Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This Week in Gaming

The good, the bad, and the hope for a better tomorrow; all these are wrapped up in this week.

First, the bad. The XBox 360 turned 4. I'm not questioning the status of the 360 as the Ultimate Console Force in the Universe. I'm merely pointing out that, after four years, Microsoft still has issues ensuring the 360 remains Fully Operational, which in turn has left their XBox empire Vulnerable to Sony and Nintendo. Those of you reading this will likely fall into one of two camps: "Wow, fours years and no red ring of death yet!" or "Aargh! Four years and two 360s later, maybe this one will work." Sadly, for all the awesome brought to us by Halo, Assassin's Creed, and Madden, the 360 may always be remembered as much for its hardware issues as its gaming successes. And that's the bad side of the 360's birthday.

On the good side, we have the 5 year anniversary of World of Warcraft. The giant empire that sucked away the spare time of much of the free world has only been around for five years. Really, only five. Meanwhile, the origins of the Warcraft franchise are 15 years old. While I would love to join the masses celebrating a long Thanksgiving holiday with twenty hour marathon sessions in Azeroth... my internet connection at my current address makes WoW totally unplayable. I might have to stick with Orcs and Humans. And I'm ok with that.

And as for the hopes of a better tomorrow: Black Friday, meet the recessed gaming industry. Across the country, studios are showing a reluctance to hire. It is an understandable reluctance. Until we know for sure that the economy has stabilized and that the average consumer will open the wallet for a $50 title, development studios have to play conservatively. This holiday season is the perfect opportunity for consumers to provide that encouragement to the gaming industry.

So this weekend, do your part for the global economic recovery. Buy lots and lots of video games thus encouraging studios to invest in new workers, driving down unemployment and providing enjoyment and entertainment for all. Remember, only you can spark the gaming industry!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nintendo's Sky Is Not Falling

By now you've no doubt heard that Nintendo's last quarterly fiscal report was not as awesome as we have come to expect from Nintendo. Depending on where you get your financial news, you may be half convinced that the lower Wii numbers are a sign of doom for the company and an indicator of a tragic collapse in the gaming industry. In reality, it is no big deal. In fact, it might actually be good for gamers.

Yes, the PS3 has passed the Wii in monthly sales. There is an excellent reason for that. Two of them. Sony finally brought the PS3 price down to reality and the Wii, it seems, has just about saturated the market. With no equivalent of the Red Ring of Death to encourage repeat customers and help pad sales, once the Wii market is saturated the sales numbers will drop. That doesn't mean the death of the Wii. It simply means Nintendo's game has changed.

Now, more than at any other time since the release of the Wii, Nintendo will rely on software to drive revenue. If they want to continue to rake in a cool billion a quarter, they will have to sell games to all those millions of people who bought a Wii. That means Nintendo will have to find some good games for the Wii. And that could be a challenge, and that is why this is good for us.

For a very long time, the Wii has been flooded with crapware and cheap, ugly ports. Crapware and cheap, ugly ports do not make for happy accountants. We will only get burned by shoddy Wii titles so many times before we as gamers start to write off the Wii... and the Wii has been largely written off as a serious gaming platform. Nintendo's own franchise titles (New Super Mario Bros. Wii, for example) will continue to fly off the shelves in swarms... but Nintendo will have to do better. The occasional awesome Mario or Zelda title will not be enough to refill the corporate cash pipeline. Nintendo will have to come up with high quality, third party titles somewhere.

The result of rapidly declining Nintendo revenues, then, should be an increase in the number of high quality titles for us millions to play on our Wiis. Now that Nintendo will have to rely on software sales and has admitted they have dropped the ball in release good quality games, I think the company will focus more on what is published for the Wii. Better Wii games will mean more money for Nintendo.

More importantly, it will mean happy Wii gamers.