Thursday, October 29, 2009
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 that...read 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
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 but...it'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
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
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.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
LEGO Star Wars has been my favorite of the series. Once two games, each with its pluses and minuses, they were made into one game, and it's the best use of the Wii remote speaker yet. Pulling the trigger on your Wiimote and hearing that familiar laser blaster sound emanate from the controller makes me feel like a 6 year old running around outside with a Han Solo blaster in my hand.
The LEGO games have taken their lumps when it comes to reviews, with each new game getting lower review scores than the last. This is partly due to reviewer fatigue and partly due to the developers getting a little of sequelitis. (that's the need we feel to make the next in a series somehow bigger and better than the previous)
LEGO Batman is a game that I just got through GameFly and it's been interesting. The theme is wonderful. As someone who worked at a comic book store through high school and has a big geeky collection, LEGO Batman hits the spot more often than not.
Unfortunately though, it misses the spot a lot more than it should. A few of the problems:
- The game is more complicated than it should be
- The game is more difficult than it should be
- The game tries to be different from other LEGO games more than it should
The LEGO games are great co-op games. I have no idea if they are good as a single-player game, I have never played them alone. Before getting any further, I want to say I think LEGO Batman is also a great co-op game. Good enough that we'll probably get a copy.
The problem with Batman is that it really needs two 'core' players. It's as though the developers decided that they were tired of the nitpicks from reviews and decided to make a game for 20 and 30 somethings instead of a game that kids and adults could play. Within the first 30 minutes, it was clear that my son, who had played through LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Indiana Jones with me wasn't going to be able to play through LEGO Batman without a lot of help.
He runs into problems with platform jumping and Batman is full of jumps, and not just any kind of jumps, but often very difficult jumps. Batman has a power-up that lets him 'glide.' However, it doesn't work like R2-D2 in the Star Wars series, instead he moves with big turns, which makes it hard to change directions. This makes the long glide jumps for Batman often a huge pain.
Added to the gliding issues is the commonality of needing to jump in 3D to small platforms. 3D jumping is at best difficult for the average person. My wife, father and father-in-law have all tried playing 3D games with us at our house and when it comes to having to jump, they immediately hand the controller to someone else. LEGO Batman has this problem in spades, partially because the levels are so dark that it is really hard to see your shadow when jumping, which makes it hard to orient yourself. The other cause of this problem, again, is that there is just a ton of jumping from platform to platform or to safety zone in the middle of giant puddle of deathly goo to the next safety zone. It's something a 'core' player will find challenging and a young or casual player will find impossible.
A new addition to the series is the batarang. This is always available to players and works into many of the puzzles. Holding down the 'B' button and then pointing at the screen will allow you to highlight objects to throw at if they are available. This set-up is clunky and I often forget about it (while my son can't even get it to work). It is a part of why the puzzles in this game get a little frustrating at times (which actually is still probably a step up over Indiana Jones where they felt tedious, but it's still a step in the wrong direction for anyone but a 'core' player).
Overall, it feels like the developer decided to make a game to address the critic's points with previous games in the series, but I think that was a mistake. How many 20 year-olds are bragging about playing a LEGO game? LEGO games aren't made for 20 year-olds!
The critics don't represent the audience of LEGO games. My son does. All changes and improvements should be made with him in mind, not the critics and the people they represent and speak to.
Again I think we'll probably pick up the game, so it's not all bad. In fact the motion controls for fighting are surprisingly satisfying. However, LEGO Batman is a great cautionary tale for developers. A good critique is valuable, but only when the critique represents your audience.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
It hit on a lot of points that I've mentioned about the industry in this blog, and it was interesting to see a known industry developer discussing some of the same points I've been thinking about of late in relation to 'adult' gaming.
When talking about games for adults we're not talking about Gears of War (why does a 'M' rating and 'Adult' content make people think a game is for grown-ups?), we're talking about games that 'old' people might like to play, and the issue of making games more relevant to males over 40. Some quotes:
I don't play a lot of new games because I feel that games have to be - for adults like me - more relevant to my life. When you go out to an art gallery or go to see a movie, you're expecting the film [or art] to either inform you on an intellectual level about certain aspects of life or entertain you on a deep emotional level.
I think a lot of games fail to educate you on an intellectual level, and the emotions they evoke are relatively primal. They are too shallow. Games are very good at making you feel excited, feel thrilled, and feel addicted, but these are the feelings that are very primal - that younger kids or teenagers will respond very well to. As adults we expect to feel something more complex and more sophisticated.
Wonderfully stated and I liked the usage of the word 'primal.' It's a word I think I'll have to adapt to, and use more. The danger in such a statement is that by trying to bring awareness to a problem all games tend to get lumped together, and there is the occasional 'core' game that accomplishes what Jenova is talking about, but I'd love to see more ;).
I'm not against the traditional type of feeling that gaming evokes. Empowerment is a great experience. Even Hollywood has the equivalent in those super hero movies. But what I feel [games] are lacking is the complexity of feeling and the other hues of feeling. If nobody tries to evoke these other types of feelings, then the game market will be very limited.
My goal is to make a game that is this complex flavour. It's like cooking. The best food is not just with one flavour, you have a lot of secret ingredients that, when mixed together, create something very unique that you cannot forget. For me, if you play Flower from beginning to end, it is not all just peaceful. It has peace, it has wonder, it has twists, it has despair, and it has a catharsis.
What of course makes Jenova Chen different is that he is actively working to make his vision a reality. Perhaps much like anyone else, he is trying to create the type of game that he wants to play, but unlike much of the industry, I think he's got a much more 'adult' centered focus.
At a minimum, he's increasing the diversity of gaming, and as I mentioned in my last post, I'd love to see more planets of the gaming universe.
I've often pondered why the game industry is over 25 years old, but there are very few 40 year olds in it. I believe with more developers taking the angle of Jenova, there would be more 40 year olds both making and playing games (and that takes nothing away from the younger teen and early 20-something audience, in fact I'd say they are probably much easier to please, which if nothing else ensures games will be made for them until the end of time ;).
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Today we have a similar problem in gaming. There is a certain niche in gaming that seems to believe the gaming universe revolves around them. This is the same group that is angry at the Wii selling in greater numbers than any console ever. This is the same group that that sees casual games as stupid. This is the same group that despite sales (or because of sales?) thinks that no Nintendo game, no wait, actually the statement is broader. It is that no game on any Nintendo platform is any good.
The gaming Universe is big.
In fact, I think we've only started to discover it. We're really stuck in our own solar system currently. I don't think we have an inkling about the galaxy that contains us, and the concept of the Universe is still far beyond our self-obscured views.
The last generation of gamers has become very resolute in thinking that the true base of gaming is their planet of games and that the whole of the gaming Universe is orbiting around them. There is a very dismissive and ignorant point of view seeing things like casual games as being a dark moon orbiting and obscuring people from seeing the wonder of the amazing planet of games that "hardcore" people play. The Wii they see as another moon orbiting and obscuring the beautiful views to their planet as well as cluttering their views of the stars at night. Which stars of course all orbit around the wonderland of "core" games. Someday, they wrongly believe, the people visiting those moons will realize that the moons are just stupid little hunks of rocks orbiting the magnificent, true source of gaming. The euphoric "core" that was the driver of the last generation of gaming.
Of course no innovation is made anywhere else than that motherland, the glorious center of the gaming Universe. How could it be? Being able to play games with your feet or by moving your arms? Gimick! Being able to shoot around a building's edge or through a window in a shooter? Brilliant new innovation!
It's a bit satirical, but I wish it was more satire and less reality to the opinions of those who constantly lash out, laying heresy charges against anyone or anything that suggests gaming doesn't revolve around "core" games.
There is a whole universe out there to be sure, but I believe we're really having trouble finding it. Part of the reason games have had such a hard time maturing, (and I mean really maturing, which is not at all the same thing as increasing the number of M-rated games) is because not just the "core" gamers, but even the majority of the game developers, operate under the belief that there is only type of "true" game fan. The one who thinks that Halo, WW2 shooters, and GTA are something akin to Nirvana, and that those games are clearly the basis for the gaming Universe. It's the center around which everything else orbits.
Until we, as an industry, fully decouple ourselves from this prehistoric approach, we're not going to mature. Copernicus lead to Galileo, and a completely new understanding of how the world worked and our place within our solar system, galaxy and universe. "Core" games are just one planet. They are floating around with other planets and may not even be the biggest or most important planet in their own solar system, let alone in their galaxy or in the gaming universe.
Gaming needs a Copernicus to disrupt the industry with truth, to change the perception of what gaming is. Maybe Nintendo can be it, maybe casual games, maybe something yet on the horizon or a combination of all these things. Actually, based on all the negative remarks made by "core" gamers, maybe the transition is already happening, and it's just the stubborn old ideas that are taking time to change as we don't want to let go of our old beliefs.
Regardless, I'm excited for a new age of understanding and discovery in the world of games. I'm excited to see what new planets of gaming that we haven't even conceived of yet exist just outside of our gaze. As I mature, I look forward with hope, that the industry can expand its horizons and search out new understanding. It's a hope that keeps me making games and playing them, despite a tremendous amount of negative feedback in regards to many of the games I trully enjoy.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
There were 14 million WiiFits shipped last year. (gamasutra)
Every copy came with the Wii Balance Board.
There were 10.8 Million Xbox 360s shipped last year.
Total 360 distribution sits at 28.45 million shipped. (gamasutra)
So, taking a lookt at that, I would say that it seems well within reason that within the next two years (one?) more people will own a Wii Balance Board than will own a 360.
That's just amazingly impressive and I think underlines just how well WiiFit is selling around the globe.
Friday, January 2, 2009
I've considered doing an end of year post about the Wii games that really delighted me this year, but it feels like I'm talking to the wind. The common statement of Wiis gathering dust really makes me sad.
Recently there was an article on Gamasutra about gamers aging and how that would change some of the types of games that would be appreciated as people's tastes change as they grow old. The article was responded to with lots of comments stating that tastes don't change and how stereotypical the article was.
However, it's also full of truth, that's why stereotypes exist. In this case, the fact is that as people, men in particular, age, their testosterone levels drop, which has a direct impact on their desire for the things that desired as adolescents. Some people go on wanting shooters, but as Nintendo and others have seen, many don't and leave gaming altogether. It's really of no surprise that the comments were in large part from people whose tastes haven't changed...it would be expected that the majority of those whose tastes did change simply moved on. They're not commenting, because they aren't playing games. They're the majority of people out there, living as doctors and teachers, businessmen and janitors.
Nintendo and PopCap have discovered that they still like to play games and they are providing games that this group enjoys. Unfortunately, by the old guard of gaming (which turns out to be made up of mostly adolescents), these gamers are some sort of problem that is ruining them, and so hate instead of friendship rules and the Wii gets the hate.
Dust Free Wii
Which leads me back to the beginning. I've never had more fun with any console than I've had with the Wii. Over the course of this year I played well over 350 games. I played a couple hundred for the Mac at my day job (http://www.reflexive.com/), I played well over a hundred for my indie hobby (http://www.gametunnel.com/), I played a dozen on the DS, and I played a bunch more on the Wii (~50).
In the course of doing all this playing, I found a lot of games that I really enjoyed. It's lead me to wanting to share why those games were so great (and once I did share). I've tried to figure out why people don't seem to like the Wii. One thing that's become abundantly clear is that people aren't playing the games that they are complaining about. It's sort of anti-intuitive, but the same people who say every Wii game sucks at Kotaku, don't actually play the games.
The Wii has become an icon to hate.
So there is the real problem, hate. I've called it Wii Hater Bias (WHB) in the past.
How do you make someone stop hating?
It's a topic much bigger than this post or gaming. It floods through every aspect of our lives. I've praised the good in Indie gaming for years and years, and I've become used to people dismissing things without considering them. Though I'm used to it, it still gets under my skin.
When people care, they see the good. That is true in every aspect of life from your relationship with your significant other to the Wii.
When people hate, they see the bad. This is also true in every aspect of life. It's a part of what makes relationships fail and is absolutely why people keep saying there aren't any good Wii games.
It's not that there aren't good games for the Wii. There are. Lots of them.
It's that people hate the Wii to the point that they can't see the good. All they can see the is bad. (and there is plenty of that to be found in every aspect of life if you look for it)
When you look for the worst in people you'll probably find it.
The same is true here.
I find it discouraging and disheartening to think about, and it really makes me sad to think of all the people missing out on things they would like. More so, it just makes me sad that there is so much hate and anger. It's an emotion that doesn't make life better.
As 2009 starts, I hope we find a way to break through some of the hate, bias, and prejudice that keeps people from considering the world they are condemning.