M.A.G. (Musing About Gaming) 1: WiiU is the Future

I will be the first one to admit that I was not the biggest fan of the Nintendo Wii.  It was 2006, and I thought both Sony and Microsoft had long reached the limit of what could be done with that level of graphical achievement, and Nintendo was going forward with a brand-new system that was basically a slight step over what we already had.  A much younger, far more brand-loyal Sage thought it was insanity, and I initially refused to support them.

Now six years later, I'm seeing gamers (mostly ones with PCs) cry out for new consoles because the current-gen is "holding gaming back", and lo and behold the one prediction I WAS right about, Nintendo has become the first of the console developers to release their new creation (whether out of necessity or simply because they wanted to is something I can't conclusively say): the Nintendo WiiU.  The naming leaves something to be desired, but they appear to be sticking with the same kind of idea that led them to create the Wii, the idea that "power isn't everything".  And you know what?  I'm starting to agree.  In a perfect world, I'd be fine with a new system coming out every five years using the latest technological gains made in span of time for the most powerful system.  But we don't live in a perfect world, and it comes down to this: Gaming is becoming TOO FUCKING EXPENSIVE.

Let's look at a few numbers.  A few years ago, not long after the PS3 launched, I read an article in EGM that shed light on just how much money it costs to produce a AAA title.  During the PS1 era, triple-A games tended to cost between 7-800,000 to develop.  By the time of the PS2, those same costs ballooned by about four or five times, meaning a game could cost anywhere from 2.8 to 4 million dollars.  For a single game.  Now with your average PS3/360 title, with its near-CGI level movies and constant Quick-Time Events and extensive voice acting and *massive* amount of promotion, I'd imagine four million is barely enough to hire a staff.   Now, let's flip that and look at costs on the user's end.

The original Super Nintendo launched in mid 1991, and cost just about $200.  Four years later, Sony would launch their first system in America, the Playstation One, for around $300.  As a general rule, games used to cost anywhere from $30-40, controllers were around $25, and memory cards were $15.  The PS2 would launch in late 2000 for around $300, with games costing about $50 and controllers and memory cards costing roughly the same price, around $30.   Flash-forward another 6 years for the PS3 launch: a $600 system that's fortunately evolved past memory cards because controllers are now somehow $40-50, while games are $60.  And people are calling for NEW systems?

On both the developer's, and the user's end, the obsession to use and to have the latest and best technology for new consoles is draining everybody's pockets dry.  Not only that, but its draining the creativity and innovation out of the industry.  Games aren't allowed to be unique and find niche fan bases any longer because just to make its money back a AAA title has to appeal to as many players as possible, ripping away some of the game's appeal to its initial fan base.  This isn't personal conjecture--its established fact seen from both Mass Effect and Dead Space's third sequels, and at the rate things are going, it seems likely to happen more often, not less.  There's a short list of developers who can afford to develop AAA titles these days, and that's not good for anyone.  Allowing myself to be selfish for just a bit, I'm TIRED of games set in dystopian eras, sports games, and first-person shooters, and that's a large portion of what we get these days from AAA titles because that's what sells.

Graphically, Nintendo tried having a more powerful console than Sony with the GameCube, and the end result was a system known almost entirely for its first-party efforts.  They tried something different with the Wii and proceeded to kick Sony and Microsoft's ass sales-wise for a good three or four years.  Maybe they're on to something.  I have to say as a college student with bills to pay, a $250 system with hopefully $30-$40 games is looking quite enticing.  Plus, here's the thing: the PS3 and 360 don't actually look THAT bad right now in terms of graphical achievement and the WiiU is STILL a step-up from that.  Not much of one certainly, but the specs definitely seem to bare out that its worthy of that coveted "next-gen" title.

There's no shortage of games developed for the Wii that never quite made it to the PS3 or the 360 most likely because they cost too much, and while Japan hasn't given up on the PS3, there's no question that if you're talking about a Japanese title its just as likely you're talking about a portable as you are a console title.   Sure, some of that's because of Japan's transportation system simply making portable gaming more popular there...but a lot of it comes down to console gaming being expensive as shit and they can't afford to take too many risks on that stage anymore.

Now, I could be wrong.  Maybe the WiiU will flop and the PS4 and Xbox 720 will prove to be the last great consoles before we switch to things that will most likely look and behave completely different from normal consoles (or PCs) for our gaming needs.   But allow me to make a prediction on what 2015/2016 will look like from both Sony AND Microsoft.  This is just me, pulling things out of my ass, but you see if they make sense: multiple SKUs from both companies (a "Basic" and "Advanced" tier), the basic will cost around $500 while the advanced will cost $750.  Games will cost around $70 (possibly $80), and controllers will be roughly 60 bucks. Each.   The price of "bleeding edge" technology.   Smart gamers have been saying "we don't need a new system" as long as...less smart ones have been saying "yes we do".   But maybe there's a different solution to the whole thing, if we just look at things a little differently.  One that involves shorter console generations (five years maximum) but less impressive leaps in graphic and overall technical ability?   Or maybe it doesn't matter because cell phones are going to kill consoles and PCs both.  Who knows, I'm just a guy with a blog.

(This first MAG turned out to be longer than I expected, but that's cool.  I'll be doing another one next week about digital gaming and all that that entails; hopefully it'll be a fair bit shorter but who knows?  I'm long-winded.  Catch you next time.)

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