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A sign of things to come?


Earlier today, Game|Life posted an interesting piece about how companies appeared to be steering away from Wii development and towards iPhone development. It would have been easy to turn this story into a blog post about "OMG THE WII IS DOOMED!" Perhaps too easy. And honestly, Wii games will still be made. But there's something underneath it that perhaps is a bit more unsettling: a shift away from new technologies and longer games towards more traditional titles and smaller games. That's where the iPhone market is as this moment: many of the games coming out for it are good, but none are as risk-taking as Microsoft's Project Natal titles or Sony's Playstation Arc games will be. And if the Wii is any indication, with it's huge casual base, massive install base and general lack of a core, both Natal and Arc are going to fail. Miserably. That is, of course, if the news above is correct.

Why? Well, for starters, the PS3 and Xbox 360 have a much larger base of players who are core gamers, more so the more-expensive PS3. Both have been making in roads into the casual/new/sometimes gamer market lately in their advertising and game selection, but when compared with the overly-casualized Wii, there's not a whole lot there for the new gamer and the casual/sometimes gamer to really get excited over. And don't expect music games to fill that void: you've all read now how that market has taken a nosedive lately.

And if developers are already saying no to the Wii in favor or something more traditional and more lucrative, how many are going to opt in on Natal and Arc? Remember, neither is a replacement for the traditional Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers. Developers can use them for as much of a game as they want or not use them at all. For some games, especially for games where precision will matter like, perhaps, like MLB The Show, they may not want to risk something so new when they know they have a proven control scheme already. Even those who adapt to Natal and Arc are going to do so half-heartedly, and probably will rely on MS and Sony to respectively lead the charge for a bit. Better they put their own necks out there for their products than we do, they're likely thinking, with money quite in the forefront of their minds.

All this really wraps up into something that I'm seeing a bit more of in this recession: developers are now afraid to take risks. There is a legitimate reason for that line of thought: one bad hit in this economy could be enough to kill an entire company off. Things are incredibly fragile, and it's better to play it safe (traditional control styles in recognizable genres) than risk something entirely new. Mostly, what it means is that we'll see a lot of games that have new features, yes, or expand upon old ideas in new ways, but there won't really be as many new, edge-pushing games and ideas at least for the short-term.

Oh, and there's one more place that's considered safe: franchises! Yes, nothing's a safer bet really than going back to a franchise you know makes money. Even if it underperforms, it'll usually sell well enough on name recognition alone that it won't matter when your games are traded in two weeks after you shipped them. After all, you've got your money, right? So I would expect to see a lot more sequels that will probably play a lot like the games before them with some new tweaks to keep things fresh. Modern Warfare 3, here we come!

Maybe it's not all bad, though. After all, there's plenty of franchises still waiting for current-gen iterations, like my beloved F-Zero. And some franchises have been successfully revived on current-gen consoles because they've been done right and really haven't changed the formula up too much. So it's possible it could be a great thing for the old games we've all wanted to see come back, because now there's a commercially viable reason to do just that.

I guess what it all boils down to in the end is: the more things change in the gaming world, the more things are apparently going to keep staying the same.
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About BrianSzabelskione of us since 12:13 PM on 02.11.2007

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