E3 is over and the dust has settled; now is the time for quiet reflection. With emotions no longer running hot, it’s a fair place to examine what happened, and what this E3 really means for the future of games. It’s hard to argue that motion controls were en vogue this year, and plenty have talked yin and yang on which company is doing what better. And I think that’s fascinating, and certainly there’s a lot to talk about, but I don’t know that too many people are analyzing the business strategies and whether they will be effective.
Both Sony and Microsoft, in their obvious attempts to play catch-up, each have two terrible flaws in their strategies. Perhaps I am underestimating the power of their marketing, or people’s gullibility, but overall I feel that the major companies are themselves overestimating people’s willingness to just hop onto the same thing. The companies each have one individual weakness, but also each share a common flaw in the way they present their new “everybody can play” devices.
Microsoft seems to completely miss the point by doing EXACTLY what Nintendo did, while forgetting about the part where the quality of the product matters. During their press conference they displayed a couple of their games, and despite the obvious part where Kinect Sports isn’t even trying to be different, it was obvious that they didn’t put as much polish into the final product. Wii Sports may have been simple, but it was clear that it was on purpose. The look was crisp, clean, and ran at a smoother-than-smooth 60 frames per second. When I was instructed by the two ladies on stage to “Look at that water,” only groans could be heard. Not only was the line about as natural as a bag of Doritos, it also reminded me that the water looked awful. As I write this, I’m watching my roommate play Blur, and seeing the cars splash through puddles of water, it just looks, well, wet. The plasticy goop I saw in that demo were nowhere near noteworthy. In the end though, perhaps the sales figures of Deca Sports and Carnival Games illustrate how little this new consumer values that kind of quality. They just want the experience… but well get to that in a bit.
One of Sony’s major flaws hinges on the fact that it doesn’t have the installation base. That will only compound it’s problem with the other one it shares with Microsoft, but at least it can make up for that by having a more similar product. It’s easy to see how someone would look at the PS3 controller and go “oh, I know what that is.” That is, of course, if they know what a PS3 is. The PS3 has been doing better as of late, but I don’t know that there’s a lot for it to appeal to a more massive audience. About all it has right now is the ability of the PS3 to double up as a Blu-Ray player. It may actually become this a fairly sought-after gift, the “Wii-HD + Blu-Ray player,” quickly closing it’s issue of not being in many homes, but it still has a terrible uphill battle, especially when Cost is involved…
And that brings me to both the biggest reason neither system will have mainstream success; cost. Sony’s fighting an uphill battle because it requires a whole new set of controllers, even if you already have the $300 system. It also requires a camera in there, for everyone who didn’t buy Eye of Judgment (so everyone except and Penny Arcade’s Tycho.) Microsoft has tried to be coy in it’s pricing, which admittedly even at the rumored $150, will still be cheaper than the stockpile of supplies Sony is asking you to purchase. However, Sony’s hardware is also way more flexible, turning already existing games like Dead Space and Resident Evil into superior products (should the tech work as well). I still don’t buy that Natal will be accurate enough for a real shooter like those, but it doesn’t help that Microsoft isn’t marketing towards the Modern Warfare and Halo crowds. Oh sure, I’m interested in Dance Central, but I’ve also been playing DDR for the past 10 years. Even still, that’s a “bridge” title, at best. Regardless, Microsoft may be jumping the gun by not appealing to it’s existing fanbase. After all, it was the Nintendo fans who spread the Wii like a virus to get it where it is today. Microsoft seems to be skipping that first step, and it’s going to cost them. Also, in the end, why would anybody pay for something they likely already have in the Wii? How can you grab an audience that already has what it wants? Again, that’s where Sony is more likely to fail, unless people clearly understand that it’s a “high def” upgrade, which I doubt they will. At least the horridly named Kinect can be “we’re kind of the same but different!” It’s a bit of give and take on either end that will likely only keep the market where it is.
Overall, I think Sony has the better tech. Like the Wii, it is suitable for so many kinds of games, and it sounds like it’s actually more stable than the Wii’s oft-finicky controls. I still don’t fully trust in Microsoft’s controller not lagging behind, as well as that horrible interface. It’s slow, and there’s just no tactile feedback. But my personal opinions of the products aside, I still don’t see either overtaking the Wii’s crazy success any time soon.
So what say you, the reader? Let’s try and keep the flaming to a low simmer, if we could. I’m all for reasonable discussions!
Oh and as always, I rant on Twitter @docrandle