by Bob Reinhard
Anything you can do, I can do better.
A mindset that businesses have carried with them for as long as I can remember. And the game industry is no different. Super Mario? That’s a mascot platformer! Here’s Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s faster, cooler, and more hip than ol’ Mario.
What’s that? Motion controls?! Introducing the Move… sorry the games are kinda suck. But hey, it’s like the Wii, right?
This last generation got ugly in terms of “me too” competition. We had a lot of bad games made simply to cash in on the other company’s success. And this was damaging to the overall quality of each console as a whole. They were so focused on each other that they failed to play enough to their strengths.
But something strange is coming out of the dust storm kicked up by this battle, and it may be more beneficial to us than is noticeable on first glance.
As the battle for dominance hit it’s most vicious patches, we began to notice something about the Big Three. Nintendo began owning the casual market. The Wii’s livelihood rode on the backs of families, children, and party games. Sony and Microsoft simply couldn’t appeal to parents nearly as much.
And not a single person on earth is going to argue that Sony can out-do Microsoft when it comes to competitive online play. The online functions better, voice chat is way better, and the experience is far more streamlined than it is on Sony’s or Nintendo’s consoles.
What about those of us that love niche market games? Ones that aren’t big-sellers or easy to market to mass audiences? Artsy indie games like Journey? Well, Sony has always been big on promoting games that don’t fit molds. And not to mention their slow climb to the top of indie and downloadable markets.
So where does this leave us, going into generation 8?
It leaves us with three very distinct markets being covered by three very different approaches. And nothing could be better for the future of gaming than steady progress on three fronts, without the ugly copy-cat overlay.
Allow me to explain.
PS4′s reveal showed us one thing was on Sony’s mind: Developer relations. Heavy emphasis on making games from various genres. Indie support. Things like that. Sony is telling us their main focus is to present a variety of games to core gamers.
Xbox’s reveal? Sure didn’t seem like a good deal for us, did it? That’s because it wasn’t for us. It was for that other market: the online competitive groups. Xbox focused heavily on sports games and Call of Duty, two markets that are almost entirely built around competitive online multiplayer. And markets that, unlike most every other game market, are swarming with people who AREN’T usually gamers.
Ever wondered why Call of Duty and EA sports games out-sell most everything else? Because many people who don’t play anything else are playing them. And Microsoft has turned their attention to that market, a market I now call “Situational Gamers”.
And Nintendo? Sure, you can kick around that Nintendo is “abandoning” the core gamer demographic, but that demographic is being pulled in by Sony again. Nintendo tried to compete with that demographic and Sony’s understanding of it with PS1 vs. N64 and PS2 vs. Gamecube, and that simply didn’t work very well in regards to sales.
So Nintendo is relying on it’s casual focus again. Looking to keep a firm grasp on it’s younger demographic appeal. Giving parents a safe system to buy for families, not just gamers. They’re setting up for party games and their usual well-made-but-not-explosive first party titles.
Three extremely different groups of gamers. Situational Gamers who benefit from multimedia being included as justification for a game system they only use for a few games. Core gamers who love a variety of games and will accept some multimedia in the background. And a Casual gamer group that want simple fun and don’t mind things being slightly less in-depth and varied.
And for once, these three markets are being tailored to perfectly by three different companies. That means we’ll see less of the attempts to cash in on the other markets. We’ll see less damaging and embarassing one-upsmanship. And perhap coming off of that, we’ll see these three companies focus on honing their focus into a finer product in the future.
The best party games we’ve ever played will be on the Wii U. The best absurd, creative, niche market games will be on the Sony Playstation 4. The best online multiplayer experience of all time will be on the Xbox One. And we should be excited about that.
For those of you that feel betrayed by any of the companies for ditching your demographic, you need to let go of your dependence on the names written across the front of the box. If you really want a core gaming experience again, get a PS4. If you want something you can pick up and play for simple fun, it’s time to give Nintendo a call. If you just wanna zone out, blast a few people, then watch some Netflix, you’re best off getting an Xbox.
Want some of each? Now is the perfect time to own more than one console. We have a great setup to have a “main” console, and a secondary console. It may even be, for perhaps the first time ever, beneficial to own all three of the major consoles for their distinct strengths.
We shouldn’t be angry at these companies for narrowing their scope. Because you can go ahead and do everything ok, or one of the things great. And with each company doing great work in their respective focus group, we’re going to benefit from it in the long run.
We just have to be willing to let go of how things were, and embrace how great things could be if we let them.
Will Generation Eight be without problems? Of course not. No generation has been without issue. Will things be ugly at times? Of course, that’s the natural flow of any entertainment medium. But will gaming die? Absolutely not. If anything, it’ll flourish more than it ever has because for once: we know where we’re going.
So, I for one am actually excited about the next generation of gaming. More so than most. And the more I think about this focused approach, the more I’m curious to see what all three companies will do next in regards to their own market.
Maybe Xbox One’s reveal was stupid to you. Maybe Nintendo isn’t giving you that hardcore experience. Maybe you just don’t care about all these quirky games that don’t fit easy to understand genres on Sony consoles. But maybe, just maybe, these things are PERFECT for someone else?
Gaming is here to stay. And there has never been a better time to be a gamer.
Game on, peeps.