Friday, May 8, 2015

The Toy Story Moment

Note: While looking for something I found this unpublished blog of mine from July 5th, 2011. While some of it is dated and the question at the end seems silly in the day of DOTA and LoL, some of the thoughts timeless, so I thought I'd share it!

The Toy Story Moment
Much has been written of video games needing a Citizen Kane moment. Something that makes transcend to another level. I've never really agreed or disagreed with that premise, other than to suggest that if we are trying to get that point, better blood splattering physics isn't ever going to get us there. Regardless, beyond having a Citizen Kane moment I've wondered recently if video games needs a Toy Story moment. Furthermore, I've wondered if perhaps we're having it right now.

Yesterday I was watching Rio with my kids and I was struck by the audience. The movie was at the dollar theater, where you will find movies that are beyond their "big" theater run. However, the fact that the film is "old" didn't make the audience any less enthusiastic. The theater was packed from front to back and was involved in the show, laughing at the funny bits and holding their collective breaths when things got tense.

Before the movie began I watched the audience trickle in. We'd gotten there 15 minutes before the show began as I had a feeling there may be a larger audience on a holiday, and sitting my large family of 8 together often proves challenging. Watching the audience take their seats left me somewhat surprised. There were many parents with their kids, but there were also lots of adults who seemingly had no kids with them at all. I took notice of them and watched as the theater cleared after the movie to be sure I was correct in my evaluation. As I watched the theater empty I'd guess that maybe as much as one third of the audience was adults who were not there with children.

That shouldn't be too shocking, after all adults should be able to enjoy a movie like Rio if they want to. It has some wonderful animation in a beautiful backdrop, as well as a pretty solid story with a message about the exotic bird pet trade that would more likely be a heated adult conversation topic than something kids would discuss on the playground. However, that said, the movie was clearly made with younger audiences in mind.

Disney Digression
I can never write about something that is aimed for adults or kids without wondering exactly what that term really means or who decides what is for adults and what is for kids. I love Walt Disney on the topic:
"in planning a new picture, we don't think of grown-ups, and we don't think of children, but just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot down deep in every one of us that maybe the world has made us forget and that maybe our pictures can help recall."
I really love that thought and approach. I think that some of the best and most memorable games ever made, have the same heart beating in them. One more Walt Disney quote:
"I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether we be six or sixty. Call the child "innocence". The worst of us is not without innocence, although buried deeply it might be. In my work I try to reach and speak to that innocence, showing it the fun and joy of living; showing it that laughter is healthy; showing it that the human species, although happily ridiculous at times, is still reaching for the stars."
I really think Walt hits perfectly on the joy and wonder that I long for in all mediums, and often find in games.

Back on Topic
I pondered for awhile as I saw all the kid-free adults in the theater. Would they have all come to this movie if it were a cartoon?

I didn't ponder too long on the thought because I was sure the answer was 'no.' There may have been a time when they would have (1930s-50s?), but that time is long past. Hand-drawn animated movies are rarely seen in the cinemas anymore. Even when they were in the theaters, they rarely appealed to all audiences. Parents may have gone to see The Little Mermaid, but they felt it was for their kids, no matter what Walt said.

Something changed with computer animation. I think maybe we can call it the Toy Story moment. The movies were still the same family fun affair, but the barrier of adult acceptance crumbled somewhat. There are many adults who love computer animated movies and can't wait for the next Pixar or Dreamworks feature. While they may have felt that hand-drawn animation was for kids, they can't help themselves when it comes to computer animation in the theater.

The result is a wider audience for computer animated films than for hand-drawn ones. This is very apparent in the theaters where there are many more computer animated features being released today than there were hand-drawn films being released when cartoons were at height of their success. In fact, a quick look at movie releases over the last 40 years indicates that over the last 10 years the average number of computer animated films released per year has been much higher than the average number of hand-drawn films ever was.

Looking at the audience that was in attendance for Rio yesterday, it's easy to see why.

What does it mean to games?
I've wondered if gaming might need a Toy Story moment. A moment that erodes the barrier between the medium and the audience. Something that grabs the people who aren't interested in games and makes them feel like gaming is something that is for them. Just like the audiences that would not consider going to a hand-drawn animated feature, but are interested in computer animated films, I was pondering what could be done in gaming to open it up to more people.

And then I realized I shouldn't be straining my head thinking about what could be and I should instead look at what already was right in front of me.

While waiting for the movie to begin, I pulled out my phone. Fittingly, on my desktop was an icon that said Rio. It was the icon for the game Angry Birds Rio.

Though I'm not a fan of Angry Birds myself, there are a few people who are. Ok, there are millions of people who are. Something interesting about those fans is that they are less likely to have played other games than the average game fan. They are more likely to have little knowledge of gaming, but no less passionate about their love for that game. Angry Birds is a game that makes video games inviting to people who don't play them. (notably it is on a device that also does the same thing)

There are more examples of this of course, Facebook games and the Wii both do similar things, much to the chagrin of "core gamers." Zumba Fitness and Just Dance have been stellar in the stores, being purchased by people who don't normally purchase games, and who likely, are buying the only game they'll purchase this year.

So what does it all mean to so-called core gaming?

Is core gaming becoming the 'old school?' Does it represent hand-drawn animated films in the gaming industry?

That's something that is worth thinking over, so I'll leave it for thought. I can see a lot of reasons why the answer is absolutely not! I can also see things that make me worry I'm totally wrong. One last interesting fact. In 1994, the year before Toy Story was released, Disney released The Lion King. The Lion King is the top grossing hand-drawn animated feature of all time.

After The Lion King's release, Disney continued releasing one, and sometimes 2, hand-drawn films each year until the year 2004, at which point it began focusing its internal studios on computer animation instead of hand-drawn animation.

Again I don't know what it all means or how comparable it is, but as I sat there in the theater yesterday, I thought the parallels were interesting and worth thinking about if nothing else.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Well, as a rule I am trying not to comment on the works of other people. But one thing I can tell you is that I really appreciate the variety of different videogames that are being made by so many different types of people. However, many people are working solely in a single genre that is concentrated on excessive violence, and the only competition there is who can come up with the most violent depictions. That’s not something that I really appreciate. And I think that when there are many people working in such a genre, the job of me and Nintendo is to try to establish to the world that there are a great many other ways to take advantage of the interactive format of videogames; to provide fun and surprise to the people around the world.
The above is from a recent Q&A with Shigeru Miyamoto, and all I can say is Amen!

Well of course that isn't all I can say, but his statement definitely reflects my thinking. I joked for a long time that the only thing that ever breaks up the monotony of a guy holding a gun appearing on seemingly every gaming magazine cover was two guys holding guns.

I'm a very open fan of what Nintendo does. I like diversity. It's something I hold dear, and I'm glad that despite Nintendo taking a lot of heat, angst, and straight-up hatred from so-called gamers, that Nintentdo continues to follow their own direction.

Over the last 4 years Nintendo has proved that there are a lot of gamers out there who are fans of more than just guys with guns, and I'm very excited to see what Nintendo does next.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Fish - Little Pond

It's a common phrase, and increasingly it's one I think applies to the Game Industry as I note how relatively unknown the game industry is among the older generation.

I had a neighbor, a friend of my wife, who came by as my kids were playing Airport Mania on a Wii test kit I'd brought home for testing. When my kids shouted triumphantly that it was Airport Mania, but on the Wii! The neighbor, who incidentally had unexpectedly found my game on the PC without realizing until looking at the credits that I'd made it, looked at my kids and asked what the Wii was. I explained it was the newest machine from Nintendo, and she then asked who Nintendo was.

I was talking to a college roommate last weekend about the games we make, and that we've expanded to the iphone. He was unfamiliar with the casual space, so I said they were games somewhat similar to Bejeweled. He asked what Bejeweled was. I said it was from PopCap. He asked who that was.

I took some games home to my dad last weekend, to get an expert opinion, and in one of them there was some match 3 play (like Bejeweled). He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do b/c he'd never seen a match 3 game before in his life.

I went to the doctor a couple of months ago and while talking to him about a knee injury, I mentioned WiiFit. He wasn't familiar with it. I told him it was for the Nintendo Wii, he had no idea what it was. I further explained computer games, working through everything I could think of to convey the concept of playing a game on a TV or computer, and finally getting to Tetris, which he knew, due to being from Eastern Europe.

Big Fish - Little Pond
Being in an industry every day can make you feel like everyone knows what you know. That's not uncommon for any industry, but it's especially prevalent in the games industry because there is so much media coverage of the industry.

However, as I ask around, and talk to people, the fact that most people don't play games is apparent.

What does that mean?
Honestly, it doesn't mean that much. If you were to pick something not to do, games would be a good thing to have on your list. Gaming is entertainment, and it is a type of entertainment that is often abused as people spend both their free time and their work time playing games. If you were not to be playing games, your time could be better spent. It could be worse spent as well, but the point is, that not playing games isn't a bad thing, and is potentially it could be a good thing.

As much as Nintendo has tried to turn gaming into a good thing and spread it to the masses as either enlightening, useful, or family fun, gaming is still looked down upon, and most people don't play, aren't involved, and don't even know what gaming is today.

As a game creator, I do want people to play. But instead of wanting people to come play my games, I want to make games for them. I don't expect people to like Jazz music or baseball because I do. I want to figure out what they do like, and make something for them.

It's a Pond, Not the Ocean
Which brings me to my next point. Actually it doesn't. But I'm going to let that first part simmer and move on anyway.

Recently the Dead Space Extraction numbers for Wii were released, and they were horrible. 9200 copies in the first month. This type of poor sales inevitably leads to someone saying that Mature games don't sell on the Wii because that's a console for kids, not adults.

But the Wii is selling to adults. 7 year olds are not the ones buying WiiFit.

The real issue here is that adults don't like shooters. (at this point some readers get upset to the point of wanting to respond to this piece without reading the rest...don't do on)

I was looking at some survey data recently which showed that FPS games were among the Top 5 genres for players up to age 35. At age 35 FPS dropped into a tie for 10th.

As people get older, their tastes change. If you haven't gotten old yet, just wait, it will happen to you.

What has mostly happened, is that as people have gotten older, they've simply stopped playing games. The Japanese market has been giving a wonderful demonstration of this fact for the last 10 years, which is what lead Nintendo to go a completely different route.
The casual games market on the PC is mostly female over 35. In fact, I've started to wonder. Are there more women over 35 playing games than there are men? I honestly think the answer to that question is 'yes.'

Which has got me thinking. Why?
I've talked to people at my work (where we make games), around my neighborhood, at church, and other places, and there is a very interesting trend. Hardly any of the guys my age (I'm 35) play games. Hardly any at all.

...and that includes the people I work with who make games for a living.

Most of them played years ago, but they've stopped entirely, and they have little interest in the games of today. Dead Space is not turning their heads.

So I've started wondering what might.
Instead of thinking about the size of the fish, I've started thinking about the size of the pond.

Isn't there an ocean out there?

What would a 40 year old guy want to play?
(really...what? you may have an anecdote about some guy or small group that plays COD every weekend, but its rare...really rare...I'm convinced that the #1 reason this age group doesn't play is b/c of a lack of content made for them)

What are 40 year old guys like?
(this is really an interesting question to me, one which I've written down attributes to and thought about a lot as I've considered what the audience does...and why they do it. I'm pretty convinced that the way to make a game for a 40 year old is to make the game for a 40 year old.)

What would my dad play?
(notably he's been interested in Wii Sports, the first game he's personally asked to play in 20 years! Beyond that though...what would make him interested in playing - note that my dad's 59. Prior to Wii Sports the last game he enjoyed playing was RC Pro-AM.)

It's been an interesting thought journey thinking about what games are, and what they could be. Perhaps it will spur some thought that will lead to a game for guys over 40, or for a game aiming for that ocean of older folk (aka the majority of the people on the earth) instead of being satisfied with being a big fish in a small pond.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The WiiSports Resort bounce?

I'm curious to see how the new Wii Sports does.

Well ok, I'm sure it is going to do well, but I don't know if it will be #1 game of the year well or #5 game of the year well.

Certainly it is following up on one of the biggest games ever released, but...and this is a big's actually a very expensive game.

WiiMotion Plus is $20/unit.
WiiSports Resort is $50 (includes one WM+)

Altogether it's $110 (which is cheap compared to Rock Band, I know...however...)

I have two general concerns about how the public will react to the game.

#1 - I wonder if the public will 'understand' the add-on. Add-ons are big business. Wheels, Guitars, Guns, and of course the Balance Board have become very dominant in the Top 10 charts. However, each of those add-ons has something that WM+ lacks. You can look at it and immediately understand it.
Guitar/Drums - got it, you play it like an instrument
Gun - pull the trigger, easy
Wheel - turn it like a wheel, all-good
Balance Board - stand on it like a kitchen scale/snowboard, makes sense
Now the list goes great right up until you add in WM+, which plugs into the Wii Controller. It's like a peripheral, but not like the current peripherals dominating the market. Will the average consumer understand it when they see it? Or will it just make them raise questions that they didn't know they should have "You mean the Wii motion isn't very accurate current?" Will grandma be excited about it or say, "I don't understand that new Wii thing, what does it do?" In fact, I've wondered if Bowling wasn't included in WiiSports Resort for just to try and convince Grandma.

I'm interested to see how it turns out though as it's quite unlike the normal peripheral, and I'm interested to see if the public 'gets it.' That will be hard to measure as it is following one of the most popular games of all time, and the sales will probably be initially strong. However, if they aren't, I'll circle back to this post in a few months and say...I wonder if this was partially right?

#2 - I often hear that the Wii is the cheapest console, but in my mind it is one of the most expensive. Here's the math:
$250 - Wii
$40 - WiiMote (x3)
$20 - Nunchuck (x3)
$10 - One copy of WiiPlay with WiiMote

That's $440.
Of course many people will point out that two games were included, and it would be more to get a similar set-up with Xbox or PS3, but the difference is that less people buy 3 extra controllers for those consoles. The Wii is selling a lot more controllers as people are playing it in groups and families. So when looking at the average set-up, they become a little closer to parity.

It becomes more interesting with WiiSports Resort. Nintendo believes the game will be a system seller, and that is, in part, why they have not decreased the price of the console. However, if you add the $110 for WiiSports Resort and 3 WM+, you are now at $550!

I honestly don't know if $550 is going to be a price that people can handle. I do believe the game will sell systems, but I wonder if most of those systems will be bought b/c of WiiSports Resort, but not actually with WiiSports Resort. It seems to me that Nintendo by virtue of making a controller that costs $80 (Wiimote + Nunchuck + WM+), is pricing itself a bit on the high side and that it is likely to decrease the rate of adoption.

Paired together, I see these two reasons and making WiiSports a very interesting release for Nintendo. If it doesn't strike gold right away, I would expect Nintendo to look at a way to bring the console cost down either by WM+/game bundles or a price reduction to the console itself.

Either way, Nintendo is making an interesting gamble on what turns out to be a very high-priced entertainment machine, and I'm very curious to see how it plays out.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

They're called games

Finding Neverland is a movie about J. M. Barrie, his life, and his creating of Peter Pan. I always found one of the moments in the movie to be poignant. Frohman, Barrie's producer and financier (played by Dustin Hoffman), is talking to Barrie (played by Johnny Depp) after the failure of a recent Barrie play.
J.M. Barrie: It was never meant to be taken seriously.
Charles Frohman: You know what happened, James, they changed it.
J.M. Barrie: They changed what?
Charles Frohman: The critics, they made it important..., what's it called? What's it called?
J.M. Barrie: Play.
Charles Frohman: Play.

I don't want to get into the fact that seriousness can be, and has been wonderfully done in plays, though certainly it could be, has been, and will continue to be discussed to the end of time (in fact Peter Pan is actually incredibly thought-providing itself). The points are all there to be made, and it's very valid to discuss. It's just a different topic.

Instead I want to talk about a another similarity/parallel that scene has with our industry.

What are they called?



When I look at the industry around me I'm often very disappointed, and I think it comes from that singular point.

Games are amusement at heart, they are entertainment. So why is it that so many people seem to not be having any fun? Why is there so much anger and resentment among people playing games? Why is a 'gamer' someone who treats other people with disdain?

Shia LeBeouf: This is how in a simple way you can find out if it's a
gamer you want to play with. Ask them if they have a Wii. If they say yes, get
the f*** out of there.

They're games. Why aren't we having fun?

Why is it that there are fights back and forth over consoles with people going way beyond saying they simply enjoy one console more than other, to attacking the people who play the other consoles?

Belittling the people and their intelligence for playing something you don't enjoy yourself is not a sign of intelligence. In fact it's quite the opposite. Attacking other people on such grounds shows a basic and fundamental lack of respect for other people. I for one look at my industry, the games industry, and our involvement in not only spawning such behavior, but also furthering it, with our own disrespect towards one another, and I'm really disappointed.

Why do we criticize each other for having fun? Why is someone enjoying a different game than us seen as a negative instead of a positive? Why do we feel we are a 'mature industry,' making games that we hope will interest adults, but behaving like mal-tempered children? IGN's

Daemon Hatfield: ...the Wii is stupid...any games that are
coming out for the Wii are going to be dumb.

Perhaps including review websites in the games industry is a bit of a stretch, but it is all furthering the same approach that lacks in intelligent debate, and instead turns to playground name-calling.

In this generation the attitude of malice has been most prevalent in regards to the Wii and its players. (Notably the Wii has received a lot of negativity among gamers who admittedly aren't even playing it. Hatred towards something like a video game console is bad (silly?) enough, but hating the Wii without actually playing it is simply bewildering...but I digress.)

Of course the Wii is just the today example. Last generation the PS2 got plenty of flak with many verbal and written flamefights over the 'type' of people who play it. In our industry it seems that wherever there are people enjoying themselves there are other people trying to pick a fight, or find some other way to stop the fun.

Honestly, I could understand starting a ruckus if there were some life-threatening evil occurring, or the forceful removal of people's rights, or the subjugation of millions, or even the subjugation of one...

...but they're games.

Games, made to be fun, engaging, exciting, challenging, and occasionally mind-opening.

Why is someone having fun with a game you don't like somehow a threat that must be beat down by constant belittling of that person and what they are enjoying?

I'd call on the industry to reconsider its approach and to start enjoying itself a little more. I'm convinced doing so can only positively impact both the sales of games, and the games themselves!

Maybe we can start by discussing things with a little more open-mindedness, civility, and consideration instead of being dismissive, and jumping to name-calling of those who play different games than we do. Perhaps we can stop thinking that someone else's success somehow equals our failure.

People are different, and that's a good thing! If they weren't different we'd all be making the exact same game. Thankfully we have diversity in both the people and the games. But instead of cheering it, the general approach is to despise those who aren't thinking like us. (Just listen to how the console makers speak of their competitors, it's enough to make you wonder if there is any sanity in the world)

I know the same issues exist in just about every industry, but I'm not making movies or talking politics on TV. I'm not involved with those things. I make games.


If there is any industry in the world that should be having loads of fun, and devoid of hateful behavior and angry attitudes, it's ours.