Right, before going any further let me just warn any readers that they might not like what they read in this post but that my opinions are mine. I don’t bleat with the rest of the herd and I don’t care for popular opinion. I do, however, give thought before I say something. Remember that last bit, it’s important.
I don’t have faith in Nintendo and I don’t have faith in their Revolution console or its controller. The thing about that machine is that, like the DS, it’s not aimed at gamers like me. Now, I personally don’t have a problem with that. Nintendo can and will do what they want to do. As a consumer, I’m free to make my choices and opinions about products I may or may not be interested in. Now, just because I say the system isn’t for me doesn’t mean to say I don’t understand what it’s trying to do.
It’s clear as day to most people that Nintendo are keen to broaden their market share. They’re going about this by attempting to attract different types of people – the non gamer. Sony succeeded with this back in the late 90’s by making the PlayStation a lifestyle product – just like Apple and iPod are doing today. Nintendo’s approach is different though. They’ve voiced their attitude towards long and complex games a number of times. With the unveiling of the Revolution controller they’ve declared how complex, button-laden controllers are off-putting to people who might otherwise be interested in playing games. The design of their controller demonstrates this perfectly.
Try this little experiment. Find someone you know who isn’t into gaming at all and generally ignores the whole deal. Now, ask them what they would be most comfortable using: a keyboard, a game controller or a TV remote. You’re likely to get option C every time. In essence, rather than make your product more attractive to the new market like Sony did with PlayStation, Nintendo are attempting to make their product less unattractive. This will remove barriers to sales of your product, it’s good. But it’s not good enough to draw people towards your product unless you have a more agressive approach to it to back it up. There’s a large amount of people who don’t play games because they don’t want to play games – not because controllers are offputting. In fact, where is there any evidence to suggest that this is the primary reason why non-gamers stay non-gamers?
To my knowledge, there isn’t any such evidence. To that end developing your next-generation of hardware around this concept at the cost of a conventional control system that can play regular games is extraordinarily risky. What Nintendo have done in their pursuit of the new demographic is to exclude a significant portion of the old one. The old demographic (the gamers) have been drifting away from Nintendo over the last ten years as sales of the N64 and Gamecube will testify. I am one of those gamers. I don’t seen Nintendo doing anything to lure me back to making them my primary gaming choice.
Admittedly, they’ve made an effort to keep existing gamers interested by claiming the Revolution will be host to every Nintendo console game ever made. Games from NES to Gamecube games are said to be workable with Revolution. Whilst this is an interesting prospect there is still a huge amount of information lacking as to how this will work. Whilst we’d all like to believe some sort of instant collection of great NES, SNES and N64 games will be available to us I can’t help thinking the reality will be far different. Nintendo have already given cagey feedback on the topic of free old games and suggested that these older titles may be used in incentives and rewards. I can’t say I blame them but I’ve got heaps of old Nintendo games for all my old Nintendo consoles. I even have the option of emulation if I wish to play them in a convenient manner. So the prospect of playing old Nintendo games really doesn’t do anything to pull me closer to the Revoltion whilst it’s controller pushes me away.
So what else does the Revolution offer me then? Well, clearly a whole different way of playing games and the potential to play in new and interesting ways. Potential is nice, but it’s rarely realised – even by Nintendo. We’ve all heard promises of next generation hardware or game engines. We’ve all waited and, in most cases, ended up disappointed. The DS is proving to be a fine example of potential that’s not been realised. The DS seemed, to me, to be one of Nintendo’s better ideas. One that might go the distance. It’s been very well received but we’re already seeing games fall back to regular controls. Only in a few cases (typically Nintendo and their first parties) are we seeing that DS potential realised. I already feel that the DS is declining into the same hole that the N64 and Gamecube are resting in – a machine that’s only being exploited by Nintendo themselves whilst 3rd parties just take the easy design route. And we’re talking about a machine that’s already outperformed against Nintendo’s other wacky inventions such as Virtualboy, Powerglove, R.O.B. and U-force. The U-force and the Revolution are worryingly close in concept and execution. Had you ever heard of the U-force? No, I thought not.
So, you can understand why I like the idea of ‘potential’ but I’m not convinced. The other aspect – a whole different way of playing games – doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. I don’t own an eye-toy, a dance-mat, a light-gun, steering wheel controller or arcade stick. Oddly enough, I do own a snowboard shaped controller that you stand on and use your body weight to steer you through games like SSX. My wife and I received it as a Christmas present one year (due, no doubt, to our fixation with SSX at the time) but it’s never been used. The simple truth is, I don’t want to play games in a different way. I like the way I play games now, it works for me. It ain’t broke so why fix it? I’m not saying Nintendo’s idea is wrong but they’re offering me all these options that I don’t want and taking away the one I do.
And yes, I’m well aware of the peripheral addons that Nintendo have already hinted at and IGN have already mocked up. But I don’t buy console peripherals! And why the hell should I buy an add on just to get off the starting blocks to access regular games? And, more importantly, what is Nintendo’s mentality that they’re suggesting the Revolution is a system where expansion should become an accepted standard? This just makes the Revolution complicated. Want to play GAME-X? You need this addon. Want to play GAME-Y? you don’t. So much for keeping it simple! I expressed concern about making Xbox360 complex by releasing it in two flavours. This is of an equal concern. What really doesn’t sit well with me is Nintendo knowingly releasing an overly simplified and overly limited system – yet still pressing on regardless. Why should I pay through the nose to correct their design oversights?
Whilst the reception by all the third-party developers has been universally positive we won’t really see much as a result of this. There is no third-party on the planet that is going to dedicate a big chunk of its resources and finance onto boosting the Revolution’s reputation. Sure, they like the idea – but it’s something else to put your money where your mouth is. The best we’ll see is some crossover ports of games that have some sort of slightly modified gameplay – typically some sort of shooting-range concept. Third parties aren’t known for their innovation and that’s because they generally can’t afford to take big risks whilst they’re paying licence fees. They’d all love to work on their uber-game. The one with the great ideas that isn’t necessarily a big commercial prospect but the financial model of the gaming industry won’t let them.
The job falls to Nintendo. This is their responsibility and their making. Back in the 80s and 90s with the NES and SNES Nintendo had some very tight contracts with their licencees that forbade them to develop for other systems. This stifled creativity in that era. Machines that could have realised a developer’s idea were off limits. In that era, Nintendo was the company you wanted to keep grace with. Today, the situation is different – but Nintendo’s attitude is much the same. Nintendo were the ones that could afford to innovate and place tilt sensors in their games. It wasn’t because they were great and good and doing it for the player, it’s because they could afford to do it and elevate their status above third parties. Even though it was the licence fees paid by the third parties that allowed them to do this in the first place! Nintendo will innovate with the Revolution and if it proves to be THE machine to develop for then third parties will go for it. This is for Nintendo to prove, if they can do it, they’ll have the third party support. If they can’t – then it’s N64 and Gamecube all over again. Third parties don’t owe Nintendo anything and that has been shown with the N64 and Gamecube. The GBA has been different simply because it dominated the handheld market. If you wanted to make money and develop for handhelds, you did it for GBA. But the market is over-saturated with stale ‘me-too’ games, Nicklodeon licences and endless kart games. Once again, Nintendo are the ones who continue to make an effort because they’re the ones who can afford to.
I don’t see much in the way of depth offered by the control system of the Revolution. I see novelty ideas, party ideas and gimmicks. None of which appeal to me. They are niche games – they are the alternatives to regular gaming. They’re not the main event, they’re the support act. Once again, this may be fine for the market Nintendo is hoping to capture with their machine – but I’m not part of that market and I’m simply not interested. Nintendo are doing absolutley nothing to convince me – a gamer of over 20 years who has played on many many systems throughout those years – that I should get a Revolution.
On the whole, gamers are short-sighted and unthinking. The biggest response to any new hardware release from gamers always seems to be “Imagine playing GAME-X on this!”. Game-X is some old game that’s a favourite of the gamer. Ninety-five percent of the excited gamer feedback on the Revolution has been like this. Gamers have not used their imaginations to think up entirely new concepts – they’re getting excited about playing old games again with a bit of a twist. It’s a very sorry sight to witness – people demanding something new, just so they can do the same old things on it. But that’s the market. That’s the consumer demand. People, in spite of what they say, are showing they don’t want to do something widly new. They want the same old stuff with a lick of paint and an extra button somewhere. They show this whenever you see a gamer talk about how great some current generation (or older) title would be on this nice new hardware. There’s a big debate over the suitability of playing FPS games on the Revolution with equally strong arguments for and against. The problem is that it’s missing the point entirely – if the Revolution is insisting on being the brand new way to play then there’s going to be trouble. If the gamers are still thinking about playing FPS games and all those other established genres then there is no need for a revolution.
Does any entertainment need revolutionising anyway? Surely, if it did we’d all be watching movies with our 3D glasses on. We wouldn’t be reading books – we’d listen to audiobooks instead. TV hasn’t been revolutionised. Black and white evolved to colour. We’ve got more channels. We’ve got bigger screens. Nobody’s feeding images directly into our brains yet. Gaming isn’t broken, it doesn’t need to be fixed. Nintendo’s Revolution is the gaming equivalent of pop-up books. They’re pretty, everyone likes to flick through them – but you never get a deep, involved story and you grow out of them pretty quick. Nintendo won’t die because of the Revolution. They’ll remain admired by many. They’ve claimed on more than one occasion that they’re not competing with Sony or Microsoft and, to be fair, the Revolution proves that. I’m just not convinced that’s a good thing for me, gaming or Nintendo.
That’s about it, I’ve covered a lot of the points I’ve been pondering on. Bear in mind that everything I’ve written about is based on information that’s been released so far and on how I’ve seen the industry work over twenty years. I’m not speculating and I’m not trolling. My views are objective and based on facts. If this rubs you up the wrong way then, frankly, I couldn’t care less. If it encourages you to think a bit more then, frankly, I care a lot. Thanks for reading.