Phasing out the Gamer: The Death of our Great Pastime

Friday, July 3, 2009
The current generation of consoles is dominated by Nintendo. No secrets there, this is common knowledge stuff. The Wii is immensely popular, especially with people that don't usually play games. It's exciting at first blush, but beneath that veneer is an ugly ugly truth. Nintendo is killing our industry and warping consumer's expectations of it.

The idea behind the Wii, back when it was still the Revolution is genuine and admirable. Provide a console experience accessible to all. I'm all for it. For Christ sakes, I've tried unsuccessfully for years to get my Dad into gaming so I could have someone to play with. He's tried, bless his heart, but the controllers are a bit overwhelming for him at times. Don't roll your eyes yet, wee gaming readers, consider the following. The 360 and PS3 controllers each have 13 buttons, 2 analog sticks and 1 D-pad. The wiimote has 8 buttons, 1 analog sick and 1 D-pad. It's a ton simpler to wrangle if you've never approached a console before.

So there's appeal even before you lay out the motion control features. So of course the Wii is attracting people that don't usually play games. They can identify with their actions easier and can usually pick up and play the thing without taking an hour to figure out the controls. If you've ever swung a golf club, you can play Tiger Woods 09 on Wii.

Here though, we run into the first of many snags. The Wii wants to be able to do anything you'd ever want to do. Unfortunately, since the controller is designed with the hand and arms in mind, they had to start making peripherals so it could fill other rolls. The balance board is now almost a must for most games and the nunchuck, though still sold separately, is as important as a power cord for the console itself. Then of course there's the Wheel, the Zapper, the WiiMotion Plus, the Classic Controller and, oh yes, the Vitality Sensor. Assuming you bought a Wii and grabbed only one of each of the peripherals mentioned above, you'd be spending over $450 and you'd still only have one controller. Add in a second controller with all the fixings (that's a Nunchuk, Classic Controller and WiiMotion Plus) and you're above $580. All before you even buy a game that isn't bundled with the peripheral.

Nintendo makes a boatload of cash with the peripheral sales, but it's the games that make the console, right? If so, then the Wii is a stinking landfill of horrible garbage-ware titles. There are a few outstanding first party titles out there, but they're so few and far between they get lost in a sea of crap.

Yet, despite the awful titles and expensive peripherals, the Wii is still going strong. It outsells the 360 and PS3 every month and is often sold out in many stores. But, do the people that buy the Wii play it as often? No. I know many people who own Wii's and from what I've gathered, they are rarely used. I have a friend that hasn't used his Wii since Smash Brothers came out.

So if they don't ever use the thing, why are so many people buying the Wii. Because the Wii has moved the console into the same category as the ab-roller, the kitschy fridge magnet and the infomercial purchase. It's become just another disposable retail buy, mostly because Nintendo does a shit job of explaining the damn thing to their core buyers.

Their commercials and advertising space are creative and often nauseatingly cute. But they're still aimed at the average 20-something Gamer. We know what the Wii is and we know there isn't going to be another really great game released for it within the year. We don't give a shit about the Wii. The average senior or non gaming type doesn't know what they're looking for in a gaming experience. To them, the Wii is strange and alien. They don't have any idea of what to expect, so of course, once the mystery/novelty has worn off, they're much less likely to use it.

So how is the Wii destroying this industry? By inundating the Wii with sub-par games, the new market is made to expect this sort of thing from the other consoles. The PS3 and 360 are already being forced to duplicate the motion control to keep up in the new market. Albeit, these controllers have yet to hit store shelves. Already though, the same buzz that surrounded the Wii in the months before it's release has hit the PS3 motion controller and project Natal.

I fear this is an all too familiar road. I worry that with the advent of these new controllers, the 360 and PS3 will inevitably follow in the footsteps of the Wii. The games will become more and more dumbed down, the content will evaporate and we'll end up with maybe two titles in a year to look forward to.

You may say that it isn't likely to happen. That Sony and Microsoft are too entrenched within the core gamer niche to alter their design. I'd say that you're right, Sony and Microsoft will continue to make games as they have, I have no doubt. It's other developers that I'm worried about. I worry that Ubisoft, EA, Activision, Etc. will abandon their current principles (make a lot of crap to pay for a bit of gold) in favor of vacuous cash crops.

I still believe in the principles set forth in the days of Revolution. I still believe that gaming can be enjoyed by all. I still believe in bringing families together with games. I just don't think we need to sacrifice content and depth of story to do it. Games are, or at least can be incredibly sophisticated story-telling engines. Why don't we use that to really move the whole industry forward? Many say that the Wii has made the controller obsolete. I worry it's made the gamer obsolete.