So Wagner James Au writes a piece at Giga Om called Game Business and its Crisis of Attention, and derides the games industry for being short sighted. Go ahead give it a read, it will make you laugh.
Wagner Au has been a great, if occasionally panicky game journalist. He is correct in telling us that the Wii (which I just bought, glee!) has penetrated a market that many game developers did not think existed. But what he hasn’t taken into account is that the Wii’s success story was not incidental, but a planned, smart execution by Nintendo, ALSO a part of the games industry.
The story begins with the advent of the casual gaming market with a lot of women and older gen people taking interest in casual gaming websites, circa 2002. Nintendo saw that as an opportunity, and created their next handheld the Nintendo DS, a dual display touch screen little darling that took the button mashing away from the games and instead put in intuitive touch controls. Now a lot of developers jumped on to the bandwagon and made some A list titles for the DS. BUT the casual games juggernaut was largely because of first party Nintendo developed titles. Nintendo, a gaming company saw a market, and pushed for it with a strong game base for their console, making other developers take notice. Au does not even acknowledge the DS, and he is wrong in presupposing that the Wii brought about a brewing revolution. It didn’t. There was a huge casual games market, but before the DS, those people never thought of themselves as gamers. The DS changed that, not by being a great machine either, but by the first party titles that Nintendo pushed, and a smart decision to keep it inexpensive.
Even now, and this is interesting, it is the largest selling console in the world. Au mentions that the consoles have not been able to outsell the PS2. Well, the PS2 can’t outsell the DS either. And it’s just a little handheld, not even a TV console.
Nintendo then built on the market created by the DS and started development on the Wii, which again features intuitive controls, and despite mainstream shooter titles etc. at launch, a huge database of casual party games that the whole family can play. Nintendo’s decree was plain and simple: increase the market share. Again, great first party library, and the cheapest next-gen console in the market.
His allegation is that X360 and PS3 have been myopic decisions by MS and Sony. I agree, but only partially. The DS’s success took MS by surprise, but they knew the power of the casual gaming market, hence Live Arcade(met with humongous success). Hence Viva Piñata. Sony, too, understood that and while it has had a hiccup-y start with an overpriced console, they had a great GDC with the announcement of Sony Home (A Second Life like environment within the console, that is free to use, and as robust), and LittleBigPlanet, their lean towards the casual market.
Again, Au fails to recognize the fact that even now, the new gaming converts via the Wii or the DS, are increasingly taking interest in what other titles they can play. This can only mean good business for all of us. The market that has been single handedly created by Nintendo, will gradually, in smaller percentages, buy other games, other consoles, get into gaming proper. And whatever form the games industry takes, casual, hardcore, it still is the Games industry. It can change, and it already is changing, but it can’t sputter and die. Try buying an Wii in the US and tell me that games aren’t selling. There’s a 15 day minimum waiting period, and a markup of 100$ on the Wii on most stores in the US. Nintendo can’t manufacture those things as fast as they sell. If that’s not good tidings, what is? How can more people playing games be a bad thing?
Of course, we know that making a Halo 3 or Gears of War will cost 3-5 times more than a Wii sports. Which means more developers will lean towards easier to make and publish games, and the so called mainstream titles will be fewer as we go along. There are discussions to be had on the outsourcing business, and how that is helping these studios leverage their cost-benefit ratios, or the fact that already EA and Ubi have committed themselves to more Wii titles. And the 360 isn’t doing bad either – the games are doing well, Live Arcade is an unprecedented success, and their high profile mainstream titles sell like hot bloody cakes, maybe not as hot as Nintendo, but even by traditional standards, 360 titles are a success.
PS3, though, is in a sad position. Phil Harrison couldn’t hide faster. But that is not due to second life or grandma playing mahjong. There are a slew of problems – blu ray makes the games expensive, it also makes their console expensive, the long delays has meant bigger losses, first party development has been focusing on Home and sequels, so newer titles are harder to find.
Addendum: Already responses to his ill-written and statistic HIDING article is scathing:
Simon at GameSetWatch writes:
“And besides, which, with the Hollywood comparisons – hello, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Spider-Man, ka-ching? There’s room in here for a few blockbusters too – alongside a welcome widening of the market and (hopefully!) bigger opportunities for the little guy.”
Colin Campbell writes at Next-Gen:
“… [Au] argues that the game industry is in trouble because of the success of products like World of Warcraft, Wii and casual games. ”
Such a poor short sighted article. I usually don’t respond like this, but hey, someone actually emailed it to me citing it as relevant information.
Anyways, sorry for ranting, and I just wrote this as I went, so the data behind the argument is not here, though I assure you it IS out there. I…. I just can’t stand this sort of irresponsible journalism, I suppose.
Sorry for wasting your time, if I did.