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Last week, the video game industry held its annual convention in Los Angeles. Every year, game publishers, developers and mainstream press come together to get a sneak peek at the new titles heading our way for the upcoming holiday season and beyond at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. And each year, the conference just grows larger and larger in terms of scope and exposure, if not necessarily attendance (it’s been closed to the general public for a few years). With games occupying equal entertainment real estate as some of Hollywood’s largest blockbusters, the rest of the real world stops for a spell in June to take notice of what’s coming down the pike. You can ditch the Gamepro and scope all the sites on the Today show.
In prior years, I’ve made it an annual rite to cover each of the three big console manufacturers’ press conferences and offer the top 5 games that I’ve just got to play. Thing is, last fall we saw a new precedent develop in the industry. Publishers are afflicted with an irrational fear of Call of Duty, the FPS series that launches a new installment just before each Turkey Day.
I don’t get it.
Hollywood studios know how to counter-program, but for some inexplicable reason, game publishers think that one FPS is enough to rule them all, so we’ve started to see a number of big-ticket items moving beyond the holiday frame and into the late winter months. While that makes for a nice salve for the usual doldrums that settle in once the Christmas tree is mothballed, I think this industry is large enough for all genres to flourish at the same time. It just takes a little creative marketing to get noticed. Hell, grab hold of social networking and let Facebook do all the hard work for you. If they can get Betty White to stay up past her bedtime, I’m sure a little viral campaign could move a few additional copies of Dante’s Inferno. Or maybe that’s a tall order for that bad example.
The point is, I’ve learned from this latest E3 that the majority of compelling content shown has a slim chance of seeing store shelves anytime in the next six months. So, while Metal Gear Rising rates a Day 1 purchase with its “cut everything all the time” gameplay, it will have to wait until 2011 to grab face time on my blog. For the purpose of this piece, I aim to showcase the games I know are coming in 2010 that I’m just chomping at the bit to play. Also, there’s no rhyme or reason to how I’ve organized this post. There are lots of thoughts bouncing around in this brain pan, and I’m just gonna pour them out. Let me know what you think in the Comments below.
Before I hit the games, though, I do want to spend a paragraph or two giving my reactions to the Microsoft press conference, which focused almost solely on their new tech and less on catering to the hardcore gamers who arguably make up their loyal constituency.
Nintendo used to infuriate me with their E3 press conferences, which have worked overtime to get Matt Lauer’s attention ever since they debuted Wii Fit in 2007 and The Today Show gave it the 7 am spotlight the very next day. From that point on, Nintendo has forgotten the core audience that has brought them to where they were, and has decided to cater to the casual crowd. And their conferences were engineered to grab more air time on Ellen and Oprah than on G4TV.
This year, Microsoft, in its continued push to wrest control of the dominant market share that Nintendo holds among the mainstream gamer, took a page from the big N’s playbook and turned the bulk of their 90-minute presentation into a Kinect infomercial. Kinect is essentially and unapologetically an HD Wii. Sure, it has some amazing next-gen interface control features that enable people to make that cool Minority Report tech a reality, but the games they’ve built for this overpriced add-on to the existing Xbox 360 look like nothing more than enhanced versions of Wii Sports. There’s really nothing new being brought to the table.
And I think the major marketing push that they are going to launch in a bid to lure the casual consumers who finally put a game system in their living room with the Wii is going to fall flat. After all, to the casual eye, the Nintendo Wii looks great. Most of these newborn gamers haven’t owned a system since the NES days, so the Wii marks a major evolutionary step. I find it hard to believe that they are going to be coaxed into dropping another $200 for a 360 Slim Arcade and another $150 for the Kinect system just to have an HD Wii that plays prettier versions of Wii Bowling. So, that’s one major share of the market that should remain in Nintendo’s back pocket.
This leaves the hardcore crowd, who I think have been left cold by all this Kinect commotion. Kinectimals isn’t going to sell them on the virtual pets (unless they can unleash them on their prey), and from what I’ve found in the hardcore crowd, they tend to play games for a long time. Hours upon hours, deep into the night. For a system that is rumored to have trouble detecting players that are sitting down, I think many gamers are going to tire of running around their living room, even if Activision is able to offer a motion-sensitive Call of Duty. And talk about arm fatigue.
So, at the end of the day, this is a novelty priced too high to entice new users, offering nothing new that Wii owners don’t already have, aside from easier ways to page through their Netflix queues. It might make for a nice building block for the 360′s successor, but for this longtime gamer (and inhabitant of a Wii-60 household), it does nothing for me.
And here’s the last thing I’ll say on this before diving into the games I’ve just got to play in 2010. Nintendo might move more units of the Wii than the 360 and PS3, but one place it lags behind is in games per units sold. Sure, their systems sell a ton of games, but when you break down the numbers, 360 and PS3 owners are more likely to buy five or more games a year than Wii owners, who might purchase only one or two. With console manufacturers constantly claiming they lose coin on every unit sold, it’s the software that makes them their bank. The 360 and PS3 are holding court over gamers, whose hobby has aged nicely alongside them and who now have more disposable income than ever before. In fact, even though we are suffering through a horrible economy, gaming has continually seen an uptick. After all, once you lay down your $60, you have a month’s worth of entertainment ahead of you. Not a bad return on investment.
So, I think Microsoft and Sony need to be careful what they wish for in luring those coveted casuals, as they tend to be a fickle bunch. Don’t get me wrong, more players of all types are crucial to the success of this industry and the health of this hobby, and that’s why companies need to cater to all demographics. It’s OK to cut in from time to time, but dance with the one who brought you there, too.
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