On electronic games’ history and culture

This post is a collection of related subject, combined into easier access

A game is an interaction between at least two individuals under certain rules to achieve some sort of goal or achievement. These rules can be shared between the parties and can contradict one side. This idea has not changed with electronic games, and they are not the first ones to have a non-living party. Just like card games have a card deck as the opposing party alongside other human players, electronic games use their device as the party to oppose the human player. In the end, modern video and computer games use the same rules and point calculation methods used past games and plays, be it sports or card games. After all, Super Mario Bros. is just a continuation of our play culture.

Steve Russel’s famous By gosh, it’s a Pinball! is a good contrast how not even the first computer game was, in the end, nothing new. After the Second World War, game parlors had become the cradle of youth culture, and pinball game parlors (or game arcades) became the place where young men and their girlfriends could escape to from the world, essentially becoming their own little separate worlds from the oppressing reality. This world was from the reach of mainstream culture and its moral guardsmen, allowing the youths to let their suppressed side to blow out.

Originally released 1969, this song is iconic representation of the time

Pinball Wizard is an anti-hero, an abused young man who is shunned by the larger world. However, in the game parlors he is able to convey himself to his peers, becoming one with the machine.

As such, it should be no surprise that parents would be worried about these parlors. After all, penny arcades before had been seen as place of vagabonds and men with beaten past. A place where people with less fortune could come together and entertain themselves with cheap coin operated machines, while possibly making connections to the criminal world. Different leagues and mafias controlled these penny arcades at during the 1930’s America, and as such it’s understandable to see people shunning arcades well up to the 1980’s. That shadow never left these places where men could get together and play games. It could be argued that even the games we have nowadays are suffering from similar complains, where moral guardians blame games for ruining whatever they deem valuable. In this light it is interesting to note that it is more than probable that many parents bought computers and game consoles to keep their children out of the arcades later down the line to keep them away from entering the wayside paths of life.

While my text is largely based on American culture, it’s not to say that the rest of the world saw these parlors in any better light. In France, Jean-Claude Baudot banned all coin operated machines in 1937 to prevent the disease penny arcades were seen as. According to Baudot, this law was still in effect up to the early 1980’s, though the law had been eased and circumvented in all ways and manners. In 1981 Ferdinand Marcos, the president of Philippines,  banned all arcade video games. To enforce his rule he smashed arcade machines in public. This is the same man who banned Voltes V  and other similarly themed cartoons just before the series’ final episode. Both of these men echo events that had taken place during world history time and time again, and events like these would be repeated after them, like how Pokémon was seen as the tool of the Devil by some religious forces. In Colorado Springs, 1999, pastor Mark Juvera took a 30-inch sword to a Pikachu toy in front of 85 children and calling Pokémon poison, not to mention the claims of video and computer games causing players to be more violent. Neither of these points are anything special, they’re just continuing  the same backlash games and other media forms have experienced throughout the ages.

It is somewhat ironic to note that television was seen as one of the remedies to keep these rebelling young people at home, as the 1950’s saw it entering mass markets despite not many having the money to buy one. Television didn’t give solution to the problems parents saw game parlors to be, as the problem was social and parlors were not the originator. Turned out that these young people watched television and took themselves to play pinball with their mates. Basically everything that was seen a solution to a problem would later be deemed a problem in itself as well, as seen with books, movies, amateur radio and maybe some day with games too. The problems were real to an extent, they are always more about the stereotypical view the mass culture takes at them. Books, amateur radio, television and games share the same blame that they keep people, children and adults alike, inside rather than “allowing” them to go outside and play, or do something more worthwhile.

Arcades, as we now remember them, didn’t come from nowhere during the 1970’s. They are just those game parlors with a new name and new machines, just like penny arcades before them. We can trace these places back to the game events held before mechanical games existed. In Herrad von Landsberg’s manuscript from the 1100’s we can see a pair of knights fighting each other through controlled marionettes. While it would be easy to compare this to modern era Vs. fighting  game, that would be far too direct. We do not know whether this was a common event or not, nor whether or not this is a real depiction as intended.

Artikel_45890_bilder_value_1_augsburger_puppenkiste1[1]Street Fighter with dolls?

Nevertheless, the core idea of contest and games are still present, even in the physical games. In the same extension, cock-fighting has been compared to Pokémon and other similar games. This is not rare in any way, as all games have their roots in some form of other plays and games. Majority of first person shooters are based on war games, strategy games are war board games, platformers are adventures children have in forest and elsewhere and imitates jumping form rock to rock, fighting games are rooted in physical combat and so on. Plays and games the adults play do stem from the childhood games, and to certain extent adulthood work and politics are just grander, more serious form of these games. It should be noted that video games especially have stemmed from boy’s play culture (and still reside there due to the competitive nature of it), thou arcade games like Pac-Man and Breakout are more or less neutral in their approach.

But what are the original electronic or mechanic games that can be called as the firs physical grandfathers of modern computer and video games? Perhaps the first ancestral machines are the automata, with machines offering entertainment and awe to the audience. However, games require interactivity, and one of the first proto-interactive machines that allowed the user to dictate some elements of the entertainment was the mutoscope from the late 1800’s. It was deemed to cause moral decay and was blamed to corrupt the youths for the pennies they cost. Pornography was a thing, and mutoscope is most remembered for those kinds of movies. We shouldn’t forget shooting galleries and the like as one of the proto-interactive game machines, as Nintendo’s Zapper and the games it used are pretty much a straight continuation.

Perhaps the mutoscope’s history is closer to films overall. However, it’s slightly more interactive nature does make it a relative of playing

1900’s saw all these machines to become everyday objects, and despite the bad rap they got, they spread like wildfire throughout the world. UK created their own machines alongside Americans (a lot of mutoscope’s UK had were either destroyed or exported to the Denmark during coin change in 1971), France and Germany had their own similar history with coin operated machines and Japan had adult-only pachinko parlors in 1930’s Nagoya. It’s not a large step from these mechanical devices towards electronic games, and through that, into computer and video games.


While many of the fears from the late 1800’s and early-to-mid 1900’s still persist when it comes to electronic games, those who play games and are most enthralled by them has not changed too much since then. Things changed with the advent of Golden Era of games, especially with Pac-Man, a game that attracted both men and women to play. Pac-Man as a character was largely a non-descriptive blob despite the game’s and character’s name.

I’ve talked about Industrial revolution being the main dividing point between arts, crafts and design, but when it comes to games it also created a cultural point with boys’ and girls’ cultures. According to E. Anthony Rotundo (1994), the industrial revolution separated boys from their father’s work environment, leaving them for their mothers’ to take care of. Boys moved outside from there, as motherly care usually emphasised good morals, pampering and kindness. Boys’ games and plays often were almost the opposite of this with physical contact with surprising aggressive attitudes. Going against mother’s command was a way to show that you weren’t a momma’s boy, and building from that onwards is a sort of step towards independent manhood. Regardless of how wild these games were, boys would return home to their mothers. One could say that unlike the Freudian Oedipus complex, boys’ fight against their mothers’ culture.

Rotundo contrasts this against girls’ culture, which is tied to their mothers, which have lived in a sort of symbiosis with each other. While he boys’ “adventure island” had a confrontational setting, girls’ had their own place within the “secret gardens.” While girls tend to favour for more socially interactive game with less or not emphasize on competition and physical contact, the concept of secret garden, a secret place reserved only for them and their fantasies. It should be noted that a lot of books for girls are the opposite of this thinking, where their normal lives are broken by a fantastic individual of sorts and their lives see a change, often at the cost of that secluded place. The differences between classic boys’ and girls’ literature is that boys had the heroes travel far away, while the girls’ literature tended to emphasize on staying home. Through that the stakes were different; for boys the adventures were physical like their games, whereas girls’ adventures were more about the psychology and emotions.

It’s not hard to see why electronic games would end up seen as a boys’ hobby. It is far easier to create a game that’s based on competition and rules rather than a game that requires methodical interaction between characters. A game is easy to program to offer a direct challenge the player needs to achieve, like destroying alien invaders than it is to program to reply to inquiries in a naturalistic and sophisticated way to counter the player’s emotional state.

The question whether or not there is a difference between boys’ and girls’ is cultural at its core. American game developer Purple Moon was known for developing games aimed at girls of age 8-14, and their Secret Paths series could be used as an archetypical example of what is generally seen as a girls’ game.

Secret Path games showcases some traditional symbols and images associated with girls. The cursor in the example above is a heart or a ladybug, there is no physical conflict in itself, and whatever action there is leans on metaphysical than physical. Interestingly, despite Purple Moon’s games tend to be simplified in how things are presented, they still manage to make better use of progressive values than most games we have nowadays.

While Purple Moon’s games were designed to be more about places of relaxation, where girls could pour out their stress and observe things with their hearts, so to speak. Each character has their own secret, and it is up to the player to find the secret paths that are laden with gemstones and other artefacts that give social, emotional and psychological strength. These visuals and pathways are representative of the characters’ plight, and the stories these physical environments contain encourage the player to try things out in their own social life. It’s not hard to see why the founder Brenda Laurel called their games as friendship adventures.

Similarly, Theresa Duncan’s Zero Zero is another example of a game that ties to girls’ culture.

While Secret Paths can be regarded as a continuation to the secret garden idea, Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel Harriet the Spy, is about another sort of play space for girls; the city. Within the book, Harriet observes her city’s, her microworld’s she creates, citizens and their complex interactions and how she changed them as she sees fit. This idea of creating a world and having total control over it is similar to SimCity. The difference between the two is how SimCity is more about playing god and micro-manage everything. To Harriet, creating this world is just the first step, and moves towards spying on the individuals to the point of breaking in real world buildings to understand adult interactions. The same contrast repeats here; there is no physical confrontation like there would be in boys’ novel, all the challenge comes from the human interactions and gaining information on the interactions.

It wouldn’t be too hard to see Harriet the Spy as a stealth game that has no combat. Zero Zero is essentially a computer adventure game version of the novel, where the player goes through the city and similarly seeks people’s’ stories. Despite this innocent sounding setting, Zero Zero and other games from Theresa Duncan do not try to be sleek and pat down the reality. On the contrary, Zero Zero‘s French are bored and tend to insult the player in a stereotypical fashion, as do the flowers. Women with strong make-up smoke freely and tend to flash themselves, promising an event in the Red Lights district.  The Sims has a considerable female fanbase, and in a way can be seen as a modern example of a game that allows the player not only play dollhouse, but also play god and decide the interactions.

Secret Path games and Zero Zero are good examples of two strong sides of traditional girls’ games. Secret Path games are very balanced and encourages the player to feel, so to speak. Zero Zero is an example of a game that shows the misshapen world in a very caricature fashion and encourages the player to seek knowledge and information that is hidden from them. Both are about exploring a physical space, but in the end both are about the players’ inner worlds.

Games like Pac-Man and Nights into Dreams are in neither space as such. Pac-Man‘s design as a character and game had no points to either direction, and as such I personally consider Ms. Pac-Man a needles exercise in hindsight despite it becoming extremely popular. Nights into Dreams on the other hand was designed to be androgynous from the get go, both in gameplay and character designs. It even has a boy and a girl character, Elliot and Claris, who have very different dreams for their life.

As games have evolved, contact between the two cultures have become more frequent. One could argue that open world games that contain as much non-physical social confrontation as they do physical are mixing these cultures. MMORPG’s and other games that offer larger interaction with real life people also supports the idea of supportive interaction between girls while offering brotherly confrontation and rivalry boys’ culture has. This sort of neutral space in gaming requires both sides giving something in, and in real life this can cause some argumentation and fighting between children.

Stereotypical girls’ games tend not to be remembered. Purple Moon folded in 1999 and merged with Mattel, and their games were not without criticism. Their games were called to be called sexist, stereotyping the characters and themes, a thing that can be extended to a lot of other girls’ games, especially Barbie games. The space where these games were set in was another major factor.

Space is a keyword here. The pinball culture if the mid-1900’s was very masculine and based on long-standing tradition of penny arcades. When these games began to appear outside their initially designated areas, e.g. pinballs in restaurants and shopping centres, it was seen as a positive progress as anyone, women included, could now access these machines. As games moved away from spaces that were largely seen as dominated by men like universities’ IT-departments and penny arcades, the view on them changed. Pinball is not associated with violent rebels any more, but as a classic game everybody can play. Similarly, the advent of Japanese games in arcades and the renaissance of electronic gaming after the second Video game Crash introduced further colourful and fantastic creatures to the electronic game culture. Pac-Man, Mario Bros., and their like, despite being competitive, offered visuals that weren’t all about blowing shit up, but also attractive colours and challenges that weren’t just about the abstract.

It should be noted that games like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog and Abe’s Odyssey garnered players from both sexes, and both games shows that in the end, the player character doesn’t really matter as people don’t tend to see themselves in the character. If there is a character creation, sometimes people make themselves, but often it’s an admired, a fantasy version of themselves. They create a fantasy persona, and similarly each player character out there is a fantasy persona that the player doesn’t exactly identify with. After all, the player character is largely unimportant, the game world is what matters.

Perhaps the only truly neutral game between the spaces and cultures is Tetris. Tetris wasn’t just a game that can be described a perfect game and neutral, but a game that was everywhere. It was on home computer where anyone could play it and it was on the Game Boy where everyone could carry it with them. There is no true confrontation in the game, and despite the having a competitive goal in form of scoring, the gameplay is from neither side particularly.

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Playing with cardboard

There are times when a company shows how out of touch they are with their global audience. It is understandable, keeping in touch what world-wide audience is like or wants can be a difficult task, but knowing some of the basics should be doable for every corporation working outside their own borders. Nintendo’s recent Investor Q&A summary shows that while they may be seen a worldwide brand, their concern is still in Japan first and foremost, just like with every other Japanese company.

There is a quote in this Q&A that really shows this;

I’m sure we surprised everyone with the use of cardboard, but it is not so far-fetched if you consider how familiar the material is at least to Japanese people who from a young age use it for play and as a material for creating things such as fancy crafts.
This is not something specific only to Japanese. Crafting your own toy out of anything is part of children’s play culture. What that crafted toy is made of and what it is depends on the culture. My parents played with conifer cone animals, as I did and as I have seen numerous other children do. Cardboard is just another material to be used in these plays, making good material for a knight armour, sword and shield. Saying that cardboard is important at least to Japanese people is extremely self-masturbatory and tells how global view is being ignored. Well, that comes with the name of the product too. Labo is short for laboratory, which in English would be Lab. Because how Japanese works, lab becomes labo, ラボ.
The tone underneath this really puts only one side of the global market on a high pedestal, business as usual. It’s no wonder why certain titles fail in the West, when even a simple thing like this is being ignored. The only people Nintendo can blame on their lack of success in European markets over the years is themselves, as clearly they’ve not gotten over how they simply can’t manage the markets properly. America’s a different deal, of course, with their solid footholding. Europe’s like a black hole to them, and they still can’t get over how NES didn’t succeed here, and it was Donkey Kong Country that finally made SNES a household name.
Miyamoto’s assurance that Labo is a product that seems like very Nintendo rings another bell. Nintendo, above all other game companies, especially form the Big Three console manufacturers, is all about toys and children. Nintendo may want to steer away from this image with the constant support of Bayonetta, but when you have your Walt Disney of the company telling investors that their company wants to make cardbaoard toys and hires people who want to make cardboard toys, something’s extremely off.
Nintendo Labo has its potential and we all get it. It’s like with LEGO, where it supposedly should encourage kids to try building stuff and see how things work mechanically. What makes the world tick, if you will. They get to build it and see its function first hand, all the while enjoying the game these crafts were made to function through.
However, Nintendo’s history of success has not been in toys or crafts items, love hotels or vacuums. Nintendo’s history has been success of games, from hanafuda cards to video games. With Nintendo Labo, the game part comes second to the toy. While trying something new is always a positive, putting this sort of emphasize on it as one of your main things probably will bite you back. Virtual Reality didn’t catch on like wild-fire, as it was expected to (as it is always expected to, mind you) and Nintendo Labo is just Nintendo’s version of VR. It’s all about how people interact with their games and through what means, not about games themselves. New Form of Play, as the slogan puts it, matters jack shit if the game played isn’t any good on itself.

Maybe this is just one of those 3D things Nintendo always goes on about.

On a more positive side, a PDF released around the same time properly presented Nintendo’s plans to continue the Nintendo Classic Editions. Which actually throws a monkey wrench to Miyamoto’s point in the Q&A about Switch going to have a longer life span. With these Classic editions, Nintendo has effectively extended both NES and SNES’ lifespan, the same way they did with Virtual Console. These consoles selling out and being put back into manufacturing puts an emphasize how stupid limited console cycle really is. A console has as long cycle as the parent company wants it to, whereas consumers really just want t good games. Fanboys of course disagree about on what platform, but that’s another topic. The main dish of this meal is how prowess and hardware barely matters when the games are just that damn good. The selection on these Classics editions of course could use some revamping, though I’ll grant this to Nintendo; they make one helluva first entry to video gaming.

Nintendo’s classics don’t sell because they’re some sort of revered holy objects, though to some that may be a reason. They sell because the consumers have a certain want these classic titles fulfill and what modern Nintendo does not have and have not beaten. In Nintendo’s Earning Releases, specifically their Supplementary Information about Earning Releases, you can see a trend appearing when you backwards; 2D Mario titles in the Million-Seller list. New Super Mario Bros. 2 was released in 2012 and it’s still making on the list and keeps appearing there since 2012, with New Super Mario Bros. still appearing there as well.

The New SMB line of games are not (or should I put that were not?) high-budget titles. They were games made on the cheap, and they sold like gold in most cases. If Nintendo would put the same level of care and intention on titles like New SMB games that they put on Super Mario Odyssey, they probably would see even further increase in sales. New SMB line was a nice throwback, but 2D Mario never got the glorious return it and the consumers have been demanding and wanting. Instead, it gets wah wah music with cheap 3D and we get cardboard.

The measure of Switch’s success

A week ago Nintendo Soup put out an article on how the Switch is selling three times faster than the PlayStation 4 in Japan. It’s a pretty straightforward chart. However, Just looking at the data isn’t really all that useful outside bragging rights, as it’s just Japan. Going back some three months ago, Gamespot had a bit more robust write-up on Switch sales topping two million, outselling more than its two competitors.

Long story short, the Switch is seemingly selling a lot more than its competitors. However, that’s not exactly the measure I’d make the Switch stand against. What the Switch should be compared against is Nintendo’s past consoles, and I don’t mean just one single of them. The Switch is a hybrid console, meant to encompass both the home and hand held console markets. As such, the plural doesn’t mean whole slew of the consoles at a time, but e.g. the Wii U and the 3DS as a whole. Granted, that’s not the best hardest challenge to beat.

However, something like comparing the Switch’s sales to Wii’s and DS’s sales would be more apt. Not only because both Wii and DS were runaway successes, but also because they also hit the similar sweet spot as the Switch does in overall terms. It’s all a bit relative in this terms, but the Switch seems to meet the wants and demands the public has now, which more or less moves gaming away from the living room and the usual stuff. The library of course is the main attention grabber, with Nintendo’s own IP’s currently making the most sales.

That said, I can’t say it’s enough to outsell the Wii/DS combo. The macro-economics we have now are very different than what it was a decade ago, with prosperity in the spending countries being higher and people having more money to throw at trivialities. Like games and consoles. I can’t say everything sells, but the situation is much better now. The Wii was a low-cost console for the public that could use the occasional, almost arcade-like breather with a controller that didn’t require too much effort to put in and that was good. The Switch, while not exactly Shakespearean console, does have a level more finesse to its, from the classical console perspective, where a solid, classical controller is a must.

Another thing that raises the bar for console sales overall is the increase in population. A population usually grows some in a decade, and new generation enters into work and gains more income than what they had previously. Spending on games generally has increased from what I can tell, and this is mostly because gaming has managed to have a somewhat steady market expansion despite the developers and publishers wanting to cater to the Red Ocean market, overall.

This is something most of these people comparing console sales tend to forget, that thirty years ago we had a smaller population and consumer base for video and computer games overall. A direct comparison of sales and revenues generated from them need to be adjusted to changes in inflation and population growth. It’d be easy to proclaim sales of some console to a direction or another just based on its sales figures alone. For this reason, Wii U’s sales are overall worse than they might appear at first. With the increase in overall consumer population, rising trends in macro-economics and the possible transfer from Wii’s userbase, the Wii U bombed worse than any of Nintendo’s other consoles. The only true contender against it is the Virtual Boy, though I would almost say Wii U gets the edge in this comparison as it was Nintendo’s mainline console and had more development and production put into it.

There’s no doubt that the Switch has a lot of success under its belt already. The media shouldn’t half-ass their criticism on it, however, and remember its hybrid nature. Nintendo is not going to put out a full-fledged home or handheld console in the foreseeable future until. Whether or not Microsoft or Sony are going to release a full-fledged Ninth Generation console at some point is somewhat a moot point, as Nintendo reacts mostly on themselves, sometimes on what Sony does. After all, Microsoft holds jack shit in terms of gaming market in Japan, making second-hand Xboxes pretty damn cheap overall, with some of the rarer software titles stupidly expensive.

That’s another ingredient to throw into the mix; regions. One region can religiously support one console over another, while another region does the opposite. There was an interesting split in the past few generations, where it seemed that the US preferred the Xbox, Japan preferred Nintendo’s consoles and Europe was a whole lot of mixed, changing from nation to nation.

Maybe the concept of a console “winning” is moot to a large extent, as it would seem most of the Red Ocean consumers would like to disregard cold sales statistics and concentrate on more personal views, emotional values or whatever point of comparison they would have for quality. Of course, we could use an academic view for high quality games, but I’ve yet to see a peer reviewed research paper that would establish the guidelines for such thing. Naturally, a high quality game for one differs from another, we all have a different taste after all and none is really any better than the other.

So, what is the measure of the Switch’s success in the end?  For normal everyday conversation its sales numbers compared to the 8th generation competitors is probably what you’ll see the most, whereas a more in-depth discussion should concern comparison to other more successful consoles all the while taking the whole population and consumer base expansion into notion with the positive macro-economic trend we have going on. That is probably what it should be contrasted against, though somehow I see discussion always moving towards the discussion of personal favourites and what sort of quality we value as individuals. Taste is the only thing we can properly contest over, after all, as you can’t really argue against cold data.

Seems like Sony likes to sit tight where they are

Sony’s Andrew House doesn’t really seem to get the Switch. It’s nothing new to see an industry member or a someone from media to compare handheld consoles to smart phones despite the two being in different markets. House’s claim that the Vita somehow lost its footing in the market place due to the changes in consumer preference for mobile devices has no basis, despite Bloomberg showing a graph of PSP’s and Vita’s waning sales. Correlation does not imply causation. It is far more likely that the PSP and Vita began losing its sales due to lack of software being presented. This is nothing new either, sadly, as game companies tend to begin moving towards their next generation consoles both in hardware and software.

House seems to correlate Vita’s lack of sales to the aforementioned trend. However, this is was not the case of the 3DS, which saw some rise in sales after its library got stronger. Funny how the 3DS seemed so weak compared to the robust Vita, but things turned completely other way around. The words House chooses to emphasize in the interview give off an impression that the Switch might have a market in the future. What he is missing is that the Switch has a robust demand and market now. Whether or not the Switch will keep it successful trend is dependent on how Nintendo will continue marketing it. If they decide to go the N64 and GameCube way, they’ll have another Wii U in their hands. Going for the NES, SNES and Game Boy route will yield them another DS/Wii. The Wii was supposed to be a passing trend, but in the end it sold hotcakes and everybody and their mother had a Wii. That’s a market that could be easily taken advantage of, if people were to make proper software.

Switch may have not impacted Sony’s sales, as House claims, but the same was said about the DS not impacting the PSP’s sales. Then again, House probably means that the Switch’s sales numbers don’t seem to affect PS4’s sales. The Vita is dead, Nintendo effectively has a market monopoly in the handheld console market. That is what the DS’ sales did to Sony’s handheld consoles. Of course, the Vita seems marginal success in Japan and other Asian countries, thought that’s not an oddity in itself. Japanese electronics companies do have some tendencies of offering support to long obsoleted devices within the nation itself, seeing how the market is smaller than what it is worldwide.

Nintendo’s bet, as Bloomberg puts it, for the hybrid console market as been a success thus far. As said, it’s only up to Nintendo take advantage of its current installation base to expand onward. The situation is much like it was with the DS after its first unsuccessful year (before Nintendo turned the machine into a money printing beast), but 2017 Nintendo is not the same one they were decade and then some ago.

If Andrew House says Sony hasn’t seen the hybrid market a big opportunity, that may give more insight how the company isn’t all too keen on expanding its market. Certainly they are in a nice position of having die-hard fans and general consumers who like the games that are on PS4, but most of them are on other platforms as well, lessening the console’s unique value. Sony’s emphasize of their home console being the central point to their other home entertainment devices is nothing new. Both Sony and Microsoft emphasized how the X360 and PS3 were home media centers. Virtual Reality has been largely a bust thus far with little to no impact on consumer markets. VR comes and goes. It’s always said that the tech is no better than last time around, but the software are still the same and offer no real value for the money needed.

Though it must be said that Sony should be able to juggle this sort of approach. They used to be the brand when it came to consumer electronics, be it music, video or whatnot. However, how consumer electronics are nowadays, with all of Sony’s products being matched in quality and beaten by lower price, one has to wonder how they’re floating around the way they are now. Maybe everything manages to scratch enough money to make their business profitable, but gaming has taken far too much attention from everywhere else from them. Well, PlayStation as a home media center.  Even the PlayStation’s success is rather weird in hindsight. It wasn’t until the DS and the Wii when Sony’s console saw striking competition. Xbox has been largely a failure, for the better or worse, and with the careful positive outlook of macro-economics we have going on right now, maybe Sony has been able to sail the right kind of currents to hits the right spots with their machine and marketing, and been able to secure better libraries. That is, until the DS and Wii decimated and expanded the market on their own.

The Switch clearly has a demand and that demand must be satiated. Hybrid market will only grow. I was part of the hybrid market when the DS was released with the question Why would we need home consoles when portable consoles are doing good enough graphics as is?  I’ve yet to pick up a Switch of my own, but whenever I get one, you can expect a design review on it. The question What will Sony do next? has been asked few times around, but the answer seems to be The same thing we always do. This may not be as sustainable as Sony might want to believe. Maybe their best bet could be to take this home entertainment connection thing to the Nth degree and play the role of some sort Japanese equivalent of Apple in lifestyle electronics department. Their designs already zig where Apple’s zags, so the hardest part is done, right? Nevertheless, Playstation’s future is not guaranteed if Sony won’t take it outside the readily made box. Vita should’ve taught them something about this already, but no. Whatever PlayStation 5 will be in the end, it should expand further away from the living room. Maybe going to the extreme lengths to make PlayStation de facto home entertainment hardware by incorporating everything they have to some extreme degree. Of course, all this would be at the expense of it being a game system, but that’s secondary as it is at best currently.

Expanding Switch

With the recent Nintendo Direct, which I’ve just manage to watch thanks to life, we can say that its first year of games is pretty damn good. Very rarely does a console get this sort of first year. For example, the DS’ first year was abysmal before Nintendo turned the console around and made it the top selling console. Perhaps the only consoles that can compete with the Switch’s library as it is now compared to their first year are the NES and SNES. Famicom had pretty terrible first year, which the NES managed to avoid to some extent.

Switch’s success is tied to three or four different elements, depending how you want to count them. First is, without a doubt, that it is a hybrid console. Its portability without a doubt  is part of the Switch’s charm. Much like all previous handheld consoles that had extensive support, namely the Game Boy series and the DS, Switch is enjoying consumers carrying it around, though in somewhat limited extent due to its size. Sony could’ve taken few lessons from Nintendo how not to drop the ball with handhelds. Poor Vita, people had such high expectations for you. Being handheld is not really a reason for Switch’s success, but it is certainly part of it. Hardware, that is. Switch seems to be easy to develop for and allows more ‘portable’ games to be made that don’t require to be stupidly expensive Triple A. They have their own slot in the fray.

Nintendo bringing their old arcade games to the system is great. While some will scoff at them, and never remember that Nintendo started as an arcade game company before entering the home console market, these titles will have their audience. The more Nintendo brings their older titles that have not seen a release in years, the better. Just tie all of my past purchases to an account I can carry between consoles, so I don’t need to buy the same game again and again for new systems.

Of course, Nintendo releasing a Switch/ Super Mario Odyssey bundle will see more sales. The game, despite whatever personal issues I have with it, does look fun and may see good amount of sales. Now if Nintendo put the same effort and quality into a 2D Mario game, we’d be golden.

The second reason is that Nintendo’s own software has been of high quality. Breath of the Wild has gained loads of support from the consumers and generally has been accepted one of the better Zelda games. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, while certainly mainly just an upgraded edition of the Wii U game, it has made it rounds. The Battle Mode and included DLC really showed Nintendo that doing a complete release with some extra characters thrown in and tweaked gameplay pays the bills better than trying to what Capcom did with Street Fighter X Tekken. These games, especially Breath of the Wild, are keys to why Switch has been successful thus far. Hardware’s prowess doesn’t come from it being extremely good or able to push out incredible graphics, but something that can keep costs low and still be able to deliver easy environment to develop for. Develop games, that determine the success of the console.

This third reason could be counted with the second reason, but it really deserves its own slot, and that is third party titles, including all the smaller releases. While some of the titles are ports and some pretty low quality, but the fact that they are there makes the deal. Once you have the Big Titles in your library, you will want to look at the smaller and cheaper titles you might want to pick up. Indies (oh there’s that term again) will drop this sort of titles into the store from time to time. The more you have titles of at least decent quality, the better. Call it shovelware if you want, but all winning consoles had the most shovelware people could choose their favourites from.

The fourth reason is expansion. All consoles require their userbase being expanded at some point and it must be constant. Switch has been a success among Nintendo fans and general audience, but it still lacks certain appeal from its library. For example, Rocket League may be another port, and for a good reason gets dropped few notches because of it, but it offers something new not in other versions of the game. Same with Skyrim. The game may be six years old at this point, but there are still people who have not played it. It will also tap to the same core fantasy group that might find Breath of the Wild appealing, just with less Japanese feeling to it. Both Doom and Wolfenstein II both fall into a similar category with Skyrim in that they open doors to different interests the console currently offers. Back in the day, the media would say that the Switch is finally getting mature games to its library. It would have been preferable to have completely new entries to Switch in these franchises, but those can always follow if these are successful on the platform first and manage to solidify the userbase further.

Switch’s library is being expanded with these ports, like with L.A. Noir‘s updated one. While these are ports of past titles, they have an audience that will check them out, and another part will return to them if they’ve gotten rid of the previous version.

With this sort of tactic, the Switch has seen, and will see, a healthy game library from where both high-end and low-end product consumers will find something to enjoy. The problem of course with this is that it needs to be maintained. The Wii lost its steam halfway through due to Nintendo essentially dropping the support (Wii Music essentially killed the console), and looking at how Nintendo has released software on their previous systems, we can see that their main support is pretty much lost few years into a console, before things gear up for the development of its successor, with third party following in suit. As useless it is to hope that this time around that support wouldn’t vanish just like that, I highly doubt that’ll happen. While a console doesn’t have an expiration date other than when the developer drops their support, this five to six years cycle has become a standard of sorts. This is why we can be glad to see the Switch being expanded like this during its first year of existence, as that should lead into second and third year of further support and expansion.

 

It’s the Mania

I’m sure some of you are already completely tired of hearing people telling you how good Sonic Mania is. Despite all its faults and recycled content from Mega Drive Sonic games, it still ends up being the best game in the franchise. It’s a sort of The Best of Sonic, if you will. It’s essentially a game the fans, and people at large, have been waiting for since Sonic 3 and Knuckles came out.

There have been pretty good 2D Sonic  games since then. Sonic Advance games were overall enjoyable games to play, although their stage design and some of the physics were off. Sonic Rush games on the other hand nothing but the speed, and this was evident in rather lacklustre stage design again with the speed Boost gimmick being the main culprit. Nevertheless, still pretty good time. Just not as good as the Mega Drive games. That’s where we always go back, because those three (or four, depends how you want to count) games were in many ways the pinnacle of the series in the eyes of fans, sales and cultural impact. Sonic made its name on the Mega Drive.

Sadly, the Sonic titles are one of the worst sufferers of creators wanting something new and grand, something that doesn’t meet the expectations of the paying consumer. Sonic Adventure had a heavy emphasize on the story, something that peaked with Sonic ’06. I’ll tell you how to weed out the bad Sonic games from the good ones; the bad ones put the story to the front of things. Sonic‘s gameplay is hard, if not impossible, to transfer to 3D. They’ve been trying to do it for some two decades now, and even Sonic Generations, a game that was hailed as the first good Sonic game in a long time, felt off with everything done in 3D. Sonic 4 was just terrible.

The franchise really is a case study of creators losing sight what made their product wanted and revered. One could even go far enough to say that Sonic Team and Sega as a whole can’t do classic Sonic anymore, and have had no intention of replicating the Mega Drive games in any fashion. Sonic Generations could’ve been one, but physics clearly weren’t replicated accurately.

It’s not much of a surprise to see Sega hiring  fans to create a 25th anniversary game then. Fans, who have showcased themselves as capable in replicated the mould that made the Sonic franchise what it used to be. To say that the fans knew better than Sega would not be exaggeration. However, Sega did screw up the game by not giving it a proper physical release, and even the limited edition package comes with a digital download code only. I’m guessing they’re banking on Sonic Forces, which will probably end up lesser of the two games. The simple fact that its colour palette is dry and consists of black, red and beige is a harsh contrast to Sonic Mania‘s bright blue red and yellow.

Sonic the Hedgehog as a brand suffers from Sega overusing nostalgia mixed with whatever hell they’re trying to do in their latest games. Much like how Super Mario can exist in two different iterations at the same time, modern 3D Sonic could exist with classic 2D games. The biggest misstep of Sonic Mania is that it adhered to old stages, albeit remixing them with new areas and secrets. Sega’s no stranger to this, as their obsession of pushing out the Western teams at the end of Mega Drive’s era.

Nintendo is a stark contrast to this. While Nintendo has given some of their most significant IPs to outside companies to work with, like Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime, their attitude towards them and their fans is cold at best. Metroid Other M supposedly removed the Prime series from the canon, though why that should matter isn’t the point. The point is that Sakamoto himself didn’t deem the Prime series good enough. Other M and the upcoming Metroid II remake are the worst entries in the series and all that is on Sakamoto.

Nintendo is also infamous for their Cease and Desist letters to fans, like with the Another Metroid 2 Remake. Nintendo has had hard time celebrating their fans works or even allowed legally sound fan-products to be made. While they are required to protect their intellectual properties, this has never been good PR for them. Of course, you don’t want to have the same situation Paramount/CBS had with Star Trek Axanar, though it’s no secret Axanar challenged the official Trek stuff, and the team behind Axanar essentially broke the rules by making money off of their piece. There’s always the question why wouldn’t you want to make something original and new if you’re able to design and code a whole new game.

Sonic Mania is essentially the New Super Mario Bros. of the franchise. Much like with 2D Mario, classic Sonic is something people have been wanting for ages. However, whether or not this is just a one-hit-wonder or if Sega sees some sense and continues on developing and releasing more of these classic games is still open. However, they should learn from the failures of NSMB series and improve upon the concept and allow the games to stand up more and give them full fledged release status. Nostalgia is a delicate thing, and as said, Sega’s been overusing it already. Pushing the stage designs and sprite graphics to Saturn level next while still keeping with the style of Sonic Mania might be a natural step. Sonic Mania, as an anniversary game, does things right and manages to squeeze in twists that you’d never see in an equivalent Nintendo game.

A game of Puyo Po– I mean Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine as a Boss Battle in Chemical Plant Zone? This is the right stuff right there

Sega could do right with the rest of their franchises and seek out the right people to work on them in a similar manner. There are development houses that would love to give, for example, Streets of Rage a similar best-of treatment. The iron is now red hot, it’s time for Sega to hammer it.

Greater fool

With the announcement of SNES Classic Edition, or the mini as I’ll be referring it to as, the collective retro gaming Internet lost its shit and the console sold out in matter of days, or hours in some store’s case. not only that, but some sites already have re-sellers putting up their units for grossly exaggerated prices. That is not to say stores would be upping their price anyway after seeing the success the NES mini was.

The suggested price of the SNES mini is at $79,99, or around 70€ to 80€. However, even now there are stores that have jacked up the price over hundred, because they knew it would sell out and that they can fetch higher price. The Greater fool theory has few variations to it, but for our purpose it can be stated as a person investing into a product in hopes of selling to a greater fool who is willing to pay more. The retro game market has become somewhat similar to a stock market, where certain people try to find fortune in finding games at a lower price, jack up the price somehow and then proceed to sell at a much higher profit margin.

There are few ways of doing this. One of course is the removal of products from the market and further making it a rarer piece. This can be done with relative ease, especially if one has the foresight to proceed to empty the market at the right time. If you were to buy certain games fifteen years ago at a low price, these games could now fetch up to two hundred their purchased worth.

Then of course you can change how the market perceives the products. Even now, some games are absolutely terrible, but due to their limited runs and relative obscurity, they can fetch stupidly high prices. The quality doesn’t really step into the equation here, it’s all about how rare something is.

This of course makes sense when looking at other collectables markets, where the exact same things happens over and over. However, the one thing that can’t be ignored with this theory is also the personal perceived value the greater fool might have towards a game. When you combine the believes and expectations a buyer has for a game with his personal affections towards it, they can be ready to pay extraordinary high sums of money.

As stated, a rational buyer may just buy the game and sell it forwards at a higher price, because there is a greater fool. This cycle has been going on in the retro game market for a solid decade and then some, and I’ve seen some argumentation for longer period of time. Whatever the case is, the current prices used retro games are going for now, and in the foreseeable future, will not stay. This is a bubble that is waiting to be burst, but I highly doubt it’ll be an overnight event. Rather, we’ll see something like a common Super Mario Bros. peaking at its highest point at some extraordinary price, and then things will dwindle down.

Or rather it should,  but it won’t. The kind of retro collectors we have now are willing to spend high amounts of money for their collection. Of course, the sellers are willing to accommodate with equally over the top prices. I’m talking about people who are willing to pay over hundred dollars for a loose Mega Man 5. At that money, any sensible personal would just pick up one of the collections for whatever platform and spend the rest on ice cream.

The NES and SNES mini have made things interesting, to say the least. While Nintendo has claimed they’ll be producing the SNES mini in higher numbers than the NES mini, there won’t be enough. Nintendo has always underestimated their classic library to the point of neglect. Nintendo’s strategy with these re-release consoles is not to introduce new people to their older library, but rather just grab some cash before they can do something sensible with the Switch’s online. Nintendo never realises how much demand there is for their classics. The Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition they released for the Wii sold out faster than they could imagine. Twice! Nintendo is gearing up to something with the Switch and whatever plans they have for their classic library, but these mini consoles are just stopgags on the way there.

Nintendo seems to be aware of the retro market. While their profit margins are less with these mini consoles than with Virtual Console, this is catering to a certain demographic first and foremost. While you could argue that the demographic is the general audience, the fact that NES mini wasn’t released in same production amounts or even officially in places as the Switch says that the target demographic was rather limited. The SNES mini will always be sold out, and despite the supposedly higher production run, it will still see similar fate.

And there will be greater fools who are willing to pay three times the original price for their own reasons.

The Atari Box wants to hit the same core demographic. Someone at Atari saw the demand the NES mini experiencing and wanted some of that dough. Whether or not it is a full-fledged console as rumoured, the chances are that it’s more or less a flashback sort of device like that NES and SNES mini. It would be easy to do a modern Atari console with most classic games installed while offering the possibilities to expand the library in the future. Nothing says an older console couldn’t be re-released and have new titles released or produced for it.  After all, Nintendo’s pushing Starfox 2 on the SNES mini as well, and they’d make tons more money if they would allow the user to purchase more games on some sort of game cards and have them run on the system.

Or just release things on the Virtual Console and be done with it. I’m still expecting Nintendo to announce Netflix style gaming for its online service, where the consumer has no ownership.