Kris Godwin / Sun 5th Jun 2016
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Since the rise of Nintendo's Wii and DS consoles, there has been an increasing resistance toward the idea of... well, new ideas.
After throwing the gaming industry for a loop, the motion controls of the Wii fell just as fast as they rose, and were quickly replaced by smartphone gaming as the go-to destination for the oft-labelled 'casual' audience.
Catching Nintendo with its pants down, the Kyoto-based company tried to replicate its massive success with the Wii U and 3DS, to mixed results. Though the 3DS has managed to sell a solid 56 million units (at the time of writing), the Wii U has floundered badly with a grand total of 12 million over nearly four years. This is especially bad, considering both the PS4 and Xbox One have sold roughly 40 million and 20 million respectively.
As such, many within both fandom and the industry itself have lambasted Nintendo and its emphasis on 'gimmicks' in order to sell its products. However, the House of Mario hasn't been the only target of this vitriol, as both Sony and Microsoft have been met with a cold shoulder in this regard, as products like the PS Move and Kinect have failed to even gain a foothold within the market, let alone be a success.
As someone who has been gaming for 25 years, I can't help but be baffled at the staunch opposition from 'core' gamers; the same gamers who are seemingly content to play games within their own bubble, perfectly content with the current status quo. Nothing should ever change, and everything is fine just the way it is.
To me, the most recent illumination of this mindest were the negative reviews of Star Fox Zero. Now, I know tastes vary, and games I personally like will sometimes be dismissed by others. Nor am I implying that the Wii U's anthropomorphic space shooter is perfect. However, I (and from what I've read, many others) have taken umbrage with the way the game's unconventional controls were dismissed, simply because they didn't fit a preconceived notion of what they 'should' have been. Supposedly 'professional' reviewers were left baffled by a not-at-all complex input system, with one website infamously refusing to review the game because the assigned writer gave up on it. Despite all of this, those willing to adapt have discovered a game that is an utter joy to play, despite some quirks here and there.
This is emblematic of a wider distrust toward developer experimentation, and it is a worrying and potentially self-destructive trend.You see, videogaming is an inherently creative industry. It has grown to where it is today because of the daring innovations of designers. What many take for granted as 'normal' today was once not so. Nintendo created the d-pad for its dual-screened Game & Watch in 1979, introduced the joypad with the Famicom, further refined it with shoulder button and the 'diamond' layout on the Super Famicom, and created the thumbstick for the N64. That's a lot of stuff we take for granted today, and it's easy to forget that they were once considered radical changes to the norm. That's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but my point is - what is the difference between these innovations, and those that are called 'gimmicks?'?
You see, both terms are one and the same. What separates them is whether they leave a lasting impression on the market place. As a creator, you cannot tell with 100% certainty that your work will be welcomed with open arms. Even when its not, there's no telling if it simply arrived at the wrong time (as we've seen with both 3D and VR).
The resistance toward fresh ideas - no matter how unconventional they may be - is an unhealthy mindset that leads to stagnation. Such a mantra is the very antithesis of what gaming stands for; and despite popular belief, simply pumping up the horsepower and calling it a day isn't a viable long-term solution to the health of the industry. As we're seeing with the rumoured PS4 NEO and Xbox One Scorpio, such a mindset is a self-defeating one. If you focus on 'power' as a main selling-point, then it will never be enough. There will always be something bigger and better around the corner, and your audience will always demand why the product doesn't have the latest and greatest specs. At least for consoles, this is a dangerous mentality, and is forcing incremental, frequent upgrades akin to smartphones. Does anyone want that? Really?
However, when you sell your product on the basis of fun and new gameplay experiences, then the scrutiny on hardware grunt is de-emphasised, resulting in less stress on delivering costly hardware that doesn't add anything to the core gameplay experience. Such a philosophy proved to be invaluable to Nintendo during the last gen, as both Sony and Microsoft lost billions and underwent major restructuring (particularly the former), and countless studios went bankrupt during the move to the HD era.So, if this is the case, the why has the Wii U flopped so bad? Why has the relatively traditional PS4 thrived? To me, the Wii U's biggest problem was not its comparative lack of power, but rather its confused identity, and its anomalous position in a morphing market that is now dominated by multimedia and cloud services. The PS4 was a home run purely because of its strong core message and the fumbles of its competitors.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that there is no place for traditional, core gaming experiences. Of course there is. Rather, what I'm saying is that it shouldn't be the only option available, and that new ideas cannot be met with scorn. Both Sony and Microsoft understand this, hence the moves in to VR and Augmented Reality. Innovation moves the industry forward - and with such an unpredictable environment, of course here are going to be failures. It's par for the course. .. but standing still is a far more perilous move.