Monday, March 22, 2010

Real Gamers Don't Waggle

The Wii is a veritable gaming juggernaut. Selling some 70 million units, it is hands down the best selling system of this console generation. It has a huge market presence and is in several households that until now were console-free. So why, then, are the best selling games for it not grade A, quality titles, but shovelware mini-game collections?

This may seem like a new phenomenon, but it has, in fact, happened once before. Let's hop into the wayback machine and take a trip to the mid-90's. The Super NES was just starting to fade out, and the fancy new CD-based consoles were moving in, but there was another big system out at thie time: the arcade machine.

Yes, this was the golden age of arcades, where one was never more than 30 minutes away and they were packed with whatever the latest Street Fighter/Virtua Fighter/ Fighter was. People would come and put their quarters up on the machine to play next, and with quality online play still years away, this was the place to be for the gaming community.

A few years and Street Fighter variations later, arcades are having a hard time staying open, and a shift begins to occur. Instead of getting patrons to pay 25-50 cents to play a game until they lose, arcades began to fill with large, gimmicky machines. Racing games, shooting games, skating games, jet ski racing games, motorcycle racing games, boat racing games, and some game that was literally a small soccer net and a ball on a rope. Yes, for the low, low price of $1, you could play "kick the ball."

Essentially, gamers were just not a big enough market to keep arcades afloat anymore, and to pull in an average person who didn't necessarily want to invest time, money and effort into learning a game, the "games" began to pander to the lowest common denominator of gamers. Which is to say, non-gamers.

Now, I don't blame the downfall of the arcade on any specific party. Arcade operators thought they could print money and not bother with any sort of upkeep on their machines, console gaming becoming more powerful meant you could get near-arcade experiences at home, and rising prices of everything meant that a quarter to play a game just wasn't what it used to be.

That said, part of me fears that we may be treading down a similar road that arcades went. The Wii is tremendously successful, and that's largely reliant on the fact that non-gamers love it. This is not to say that gamers don't also enjoy the Wii - of course we do! - but we only make up a fraction of the Wii's sales, and we play it (mostly) for the same big reason non-gamers do.

Wii "games" aren't really video games.

At least not in the sense we've grown accustomed to. There's no story, no characters, no advancement, and in some cases, not even a way to progress the "game." These games are, essentially, a fun control scheme and a way to experience that control scheme. They are the home console equivalent of Big Buck Hunter.

In reality, it's nearly impossible to have a serious gaming experience using Wii's waggle controls - the fact that you're physically moving your controller around constantly serves as a reminder that you are, in fact, in your living room, and removes any real possibility for game immersion.

This is, of course, perfectly fine. Some people want to waggle. The Wii may even serve as a gateway console for potential new gamers. The problem is in its enormous market share. The Wii is the goose that laid the golden egg, and the fact that your average Wii owner/player is fine with a new mini-game collection and related peripheral every few months or so means that projects for the Wii don't take nearly the level of effort as other games do, and can still pull in a profit.

Because of this, serious gaming on the Wii is scarce at best, which is fine. Gamers looking for a deep, enthralling gaming experience can go to one of the other two systems available. However, with the announcements of the Playstation Move and Xbox's Project Natal, the big "gamer" consoles are trying to get in on the action.

My fear is that if they successfully break into the market, the lure of "free money" will cause publishers to drop developers working on new, interesting game concepts in favor of Shovelware Party 32. I know real gaming will never die, but I'm afraid it may become more scarce than we'd like.

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