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11:23 PM on 07.12.2010  

Koichi Sugiyama: My Love-Hate Relationship with the "Big Boss of Game Music"



In honor of the release of Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (spelling it out in full because I absolutely love that subtitle), I wanted to share some thoughts and pay a little tribute to video game music composer Koichi Sugiyama, described by Nobuo Uematsu as the "big boss of game music," whose work and name is sadly not well known in the United States.



Years before I would know his name, Koichi Sugiyama's work in the original Dragon Quest had planted in me the seeds of my life-long appreciation of video game music. Like many gamers of my generation, I was introduced to Dragon Quest, then known as Dragon Warrior, through a promotion with Nintendo in which players who paid for a three-year subscription to Nintendo Power magazine would get the game for free. Dragon Quest was probably one of the harder games I had played up to that point in time and I know for a fact that I never beat it.

Sugiyama's work in Dragon Quest quickly taught me that video game music could function as far more than simply sonic wallpaper: it could produce feelings and create a sense of atmosphere that transformed 8-bit NES sprites into heroic warriors, a devastated land, and an evil dragon lord. One musical track that deeply affected me was the overworld theme, entitled "Unknown World." I was particularly moved by the way in which that piece of music managed to combine both a sense of curiosity and high adventure as well as a sense of loneliness for the game's lone hero, alone in his quest.



Fans of video game music outside of Japan have until recently been left salivating at the state of video game music in Japan where video game concerts seem to occur with some regularity and video game soundtrack CDs are sold alongside the latest pop songs. It may be possible to claim that without Koichi Sugiyama, video game music would not have taken off in the way that it did in Japan.

Koichi Sugiyama had a successful music career outside of video games. He had composed the music for many years in all sorts of media ranging from anime to musicals to TV series. The following Japanese trailer for the 1981 anime film The Legend of Sirius, also known as The Sea Prince and the Fire Child, prominently features Koichi Sugiyama's incredibly grand, beautiful, romantic, and passionate score to the film, which includes one of my favorite romantic themes of all time. I highly recommend that anyone who is a fan of Sugiyama watch this trailer and listen to the music.



Many will be surprised to know that Sugiyama is a video game fan himself. In fact, Enix's decision to ask Sugiyama to compose the music for Dragon Quest came as the result of a fan letter that they received from Sugiyama about a PC shogi game that they had developed. Until that letter came and Enix confirmed that it was indeed written by the composer Koichi Sugiyama, they did not think that a composer of such stature would be interested in video games.

Sugiyama not only composed the music to Dragon Quest, he also recorded his compositions with a live orchestra, becoming the first video game composer to do so. A recording of this orchestral performance was released for sale on October 5, 1986, becoming one of the first video game soundtracks to be sold. A year later on August 20, 1987, Sugiyama conducted a concert featuring his scores to Dragon Quest as well as Dragon Quest II.



In many ways, Sugiyama's entry into video game music may have played a role in establishing video game music as a legitimate art form in Japan in a similar but much greater way as Danny Elfman's work in Fable and Michael Giacchino's work in the Medal of Honor games began the process of legitimizing video game music in the United States. Unlike Danny Elfman however, who seemingly dipped his toe into video game music for just a quick moment before returning to Tim Burton's films, Sugiyama was fully-committed to the now blossoming world of video game music. In 1991, Sugiyama introduced the Orchestral Game Concert series in which he featured video game music from a variety of composers ranging from Nobuo Uematsu to Koji Kondo performed by an orchestra. It is hard to believe that video game music would have flourished as it did without Sugiyama's assistance and work.

I have always found it interesting that while Koichi Sugiyama has obviously played an enormous role in video game music, his approach to video game music seems to be the most different from many contemporary video game composers. When I listen to the works of Koji Kondo and Hip Tanaka, two of the prominent music composers at Nintendo, I feel as though both composers worked by looking at and carefully examining the technical specifications of the NES hardware and then composed specifically for that hardware, carefully treading around any limitations. I cannot imagine, for example, that the music that accompanies the opening titles to Metroid was composed in a "traditional" fashion. I'd argue that musical soundtracks such as Metroid , in particular the way in which the music seems to emerge from and play with strange alien-sounding ambient noises that blur the lines between music and sound effects, could not have been done by anyone who was not intimately familiar with the NES sound hardware.

In contrast, I feel that Koichi Sugiyama composed his music largely ignorant of the hardware that the music would ultimately come out of. I am inclined to think that Sugiyama composed for Dragon Quest as he would have any of his other projects, at the end of the day delivering a stack of sheet music to Enix for their sound engineers to be reduced to chiptune format. I do not mean to suggest that chiptunes are inferior to fully orchestrated music. I simply suggest that the music in Sugiyama's mind is that which we hear in his orchestrated CDs not the synthesized versions heard in the game. In contrast, I believe that the music in the minds of Koji Kondo and Hip Tanaka is exactly what we the gamer hear in the games. For me, when I hear most video game music in an orchestral setting, I feel as though the original music is being vastly expanded upon beyond its original composition whereas with Sugiyama's orchestral Dragon Quest music, the music sounds just right.

At this point, some people might argue that Sugiyama's approach to video game music, seemingly divorced from the specifics and details of video game hardware, is inferior to that of other composers such as Uematsu or Tanaka. However, I would argue that Sugiyama furthered the language of video game music by bringing in the established musical language of classical music, theatrical music, and TV/film scoring and showing that such techniques could not only be used but improved on through video games. Given how far audio technology and storage capacity is now, I imagine that many composers of video game music are now composing without being tied to a specific hardware environment.

As CD-ROM and DVD-ROM technology enabled composers such as Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda to bring fully orchestral music into games themselves, I came to realize that even years after Koichi Sugiyama's work was overshadowed by others, his influence remained and still towered over video game music. The following is a powerful piece of music entitled "Cantata Orbis" from the 1982 anime film The Ideon: Be Invoked. Given how big of a deal this film was and its subsequent impact on the development of anime, I wonder if Uematsu and Mitsuda were at the very least subtlely influnced by this powerful composition when they composed "One Winged Angel" and the orchestral and choral elements of the soundtrack to Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht respectively. At the very least, it can be said that both "One Winged Angel" and "Cantata Orbis" share the same roots in Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.



For me, Koichi Sugiyama was not only critical to my discovery of video game music, he played an enormous role in my understanding and appreciation of music itself. Ever since I saw clips of Fantasia at a very young age, I fell in love with classical music. I suspect that the fact that Sugiyama's music style is rooted in classical music played a role in how his music affected me so strongly and paved the way for my discovering additional game music down the line such as the soundtracks to Far East of Eden II: Manji Maru and Ys: Book I and II. The orchestral soundtrack to the original Dragon Quest was one of the first video game soundtracks I bought and I know that shortly after listening to the CD a billion times and discovering the soundtrack to Final Fantasy IV, I had resolved to become a music composer myself, despite having neither the musical knowledge nor talent to do so. Coincidentally enough, I share the same birthday as Koichi Sugiyama, born exactly 50 years after he was born on April 11, 1931. I discovered this fact relatively early and I imagine that in a superstitious way, I may have imagined that it fueled my confidence in my musical compositional abilities. Ultimately, I gave up on my ambitions of becoming a composer (a great decision in retrospect) to focus on other academic goals and around that same time, though unrelated, newer composers such as Hiroki Kikuta and Yasunori Mitsuda began to replace Koichi Sugiyama in my playlist.

I rediscovered my love for Koichi Sugiyama in late 2008 when, out of a combination of love for Destructoid and an urge to rekindle the creative spirit, I volunteered to write the music for randombulleye's Bonerquest. The game that Bonerquest most parodies is the original Dragon Quest and I remember many hours of sitting in front of my computer listening to Sugiyama's Dragon Quest music on YouTube, both trying to inspire my talentless self as well as admiring once more the work of this music master. In an age where video game music (and my other big musical passion, film music) has become increasingly dominated Hans Zimmer-style electronic elements, it was refreshing to hear a composer who worked with such a command of the entire symphony orchestra. I know that there were many times when I listened in awe of Sugiyama's ability to conjure up so many different emotions into a single piece of music. If there is any quality to my work on Bonerquest, a huge amount of the credit is due to my the inspiration I received from Sugiyama's music.



It was around this same time that I discovered something that I did not want to know. In his spare time, Koichi Sugiyama is one of the leading historical revisionists of Japanese World War II history. He denies the existence of the Rape of Nanking, a six-week period after the Japanese capture of the city of Nanking, China in which thousands of civilians were murdered and several tens of thousands of women were raped. Sugiyama also denies that the Japanese military forced captured women to serve as "comfort women," sex slaves, for their soldiers. As a prominent member of the "Committee for Historical Facts," Sugiyama and others work to push their revision of history in both Japan and the rest of the world. The following link is to an advertisement that the Committee for Historical Facts paid for and placed in The Washington Post several years ago.

As a person of Chinese descent who had grandparents that were alive and in China during Japan's invasion of China, I was disturbed to read about this side of Sugiyama. As I imagine many fellow gamers did when they discovered about the link between Shadow Complex and homophobe Orson Scott Card, I had to reexamine my relationship with Sugiyama and his work. After all, just as Orson Scott Card's royalties from Shadow Complex play a role in undermining efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, Koichi Sugiyama's royalties from Dragon Quest play a role in undermining the historical record of World War II.

Ultimately, I decided against boycotting Sugiyama's work, having since purchased Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. At the time of World War II, Sugiyama was still learning to count numbers (he would have been 14 at the time that World War II ended) and there was nothing that he himself did that hurt either myself or my race. I recognize that World War II historical revisionism and the issue of Japan's wartime guilt is still a very big and controversial issue in Japan that is larger than the opinions of an old man: it is the struggle of an entire country in defining and understanding its role in the world. At the very least, the vast majority of the world, particularly the country I live in, does acknowledge the existence of comfort women and the Rape of Nanking. Admittedly, it also helped ease my mind knowing that my relatives were not a part of the horrors of the comfort women and the Rape of Nanking.

In retrospect, I should not be surprised that an individual of such enormous talent would, as with many other individuals with enormous talent, also possess equally enormous flaws. Having looked up to Sugiyama for so many years, I admit to being highly disappointed that such a great man could harbor such disgusting views and I wonder if my deep connection with his work prevented me from boycotting and kicking out Sugiyama from my life. However, I have to concede that if I were to dig out the likes and dislikes of every single artist I care about, I suspect that there would be no one that did not believe strongly in something that I strongly disagree with. Perhaps it is only fair that we judge artists by the art that they create. In the case of Sugiyama, I hear in his music only the power of human expression: there is nothing in either his musical work or the works to which his music accompanies that expresses contempt for the historical experience of my people.

If I ever have the opportunity to meet Koichi Sugiyama in person, I would probably have some very negative things to say to him. However, prior to that, I would have to at the very least first thank him for playing an enormous role in shaping both my appreciation of music and my artistic drive and spirit. It is perhaps ironic that Nobuo Uematsu called Sugiyama the "big boss of game music." As with Snake's relationship with the Big Boss of Metal Gear Solid, my relationship with Big Boss Sugiyama is a conflicted one of both love and hate.


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3:53 PM on 09.10.2009  

I kind of want to buy "The Beatles: Rock Band" but the whole GH/RB genre of game just doesn't click with me



There's been a number of video game genres that as a whole simply do not click with me for a variety of reasons. For example, I get incredibly nauseous within minutes of looking at almost every FPS (I think for me it is a combination of factors including but not limited to the game itself, the display type, screen size, etc) and so I almost never play FPS game aside from the one time I forced myself to blow through Portal to see what the big deal was all about. One particular genre that I simply do not click with me are the Guitar Hero / Rock Band games, which kind of surprises me because I do like music games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Rhythm Heaven. Nonetheless, I wish that this wasn't the case because I kind of want to get The Beatles: Rock Band.

I think the biggest thing that keeps me away from the GH/RB games are the fact that for the most part, I have near zero familiarity with the music of these games. I grew up in a first-generation immigrant family that did not really listen to popular American music aside from the pop music of the time. I myself went on a classical music binge ever since I saw Fantasia at the age of 10 and fell in love with it until I discovered film scores, show tunes, and video game music a few years later. In addition, until college, I did not have a single friend that listened to music other than those genres that I listened to. While I have grown to like a number of songs that are featured in these games, I simply cannot say that they strike me in a way that makes me want to play these games in the way that my love of j-pop and Eurodance at one phase of my college life (when I considered myself a hardcore anime fan) drew me into Dance Dance Revolution. For example, I discovered Kansas' "Carry On My Wayward Son" through Guitar Hero but I did not truly love the song until South Park used the song to fantastic effect in the "Guitar Queer-O" episode.



Perhaps for this reason, I am somewhat interested in The Beatles: Rock Band because I have been somewhat interested in the Beatles for a number of years now and I know that this interest grew after I saw the musical film Across the Universe by Julie Taymor which uses the music of the Beatles to incredible effect.

That being said, there is one final reason that I am reluctant to buy The Beatles: Rock Band: I just can't get into the controls. As someone that has played a guitar before (though I played a violin for much longer), I simply find it frustratingly difficult to get used to the controls of the guitar. I have extraordinary difficulties getting my right hand to forget the programming of years of using a pick. In addition, my brain and left hand sometimes forgets that I am playing a game and I will screw up because my fingers end up pressing what would be the "next button" were this a real musical instrument as opposed to what the screen actually tells me to press.

It also doesn't help that the easy modes are simply too easy for me but when I increase the difficulty, the complexity ramps up so much that I don't have the interest to play any further. I am definitely not in the camp with those celebrity guitar players in the world that have trashed Guitar Hero and Rock Band for providing gamers with a false impression of rocking out on the guitar. However, I have to confess that when these games become as difficult as they have become and cost so much with endless redesigns of instruments, expansion packs, and DLC, I kind of do feel like my time would be better spent actually learning the real instruments.

So to summarize, in what is arguably my shortest cblog ever, I want to buy The Beatles: Rock Band but I am hesitating because I have traditionally not clicked with the other games of this genre for the reasons listed about. I do enjoy karaoke and so there is a part of me that is thinking about picking up the game purely as a karaoke game. There is also the collectible-loving Necros side of me that would love to pick up the whole package just for the hell of it. Finally, there is the side of me that wonders if something is wrong with me for being completely apathetic to one of the biggest gaming crazes of this decade. Dtoid community, help me out here.

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2:11 PM on 08.20.2009  

"It looks like a video game!"



The teaser trailer for James Cameron's latest film Avatar debuted today and I was really impressed and look forward to seeing the film this December. Granted, I have been looking forward to this film ever since I read the treatment of the film that had been floating around the net for a few years now. I love the look of the alien planet, which is pretty much what I would expect an unexplored and untouched alien world to look like. I was a little surprised about the look of the Na'vi aliens although I do confess that I obviously have no real-life Na'vi to judge against in order to evaluate the CGI on that level. However, when looking at the responses to the teaser trailer, I was surprised at the number of comments that bashed the special effects by saying "it looks like a video game."

Whenever I see that line or something similar written about a special effects film, I get a little bit confused. On one hand, I know that statements like this are made by people like Roger Ebert as a backhanded insult to video games. On the other hand, shouldn't it be a badge of honor for a film's special effects to be compared to video games considering how much of the fantastical images we now see and take for granted in movies were pioneered first in video games?



While Square Soft was busy trying to tell mature stories and express a wide variety of complex emotions in their video games (and yes, even in the bomb that is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), Pixar was having fun making buddy comedy after buddy comedy. Audiences are celebrating the originality of District 9. Yet the alien weaponry and the entire climax of the film owes a great deal to first-person-shooters, Halo included, contributing to and developing the imagery and lore of alien weapons. If you know anything about the MASSIVE software used by Weta to create the battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings, it is obvious that the software is essentially a giant automatic video game that plays itself.



Of course, the height of video game influence on movies is without a doubt John Woo's two-part film Red Cliff, a retelling of one section of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story. It is hard for anyone to watch this film and not see how directly Woo and his team were influenced by the look and style of the Dynasty Warriors games. In this case, not only do we have a film that is influenced by a video game, but we have a historical story from several thousand years ago whose telling has now been permanently altered through the influence of a video game.



In conclusion, all of these fantastical images in Avatar, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and other films that Hollywood pats itself on the back on were pretty much old news if you played video games. Video games have been providing people with the magical images and unbelievable sights far before any filmmaker successfully put it on the big screen. As such, I am both shocked, surprised, and confused when I hear "bad" special effects compared to a video game. Perhaps we ought to do the opposite from now on. Perhaps when us gamers see a game with horrible graphics, we ought to make fun of it by saying that it "looks like a movie." I don't expect Hollywood to stop looking down on video games any time soon. However, for now, I am going to change my mindset so that whenever I hear a film described as "looking like a video game," I'll smile and take it as a compliment. Filmmakers pride themselves on bringing magic to the masses and while they may have done it for over a decade, I say that video games have taken the crown in the recent years.

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12:32 PM on 08.20.2009  

Response to Sean Malstrom's response to my article on Nintendo apologists

This blog post is a response to a response by Sean Malstrom to my blog post "Question to Nintendo apologists: Hasn't Apple proven that you can appeal to both the public and your fan base at the same time?" that was posted on Destructoid earlier this week. I have never heard of Sean Malstrom prior to this but a quick search on Google suggests to me that this individual is the high priest of Nintendo supporters and so I suppose that I will take it as a honor that he has come down to enlighten a commoner such as myself. I am writing this response because I highly disagree with just about everything in his response.

To Hcapt, thank you for first informing me of Sean Malstrom and his response to my blog post. I am sure that your suggestion to "Please read it, as you might learn something" was made with the best of intentions and not in an arrogant "ha ha ha I got you" way.



To Sean Malstrom, a little note before I get started. I know that you consider yourself to be "hot shit" but I did not write my original blog to you nor did I send it off to be judged and misinterpreted by some arrogant prick who waves around theories with largely anecdotal evidence and more holes than a golf course. If you want to comment on my views blog, at least do it with some common courtesy and not churn out a personal insult to my views and intelligence.

"The old fans of Nintendo are not fans of N64 and Gamecube games. Old fans of Nintendo are SNES/NES/ Nintendo Arcade gamers. I remember playing Popeye when it came out in the arcade. Do you?" I'm going ignore that first part about old fans of Nintendo not liking the N64 or GameCube despite how wrong it is. I just want to say that if you consider Popeye to be one of the hardcore favorites, that's mistake number 1 for you and that may explain why you are so completely clueless about the perceptions of the Nintendo fan base. Also, for your information, I was old enough to have played the Popeye arcade game when it was out. However, being an immigrant with a poor family, I did not live the privileged lifestyle that would have allowed me to indulge in arcade games. So I am happy that you were rich enough to play Popeye in the arcades. However, waving in my face like a badge of honor the fact that you had money at the time to blow in arcades, puts you in a league of pathetic that I have rarely seen.



Perception versus reality

My blog post is about the perception that Nintendo has abandoned its loyal fan base and how Nintendo's PR and marketing could be doing a better job countering that perception. You seem to be confusing the fact that there is a difference between Nintendo abandoning its loyal fan base and the perception that Nintendo has abandoned its loyal fan base. It is hard to say whether or not Nintendo has abandoned its loyal fan base unless we have a large amount of sales and demographic data to analyze how much of the Wii's sales can be attributed to that loyal fan base.

The question of whether there is a perception that Nintendo has abandoned its loyal fan base seems to me to be a resounding yes. I have heard plenty of complaints about XBox 360s red-ringing. I have heard plenty of complaints about the Ps3 being too expensive, having important features removed, not having enough games, etc. Moving away from this generation, I have heard complaints of the Ps2 having faulty disk drives. I have heard complaints about the XBox's crippled out-of-the-box DVD functionality and the size of the controllers. I have heard complaints of the GameCube's controller and mini-DVDs. Until the Nintendo Wii however, I have not heard with such fury and frequency the specific allegation of a company abandoning its loyal fan base. There is not a single video game console in history that I know of that has attracted this specific type of criticism and it is surprising that this same console is not only the best-selling console of this generation but one of the best-selling consoles in history.

If you want to argue about whether or not Nintendo has actually abandoned its loyal fan base, that is an entirely different argument which is completely unrelated to my original blog post, which is about the perception that Nintendo has abandoned its loyal fan base and how Nintendo has failed to deal with that perception in a meaningful fashion. For what it's worth though, since you dragged out the sales of Mario Kart Wii and the game Punch-Out!! as proof of Nintendo's love for the fan base, I should point out that the worldwide sales of Mario Kart Wii, 15.4 million units thus far by my sources, is not enough to account for the 16.17 million unit difference between worldwide SNES sales and N64 sales. So even if you attribute all of the sales of Mario Kart Wii to the loyal fans, Nintendo has clearly not earned them back yet. In addition, Punch-Out!! is currently below 200,000 units sold and, as you point out, this is a game for long-time fans. Given the extremely low sales numbers for this game, I think it's safe to assume that the hard-core is not biting. If Punch-Out!! is Nintendo's attempt to fish back the hardcore, perhaps Nintendo is using the wrong bait.



When did Nintendo's fans leave?

You argue that I am mistaken in my attributing Nintendo's "loss" of its loyal fan base to the Wii because "Nintendo already were leaving behind their older fans especially those fans who bought the NES and SNES. The N64 and Gamecube installed base just kept shrinking....The declinine install base of NES to Gamecube clearly shows this." When I read this statement, I became confused as to what he was trying to say. I looked further around your site, trying to get an idea of what your ideas are, and I found this quote from the FAQ on the website which pretty much illustrates why I think you clearly missed the point of my blog.

"Nintendo made a number of mistakes post NES. People point to N64 as the decline, but I believe it began in the SNES. Nintendo won the 16-bit console war at the cost of losing the bearings that made NES successful in the first place. The point of the decline I would say is when Arakawa and other Nintendo marketers decided to sell products in a demographic segmented route which continues to plague the industry today."

My entire blog was about the perception of Nintendo's fans and why I feel that Nintendo could have done a better job appealing to its loyal fan base. It seems to me that you are basically looking at everything I wrote from the perspective of business and sales, which was not my intention.

The following are the worldwide sales numbers for all 5 main home consoles by Nintendo.

NES: 61.91 million
SNES 49.10 million
N64 32.93 million
GameCube 22 million
Wii 52.62 million

To you, the drop in sales from the NES and the SNES is the start of Nintendo's decline. If you is talking about it from a sales perspective, I cannot disagree with you. However, you instead attribute this to Nintendo not "appealing" to the "casual" non-gaming market, which you felt that the NES had. This is a claim that I do not think I can necessarily agree with. First, the NES was a massively famous product of its time and I would argue that much of the difference between the sales of the NES and the SNES comes from people who would have never been gamers in the first place but bought the NES anyway just to see what it was all about.

However, there is also a secondary interpretation (I am sure there are many) that also shows that your assessment is not necessarily right. The two big systems of the 8-bit era were the NES and the Sega Master System. Given that the Sega Master System sold 13.4 million units worldwide, that means that these two consoles combined resulted in 75.31 million 8-bit consoles sold all together. The Sega Genesis sold a total of 29 million units worldwide. Therefore, the combined 16-bit consoles sold over 78.1 million units.

You claim that the drop in units sold from the NES and SNES is due to non-gamers dropping out due to the SNES being more focused on gamers than non-gamers. I think that the sales record suggests another possibility: Nintendo simply lost those customers to Sega. To my knowledge, the Sega Genesis was just as focused on the SNES on gamers. In fact, the Sega Genesis not only focused on gamers but it positioned itself as the system of choice for the hardcore gamer. For the record, I acknowledge that there would be overlap that is not accounted for in case someone owns more than one system. Nonetheless, I think that data does support my interpretation of events.

If you are trying to debate this from a business point-of-view, I cannot agree more that targetting non-gamers was the best idea Nintendo ever had. However, my point was not about that: it was about how Nintendo has failed to manage the expectations of its fan base and in this respect, I do not agree with his view that the fan base is something is not worth Nintendo's time to appeal to.



Taking a bite out of the Apple

You rolled his eyes when I said that Nintendo and Apple are similar in that both rely heavily on expectations and perception. According to you, Apple and Nintendo are all about the user experience. I had to read this statement three times to make sure my eyes were not screwed up because of how utterly ludicrous this statement is. I can agree that Apple and Nintendo products are heavily focused on the user experience. That being said, how do you measure user experience? How do you gauge the user experience? The answer is that you cannot objectively due so because user experience is in its very essence a subjective feeling. I love the Windows Vista interface. My brother and my friends throw up in their mouths thinking about the Vista interface. I know people who love the MacOS X interface: I personally cannot stand it. To say that Apple and Nintendo are all about user experience is to completely miss the point that ultimately, it is expectations and perceptions that drive ones evaluation and satisfaction of that user experience.

Before I leave the subject of Apple, I wanted to address you calling me out on my telling of the 1997 MacWorld Expo appearance of Bill Gates in which I said that Bill Gates bailed out Apple.

"This is just not true.

Microsoft was caught stealing Quicktime’s code because they were struggling to get Video for Windows to work. The outcome was that Microsoft had to pay a $150 million dollar investment in non-voting stock in Apple, continue producing Office for Mac, and make a public endorsement of the Macintosh platform.

Ultimately, this outcome ended up being very good for Microsoft. Investing in Apple before their stock exploded allowed Microsoft to sell the stock for twenty times more than what they purchased it for. Microsoft never loses money selling software on the Mac. Mac users are more notorious for actually paying for their software unlike on Windows.

Saying Microsoft ‘bailed out’ Apple is completely untrue. Microsoft got caught in a crime, their hand got caught in the Quicktime Cookie Jar code. And they paid dearly for stealing Apple’s code."

First of all, when a company in a very poor financial position receives a ton of money to keep it alive, I call it a bailout. I don't think that my wording is wrong from a technical point of view. Now, I will admit that your story is indeed true and I was not aware of this angle of the story. However, I do not agree with your conclusion about the deal. If you wants to blame me for portraying this settlement as a bailout, then you might as well blame everyone because that's pretty much how that was portrayed in the names and it is the interpretation that I hear from die-hard Apple fans until reading your response. You claim to be a lawyer by profession. If that is the case then you should know that Microsoft could have dragged out this case for a long time and that could have been devastating for Apple, especially since Microsoft had at this point announced that they were no longer going to develop Office for Macs anymore. If Apple wanted to prove their case in a court of law, they should have pressed the case forward and seen it to its logical end. It is clear that Apple was in a position where it needed money and it knew that the lack of Office on their systems would hurt them greatly and so they took a settlement. Again, I don't think it is unfair for me to call it a bailout and I think that's pretty much the way the world generally saw it. Let me put it this way: if Bill Gates was seen as paying "dearly for stealing Apple's code," there would be no reason for people to have been angry or outraged at his appearance at the MacWorld Expo. If anything, he should have been greeted with laughter for getting caught with the hand in the cookie jar.



The N64 and the GameCube

"To be blunt, the N64 and Gamecube were carried by children, not ‘hardcore gamers’. Sorry dude.

In the same way, most customers of the GBA were children. There is a reason why Sony and Microsoft marketing keep joking that Nintendo’s latest offering (whatever it would be) is just trying to appeal to the Pokemon crowd. Gamecube was called a ‘kiddy console’, for better or worse."

Sorry dude, you are completely wrong. I never said "hardcore gamers" I said "hardcore fans." With respect to the N64, I don't think you can make the claim that it was carried by children and if so, I'd like to see your evidence. With respect to the GameCube, again, I would like to see the evidence for your conclusion. However, I will say that if there is a reason why Microsoft and Sony joked that Nintendo's GameCube was for the "Pokemon crowd" and a "kiddy console" I would argue that Nintendo invited such jokes when they kept talking about how thier controller design was made more simple. I am sure the fact that games like "Capcom vs. SNK 2" would come out for the GameCube with the subtitle EO for "Easy Operation" and a stripped-down control scheme certainly supports that type of claim. With respect to the GBA, I did not talk about the GBA in my article at all. However, I can agree with this on the basis of the massive fans of Pokemon. However, I do not believe that other than the Super Smash Bros series, which is a hardcore game, that the home consoles found themselves helped or harmed significantly by Pokemon.

Let's assume for the moment that you are right and that the N64 and GameCube were "carried by children" and not Nintendo's fans. If that is the case, then why is it that we never saw the type of "Nintendo abandoned us" hate back with the N64 and GameCube? The reason is because Nintendo balanced the Pokemon games out with the Zelda games, the Mario games, and the promise of new IP such as Pikmin. Let me admit that I absolutely hate the Mario Party series. It is a collection of lazy and poorly-done minigames strung together with a virtual board game that is not very fun. I know many people in agreement with me, especially when they were bringing out one game a year. Still, Mario Party never invited the type of hate that Nintendo gets now because Nintendo balanced the expectations of its fans better at that time.

You said that "The hardcore are reminding me of the spoiled older sibling when the younger sibling is born. Now, the child is no longer an ‘only child’. Attention is going to be divided." Sorry, but you are completely wrong. Any Nintendo fans knows that its systems have appealed to different audiences all the time. The difference is that previously Nintendo fans felt that they were all being treated equally well. Now Nintendo is completely in love with this one sibling called the "non-gamer" crowd and only paying lip service to its fans. To use your analogy of a child, all the Apple quotes strike me as the type of silly crap like "mommy didn't buy me my favorite toy" or "mommy grounded me for peeing on the TV." Those are the time of complaints that you hear and you look the other way. The complaints that Nintendo fans have are not as silly as the Apple complaints you bring up, it is saying that "mommy gave the new kid a giant Lego castle but gave me a sweater."



Perception is the key

I am confused as to your response to me in general because it contains so many leaps of interpretative faith and a lack of understanding of my original point.

You countered my view of Apple fans by claiming that I don't "know Apple fans. Many Apple fans are not too happy about Macs becoming more popular. When they heard that Apple wants to start selling Macs at Wal-Mart, they blew a gasket." Are you serious? These are the examples you choose to cite? There's a difference between saying that you are upset because Apple wants to make their products more available to others and saying that you are upset because Apple has totally abandoned the fan base. I can only imagine that you do not understand the difference. Nintendo fans are not angry because the products are attracting more sales: they are angry because Nintendo's marketing has completely failed to convincingly show that they view their long-time fans as high priorities. If you are trying to compare the quotes you gave me to the complains Nintendo fans as being equivalent, then I can only say that like Nintendo, you are completely clueless about Nintendo fans and what they are thinking.

"Everyone knows that the best selling N64 and Gamecube games are the Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Smash Brothers, and Paper Mario ones. Yet, sequels to these games do not satisfy the hardcore."

If this is your opinion of the hardcore then you clearly are just as clueless as Nintendo. People cared about Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Super Smash Bros. because they were innovative games of their time that brought something new and fun into the Nintendo lexicon. In the N64 era, fans were excited about the potential of the 64DD drive and the promise of a new Earthbound game based on that drive.

You claim that the sequels are not satisfying the hardcore but you are ignoring the fact that these sequels are themselves arguably less satisfying on an intrinsic level. The third Metroid Prime game is fundamentally still the same as the previous games in the series. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess did not innovate in the way that both previous Zelda games did with respect to their predecessor. The wolf game play was done better in the game Okami which came out earlier. Super Smash Bros. Brawl dropped popular characters, had a pathetic and aggravating single-play story mode, and was marred by horrible online game performance. Like Nintendo, you blindly assume that just because it's a sequel, that Nintendo fans will bite and love the game. Nintendo fans, for the most part, are not that stupid. They want innovation and if you are going to offer a sequel, you better make sure that it is really really good. You can't just throw out a sequel that feels less interesting or ambitious than its predecessor and then wonder why the fans aren't happy.

It is this same reason that I question why you feel that Virtual Console is proof that Nintendo loves the hardcore fan base. If Nintendo loves the fan base, it would make more new games like those games and not just make a quick buck by dragging out old games that most of these "hardcore fans" already knew how to pirate and emulate for years.

I am disturbed by your comment that "I can understand if Nintendo is no longer making the games you want. But I find it disturbing that people’s happiness depends on whether a corporation coddles them. Take a hint from the Expanded Market and get a life." I am not sure where you get this idea from that people's happiness are depending on Nintendo's actions. Passionate comments about Nintendo's direction are due, not because the individual is actually bawling out their eyes Chris Crocker style, but to fans who genuinely feel that Nintendo has lost their direction and has abandoned the legacy that they themselves have touted. Granted, given the other ludicrous comments you have made already and your inability to understand what it is that Nintendo fans are unhappy about, I am not surprised that you think this way.

"You have two other consoles that appeal directly to the ‘hardcore’. Why must all three consoles do so? Are they so selfish that ALL GAMES must cater to their taste?"

Again, it is not selfish to be angry when the company whose works you have supported for years, who has spent years touting its legacy and its commitment to its fan base, has decided that you are no longer important to them. To you, games are just games. For many people, the products that Nintendo create are works of art that have touched and affected people for many years and shaped their growth. In contrast, I do not think an Apple product has every made someone feeling emotion or cry in the way that certain video games Nintendo has made has. People are passionate because of the experiences that Nintendo has created.

To summarize, open your eyes and look around you. Nintendo fans are annoyed and feel betrayed and this is something new for Nintendo. Your view is that Nintendo should say "screw the hardcore" because they are making tons of money off of the "disruption" that is the Wii. To criticize your theories on disruption is far beyond the scope of this blog. That being said, I will say that I do not agree with your impression that disruption is as easy and obvious a strategy to pull off as you claim. It is very hard to pull off what Nintendo did with the Wii and it is likely that they will not be able to do it again. You make fun of my conclusion, comparing me to a teenage girl, but my point has already happened and been proved when Nintendo failed with the N64 and GameCube and found itself appealing, focusing, and targeting its fan base more and more. History has already proven that Nintendo runs back to its hardcore fans when it does badly with the mainstream. The difference is that this time they have thrown its fans under the bus.

Sean Malstrom, the argument I have been having, which is the predominant complaint fans have been having, is simply about perception. We already know that Nintendo has done well financially. If you want to go study that, feel free to go for it. When it comes to an argument about Nintendo and its ability to handle perceptions, I think you are way out of your league. Regardless of how well Nintendo's business is doing, it is never a good idea to have tons of people hate you. It is even worse then that group of people are your long-time fans.

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12:20 PM on 08.17.2009  

Question to Nintendo apologists: Hasn't Apple proven that you can appeal to both the public and your fan base at the same time?


For the record, I agree 100% with Jim's recent article "Nintendo of America needs to STFU". However, I wanted to hone in on one particular aspect of the article, the idea that Nintendo has left behind its older fans. I do feel that Nintendo has left behind its older fans and from what I see on the comments page to Jim's article, it seems obvious that I am not alone. Hell, even hardcore Nintendo lovers such as RetroforceGO!'s Chad, Colette, and Topher have expressed disappointment with Nintendo's current business priorities. Many Nintendo supporters however, will counter this allegation by saying that Nintendo needed to shift its focus away from its base in order to achieve the widespread success that the Wii has given them. The casual Wii gamer will eventually "graduate" and join our ranks. Once Nintendo gets enough money, they'll come back to us again. The list of reasons go on and on and on. My question to Nintendo's supporters and apologists is this: hasn't Apple proven with its actions that you can appeal to both the public and the fan base at the same time? Why are we settling for one or the other?

Apple and Nintendo are both similar companies, not only because they make consumer electronics, but because both companies rely heavily on perception and buzz as a large part of their business strategy. It is not surprising that both companies have as a result of this built up a significant base of hardcore fans, defenders, and apologists. There are plenty of reasons why such a hardcore base can be of advantage to a company such as Apple and Nintendo. However, I feel that an important one that is not often expressed is that it allows a company to better take risks in the marketplace. By this, I mean that a company can come up with an idea that might not be what people expected but be given the benefit of the doubt by their hardcore fan base, which can translate, especially in the consumer electronics, to better press.

Nintendo has made or been associated with a number of silly and stupid ideas far earlier than Miyamoto's "performance" at E3 2008 made one of the genius' of the gaming world look like an idiot. The Power Glove, R.O.B., the Virtual Boy, etc are three prominent examples that come to mind that, especially with the advantage of hindsight and freed from the hype of the time, should have been recognized as being ridiculous, silly, and a piece of electronics that either did not work the way it was "supposed" to (in the case of the Power Glove) or was simply too limited to accomplish what it set out to do (i.e. Virtual Boy). Yet at the time, these were all products that were given more than the benefit of the doubt and even now, these failures are allowed viewed in a "fond" light and a "cute" entry in the encyclopedia of Nintendo history. This is what a hardcore fan base allows you to do: get away with potentially business-killing screw-ups.

For all of its success, Apple has made its fair share of screw-ups too. In the years prior to the iMac and iPod's success, Apple was in quite possibly the most pathetic position that a company could be in (it had to accept a "bailout" from Bill Gates, who made a hilariously booed appearance at the 1997 MacWorld Expo in which this was announced). Yet Apple was still loved and supported by a large hardcore fanbase that saw it through the hard times. This is exactly the case with Nintendo, which hit a low point during the time of the N64 and GameCube, but was still supported by its fan base.

Today, Apple is not only a ridiculously successful company, but it has branched out into the mainstream in a way that is unprecedented, largely due to MacOS X, the iPod, and now the iPhone. I confess that I have hated Macs and Apple products for a long time but even I am very tempted to buy one of the new iPhone models and I do consider Apple's laptops very attractive. One thing that separates Apple and Nintendo however, is that Apple has never given up, left behind, or even given the impression of caring less about the importance of its hardcore. They are always simultaneously catering to both the general public and its hardcore fans over the years.

Ever since Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, I cannot recall a single year where there was any significant group of fans that felt left behind. I suppose the closest Apple has gone in recent years to disappointing its fan base was when they dropped the price of the first iPhone models very quickly and even then, Apple quickly offered up a rebate to customers who bought the iPhone prior to the price drop (who were most likely its hardcore fan base). Hell, consider the fact that Jobs has been investigated by the SEC for a variety of questionable financial activities and the public and investors are still in love with him and his products.

In contrast, once Nintendo found success with the Wii, they have continuously failed time and time again to satisfy the expectations of a good portion of its fan base. I am confused as to why Reggie and friends seem unable to understand why the "hardcore" are disappointed with Nintendo and wrongly assume that it is because we want a new Mario or Zelda game. I cannot speak for my fellow gamers, but what I am looking for Nintendo to show a genuine interest in trying something new. By new, I mean a game that aspires to be more than just a glorified tech demo whose concept will be refined X years down the line (i.e. WiiSports, WiiFit, WiiMusic, etc).

It really doesn't take that much to please or pay sufficient lip service to a fan base and it shocks me that Nintendo doesn't know how to do that. Suggest that you are thinking of a Kid Icarus game. Suggest that you are thinking of some new IP where you do X, Y, and Z. You don't even need to actually follow up on the idea and make an actual product. Just get an intern to draw Pit punching Medusa in the face and we'll be happy. A year later, just tell us that you canceled it because it wasn't good enough for the fans and we'll believe it. Suggest that you are thinking of porting over Mother 3. Or in the latter case, take some of the huge profits you are making, license the Mother 3 fan translation, and port it over to VirtualConsole as a "gift to the fans" along with Earthbound, either resolving the legal status of the music or getting Hip Tanaka to revise the music. Hell, give us a one-hour video documentary tour of Nintendo of Japan on the Nintendo Channel or something like that. There are literally tons and tons of easy ways to appeal to the hardcore and I am surprised that Nintendo does not do this. Given that I have a sufficient amount of respect for Reggie and his friends as well as the bigwigs in Nintendo of Japan, I can only imagine that this is simply because Nintendo does not care and not because they have not thought about it.

Apple owes much of its current success to the fact that when Apple was down in the dumps in 1997, there were still legions of fans that wanted Apple to get better and was willing to give them the patience and benefit of the doubt to get themselves up to speed. I have to confess that I wish that I were an Apple fan because it must be a fantastic feeling to feel that even though Apple is ridiculously successful today, it is still supportive and thankful of its hardcore fan base. Don't get me wrong, I am not naive enough to believe that Apple is not looking out for themselves and their profits. However, I know that from a sheer probability point of view, Apple will eventually turn out a dud that totally tanks (though I'd personally say that the Apple TV already came close) and at that time, it will be the hardcore fan base that will applaud it for trying something new and calm the negative press, urging us to give Apple another chance, which will be better for their bottom line.

The fact is, Nintendo will churn out a failure sometime in the future: it is statistically impossible that this will not happen. Nintendo, with its actions with the Wii generation, have proven that it is the business equivalent of the unpopular geek who gets a shiny new car, gets invited into the popular crowd, and then dumps all of his old D&D geek friends. In all of these movies and TV episodes, the popular crowd eventually dumps the kid when he/she has outlived his or her usefulness and end up crawling back to his old friends. Will we still welcome Nintendo back when the popular crowd has thrown it under the bus? When Nintendo reaches that low point, will we still be willing to give them that leeway? I would suggest that Nintendo, particularly their marketing and PR departments, study Apple and its handling of its fans very carefully because otherwise, I fear that when their big failure comes, there will be no one left once the popular crowds are gone and Nintendo will be sitting against that locker listening to the Linkin Park as the tears flow down like dollars into a drain.

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9:35 AM on 07.16.2009  

How used video game sales affect the value proposition of video games and may eventually harm consumers




Much has been said about the issue of used video game sales both in support and opposition to the practice. Very often those in support of used video game sales will point to the used car market as a means of supporting their point. However, there was always something unsettling about that comparison to me because I feel that this comparison actually brings up a major issue which I feel shows how used video games are bad for video games as a whole.

Basically, there is a difference between the value proposition of a new car versus a used car that is not significantly changed in any way by the used car market. However, the value proposition of a new game does seem to be changing for the worst precisely because of the way in which Gamestop has run their used game market. I am not sure if I am just seeing things given that no one on either side has, at least to my knowledge, brought up this point. However, I do think that it is a point that needs to be discussed and included in the discussion of the issue of used video game sales.

Before I am pegged as an industry plant, I just want to preface the meat of the blog by declaring that I do not work for the video game industry or the retail industry (I work for the pharmaceutical industry) and the only person I know remotely associated to the video game industry is an acquiantance from college that worked as a game QA tester during a summer.



The problem with comparing used video games and used cars is the difference in the relative value between "new" and "used" in these products. If I actually have money, I would much prefer to buy a new car (unless it is a special car like a DeLorean) as opposed to a used car. I agree that there is nothing inherently wrong with buying used cars (my own family bought two used car in the recent years) but admittedly, it goes without saying that generally, used cars are seen as being less reliable than new cars for generally justifiable reasons. As such, there is a value proposition to buying a new car that is pretty much untouched by the presence and existence of a used car market. If someone can afford to buy a new car, they will probably prefer a new car over a used car.



In comparison, the value proposition of a new game versus a used game is much different, largely because of the way Gamestop conducts its business. The problem is not that Gamestop is selling used video games: the problem is that they are desperately working to convince customers that there is no difference between new and used games and it appears that this tactic is working. Gamestop intermingles used video games with new video games and in fact many times the layout of the store makes it harder for me to find the new games. Gamestop has that ridiculous practice where they will cut open a new box of a video game in order to skimp on a display copy therefore turning a new video game into a used video game before it is even played. Most importantly though, Gamestop's aggressive pushing of their game buyback program as well as their ability to offer a used copy of the latest video game within hours of release pretty much sends the message that if you want to maximize your entertainment value, you should just buy a used video game, blow through it as quickly as possible, and then sell it back and use the credit to buy the next used game, continuing the cycle.



I cannot help but feel that the consequence of this is that video games are decreasing in perception as a long-term entertainment product because of the incentive that exists to go through a chain of used games in the way that Gamestop encourages with their business practices. This is why you see so many games with DLC now: publishers know that there are lots of people that buy used and sell quickly and so they feel less compelled to put the "full experience" of the game onto the disc, especially since a large number of gamers aren't "paying" or "holding onto the game" long enough to really care. I just think that the ultimate consequence of this will be ultimately harmful to the consumer. On one hand, we may reach a point where every game is sold via digital distribution and we will be completely at the mercy of content holders. There is also the possibility that publishers will eventually significantly drop the prices of new games but instead, they will pretty much be little more than glorified boxed demos that we will have to pay to access via DLC.

This is probably the shortest post I have ever written but I think that I will conclude here and wait for comments to come in and see what people think.

Again, to restate my point: there is a difference, both actual and perceived, between a new car and a used car that is not threated by the fact that used cars are being sold all the time. There is also a difference, both actual and perceived, between a new video game and a used video game. However, the way in which companies like Gamestop sell used video games are causing a massive shift in public perception which is hurting the value proposition of not just video games but new video games. While I concede that the used video game market may be beneficial to the consumer, I fear that in the long run, the reaction to this will end up really hurting the consumer.

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3:19 PM on 04.03.2009  

I cannot understand why Nintendo has still not figured out why people are complaining about them


Hai guyz!

One thing that really urked me about Podtoid episode 93 was in the beginning when Samit defended and agreed with Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime's claim that the hardcore gamers are "truly insatiable." I suppose what bothers me most about this line of argument is that it completely misses the point of why the "hardcore" are disappointed with Nintendo. In fact, it many ways, I feel that the mere fact that Nintendo and its supporters' completely fail to understand why the "hardcore" are upset is part of that problem.

Speaking as a former Nintendo fan, I have always felt that the problem with Nintendo these days, and why I suspect that the "hardcore" are disappointed with them, is that they have completely failed to "act" as a "leader" in the games industry. By "leader," I am not speaking in terms of sales or profits because, as we know, Nintendo is undeniably the industry leader in terms of profits and sales.

In looking at what Reggie says, it seems that he feels that the hardcore want more games released out of Nintendo and that the hardcore want many of them to be either "mature" in content or a Mario or Zelda game. In my opinion, none of these reasons are correct because they ignore the fact that people were not complaining in the "glory days" of the NES, SuperNES, Game Boy, etc about any of those factors.


Amazing gameplay, graphics, and sound.

The problem with Nintendo is that their games and to some extent their products simply do not "lead" anymore. They do not inspire the type of awe or respect that they used to. When you got your first glimpse of Super Metroid, you were blown the fuck away by what Nintendo did. Not only were gamers blown away by the game but I feel that games like this used to throw all sorts of shockwaves into the gaming industry. Now if you were making a game similar to Super Metroid, you've got to work your ass off now to stand a chance. I wouldn't be surprised if the staff of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night at Konami spent a great deal of time studying Super Metroid as part of their work on what would become one of the masterpieces of the 32-bit era.




The original on top. Melee in the middle. Brawl on bottom.

In contrast today, I am generally hardpressed to see Nintendo games and products command that same type of awe and respect, even games that are supposed to be designed for the "hardcore" crowd. With all due respect to Super Smash Bros. Brawl (which is a fine game in its own right), there used to be a time when the third installment of a Nintendo game both completely revolutionized the series while managed to pay respect and be true to its roots. Think about how Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid, all third installments of a series, managed to not only both innovate in all sorts of ways from its preceeding two games and also remain true to its origins. In contrast, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is at best a minor tweak of Super Smash Bros. Melee which in turn was at best a minor tweak of the original Super Smash Bros..

Many people, particularly on Dtoid, went crazy when Miyamoto said that he felt that Super Mario Galaxy and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess were too conservative. I understand that gamers are probably scared that a more ambitious Mario or Zelda game would end up like one of the new Sonic games in terms of shittiness. Nonetheless, I cannot help but think that the vast majority of the Nintendo games that we treasure and love today, such as Earthbound, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Super Mario Bros. 3 were created as a result of Nintendo acting in a ambitious and progressive fashion as opposed to being scared to tread off the beaten path.

As I see it, much of this lack of ambition and leadership on Nintendo's end translates to others areas of concern that the "hardcore" have had about Nintendo. A major complaint about the Nintendo Wii, for example, is the tired gimmicky Wii game controls that plague countless Wii games. Well, to be honest, how can you blame the developer? Nintendo themselves, the people who designed the Wii, just hasn't done a very good job themselves of showing the world how the Wii controls can be used in a polished and interesting fashion. Hell, most of the popular Wii games such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Kart Wii are completely playable with standard controllers and in fact, every single person that I know that plays these games prefer using the GameCube controller for these games. Is it any surprise that if Nintendo doesn't seem to be able to do anything interesting with the controls that other third-party developers are probably stumped as well? The nostalgic Nintendo fanboy in me is really looking forward to the upcoming Punch-Out for the Wii. Yet the early word and impressions of the game is that the controls are very unambitious and boring for what you would expect a boxing game with a Wiimote ought to have. Again, not surprised given Nintendo's track record with the Wiimote.


WiiWare Seal of Quality.

Another complaint: the tons of worthless throwaway games on the Wii and particularly WiiWare that are hardly to have taken any real effort to develop. Again, Nintendo themselves have released tons of throwaway shit on the Wii (such as Wii Play, Link's Crossbow Training, and Wii Music) and WiiWare (such as My Pokemon Ranch) that no one ought to be surprised that that third-parties are doing the same. Likewise many Wii developers are doing nothing but lazily porting over games from other consoles. Yet, how can you blame them when Nintendo is doing the same? The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was essentially a port of the GameCube game. Now they are doing ports of Pikmin and the Metroid Prime games too.

I just can't help but think that, in the old days of the Super NES, if you wanted to develop for the system and you wanted to actually make money, you had to work your ass off in order to compete with the type of quality games and products that Nintendo was putting out. In contrast, the Nintendo of today (mainly with the Wii) has time and time again put out games and projects that are more often than not either conservative, unambitious, and/or lazy, What kind of an example is Nintendo setting for other developers by doing as they have done? When Nintendo's own games lack ambition, are lazy, and fumble on basic functionality such as online support, how can you expect better from its third-party developers? It's no surprise that, while the XBox Live was and still known for attracting all sorts of shit, the capital of the land of lazy shit games seems to be moving to WiiWare.


Earthbound: breaking the RPG mold.

Again, this is all just my own personal opinion on Nintendo. I just constantly feel that Nintendo is grossly exploiting this whole divide between "hardcore" and "casual" in order to make their own lives easier. Comments such "graphics aren't important" or "surround sound isn't important" just seem to show how far Nintendo has fallen since the days of their prime. I do believe that graphics and surround sound cannot make a shit game better than it is. However, I do know that in the glory days of Nintendo, the company claimed to and did make games that were fun, impressively-designed, and aesthetically brilliant. All the games Nintendo put out in the Super NES era weren't just great because they were fun. They were also great because they looked and sounded incredible. Even a game with minimal graphics such as Earthbound do all sorts of amazing things with its graphical design and has arguably one of the most interesting soundtracks and use of sound in any 16-bit game. Again, let's not forget what an amazing story and departure in the typical RPG that the game was. Today, the whole "graphics aren't important" and "weee, fun waggle controls" mantra has become a way for Nintendo to deflect any complaint, legitimate or not, about the graphics of a game and attempt to hide the fact that, most often than not, even the best of their recent games are deeply unambitious.

It is this reason why I feel that the "hardcore" are not satisfied with what Nintendo has been doing. We get excited for games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Kart Wii only to quickly realize that these games are the same things we have been playing on the previous console with minimal improvements. And in the meantime, in between these big releases, we get bombarded with shit game after shit game, many of which are developed by Nintendo themselves.

So yeah, Reggie, we are not insatiable. We are not expecting a Mario or Zelda game each year. We are not waiting for a violent game filled with sex and blood. We are just waiting for you to start making great games that will inspire and lead the industry as opposed to what you are doing now, which is sitting comfortably in your niche, churning out "safe" games on a factory line while counting your profits.

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8:54 AM on 02.23.2009  

Video game bonanza at the Michael Jackson yard sale...I mean...auction


Item 989. A golf cart featuring the image of Michael Jackson as Peter Pan. Estimated price $4,000-$6,000

Between April 22 and April 25, a large amount of Michael Jackson's belongings (and I believe the Neverland Ranch itself) will be auctioned off, no doubt to help prop up the King of Pop's dwindling finances as it has been rumored for some time than he is nearly bankrupt. As the auction draws near, prospective auction-goers can find information about the auction and the items offered on the official website of Julien's Auctions. The auction catalogue is divided into 8 different auction sessions, session 5 and 6 of which are denoted as Amusements, Arcade Games and Disneyana, and is of great interest to video gamers, particularly those into the arcade experience of the 1990s. Below I'll try to highlight a few particularly interesting video game related finds although I encourage everyone to browse the catalogue themselves as it is quite a nice trip back to a gaming era gone with the wind.


Item 692: Crazy Taxi III arcade. Estimated price: $1,000-$1,500


Item 698: Darkstalkers arcade. Estimated price: $800-$1,200


Item 700: Ms. Pacman / Galaga cocktail table game. Estimated price: $2,000-$3,000


Items 703 and 791: The Simpsons arcade. Estimated price: $1,200-$1,500
I really really want one of those. :)


Item 713: Super Street Fighter II arcade. Estimated price: $800-$1,200


Items 725, 726, and 727: N64, 3DO, and Ps1 console with store display rack. Estimated prices: $100-$150, $100-$150, and $200-$300 respectively
Man, I haven't seen these since my childhood times in Toys 'R Us.


Item 731: VirtualBoy system and store display rack. Estimated price: $100-$150.
Do want!


Item 754: X-Men arcade game. Estimated price: $1,500-$2,500.
Again, really do want!


Item 772: Donkey Kong. Estimated price: $800-$1,200


Item 773: Terminator 2: Judgement Day arcade game. Estimated price: $800-$1,200
Another fun arcade game. Do want!


Item 792: SNES console with store display rack. Estimated price: $200-$300
I would like to point out that this picture of the item, taken from the actual item, shows the title screen to Final Fantasy IV for the SuperNES. Obviously the King of Pop has some good taste in video games. :P


Item 793: Dance Dance Revolution. Estimated price: $1,000-$1,500


Items 794 and 795: Sega Genesis and Game Gear console with combined display rack and Sega Dreamcast console with store display rack. Estimated prices: $200-$300 and $200-$300 respectively.
Interesting. A combined Sega Genesis and Game Gear rack? I don't recall seeing these in stores.

So that's some of the more interesting video game items I found. There is much more of course for auction. I kind of expected something Moonwalker related but I suppose seeing as Michael Jackson is actually a part of those games, I doubt he would auction them off until his finances take another tumble.

So if anyone is interested and very rich, I suppose the main auction site has more information about this event. As far as I can see, the items I have posted here will be auctioned off on April 24 at 9 AM PST in the morning. Best of luck to any rich video game fans or collectors.

P.S. With regards to the Michael Jackson himself, I will only say that regardless of how one feels about him, I think we can all agree that it is sad to see one of the few truly talented music artists of the 20th century toss his career and life down the drain. I have personally never been able to believe the child molestation allegations against him. However, consider his bizarre behavior, warped personality quirks, and his massive overuse of plastic surgery, I could definitely see how people could see him as a child molester. Ultimately, I think these things destroyed his career far more than any allegations could.

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1:13 PM on 12.29.2008  

Things I learned while composing the music to Bonerquest


Koichi Sugiyama of Dragon Quest fame

My first musical composition "assignment" began after I read randombulleye's initial post showing his initial work on Bonerquest. Near the end of the cblog post, he pointed out that he would like the game to have original music in the style of classic NES games such as The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest. I should point out at this point that while I feel that I am fairly knowledgable about certain intricacies of the genres I like (film music, video game music, musicals, anime music, etc) I lack any theory or composition study or experience other than what I picked up from about 8 years of violin-playing in primary school, the words and advice of Music Composition for Dummies, and the experience from my own crude dabblings over the years in composition and arrangement that include an arrangement and extension of Shadow's theme from Final Fantasy VI, themes for a fantasy movie I once swore I would have made by now, and a musical based on John Milton's Paradise Lost.

Having been in a creative sort of mood for some time, probably due to my mind desperately looking for some escape from being completely bored out of my skull in MBA classes, I was inspired by the Dragon Quest look of the game to put together something that was clearly inspired by Koichi Sugiyama's main theme to Dragon Quest. I sent it to randombullseye just to see what would happen. To my surprise, he liked it alot. In fact, that same piece of music (with a three measure extention) is what you now here in Bonerquest at the title screen. randombullseye then asked me if I wanted to do the rest of the music. I was unsure at first because I knew that I did not have formal musical composition experience or training or even the background for it, especially given that I know as a fact that there are plenty of other Dtoid members who are far more musically talented than I am. Putting together a "homage" to the Dragon Quest theme is relatively easy: putting together an entire soundtrack is an entirety different matter and I was not sure that I could put together something of satisfactory quality. Nonetheless, I always been that kind of person who talks about doing stuff but never does it unless I feel something pushing me forward (much like the Mega Man 9, Halo music, and Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross cblog post I swore I would write ages ago) and I had never accomplished anything musically that I considered "finished" and so I agreed, letting randombullseye know to not expect too much.

Now that the background and origin is out of the way, I just wanted to share some of the more interesting things I learned while working on the music to Bonerquest that changed the way I viewed video game music or reinforced or changed certain notions I had about video game music.


Koji Kondo of The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. fame performing at Play! in Chicago

Koji Kondo, Hip Tanaka, Koichi Sugiyama, and Nobuo Uematsu are not only four of the greatest composers in video game history, they are four of of the greatest composers in modern music.

As I was sketching out the basic themes and melodies that would form the basis of each track, I started digging into the musical styles of the earlier NES game that were the contemporaries of Dragon Quest, the game to which ]Bonerquest is perhaps most linked to. In listening to these earliest works of video game music, I suddenly became aware of how short and simple most of these early pieces were. Yet despite being short, so much of these short pieces work extremely well looped over and over again and do not feel repetitive when hearing it over and over again. In addition, despite the NES only having a limited amount of sound channels (4 I think), these early pieces feel fully arranged and fleshed out.

The amazing qualities of these early NES soundtracks weighted heavily upon me when I was trying to compose something of quality. I am convinced that whatever crap I wrote cannot be listened to more than once before it gets tired and boring and from that point of view, I am happy that the random battles ensure that listeners are never subjected to more than one loop at a time. Well, I guess the town and castle music goes on for awhile without interruption. Oh well.

This leads to my next observation.


Hip Tanaka of Metroid fame

It is quite interesting to think about how many different genres and styles of music find their way into video game music

I think the hardest piece for me to write was the overworld theme. Of course, it didn't help that this was the second piece of music I tried to write. When I think about the great video game scores, often the overworld piece is the one I remember the most. Even if the overworld music is not the most memorable, it is usually at the least the one piece that defines the whole musical style and identity of the game.

In my early discussions with randombullseye, we agreed that I should probably write the music in a way that treats the story and setting as a serious RPG. Of course, I was happy about this because I came to realize that I have no ability to write something funny or comedic sounding. At this point, I realized that the main theme I wrote earlier was really easy to come up with because it was essentially a ripoff of an existing piece and style. In contrast, I now had to come up with a style for the rest of the music.

I began to think about some of the overworld music out there, only to realize how radically different musical styles find themselves into video game music. The overworld themes to the various Square Enix RPGs run through a number of styles. The overworld theme to Wild Arms uses the style of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores. The main level 1-1 theme to Super Mario Bros. has a vaguely Latin flavor to it. Of course, within these scores, you still have a wild variety of genres. The water level of Super Mario Bros. for example, is essentially a waltz, as can be best heard from the various orchestrated versions of the theme avaliable out there. Perhaps the king of all video game music variety is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night which oscillates between baroque to New Age to light jazz.

In the end, I decided to just go for something a bit moody and dramatic, perhaps thinking about some of the mooder pieces from the Final Fantasy series.

Finally, this leads to my last point for this post.


Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame with an adorable dog.

Writing music is really really really hard

Ok, I knew that writing music was hard. But until I did it with the fear of missing a deadline, writing something that wasn't meeting randombulleye's expectations, or getting the music torn to shreds on Podtoid, I didn't quite realize how ridiculously difficult music writing was, especially since I have almost zero music theory or composition experience.

If anything, by the time I finished writing the last note on Bonerquest, I gained an enormous respect and reverence for musicians and music students for having to work in this difficulty realm called "creativity" and "arts." In addition, the more I look at video game scores with a critical eye, I become overwhelmed by the genius and skill which I know I can never come close to achieving in this lifetime. Shortly after I finished the music to Bonerquest, a friend and I started playing Secret of Mana on the Virtual Console. Within an hour of playing the game, I was blown away by the incredible work Hiroki Kikuta did on the music to this game. Of course, I played the game back and forth when it first came out and the soundtrack is frequently played on my playlist.

I just find it interesting how often we listen to music and do not really notice or think about the work that it takes to create something like that. I think that working on Bonerquest has taught me to appreciate and hear video game music in a new light. In addition, I am happy that after all these years, randombulleye gave me the opportunity and push to actually write music instead of just talking about writing music. I do not pretend to think that my work is comparable to anything professionally done. However, I hope that the Destructoid community enjoys what I have done in the context of Bonerquest.

P.S. If anyone for whatever reason I cannot imagine wants it, they can get the music I wrote here: http://www.eden.rutgers.edu/~pjan/bonerquest/

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12:19 PM on 12.06.2008  

So apparently there is a Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior) ballet in Japan



So while looking on YouTube to see if I could find the original NES rendition of my favorite track in Dragon Quest IV (or Dragon Warrior IV if you prefer), which happens to be "Wagon Wheel's March," I came upon a Dragon Quest ballet which was done in Japan, avaliable on Region 2 DVD and currently on YouTube back from about 2002, which features music from the games and new arrangements by Koichi Sugiyama. I have not gotten a chance to watch the ballet in its entirety, and so I have no idea what the plot is. However, I do see a character that appears to be Torneko the merchant from IV.

I know that I am current heavily debating buying the DVD myself, being a massive fan of both ballet and opera as well as video game music.

http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/detailview.html?KEY=SVWB-3072

I am sure that for some, this is old news, but for others like me, perhaps this is something interesting to see how far video games have gotten in Japan. First concerts, now ballets. Operas tomorrow?


This is part 1 of the ballet. Going to the YouTube site itself will reveal links to the other parts. A beautiful introduction leading to the familiar Dragon Quest title screen theme at timestamp 3:30.

P.S. To any other fans of the track I mentioned from Dragon Quest IV, it is used at timestamp 5:13 in part 6 of the ballet.

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1:00 PM on 10.17.2008  

Levi Stubbs, voice of Captain N's Mother Brain and Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors dies at 72



CNN has reported that Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Motown group Four Tops, and known to the video game culture fanbase as the voice of Mother Brain in the Captain N TV series. Fans of musicals may also reocgnize him as the voice of the plant Audrey II (who essentially looks like a pirahna plant from Super Mario) in the movie version of the musical Little Shop of Horrors also starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, and Steve Martin.



Despite the highly questionable quality of the Captain N TV show, especially looking back as an adult, I know that I enjoyed watching the show as a kid. The most memorable and still amusing characters from that show was arguably Mother Brain, despite how obviously wrong the show's take on the character was from the original source. I would even say that the intentional camp humor of Mother Brain is probably the only aspect of the show that still appeals to me on those rare moments when I decide to revisit an episode or two of the show.



I remember watching Little Shop of Horrors for the first time early this year and laughing hysterically when I heard the voice coming out of the giant plant's voice, completely unaware at first of who did it. I wonder the irony of this guy doing two voices, both of stationary characters, one character of which looks like a video game character and the other being an actual, admittedly highly misinterpreted video game character.

As such I am sad to have read this news today. Hopefully this sad news might stir up some nostalgic thoughts for the Destructoid community who might have enjoyed some of Levi Stubbs' work over the years.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/Music/10/17/obit.stubbs.ap/index.html

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4:29 PM on 09.17.2008  

WAR Will Most Likely Not Beat WoW / Musings on MMO Business Strategy



With the release of Warhammer Online (WAR), yet another contender enters the MMO ring attempting to deliver a knockout to leading champion World of Warcraft (WoW). Although Warhammer Online developers have publicly attempted to dismiss the idea of beating WoW, it is without a doubt that beating WoW is somewhere in the minds of EA Mythic's people. In thinking about the MMO market, particularly in looking at the way in which WoW rose to dominance, the way in which WoW has defended itself against competitors, and what has happened in the lifecycle of other MMO games, I would argue that WAR will never beat or even come close to WoW. In this cblog entry, I will discuss why I feel this way and the implications, assuming I am correct, that these conclusions will have on Blizzard itself in the future.

Oh yeah, this post is really really really long. If you don't want to read much, I'll just say now that the take home message is that it is unlikely that any game will substantially improve on WoW in the near future. In addition, WoW's competitiors are underestimating the switching costs incurred (time investment in their WoW characters given up) should a user "switch" from WoW to their game.

Note: In this clog, I restrict my discussion to the American/European pay-subscription MMO market. While I acknowledge that the Korean/Japanese/Chinese MMO market is large, it does not seem to have a particularly large effect on the Western MMO market. More specifically, I am not talking about MMOs such as City of Heroes or Eve Online, but instead about the entire horde of WoW-clones with the specific goal of killing WoW.

The developers of WAR, as well as other wannabe-WoW-killers Age of Conan (AoC), Vanguard, The Lord of the Rings Online, ultimately seem to subscribe to the following business model:

If (My New MMO) > WoW, I will beat WoW and make $$$.

While I will show that this model is highly flawed, I would first like to bring into question whether or not it is even possible for a new MMO to be "better" than WoW. I would argue that it will not be possible to create a substantially better WoW-like game prior to some gigantic revolution in computer/Internet/programming technology and/or game design. Obviously, it will always be possible to make games with better graphics and sound. However, I feel that there is only so far one can go due to both the constraints of network performance as well as the fear of alienating players who do not have $3000+.machines. I know many people who are curious about WAR but simply do not have the computer to run it and therefore stick to WoW.

Another note: I should at this point establish that there is a difference between graphic design and graphics technical quality. Unfortunately, I think many people mistake the distinction between the two, lumping it all together as "graphics." I grew extremely tired of hearing fanboys yelling on the Internet about how the graphics of AoC were so much better than WoW. Yeah, from a technical point of view, AoC has WoW beaten. Whether or not AoC is better than WoW in terms of graphic design is a much harder question to answer.



AoC on top. WoW on bottom.

In terms of gameplay and design, it seems to me that the MMORPG has reached a plateau of sorts. In other words, the basic mechanics and design of the genre have matured similar to the way that 2-D platform design matured in the early Super NES days. We have had certainly many excellent 2-D platformers since the Super NES days. Nonetheless I cannot say that many of them particularly revolutionized the genre. I do not know of many successful platforms of late attempt to advertise itself on their game revolutionizing the genre. Yet this is exactly what is happening with the MMO industry, where every new game claims to redefine the genre and rarely ends up doing so.

Let me use a simple example, one that has been lobbied against WoW for years: the idea of free and meaningful PvP.



So the complaint goes like this. WoW has shallow PvP because it places heavy restriction on PvP. There are multiple ways in which the game can punish you for ganking. Unrestricted PvP is generally limited to PvP-only instance scenarios and zones such as Warsong Gulch (capture-the-flag) and Lake Wintergrasp. It is impossible for one side to effectively "conquer" the other side's city even if you cram every player into that city and take out all the NPCs.

AoC, and possibly to an even bigger extent WAR, has constantly been slamming WoW for its PvP and claiming that its own game provides a more meaningful PvP experience. Yet, when you analyze why PvP is the way that it is in WoW, as well as the way in which many of these games have "solved" the PvP problem, it is obvious that, if anything, no one has solved it, or at the least solved it any better than WoW.

MMOs restrict PvP because unrestricted PvP is ultimately detrimental to the overall player game experience. To use an analogy from U.S. history, it is the reason that we as Americans are restricted in our freedoms in order to protect the right of everyone to enjoy those freedoms. How would you like to start the game and realize that you can't do anything because the guys from the other faction has just invaded your land? How would you like to be constantly ganked by some player in better gear, higher level, or simply a more powerful class than yourself for hours on end? I thought not. Yeah, it feels good when you are on the delivering end of that punishment. But it sure doesn't feel good when you are on the receiving end of that punishment. And to those that claim that anyone will solve the issue of balancing characters and classes, I wish them the best of luck in doing what no one has ever managed to do successfully whether you are talking about classes in MMOs or characters in Street Fighter II. Hell, even a game as "simple" as Super Mario Bros. 2 is grossly imbalanced in that certain characters are far easier to play than others.

When AoC claimed to have better PvP, it would seem that what they meant was that people were much more free to kill each other than in WoW. Of course, it is no surprise that this was quickly curbed with the addition to heavy ganking punishments once horror stories of endless ganking and griefing started increasing drastically. When I look at what WAR claims to offer in terms of PvP, I question how much of that is just PR smoke. Most of WAR's PvP seems to be as controlled and limited in the way that WoW's is. As for the idea of taking over enemy cities, I question how "meaningful" this task will be due to the need to balance the ability to players who need to actually do something in that city other than kill one another. Ultimately, a back-and-forth of taking over cities in WAR seems to me as meaningless as back-and-forth capture-the-flag games in WoW. As with AoC, I would not be surprised if PvP in WAR will become more restricted once the game is live.


Real improvements? More like PR fluff.

Anytime I see an MMO claim that it will beat WoW because it is superior to WoW, I question that claim. When I think about the "problems" of MMOs such as WoW, which often become the selling points that AoC and WAR and every future MMORPG claim to "solve," it is obvious to me that none of these problems are actually solved because the underlying issue is far more complex and not likely to be solved in the near future. Yes, WoW is a much older game than WAR, but again, WoW is an evolving game and has spent the years of lead it has to improve itself constantly. With each expansion, WoW has answered and resolved a few of the issues that its predecessor version failed in. Therefore, age is not really an as big of an issue as many new games would like to portray it to be.

As I said above, how do you provide meaningful substantial PvP and at the same time balance the ability of all players to have fun? I have a feeling that the solution to this and other WoW and MMO problems will not come in the near future. Even Jonathan Blow, the champion of high-brow-games who seems to have made a career out of bashing all aspects of WoW in his rants...err I mean panels...offer no suggestions at all for improving the game or mechanics: he simply criticizes, which is far easier to do with any problem than actually fixing it.

So now we go back to the MMO business model formula, which I described as flawed. While this simple formula can be improved on in a variety of ways, let me focus on just one modification for now.

If (My New MMO) >> WoW + Cost of switching from WoW, I will beat WoW and make $$$.


Lowering of switching cost barriers caused cell phone provider switching to skyrocket.

There is a great analogy to explain this model: the cell phone industry. For a long time, it was a pain in the ass to switch cell phone providers because if you switched providers, you would have to get a new cell phone number. Thus people would not switch cell phone numbers unless they absolutely had to because they didn't want to engage in the time and costs of telling all their friends to change their numbers. On the other hand, once the law changed and forced companies to allow you to keep your number, the floodgates opened and everyone started switching based on other criteria such as quality.

In some way, this same description can be made of the MMO market, especially since, as I have just suggested, most of these MMOs are essentially the same game. What the MMO developers are forgetting however, is that there is a huge switching cost that keeps WoW gamers tethered to WoW: the fact that they have already invested a ton of work into their WoW character and that by switching to WoW, they would be throwing out possibly years of work and character investment. So why would anyone give up years of work in one game to do it all again in a game that is pretty much the same thing?

There are a two important implications from this hypothesis. The first is that competitors could perhaps increase their ability to draw away WoW players by offering incentives that "transfer" their work across games. For example, I am a level 70 mage in WoW (the highest level possible at present). I would be much more interested in transferring to WAR if they were to somehow transfer my work in WoW to WAR by allowing me to start my character at a much higher level and give me much better starting gear. Of course, it doesn't seem likely to happen so this is a moot point.


Sony tried to get its EQ players to jump onboard a new game. Too bad it wasn't the one they wanted them to go to.

The second and possibly most important implication of my suggestion is in its ability to explain how WoW come to dominate the market in the first place and to suggest how WoW will be beaten in the future. The market leader prior to WoW was Everquest (EQ). However, if you think about the time when WoW was coming out, Sony was already starting to hype up the upcoming sequel Everquest II (EQ2). Now, I'm not sure about you, but if I were an EQ player and I see that Sony is starting to shift their attention to the sequel, it would be obvious to me that the days of my game are numbered and I would start looking for the next big game. In other words, the switching costs of leaving EQ decrease when it becomes obvious to everyone that EQ is at its end. While Sony's intent is obviously to entice you to switch to EQ2, they also risked people switching to other games since nothing from EQ that you did carried over into EQ2, and that is exactly what happened. To reuse the cell phone example, if your cell phone company told you have they were implementing some new system that would require you to change your number and get a new cell phone, it doesn't really matter whether the new service they are offering you is really good. The fact is, if you have to go to such ends, you might shop around and look at other cell phone providers instead of sticking with the existing provider. In other words, for a new MMO to unseat the older game, the new game has to not only be much better than the old game, but the old game has to be in a position in which it is obvious that the end is near.

Consider what has happened with AoC. AoC came out at an ideal time: the lull that occured inbetween when the majority of WoW's "The Burning Crusade" expansion hit and the point at which Blizzard started really giving out substantial information about "Wrath of the Lich King" If there were any time when WoW seemed like it was losing momentum, that was the time. It is no wonder that tons of WoW players bought AoC in their desparate starvation for something new and exciting. Of course, by this time, Blizzard had started really throwing out tons of information about the new features in the expansion and the beta for the expansion really kicked off. Given this timing, I am not surprised that while AoC sold tons of copies, few took the subscription once the 30-day-trial ended. No doubt a large number simply returned to WoW once they saw that the investment and work they put into WoW had future potential.

I guess what I am saying is that if anything, the best time for a WoW-killer to come out will be that day when Blizzard decides to actually kill off WoW, possibly in favor of a WoW2. When Blizzard signals that WoW's days are near its end, all bets will be off as to whether or not the existing WoW fanbase will stick with Blizzard's new game or switch to whatever other new game is about to come out. Perhaps Blizzard will be smart and offer some sort of character transfer program where your WoW character can be brought over into WoW2. Of course, who knows whether Blizzard will do something like this when the time comes.

Of course, there are many MMOs that are successful today such as Eve Online. However, it is not trying to be a WoW-killer. In addition, games with different pricing models such as the free-to-play model are finding alot of success, especially in Asia. Perhaps the next WoW-killer might not even set out to be a WoW-killer.


Might Diablo III be an indirect WoW killer?

In conclusion, WoW is not likely to be killed off while it still has momentum and a perceived future because few people are going to junk years of time and investment to do it all over again in a game that is fundamentally the same. While I look forward to WAR and seeing how it will do in the MMO market, I doubt that it will have the effect that EA Mythic desires. In some ways, I think that WAR will have an even harder time since AoC has finally opened the eyes of many MMO players to the realization that all of these MMOs are fundamentally the same game. Ultimately, I don't think that any game will unseat WoW until WoW decides to call it quits. That is when the real competition to reshape the market occurs.

P.S. I want to acknowledge Rutgers Business School professor Sharan Jagpal and his MBA marketing class for jump-starting my thinking about the business strategy of the MMO market and ultimately inspiring this blog entry even though I did not do particularly well in his class.

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