Ok, I am going to make a very basic and non-controversial statement about video games here: The two things common in every video game (successful or otherwise) are graphics and gameplay. (I think I just heard a resounding “Duh!”)
Duh! Video games are for winning!
Ok, it is not entirely true, and I know someone out there is going to say something to the effect of “What about text-based games like Zork or MUDs?” But if you think about it, the graphics are the words describing your location, and the gameplay derives from the words describing the actions, along with whatever commands you type into the game. So why am I making such a bold statement now? It all has to do with the launch of the next-gen gaming consoles, and getting back to the basics.
If you look to the past consoles, there has always been a big emphasis placed on the graphics capabilities. In a way, this is how the console shows off its computing power. It’s the geek equivalent to flexing muscle. Go to a LAN party, and the coolest geeks in the room are the ones who overclock their systems to get those extra few frames per second in order to frag you a few milliseconds faster than you can.
In the land of geeks, Bill is the buffest of them all!
It’s not your platform, it’s how you use it
With the current generation of consoles, when they were being introduced to the market, I remember both Sony and Microsoft flexing their geek muscles at E3, showing off how many polygons their systems could handle, and there was this crazy demo showing tons of rubber ducks floating in a bathtub bouncing in the water independently with no lag showing on the screen.
Nintendo, on the other hand, showed nothing, and didn’t bother getting oiled up to show off its muscles. Instead, it ceded defeat on the graphics side, but wowed everyone at the 2006 GDC when it unveiled the Wii. Instead, Nintendo introduced an entirely new dimension to video games: controlling the game by use of waving a “remote control”. By adding this new way to play video games, Nintendo was able to get more people into playing video games, and this showed with strong sales of the Wii for its first year and a half or so.
While the Wii was by no means a failure, it lost its momentum rather abruptly. Turns out that the sales of the Wii did not necessarily turn out sales of more video games. Even today, when I look at my “non-gamer” friends who went out and bought Wiis, for the most part, they have the Wii and an amazing library of one game: Wii Sports, the game that comes pre-bundled with the system. Ok, to be fair, some of them have Wii Fit, or maybe one other game, but for the most part, they break out the Wii whenever there is a party at their house, and they either A ) ran out of things to do at the party, or B) there are kids over (who get pretty bored of Wii Sports after about 20 minutes).
Eventually, Microsoft and Sony caught up with the Kinect and the PS Move, respectively, and now Nintendo’s main advantage is that it has a larger library of motion-based games. Looking at Microsoft and Sony’s strategies, they focused a lot on the graphics of their consoles, and this was embraced more by the hardcore gamers. (translate: people who pay lots of money for games) Aside from graphics, both consoles took online gaming to the next level, by providing a solid platform for gamers to mingle and compete, and to keep them coming back for more.
Oh Nintendo… Sony and Microsoft have caught up now!
In any case, my point for this article is that when it comes to video games, what’s most important is how much fun you are having. I think both Microsoft and Sony get this, but I am not sure if Nintendo does. The Wii was revolutionary in the sense that it offers a new way to play games, but that alone is not enough to make games fun, any more than having a powerhouse machine that can display graphics beautifully and flawlessly. If you look at the Kinect and PS Move, while some of the games may be fun, most of the game developers are still experimenting with these kinds of controls, and there hasn’t been the “killer app” (or “killer game”) on either platform. For the Wii, it was “Wii Sports”, but that’s mostly due to its innovative control at the time.
Now, the Nintendo Wii U has been launched, it is focusing on game control again, with the Wii U GamePad. It is a tablet-like device that is used to control Wii U console, as well as the main controller of the video game. This “second screen” can be used for a variety of reasons, however, unless fun and interesting games can be made, Nintendo will continue to be more of a toy than a true gaming system.
For our next trick… Gaming on tablets!
For both the Xbox 360 and the PS3, similar features are, or will be available shortly. Starting with Microsoft, a rumored “Xbox Surface” tablet device has been confirmed to being developed in Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus. By the sounds of it, it seems to be very similar to the Wii U GamePad. In addition, at the 2012 E3, Microsoft also announced its “Smart Glass” app, which is available on iPad, Windows Surface, and select Android phones and tablets. Sony, on the other hand, does not necessarily have a gaming tablet in the works, however, it does have the PS Vita, which can act as a second screen to the PS3 console and unlike previous portable gaming units from Sony, the Vita does feature a touch screen, that it can be used as a tablet, albeit, a very small one.
Yeah, we got a few tricks up our sleeves too…
Games > Platform
So in the end, I still believe that the console with the greatest number of hit games will be the way to go. Regardless of whether you consider yourself a hardcore gamer or a casual gamer, in the end, what’s most important is how much fun you have. It’s nice to have good graphics, and innovative game control, but none of that matters if you’re not having a good time.
What do you think? Am I insane to believe that graphics and game control are not that important? Let me know in the comments.