You know what I love about opinions? The fact that I get to counter them with my own. And there’s nothing I love more than having the chance to call someone out on theirs.
And this week, I ran into one of my all time favorite arguments leveled toward gaming: the timeless point to mobile gaming as the reason for a decline in consoles and dedicated console games.
This time, it was Nick Wingfield over at the New York Times who jumped on the microphone and made the claim, specifically citing the release of the Wii U and Nintendo’s troubled past throughout the Wii’s life cycle.
Now, there’s a lot of ground to cover in Mr. Wingfield’s article, so I’m going to take it back to basics and break out the bullet points:
-Nintendo vs. Casual Gaming?
One of the recurring themes throughout the article (and certainly the one that the entire piece is based upon) is centered around the idea that it’s casual games vs. console games, with no love lost between the two.
“Nintendo’s enemies have arrived by battalions. Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and other inexpensive, downloadable games, particularly for cellphones and tablets, have invaded its turf.”
Have they really? Really? See, the problem with this argument is assuming that the people who are playing Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja would be playing Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed if they didn’t have the option for casual gaming. But the fact is this; while there’s some crossover from the hardcore to the casual, it doesn’t work the other way around; those inclined to play casual games would not be the ones to jump in on a game of Counter Strike and form up in tactical teams for fun.
Now, both games are viable forms of entertainment, certainly. But they have different purposes entirely; casual games are just that: casual, flighty, strictly for pick-up-and-play fun for times when you’re waiting in the doctor’s office or riding the bus.
Console games, on the other hand, are a form of entertainment that actively involves a player investing a dedicated amount of time to playing. They’re on par with film, engaging the viewer (or player) in a way that’s intended to be deliberate and engrossing. You don’t kill time on a console, you invest in it, making it a separate experience all on its own.
The only place where this argument might have a small amount of merit is in the realm of handheld gaming. It’s easier for me to look at the argument of mobile vs. handheld for several reasons, most notably being that handheld systems are a loose competitor of handheld gaming found in systems like the 3DS or the Vita. This might sound weird, but it makes sense if you look at it; in our day and age, people are obsessed with convenience. That’s why your phone does everything from finding you a list of local gas stations to being a functional camera. And of course, there are games available on these devices now that are just as well made (if not better than) as any games found on a handheld device. It’s thanks to this that the idea of carrying around a dedicated device for portable gaming seems somewhat archaic and cumbersome where it once wasn’t.
-Nintendo’s Alarming Decline
He goes on to cite Nintendo’s decline as an indicator that the company is faltering and may struggle to regain the notoriety it once held:
Mr. Wingfield continues his diatribe when he claims that the decline of interest in console gaming is directly linked to competition from mobile games.
“Nintendo recently posted the first loss in its era as a video games company, a prospect that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.”
He does get one thing right here: Nintendo has been slipping. Where he goes wrong is to assume that this is due to casual games taking over the ground where Nintendo once held strong.
Now, I could write a multiple-part series in the troubles of Nintendo over the years, but I think the company’s issue lies more with its own identity crisis than competition. Appealing to everyone from your four year old brother to your grandma, the Wii was a console very much targeted for the casual crowd, which left the more hardcore fans out in the cold. It was thanks to poor third party support and the lack of appeal with motion gaming and the hardcore fans that the Wii was reduced to a first party game box. It was all the rage when it first came out, but interest fizzled out over the years thanks to no support or love for the system.
And I know I’m going to hear it from fanboys, but it has to be said; Nintendo does suffer from franchise fatigue. Let’s be honest; some of those franchises are well over twenty years old. And while installments continue to be solid games, the names of Mario or Link don’t necessarily light the gaming world on fire like they once did anymore. And in my mind, it’s because the franchises are tired. It’s no secret that Nintendo houses some great gaming masterminds that could really do some amazing things if they were to sit down and invent new IPs. But we haven’t seen anything remarkably new from them in a long, long time, and it’s starting to take its toll.
That being said, I have no doubt in my mind that the Wii U is going to do well in sales. I don’t think it will necessarily reach the fever pitch status the Wii did, but over a longer amount of time, the system will most likely move an impressive number of units. Nintendo will learn to adapt and innovate in the market enough to solidify their place in it. There’s a reason Nintendo has remained a powerhouse in the market for so long, and for that reason, I never count them out.
-The Idea that Future Consoles Don’t Offer Anything Special
“Echoing other industry veterans, Mr. Bushnell ( creator of Pong cited throughout the piece) says that consoles are already delivering remarkable graphics and that few but the most hard-core players will be willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a new game box.”
This is an interesting part of Mr. Wingfield’s argument, because it’s one that I both agree and disagree with.
The jump from the SNES era to the Nintendo 64 was an incredible one because of the N64′s use of 3D graphics. Everyone’s mind was blown the first time they booted up Super Mario 64, and for good reason; it was Mario in true 3D.
Fast forward to the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox generation, when graphics became less stiff and more refined, offering a visually impressive experience never before seen in games.
This current generation marks the jump to HD visuals. Games now are more beautiful and graphically impressive than they ever have been. And although that tech will be improved in the eventual next Xbox and PlayStation, it won’t be nearly as impressive, simply because we have reached an amazing point with a console’s graphical ability.
It’s because of this you see manufacturers starting to improve and innovate not only on a console’s muscle, but in the overall experience we have with games as well. Things like the Move and Kinect were the first attempts of Sony and Microsoft to buy in on the motion gaming craze brought about by the Wii. Smartglass and the rumors of an Xbox tablet are indicators that Microsoft sees a changing landscape in the way we interact with entertainment in general. It’s not just about plugging in a controller and playing video games anymore. It’s about consoles becoming an all-in-one media center that allows you to watch movies, browse the internet, link up via social networking, and listen to music, all while still offering you the games on both discs and in their respective online marketplaces.
So, no, if a games console were to come out with the only feature of having “better” graphics, it is hard to imagine so many outside of the core crowd shelling out hundreds of dollars for it. But when it has so many features and integrates everything you love about entertainment, all while improving and innovating the experience, you suddenly find yourself with the possibility of even more people picking up next generation consoles.
Manufacturers have had the same concerns as Mr. Bushnell over the years, and it’s been addressed already. Maybe he hasn’t followed up on his next gen rumors?
Now, it’s arguable that consoles and interest in them has tapered a bit in the last few years. But this isn’t necessarily because people are plugging into Angry Birds over Halo. It’s more likely due to the fact that we’re in the twilight years of the current console generation with a new one breathing down our necks. Once new systems have been released, you’ll see interest skyrocket once more.
Look, the bottom line is this; things within the gaming industry are changing. But they’ve always been changing since the industry’s relatively short life span of 30+ years. It’s an industry that’s tech savvy with the best of them, and because of this, it’s one that will evolve and continue to offer us exactly what we want in its various forms.
Mobile games are not hurting console games. When you take a look at it and break it down to its core, the negative correlation between the two simply doesn’t make sense. If anything, mobile games actually help console games, because mobile games have ushered in a new generation of gamers to help further legitimize gaming as a viable form of entertainment.
Whoo, end rant. See? I love opinions.