E3's going through some changes. Sony seems to be talking itself out of the console wars. Microsoft's Japanese business seems to be non-existent. Everyone's talking up a storm about the Wii though. Today on Four Directions, we talk about these four topics and offer up our opinions on each of these issues.
Up: Is E3's change in format something that will benefit the industry and journalists who cover it as well.
Charles Husemann: This is a good thing for the big players in the industry as it will help them constrain costs and more effectively manage how their message gets across. Other than that it's going to depend on who shows up for E3 next year. If all the big plays show up then it's going to be great but if no point in having a big show if not all of the big players are there.
If you're a smaller company then it really sucks. E3 was one of those times when smaller companies could get noticed. Would gamers have known about Katamari Damacy if it wasn't for E3? Would Activision have purchased Red Octane if it wasn't for E3? Would we know how kick ass the Witcher looks with out E3? I don't know and I think this is something that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Cyril Lachel: Will it be good for the industry? Honestly, I think that is yet to be seen. I can see why some companies (Sony, EA) might not want to stick with the E3 set up, the event really has turned into a carnival that just about anybody can get into (I can't even count how many ex-GameStop.com employees I've met at E3 over the years). If Sony and Microsoft manage to create their own events then this might work out for the smaller third parties, since they will probably be included under a larger tent and not have to pay nearly as much as they did going to E3. But even that is tentative, we simply do not know enough about next year's E3 to make an informed decision.
However, there's one thing that is hard to argue: this will hurt the smaller game journalists making a living writing articles for online publications.
The big guys (the EGMs and GameSpots) will have no problem flying all around the country for alternate events, but what about the smaller sites that take one big trip to L.A. each year to perform their interviews, update their contacts and get the first hand look at all of the newest games (and systems)?
Will Microsoft and Sony's events be open to all of these smaller sites, and even if they are will the sites be able to afford several trips a year?
E3 is a way of networking with important people and furthering your career, without something like that I worry that a lot of game journalists will be stuck spinning their wheels.
On the other hand, this is really good news for the major video game magazines and websites out there … unfortunately I don't have a lot of empathy for them at this moment.
Ben Berry: We covered this in the podcast pretty thoroughly, but I really believe this can be a major boon to the industry for the big players. Spending less money on BS means more on development, right? The only problem I see is that it might stop the smaller folks from getting the word out.
Randy Kalista: Here are a couple instances where 60,000 people are beneficial: 1) when contributing a crucial six percent toward a Million Man March; and 2) when fully repopulating the hick-central town of Bend, Oregon, after a strategic missile strike.
Places where 60,000 people are detrimental: 1) E3. Smaller, more intimate gatherings will spell out superior journalistic coverage. This one step backward is actually two steps forward.
Tyler Sager: I actually think the E3 change will be a benefit, although I’m a bit dissapointed that I never got to experience the old E3 craziness. I think the smaller companies will benefit a great deal from this, as they won’t have the intense pressure on time and limited resources to get something presentable for the convention. And they also won’t be quite as overshadowed by the all-out flash and glitter that the larger companies can bring to bear.
It's hard to say but I think it will be good in the long run. It was always tough to cover the products that you want to and a chore to fight the crowds going from one appointment to the next. I always felt a change was needed to be made. After experiencing CES, which was a much nicer event to cover, I knew E3 was getting out of hand. I feel sorry for the smaller developers that used E3 as a springboard for their products. I hope that they do find some way to get the word out on their product now that it looks like E3's format will shut them out. I'm sure the new format will make our jobs easier though.
Down: Should Sony just stop talking and just focus on launching the PLAYSTATION 3 and let the console speak for itself?
Charles Husemann: No, but they do need to change the focus of what they are talking about. A $600 console is a little easier to sell if you have some kick ass games and Blu-Ray content for it. Don't tell me how great Blu-Ray is, show me how much more content I can get on a Blu Ray disc and what benefits I get from it. Show me how much ass Heavenly Blade is going to kick when it comes out, give me more Warhawk and Resistance:Fall of Man Show me how the PS3 is going to integrate with the PSP and Son'y online service. Give me some more examples of what the motion sensors in the controller can do.
Cyril Lachel: I'm torn when it comes to Sony. On one hand I feel that it's time for Sony (and their PlayStation) to know what it's like to fail. I feel that instead of listening to their fans they have decided to go it alone and just "hope" that people will buy the system because of the name. Of course, we haven't seen all of Sony's cards so this all may be a bit premature. Either way, Sony really does need to cut the hyperbole and just show us the killer games. The more they say that the price doesn't need defending the more it becomes clear that they are flat out wrong. If the price wasn't a concern then people wouldn't be bringing it up in every single interview. Telling consumers that your game system is actually a "computer" doesn't help, if people wanted their consoles to be computers they would just play games on their computers. And if Sony is listening, I would also like to implore them to never talk about expensive games, costumers are still trying to get over the $60 Xbox 360 games, now is probably not the right time to sell us on $70 - $90 games. In the end it would be nice if Sony would stop defending the PlayStation 3 and start talking about the systems they currently have on the market.
Ben Berry: No. Because if they stop talking, the only noise you hear will be the people who are talking about the price, and that it isnt here yet. Until at least one of those 2 things are done, they can't afford to stop talking. I can tell you right now even being a big PS2 fan, I won't be buying one until they either prove theres a game that I cannot do without, or they drop the price.
No game console can speak for itself at $600 a pop. You need public relations like a mother if you want people to hop onboard this highly-priced gravy train. Sony better keep talking until $600 sounds like a Rollback price at WalMart.
: Sony really does need to take a breath and rethink their early marketing strategy. Unless they can deliver The Most Amazing Machine Ever, they need to ratchet down their over-zealous (and somewhat questionable) media comments. If the PS3 is as incredible as they say, they’ll continue to own the market.
John Yan: Sony talking about their system and knocking others is not a new thing. It's just for this round, Sony's really backed themselves into a corner that will be hard to get out with all the over promising and under delivering on specifications. The time is getting near though and I think they should just quiet down and get their ducks in a row to get the product out. They're already going to have a tough time as it is after the initial run to get people to buy the console at $600 for the full version.
Left: Should Microsoft forgo the Japanese market and concentrate on the areas they are strong in?
Charles Husemann: No but I would stop obsessing over it. They've already got some good games coming for the Japanese market and hopefully one of those will hit it big.
Ben Berry: Microsoft forego a market? The sound you hear in the background is the sound of Bill Gates cheeks clenching. Microsoft doesnt forego any markets, no matter how late they are into it (Zune), how overpriced they'll be (Zune, again), or the fact that they can't possibly expect to make much money in that market for the foreseeable future (Hey, it's the Zune). So why not continue to push the platformer in Japan or any other market they arent succeeding in. After all when you're the 800 lb gorilla, you go where you want.
Randy Kalista: And concede defeat? That ain’t the American Way. But Microsoft does need a stronger grasp of Asian marketing. Products have to change when they fly across the Pacific: art and aesthetics have to take a higher priority; perfectionism is not a principle to compromise on; and things are just ineffably cuter (or “Kawaii,” as they say). I’m generalizing, sure, but you can’t go in with the imperialistic “there it is, now deal with it” attitude that American producers can take up.
Cyril Lachel: Absolutely not. Now don't get me wrong, I understand that Microsoft is in a bad situation in Japan. But give it some time, the system hasn't even been out for a year yet and already people are digging it a grave. Outside of a couple of exceptions, most of the Xbox 360's line-up has been unfriendly to the Japanese market. This is a country that could care less about first-person shooters like Prey, Call of Duty 2 and even Ghost Recon (despite the fact that GRAW is not really a first-person shooter). It doesn't help that even the role-playing games seem more geared towards a Western audience (Oblivion springs to mind). If Microsoft can get some traditional RPGs out on the market we may see a slight turn around. But Microsoft needs to do everything it can to stay in Japan and attract the big (and small) Japanese companies, if they simply pull out I worry that so will a lot of really good companies (such as Capcom and Konami).
But with the Xbox360 -- and PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii -- game quality and variety will pay itself off. Were Microsoft to quit marketing to Japan then they’s garner fewer sales, they’d acquire fewer licenses, they’d cultivate less variety, which garners fewer sales … into a vicious downward spiral.
Tyler Sager: I’m not sure Microsoft will ever be taken seriously in the Japanese market, but with their bucketsful of money they can certainly continue to make inroads. Every little bit helps in the console wars, and with each generation they scratch out a little more market-share.
John Yan: If Microsoft actually had a lineup that catered to the Japanese, I think they would've done well. This global launch deal is a bit overrated in my opinion and Microsoft might've done better if they held off launching the console until they had some good six or eight titles that the Japanese crowd would've bought. Right now, they should put some money into some good RPGs. They shouldn't abandon the market but they should've learned from the Xbox. I hope they finally learned their lesson on this launch and not rush to the market again in an area where they need a strong lineup to succeed.
Right: Is there too much hype placed on Nintendo's Wii and is it justified?
Charles Husemann: Maybe a little over typed but not by much. Nintendo is doing a fantastic job of maintaining interest in the system and teasing their audience with launch details. This week we got a few third party announcements for the system from Ubisoft and Midway. While a lot of the games were ports it does look like the launch line-up is filling out pretty well.
Cyril Lachel: These days you criticize Nintendo at your own peril. Ever since E3 it seems like the media has been able to see the good in the Nintendo Wii. Not that the mainstream game press should be overly pessimistic about Nintendo's next generation console, but so far many of my concerns have yet to be addressed … or even brought up. I am one of those people that will stand in line on the first day to buy the Nintendo Wii, but I still have more than a few concerns about the console. Yet if I say them out loud I'm called a "fanboy" or deemed as being too negative.
At E3 Nintendo's showing was fantastic, full of those popular Nintendo franchises you've come to know and love (Mario, Zelda, Metroid, etc.). But what about the third parties? Nothing that the third parties had blew me away; some of the games (like Red Steel and Dragon Ball Z) were downright lame. I also worry about fighting games and role-playing games, will these genres be as much fun with the Wii's remote control? I look forward to seeing what Nintendo can do, but it would be nice to see questions like this addressed to the people that actually have the answers. I can understand why game fans are excited about the Wii, but I would hope for a little more objectivity from the game journalists.
: I'm the literal opposite of a Nintendo Fanboy. I have yet to own a Nintendo product, even with 20+ years of home gaming under my belt. And yet, I've decided I'm buying a Wii. Think about it. A "Revolution"ary new controller, graphics that if not comparable to the other next gen consoles at least will be slightly improved over the GC, and a price that means I might not have to sink 1k into a console in order to get the system I want and the good games for it too. We'll see if Nintendo can overcome their own inability to market products properly in the US, but right now, I'd take a Wii and my 360 over the PS3 any day.
Randy Kalista: I visited an arcade in Yokosuka, Japan, way back in 2000, and two glaring details were prevalent: it was hyper-cheerfully colored compared to an American arcade, and I don’t remember too many games with simple joystick-and-button controls (well, their button-mashing is some seriously next-level stuff.) But physical interactivity has been the name of the game for years over there. Has America sold enough DDR pads, Eye Toys, Taiko Drums, and Guitar Hero instruments to fully adopt such an interactive play style? Not if these accessories are constantly packaged and priced separately. But the Wii controller builds interactivity into every game with an adapt-or-die philosophy handed to its audience. It’s a far gutsier move than rushing your console to market first (*cough* Xbox360) or smugly standing behind your eyebrow-raising price point (*cough* PlayStation 3). So, yes, hype about earnestly revolutionizing the way we play games is justifiable. Whether it will become the top-selling console in America is an entirely different question.
Tyler Sager: Nintendo is setting themselves up for great success or great failure, there’s no middle-of-the-road here. I think they’re making a gamble, but if they truly do deliver as solid a console as they say, this hype machine will propel them to some very impressive numbers. Anything less than spectacular, though, and this will probably deal a serious blow to the company.
It's hard to not want to play the Wii with the videos showing off how much fun the audience was having. I think the hype maybe just a little too much and everyone's already declaring the console the winner even before it comes out. For all we know, the controller might just be a fad and in time people would get tired of it. There's a high probablility that won't happen but there's always a chance.The hype machine is working overtime on the Wii and while I think some is justified, there's also a part of me that thinks it's a little too much.