E3 2017: The Twilight of Living Room Gaming?

This year’s E3 has me convinced that Xbox and PlayStation are in deep trouble, and that the de facto winners of this decline are the PC and Nintendo Switch. Xbox tried to advertise “exclusives” that were all going to be available on PC as well, while Sony kept talking about VR. The 4K revolution is dead in the water. Nobody cares about 4K, even though we recognize that it’s an improvement.

VR and 4K are things that would’ve been nice to have if they were fully-functional and properly showcased three years ago. But by now we’re so starved for quality games that we just want to have things to play on our existing machines. I’ve seen people argue that they’re totally satisfied with their PS4 and even their Xbox, and that they look forward to the release of the titles in development, but the overall excitement for this generation of machines is lower than I’ve ever seen with previous generations. The logic of a console cycle is that you’ll be given a front-row seat to the cutting edge of gaming for the duration of the console’s lifetime, building up a library that will some day stand as a distinct epoch of gaming innovations. Each console has its own gimmicks, branding, and eccentricities that you can incorporate into your identity, and the rituals you learn on that machine become part of the shared identity you have with your fellow gamers. But now there’s nothing special about consoles, since they all share the same controller layouts, hardware is always just a mid-tier PC, and the distribution models and features are homogenized. PC has never had the epoch-ritual-identity quality that consoles offered; they were generic machines that did a lot of stuff, and also gaming. Consoles are now in the same boat, and without that strange generational epoch psychology, they just become worse PCs with a smaller library and less features. This E3 proved that Sony and Microsoft have absolutely nothing interesting to offer.

Nintendo Switch stands apart from all of that, and is winning as a result. This E3 was a huge success for the Switch because they are creating an epoch-ritual-identity framework that people can become invested in. The games, tone, and features of the Switch are distinct and flavorful, and you can be guaranteed that you’ll be able to build a library that will some day stand as an epoch of gaming.

The “AAA” games shown at E3 were boring and mediocre. The indie games looked interesting, but we’ve learned by now that indie games usually fail to follow through on their enticing designs and premises, so we have to take them with a grain of salt. VR and 4K editions of exiting games are not even close to worth the cost, and only push us further into the outdated living room as the hub of entertainment. I suspect many gamers will look at this E3 and decide that traditional consoles are enjoying their final twilight days.

I’ll be discussing the games, hardware, and announcements themselves in future posts. This was more of a broad evaluation.

Switch development information

I’m still fascinated by the Switch and what it may be hiding. There’s a fantastic interview here you can read, talking with the two designers of it. For the most part it’s standard information you’d expect, but I find some of it worthy of note:

There was a move away from “Old Nintendo” (ie. Miyamoto) to the younger staff who are full of endless ideas but usually don’t have opportunities. That’s a very important thing to consider about Nintendo today. Pokemon Go, Mario Run, Breath of the Wild, and Mario Odyssey all feel more thoughtful than the awful Star Fox Zero created by Miyamoto. The old staff is being pushed aside to make way for the young (who are probably still in their 30’s and 40’s, but just young by comparison).

Nintendo wants to make sure there’s a “continuous line” of products to keep the Switch interesting to people, and even their announcements are being treated as events. This is different from companies like Microsoft and Sony, who race to announce everything under the Sun, even when those games will never be released (such as the Rockstar game Agent or the Xbox One exclusive Scalebound). This makes it harder to judge, but they say they want to surpass past consoles in terms of the number of games available, which is why they included compatibility with Unreal engine, etc.

Here they claim that the Switch is primarily as “home console at heart”, but I still think this is just being cute with the marketing. The fact that it functions perfectly as a home console makes it hard to dispute, though.

When discussing the name “Switch” for the system, they give the straightforward answer that it would mark a break away from old hardware, and make it easy to understand for people overseas. I wouldn’t expect them to say anything about being able to switch the pieces of the hardware out, but there is this interesting bit…

Time will tell whether this is the true legacy of the Switch.

Why the Wii U will be a great console

The Nintendo Wii U, codenamed “Project Cafe”, was officially unveiled at E3 just days ago. It’s already the subject of much debate and concern. I believe these concerns are stupid, and based on a few critical misconceptions.

The critic’s argument goes like this:

“The Wii was supposed to be revolutionary, but in the end it just sat on our shelves and collected dust! Only some of the first party titles developed by Nintendo were cool, and the rest were crappy. It was a huge disappointment, so therefore we should expect the same from the Wii U.

“The failure of the Kinect and Move motion controls, as well as the mediocrity of the Nintendo 3DS, also reinforce that Nintendo’s strategies are filled with bad ideas and they can’t be trusted to innovate.”

Nintendo Wii U console and controllerEven if I agreed that the Wii was a failure (which I don’t,) it’s a fallacy to argue that its failure translates into some kind of doom spell for the Wii U. In fact the only problem the Wii really had was the misunderstanding of what it was trying to do! And that was thanks to the ridiculous interpretation given by gaming sites and magazines.

For those of us who bothered to pay attention, we know that the Wii was trying to appeal to people who never normally played games. This is called the blue ocean strategy, in which a company targets new demographics instead of always trying to satisfy the same small group of devotees. This was a stroke of genius, even if it made them unpopular in the eys of the old fans. Millions of people who never paid attention to consoles were suddenly intrigued and willing to give videogames a try, so yes, the Wii was a success, not a failure.

However, the game industry (and other millions of gamers) felt betrayed, so they left the Wii out in the cold. The old paradigm was having trouble coping with the fact that Nintendo was returning to it’s family-oriented origins and shrugging off the imaginary “debt” that they owed to the 20-30 year old nerds who supposedly kept the industry afloat. “You can’t break up with me! I’m breaking up with YOU!” The Wii got a bad name for no good reason, and to this day I can’t talk to a fellow gamer without hearing about how the Wii was a “gimmicky failure”. They just can’t comprehend that Nintendo wasn’t trying to impress them, and that’s okay.

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