The Day the Gaming Industry Died: Impressions from E3 2010 | Cracked.com
More Proof the Video Game Industry is Out of Ideas (E3 2010) | Cracked.com
If you don't have time to read, let me sum up the death of the video game industry in one animated GIF:
This week is maybe the biggest of the year in the world of entertainment. This is when all of the games you'll be playing for the next 12 months are unveiled at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. This year's event, however, will more likely be remembered as the precise moment video gaming as we know it died a tragic and embarrassing death.
If you haven't been keeping up with the conference, let me summarize by saying Microsoft--and I'm not making this up--had Cirque du Soleil unveil a $150 kitten petting simulator via interpretive dance. The Cirque du Soleil performers rode in on animatronic elephants:
See those people wearing white in the background? Yeah, they also had the audience dress in white cult robes. Here's the kitten petting simulator in action:
All of that actually happened. Does this all sound like an industry's desperate, final plea for attention? Because I'm pretty sure it was. Let me back up a little bit.
The games industry has had a massive problem from day one, one that nobody is quite sure how to fix. This problem is the reason thousands of arcades had to close down after the 80s, and it's why Atari, Sega, NEC and countless other electronics giants had to bail out of the console business after losing millions. It's the reason why even Microsoft has lost billions on its gaming division.
The problem is that video game players simply won't keep playing without a new gimmick every five years or so. Where people have been happy watching celluloid movies for like 80 straight years, for whatever reason gamers won't keep playing games unless given a completely new format every half decade.
Now, some people mistakenly say, "Well, duh, we stop playing the old games because the new ones have hit the market, making the old ones look obsolete!" Not so. We stop playing the games long before the new games arrive. For instance, there are no new consoles on the horizon now, yet video game hardware and software sales are both collapsing. Eventually we just get bored with the medium.
That's a huge problem for the industry; it costs billions to develop a new console from scratch. It's getting to the point that game makers can't make a profit off the last console in the five years before gamers have given up on it and started demanding a new one. Which brings us to the animatronic elephants.
See, the console that "won" this generation was the Nintendo Wii, because Nintendo 1) designed it primarily to cost very little and 2) introduced gimmicky motion controls and other peripherals that made the console seem like easy-to-get-into fun for the whole family. You can stand in your living room and wave your arms around for an hour and have a great time. But going on four years later, people are starting to get tired of that, too--the Wii's sales are plummeting like everyone else's.
But this gave Microsoft and Sony both the bright idea that, instead of bringing out expensive new consoles at the five-year mark (the Xbox 360 has been out since 2005) they'd just introduce their own motion control gimmicks, and sell it as a whole new machine! With Microsoft, this device is called "Kinect" and it was the star of the first day of E3.
It has a built-in camera and microphone, so it can track the movement of your body, and recognizes both your face and voice commands. Microsoft sold the device as controllerless gaming--you don't even need a Wiimote for this, you just wave your hands through the air like Minority Report. Sounds like it could be cool. And then they showed us the games, and a bedridden industry started coughing up blood.
The game that launched the Nintendo Wii in 2006 was called Wii Sports, a collection of motion-controlled minigames including bowling, boxing and tennis.
So Kinect is launching with... Kinect Sports, a collection of motion-controlled minigames including bowling, boxing and table tennis.
The same game, only four years later. Meanwhile, the rest of the launch lineup looks like the cheap knockoff fitness games they've made for the Wii balance board over the last couple of years, most of which you can find in the bargain bin at CostCo.
I see... three fitness games, three dance games and something called Game Party. Are you starting to see why this is a crisis? Those games up there are what they are depending on to save the industry. All those people who've stopped buying games? THAT is the shit that is supposed to get them excited about gaming again.
Oh, wait. We have Kinectimals. It's a virtual pet simulator. Microsoft demonstrated it by having a young Asian girl take the stage and air-pet her virtual tiger.
Of course, you can't feel the animal's fur or warmth, and it can't curl up on your lap or sleep in your bed or snuggle up against you. But, you know, it can do all of the other things pets can do.
At one point the virtual cat licked the screen, and the little Asian girl giggled and reacted as if she was being licked and tickled by a real cat.
The audience at the conference reacted in exactly the same way you react when you notice the homeless guy next to you on the subway is masturbating.
Hey, did I mention that Kinect is apparently going to cost $149, in addition to what you've already paid for the console?
I mean, this is it. There are no other huge, ground-breaking games coming. The only other games they showed off at the conference were sequels--the third game in the Gears of War series, the fifth game in the Halo franchise, the seventh game in the Call of Duty series and the 800th game in the Metal Gear series. I'm pretty sure all of those games star space marines, except for Call of Duty, which stars Earth marines.
Oh, hey, Metal Gear uses Kinect! You can slice your hands in the air and operate the guy's sword that way.
But none of that is what convinced me the industry was on its proverbial deathbed, having just pooped a proverbial lung. No, what convinced me my favorite hobby is dying was the fact that Microsoft devoted easily half of their conference to showing things the Xbox 360 can do other than play games. For instance, you can download TV shows! And movies! And it can do it almost as well as the devices you already own!
They actually demonstrated the viewer waving around their hands to make the menu bring up the right movie, then using voice commands to pause, stop and fast forward. So saying "Xbox, stop" will stop your movie, and waving your hand will presumably make it skip ahead. Awesome! Nothing can go wrong with that, as long as you remember to stay perfectly still and silent while your movie is playing. If you're not clear on why random conversation or ambient sound in the room would fuck up your playback, I'm guessing you've never used a voice operated device in your life.
Also, you can use Kinect to get on Facebook. And watch sporting events. I mean, how else are you going to do those things? It also has video chat. You know, like ChatRoulette. Yes, in just a few short months your child, too, can see a stranger masturbating on your 58-inch plasma.
Sony has their conference today. I'm not hopeful. Why? Because they're devoting their conference to two things: Move, their new, completely original motion controllers...
..and 3D games, aka Games with Glasses and Headaches.
It's Day Two of the biggest week in the world of video games, and the industry is completely out of ideas.
If you missed it, here are my impressions from Day One of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, where I declared that the industry was floundering toward its own destruction, aimless and lost. You might think that was rash, considering I had only seen the sad disaster that was the Microsoft conference, where they tried to surprise the world with a series of games Nintendo came out with four years ago. And dancing.
All of that was for their new motion control gimmick called Xbox Kinect. However, Day Two arrived and saw conferences from Sony and Nintendo, also known as "the only two other companies in the game console business." I saw nothing to change my mind.
For instance, debuting today were two of the games I mocked in the graphic above, Killzone 3 and EA's embarrassing Modern Warfare 2 ripoff, Medal of Honor (though I guess if we're collecting "guy with cool machine gun with blood splattered on the screen" pics, then we could have thrown Bulletstorm in there).
Killzone 3 might be the most significant of the games Sony showed today, but not in a good way. Sony, perhaps horrified at the spectacle that was Microsoft and its demonstration of its motion control gimmick, barely mentioned Move, their own motion control gadget. The long gaps in their presentation, when it appeared they were trying very hard to fill time, made me think they took one look at the reaction to Xbox Kinect yesterday and quietly nudged Move under the sofa with their toe.
Instead, they spent most of the time talking up how you could play Killzone 3 in 3D. Well, as long as you have a 3D TV, also known as "The TV that costs several thousand dollars and requires $150 glasses to watch." A 52-inch 3D TV will cost $5,000, though at least that one comes with two pairs of glasses. Even then, if you want to have a few friends over, they'll need glasses too. So that'll cost you as much as a new console. That's assuming the headaches don't keep them away.
Don't get me wrong; I'm sure one day 3D TV's will be common. That point will be right after you no longer need glasses for them to work. Oh, and when the TVs cost less than a new kidney. In the mean time, Sony is spending all of their energy touting a feature that the vast majority of gamers won't be able to take advantage of for several years. It's as simple as that. Hell, most of us just bought our HD TVs in the last few years, we're sure as hell not ready to upgrade yet.
When Sony did mention Move, it came off as a brief afterthought. They showed off Sorcery, which appears to be a Harry Potter game only without the familiar character and lucrative license.
Then they spent many "fill for time" minutes showing off Tiger Woods 2011, the crowd watching in awkward silence as the guy demonstrated that their state-of-the-art game works exactly like several previous Tiger Woods Golf games for the Wii.
It's hard to know exactly which video they showed next was the most cringe-worthy. Was it the montage of people playing with Move set to a remix of "Bust a Move" by Young MC? Or was it this video featuring a stereotypical sassy black kid talking about the Sony PSP, using the most authentic urban dialogue a room full of white 30-somethings working for a Japanese electronics company can manage?
History will have to decide.
When Nintendo took the stage, many of us in the comedy industry got out our notepads and leaned forward. For about the last three years Nintendo has had some of the most spectacularly retarded E3 conferences in history, including the infamous demonstrations of Wii Music.
Instead they began by rattling off a list of games that combined will probably sell 50 million copies: safe sequels to their top franchises. There was a Wii Zelda game, which somehow looked significantly worse than the Zelda game made for the Gamecube four years ago:
We saw a new Metroid, a new Kirby, a new Donkey Kong, a new sports game starring Mario, none of it very original and yet I'll likely wind up buying all of it. But then Nintendo pulled out what many of us had previously assumed was just a cruel hoax:
A 3D game system that doesn't require glasses.
It's the handheld Nintendo 3DS. I'd post screen shots here, but what's the point? You can't perceive it unless you have the thing in front of you. But Nintendo passed out dozens of the systems on the show floor and according to the people who have seen them, it somehow works.
Hell, how can even a grizzled old man like me remain cynical in the face of something that even long-time journalists said filled them with childlike joy? And let's be clear, handheld gaming is pretty much all that matters now: there are about 40 million Xbox 360s in the world and 35 million PS3s, but there are 130 million Nintendo DS handhelds. That's almost double the total of the big fancy HD consoles combined. So this 3D successor should be a license to print money, right? Industry saved!
Well, maybe. See, while we game fans spent our childhoods arguing over whether or Nintendo could beat up your Sega, the competition now isn't another game company at all. It's this:
The iPhone has sold 50 million units so far, a number that is growing exponentially. Android phones are selling even faster. Yes, the 3DS can do gaming better--the graphics appeared to be roughly on par with the Wii. But as the famous saying goes, there is a limit to the number of electronic devices a person wants to carry in their pocket, and that limit is one. If your phone can play games that are perfectly competent at killing time in the dentist's waiting room, what motivation are you going to have to grab a Nintendo 3DS or Sony PSP2 on the way out the door?
Now, let's be clear. Video games aren't going away, just as they didn't go away after the game market collapsed in 1983. Enthusiasts like me will keep playing right on through. But right now, between endless Space Marine shooting games and everyone desperately clutching for the next tech gimmick, I'm seeing an industry stuck firmly in a rut. It's a market that needs another major correction before it can plunge into a future where it will likely be the cornerstone of our popular culture. Gaming is growing out of its childhood, but before maturity arrives we'll have to deal with some incredibly awkward teen years.
Don't laugh, we've all been there.