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E3 Approaches: Treading Water

[Disclaimer: I wrote most of this last week without having internet access in my house, and only getting videogame news via my phone. By now quite a bit of what I've written about is either incorrect or been revealed, but I'm putting it up as it reflects my viewpoint mid-last week]

So with each passing day we’re seeing more and more pre-E3 announcements. As I’m typing most of this, there’s been a glut of NGP info today and I’m sure there will be more to come before Tuesday. However, as E3 comes closer, I get a feeling that there won’t be any big steps forward. We’re in the 6th year of the current generation of home consoles and it just looks like Microsoft and Sony are prepared to continue on their current path of convincing us that motion controls have something that aren’t going away. Nintendo are launching an HD console years after the other big two. Then there’s the two handhelds, the still to be released Sony NGP and the just-launched Nintendo 3DS, both of which I feel have uncertain futures in the handheld market with competition from smart phones.

The big announcement this year, will be the official reveal of Nintendo’s new console which could either be a big moment n this generation of consoles or it could be revealed as simply a stop gap until the next big leap in hardware. Right now, the Wii’s sales are slowing, so it’s interesting to see that Nintendo are the first big company who are seemingly reacting to the market no longer showing as much interest in their console as they did earlier in it’s lifecycle. With the rumoured specs being either as powerful or even more powerful that the Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, the new console is appealing in theory. The thing that’s been disappointing to me is the claims that this new console will attract the hardcore gamer back to the Nintendo fold. I’d question if the truly hardcore gamer ever did give up on Nintendo, after all surely a hardcore gamer would still be compelled by the excellent first party titles and the small selection of quality third party titles. So, is the promise of “it’s just the Wii again but in HD” that will entice the hardcore gamer? I think Nintendo have to do better than that, after all the lack of HD graphics didn’t hurt the Mario Galaxy games, or Kirby’s Epic Yarn. I think Nintendo needs to work on their online service, Virtual Console range and attracting more third party support for Project Café to succeed.

The interesting thing about Nintendo’s position in the market is that they had success with the Wii because it did something different from Sony and Microsoft’s consoles; it appealed to people who weren’t interested in videogames before. My mum and dad bought one; my aunts and uncles have one; female friends who never played videogames before bought one. They didn’t care if it was deemed “less powerful” or “not as hardcore” as the X-box 360 or PS3. They had no interest in playing online shooters or 100 hour long J-RPGs. And the die-hard Nintendo fans that complained about Nintendo losing their way still went out and bought one because they were cheap and they still wanted to play the latest Mario, Metroid and Zelda games. I think that Nintendo do need a console that provides more “hardcore games” than the Wii did, but they should still appeal to the casual market. I think that the console landscape needs variety; as MS and Sony have started to make inroads into the casual market with their motion controllers, I feel we’re in danger of having a homogenous console market, one that has three consoles trying to appeal to all demographics but none of them really grasping the needs and wants of each type of gamer and nothing really setting them apart.

There’s also the question of the 3DS, which has under-performed sales wise slightly against expectations. That could be blamed on a fairly lacklustre line-up of launch titles, but then again, most new hardware launches aren’t served very well by their first titles and haven’t been for a few years now. So is the problem the price? Possibly, but I think the bigger factor is the handheld gaming sector has shifted to smart phones in a big way. Of course there will always be a place for handheld systems, but I do think that when you look at the value of a smart phone compared to a handheld, then it will be difficulty for Nintendo and Sony to compete. I think if Nintendo are going to come close to the sales of the DS (which would be an achievement, I think), then they’re going to have to announce some big titles that will convince the people who haven’t shelled out on a 3DS that they need one. Of course you know that Nintendo are going to come out with a Pokemon and Mario Kart game, but a Professor Layton game using the 3D or augmented reality functions would be an eye catcher and something that would attract casual DS gamers (like my mum) to consider getting a 3DS.

So if the 3DS needs games and is being held back by its price, then how is the NGP going to succeed? You know Sony is going to price the NGP higher than the 3DS, but how much higher? The NGP is a great looking bit of kit with some serious specs, but again, are people going to want to spend potential $400 on a new handheld system? I worry that Sony are going to replicate the problems they had with the PSP, giving gamers a console like experience on a handheld, but one that you feel you’d rather be playing on a regular home console at the same time. Again, there needs to be games or at least one killer app that people can see in action and say “Yeah, I want that system so I can play that game”.

Sony and Microsoft both launched their motion controllers at last year’s E3, with Kinnect having the edge over Sony’s Move controllers, sales wise anyway. Both launched with near identi-kit range of Wii-knock offs, but Sony would at least put Move support into the new SOCOM and Killzone games. But both companies need to give consumers to pick up their motion controllers and that means games, or with Kinnect, a higher degree of functionality with media apps on the 360. Without new consoles, Sony and Microsoft are relying on Move and Kinnect to make money and expand their traditional audience into the casual markets. But then again, now the initial hype has subsided, what is supposed to attract customers to these new controllers? I feel Microsoft and Sony have to announce more Kinnect and Move titles, because they will feel that there’s still a big chunk of the casual markets, or Nintendo’s market, that they can poach.

So, kind of pessimistic stuff then. Microsoft and Sony trying to convince us to buy Kinnect and Move respectively, Nintendo are launching a console that is going to try and win over the hardcore gamer but at the risk of possibly losing their casual market share, Sony and Nintendo trying to find a place for their new systems in a mobile market that seems to be moving away from owning a dedicated hand held. It’s going to be a continuation of what we saw last year, with Nintendo the only company showing some risky behaviour with their Project Café console.

The up shot is, I feel games have to take centre stage at this E3. The thing that Nintendo and Sony need to convince people to buy their new handhelds is games; Kinnect and Move sceptics need games to convince them to buy into Microsoft and Sony’s new motion controllers. And Nintendo needs a good line-up of games to convince the supposed hardcore gamers that they’ll need their new console and that it’s not just a too-little-too-late HD catch up. Considering the slim amount of releases slated for 2012 and the fairly large amount of pre-E3 announcements we’ve had so far (as I finish typing this, Konami have announced their HD remake releases), I think we’re in for a bumper show when it comes to actual future videogame releases. Considering how little we know about what games are coming out in 2012, I’m hoping E3 delivers a wide range exciting titles that are going to appeal to both hardcore and casual gamers. After all, videogames is why we buy this shiny hardware and without great titles, no one is going to buy any new hardware.
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About Alasdair Duncanone of us since 9:17 AM on 10.13.2007

Alasdair Duncan is that bearded, bespectacled Scotsman that covers PC gaming that is not Fraser Brown. A long time Destructoid community member and forum moderator, he covers adventure, puzzle, FPS and all kinds of games on the PC. Watch, as he adds more games to his Steam library with only the vaguest hope of ever playing most of his games.

Alasdair has been gaming since his mother bought a Commodore 64 back in the early 1980's. He adores Deus Ex, GTA Vice City, Team Fortress 2, Borderlands, Super Mario Brothers 3 and all those weird indie titles on Steam.

You can meet Alasdair at places like PAX where he tries to convince people he isn't a) drunk or b) Irish.

Plus he crave attention via the following:

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