Thursday, July 23, 2015

Re: some mario maker early preview coverage

So I don’t normally do this because a) console wars are literally the dumbest possible conflict and b) gamers in generally tend to be aggressively wrong in a way matched only by hardened rightists so the folks who need to hear this probably won't, but this particular article irked me in just the right way that I want to respond to it.
To contextualize this discussion here I want to point out that this generation of video game hardware has, across the board, sold worse than the last generation of video game hardware. The Sony Playstation 4 is the only home console currently doing well, and it’s doing about as well as the ps3 (last gen’s sales loser) did at its peak. Likewise the handheld market has decreased overall, with the 3ds doing about half as well as the DS did in its heyday. There are a couple of reasons for this, but most of them just come back to the current economic doldrums all of western society is facing as a result of a bunch of terrible neoliberal decisions.
Even so, the Wii U is firmly in third place even behind the terribly lagging Xbone, but the quote re: the system not selling as well as even the gamecube is ignoring that actually at about this point in the gamecube’s life (two and a half years in) it had sold about as many units and that overall hardware systems can’t be expected to sell as many units as the seventh generation, let alone the sixth.
Concerning the Wii being “seen as slightly faddish” this is some typical gamer rigmarole where anything that sells to “casuals” in an unacceptably high amount (literally every facebook game, mobile gaming, the wii, so on) is in some way an abhorrent aberrance to the true gaming community which only buys “serious” consoles without “gimmicks.” It’s this bullshit language that helps maintain the atmosphere where anyone insufficiently versed in gaming shibboleths (ability to manipulate complex controllers to move a character in 3d space, willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a computer that only plays games instead of a few dollars on a game for a computer you already own) is perpetually an outsider despite the theoretical definition of “gamer” being “one who plays games.” It’s both a failure of empathy and taking the skills built into gaming for granted.
The Wii sold specifically and explicitly on a platform of making games easier for average people to get into, and it’s ironically this same platform that created the Mario being valorized in this same article. That it sold tremendously well is an explicit demonstration of the validity of this approach and the Wii U’s problem isn’t that the wii’s popularity is a flash in the pan, but that the wii u is poorly positioned in the market. Instead of retaining the market that the wii successfully capitalized on, the wii u chose a terrible name and returned to a more complex control scheme that alienated their non-gamer market.
The article attempts to position the problem, as so many comments sections do, as a problem with the tablet screen, suggesting that consumers didn’t respond well to it. This is mostly conjecture, but I’d suggest the issue is less with the screen itself, which is actually broadly popular with actual wii u owners, but with the aforementioned failure to position itself on the market and more importantly a failure to interest developers in creating unique experiences for the screen. Not mentioned at all in this article are both Nintendoland and Game and Wario, arguably the two games that most significantly utilize the various features of the screen and demonstrated a variety of possible control schemes for future games, none of which have been later reused even by Nintendo itself. (That said, it looks like the upcoming star fox heavily leans on the design of the metroid game in Nintendoland)
Which brings me to the next issue here, where the article suggests that Nintendo has dragged its feet about putting out major franchises. This shit is a goddamn gamer Gregorian chant at this point, and a chant that frustratingly ignores two things.  One, Mario is their biggest franchise by a very wide margin and they won’t stop making goddamn Mario shit. Mario Kart 8 has something like a 60% attachment rate and there hasn’t been a year since the console came out that some kind of Mario shit hasn’t. What gamers mean is “why hasn’t [series that doesn’t sell as well as Mario] come out yet” which is number two: Nintendo is having to make HD games now, which have much longer development time and thus much greater development costs. So far this generation Nintendo has explicitly been trying to offset those costs by outsourcing a great deal of its design work to other companies (smash 4 with namco, wonderful 101, the new star fox with platinum, hyrule warriors with koei tecmo) and this is 100% the reason Nintendo is shy of creating new entries in franchises that aren’t guaranteed to sell  Mario or Zelda numbers (it’s also why Splatoon almost had Mario characters until the team convinced Nintendo it could be made on the cheap, and indeed they got it out in about a year with just four maps and three major weapon types, more coming on free dlc. Speaking of DLC this is why Nintendo suddenly seems to be so confident in creating and putting it out, because Nintendo’s DLC, like all DLC, is designed to offset the costs of production, which I’ll reiterate are dramatically higher than the costs for producing a Wii game.
Nintendo is literally dealing with exactly the same issue the rest of the industry is, which is that development costs have vastly outstripped the profitability of selling games at $60 and what we’re seeing across the market is publishers scrambling to deal with this paradigm in all kinds of wildly unpopular ways. This is not a case of blatantly terrible decision making, except most prominently the name of the system (market positioning), but a case where Nintendo is having to adapt to the status quo of other console-makers and is trying to still make a profit. Microsoft loses money on every single xbox sold, Sony presently is only making money through their games division as the rest of their electronics are crashing and burning. Nintendo pretty much only makes games, so they can’t afford to take a bunch of business risks, hence a million fucking Marios.
Tl;dr the wii wasn’t a fad, the controller isn’t the problem, and gamers have no idea how games get made.  And the fucking NX is a handheld.

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