechanics can be traced back to hardcore gamers liking the idea and other developers trying to use them too. Hardcore gamers are necessary for the industry to continue to move forward, and should not be forgotten by big name developers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Is 3D Necessary?

One of the bigger buzzwords in gaming today is 3D, specifically stereoscopic 3D. Sony's doing it, Nintendo's doing it, and even Microsoft's doing it. Sony has been thinking about stereoscopic 3D for some time, presenting 3D games to journalists at CES in January 2009 as a demonstration. Sony will eventually update the PS3's firmware (in the US, it's already available in Japan) to allow for 3D to be available with compatible TVs, 3D glasses, and games. Nintendo made waves at E3 with the 3DS, which does not require the user to wear glasses. The 3DS also allows for the 3D effect to be controlled by the user with a slider on the side of the system. Microsoft has taken a more lax approach, leaving the 3D decision up to developers. Microsoft cited the lack of consumers with 3D TVs as their reasoning. I understand the appeal, a new level of immersion in games, but is it really necessary?

I liken the jump to stereoscopic 3D to the jump to 3D made back in 1996. I talk of Super Mario 64, and its influential 3D world. Up until Super Mario 64, 3D was relegated only to first person shooters. After Super Mario 64, game developers started to implement 3D more, like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for instance. Previous attempts at 3D had been made, but nobody could really get it right. Nintendo developed an intuitive camera system that automatically adjusted the camera depending on the player's location to help create a more fluid game world.

However, I do not think that stereoscopic 3D will be as revolutionary. It would seem to me that stereoscopic 3D is purely an aesthetic choice, almost a gimmick. One of the big things with 3D is immersion, gamers will be more fully immersed in their games. So not only will gamers be able to see bullets flying and monsters attacking on the screen, but coming out of the screen also. I personally feel that if a game has a strong narrative and compelling gameplay, more immersion is simply not necessary. I can go play Final Fantasy and become immersed in a fantasy world, but do I need the menus popping out and towns in the distance actually seeming far away?

One of the biggest problems with stereoscopic 3D is the cost. 3D TVs cost around $2000 or more, and require also expensive glasses to be worn for the 3D effect to even work. Add that to a $300 or more PS3 or a $300 Xbox 360 and you have a big chunk of change being sunk into 3D gaming. Nintendo thought to ease some of the cost and annoyance with their glasses-less 3DS. However, Nintendo has yet to reveal the price and have only a vague release date of before April 2011.

Also, Nintendo and Sony both warn against playing 3D games for to long. Most hardcore gamers will sit down and play a game for hours on end, if they start to develop headaches, they will probably just turn off the 3D, or not play at all. Why even bother with 3D if people are just going to turn it off?

Stereoscopic 3D could be a nice addition to gaming at large, and developers are hungry to implement it. However, 3D gaming lacks revolutionary potential, and I think the high cost will dissuade most gamers.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kids' Games

One of the defining moments of my childhood was when my dad would come home from work, sit down, and play The Legend of Zelda for the NES. This had such a profound impact on me that I still play video games to this day. Now, when I go to a store and look at games, I see lots of games made just for kids. I believe that these kids' games are just as important as any given big budget, critically acclaimed, high profile game.

As a kid, playing video games was nothing but a pastime. If you were bored, you picked up a controller and played a game for a while. While this same reasoning may drive some adult's gaming habits today, kids play in a different way. Kids simply do not care if a game is critically acclaimed, or how much prestige the developers garner. Kids may only care that the game is fun, or has some familiar characters from a TV show, or maybe they're just stuck with whatever they got for Christmas. A kid will play a game, never finish it, but immediately demand more games, more fun, more time to waste. As the child grows they will keep playing games, their tastes evolving, finding their genre of choice, forgetting most of the kiddie games they played.

 When I was a kid, besides playing some classic NES games, Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, The Legend of Zelda, etc., I also played a few computer games. Games like Pajama Sam, Math Blaster, Great Adventures Castle, and an odd Batman and Robin game still hold a place in my heart. Going back though, they mostly seem uninteresting and, well, kiddie. The important thing is that they all helped to define what games I play today. I still enjoy Mario and Zelda games, as most people do, but Pajama Sam and Castle are two of the more important games here. Pajama Sam and Castle were both point and click adventure games, the former featuring in a young child's adventure's in his closet to defeat Darkness, the latter focusing on a quest to find six knights and free a kingdom. Today, point and click games are few and far between, but my taste for adventure was whetted and I think that has led to my penchant for RPGs. Both games also immersed my younger self in a fantasy world, much like RPGs do. If I had played different games as a child, for instance maybe more strategy or action based games, my tastes would most likely be different.

Games we play as children inexorably affect the games we play as adults. I am not necessarily saying that kids' games need to be of a higher quality, but that they only need to be engrossing. Two of my most memorable video game experiences as a child do not revolve around high profile games, but instead lesser known titles. Pajama Sam has since been ported to the Wii, but I will never buy it because I dare not besmirch my childhood memories, and, sadly, I'm simply not a child anymore.

Welcome

Hello Internets! Welcome to Gamer's Bread. Gamer's Bread is my personal video game commentary blog. Here I will post my various thoughts about the video game industry and current events.
As for personal information, I have played video games since a very young age and have always loved them. I own a Wii, and have access to a PS3, and have a broken DS. 
I will try to update every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with a special first post today.
I'll keep this short and say that I hope you enjoy reading my blog.