Experience and digital space

Short answer; No. Long answer; It’s a bit more complicated than that. With digital media, the ontology is often concentrated on viewing the relationship between the consumer, the media and the culture of the media. The digital part is significant. While there are now few generations that have grown up in a world that never lacked the digital component, it is still relatively new introduction in historical scale. Nevertheless, it is present everywhere nowadays and digital elements in out life most likely will keep growing as the time goes by.

Timothy Druckery, a theorist of contemporary media, even went so far to argue that it would not be possible to describe or experience the world without technologically digital devices. He argues further that the evolution from mechanical to technological computer  culture has been more than just a series of new techniques and technological advances, that it is more about the evolution between dynamics of culture, interpretation and experience. Much like Druckery’s collegues, he argues that representative works are based on experience, and it would be hard to argue against that.

Video and computer games are based on experiences people have. First computer RPGs had their roots in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns people had, and this applies to origins of Ultima as well.  Miyamoto has stated that The Legend of Zelda his goal with the game was to have the game feel the same way as if you were exploring a city you have never been in before. You can almost see the overworld map as a city layout in this sense, where certain paths are alleys, larger open areas are parks and numerous dead-ends permiate the game. Or maybe that’s just me. Satoshi Tajiri, the name behind the Pokémon franchise, based the game on his own experience with bug catching. Japan has a history with kids having bug catching as a hobby, and the latest big craze was during the 1990’s. When you consider how a kid has to cover creeks, run over rivers and search the forests for new bugs to catch, you begin to see the adventure and the excitement that Tajiri wanted to convey in Pokémon. You also begin to see where modern Pokémon has started to veer off, emphasizing plot over adventure. There was a good article how Yu Suzuki put Virtua Fighter’s developer through martial arts training each morning in order for his men to animate a punch or a kick right.

That is not to say a game can be created without any experience in subject itself. Hideo Kojima has never been a spy or a soldier on a battlefield, but he nevertheless put his experience from Western movies into use in Metal Gear. You can see the change in certain visual in Metal Gear Solid 2  when they got an actual military advisor on the team. For example, Snake no longer pointed his gun upwards and overall how characters began to handle weapons changed. Small, but rather significant change when you consider how much Metal Gear games depend on the whole experienced soldier schtick.

Nevertheless, all the above mentioned games are representative of some sort of experience and allow the player to experience a sort of simulation of it. With any new sort of media there has been the fear of losing something important to humanity, if you will. With digital media the question of the consumer’s identity has become a question through the fears of how any new media might (or rather will) change our way of thinking and the way we live.

Without a doubt we have both real and virtual spaces as well as the identities that go with them. We have a wear a different persona when we are with our parents or friends, and the same applies to the virtual space. Since the 1990’s virtual space has become more and more daily thing to the point of Facebook and other social media becoming almost essential. However, even in these spaces we have a persona on us that is different from others. Much like how when writing this blog I have a persona on you don’t see in other virtual spaces, though it is overlapping harshly with everything nowadays. While there is no physical aspect to virtual spaces (they are digital and non-physical by definition) they nevertheless are real and can carry to the “real” world. However, we can always the space we choose to interact with, though this has led to the birth of extreme comfort zones where one must feel safe all the time rather than challenging oneself and broaden horizons. After all, nobody wants to get stuck in place for all eternity. Unless they get hit by a car and fall into three years of coma.

Whether or not digital media and virtual identities change our selves in physical form is a topic for a different post (it does, but the extent in which way is expansive), but I can’t but mention that experiences the consumers gain from digital media affects us just as any other similar source. After all, electronic games are an active medium instead of passive like movies or music and require the consumer to learn in order to advance. This has led some to argue that games promote violence through teaching violent methods.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are the two names responsible of the Columbine Shooting in 1999, and two years later Linda Sanders, whom lost his husband in the shooting, sued 25 different companies, like Id Software, Apogee Software and Interplay Productions, claiming that the event would not have happened if games with extreme violence like this wouldn’t exist. It was argued that certain games allowed the two assailants to train their shooting skills with precision and affected the two in a negative way. However, as we’ve seen multiple times over, games do not cause kids to go violent, and it would seem to be far more about the individual and their mental health than the media they consume.

However, it must be said that even when games are escapism from real world, they still are a product of real experiences. Playing may be just a game much like any other, but the more real world expands into virtual spaces thematically and ideologically, the less there is separation between the two. Ultimately, playing a game will affect the real world persona of the player, thought he question how much is very much up to the individual consumer. Games have been discussing censorship, violence and current topics for more than thirty years now, and for a medium that is about escapism to a large extent, that does not bode well. How much value we can put on a digital world that does not make use of its non-real capabilities and ties itself to the real?

Perhaps the digital personae we use has become less important as the melding of two worlds continues, and the identity we assume is an amalgamation.

A delicate piece of hardware

Much like with other modern technology, we’ve managed to squeeze more into smaller space. The laptops or pads we have nowadays are engineered to a point that barely anyone can open up their cases and fix them without further studying on the subject. Game consoles aren’t any different, though the PlayStation 4 is almost as big as the original Xbox. It wasn’t until we began to have consoles that began to show easily damaged sections in the mainline consoles. While the PlayStation could take some hefty damage (personal experience tells me it can survive a trip in a lake), the PlayStation 2 could be damaged by having enough weight at the wrong spot. This was the time when PCBs started to become thinner and more packed up with components downsizing with almost each year. You could lob a NES or SNES outside a window have it working with a cracked case, and the same really for the PlayStation as well. Personal experience, don’t ask. PlayStation 2 however was the first truly delicate piece of hardware that in the end begun to have issues with reading the discs. Sometimes from the very beginning.


Goddamn, this video came out sometime early 2000’s. Takes me back

Nintendo’s consoles usually have been durable, especially their handheld consoles. There has even been discussion how Iwata drove the DS’ tech team mad by demanding the console to be able to withstand multiple drops from a standard height.

However, the more we pack delicate technology in a smaller place, the more easy it is to break it. While most people fellate companies over the hardware, it’s uncommon to see anyone appreciate the design and intentions of the design. The PSP was applauded for its higher raw power over the DS, and while it was snazzy to have in your hands, it was a delicate piece of hardware that could break down very easily. The console wasn’t meant for everybody, and much like how SEGA used to sell Mega Drive for more mature gamers, SONY’s western branches clearly had the more adult audience in mind. The PSP really couldn’t take much damage, I’ve had to fix a few. The same applies to the Vita to some extent, thought the Vita seems to be able to take a beating or two more than its elder sibling.

The Switch has been out only for a while, but it’s already showcasing very erratic behaviour. Some have it going completely mad in sound department, some consoles refuse to launch games, connection issues with the controllers, and the screen’s been scratched by the dock itself. I saw the dock scratching issue the very moment the whole thing was revealed (it had no guiding rails to keep the screen clear), but having a plastic screen is a necessity. Why wouldn’t you want to have a glass screen? They’re so much better! The reason for this is safety and durability design. See, when you have a plastic screen, the console can dissipate a fall impact by wobbling around rather move the energy directly into rigid parts, destroying them. The very reason your phone’s screen shatters so easily is because it can’t bent, and the energy from the is released by shattering. It’s a design decision between durability and looks.

To sidetrack a bit, this really applies to Muv-Luv‘s BETA as well. The Destoyer-Class has a shield hardness of Mohs-15, but because that’s hardness topping that of a diamond, their shields should shatter when shot at. They don’t flex when hit due to their hardness. Mohs scale is for mineral hardness after all and should never be applied outside jewellery.

Newly borked devices is nothing new, either. The 360 had firmware issues since day one, and the infamous Red Ring of Death haunted machines every which way. Hell, the 360 may be a good example overall how to fuck your console from time to time, as some of my friends have told me their 360 crapped out because of an update. For better or worse, my 360 hasn’t crapped out yet.

No modern console is truly finished at launch. Firmware and software issues are relevant and will be patched out at a later date. This is largely due to modern technology. A Mega Drive never needed firmware patches, because it was less a computer than the modern machines. Whatever problems with the firmware Switch has now will be patched at a later date. However, the hardware and design problems are harder to fix, and if Nintendo is anything to go by, they may revise some of the designs in later production versions.

Though there really isn’t any good excuses to use paint coating that peels off with stickers. That’s just terrible. Who puts stickers on their consoles any more? You’d be surprised.

The first wave of adopters will always have to go through the same pains with modern technology. New smart phones and tablets suffer from firmware issues to the point of most common consumers willingly buying last year’s model in order to get a properly functioning device. The price has already dropped at that point too. Apple has been infamous with some of their smart devices’ firmware problems, and sometimes they were removing basic utilities from the hardware alone. Nobody really expected iPhone 7 not to have a headphone jack.

The question some have asked whether or not it’s worth buying a game console, or any modern smart device or computer component for the matter, if they require multiple updates months later down the line? We can’t see into the future, and it’s hard to say what device will go through a harsh update cycle. Essentially, you’ll need to look into history of a company and make a decision based on that. Just trusting that a company will update broken parts is strongly not recommended.

I guess releasing things partially unfinished and patching them up is an industry standard practice. Games get patched to hell and back, and while this isn’t much new for PC side of business, it’s one of those things that show how little of classic console business is in modern consoles. Not all games get patched though, even when they have console destroying bugs in them. NIS America’s track record with localised games that supposedly lock permanently and prevent you from finishing the game, break your console or generally have terrible translation would a perfect chance to use these patches to fix these issues. However, unlike with consoles and other devices, game developers can ignore these problems as the purchase has already been made and they probably are banking on hardcore fans.

Not that any product is final when it’s released. All products are good enough when released, but that good enough has seen a serious inflation with time.

Hard mode is now DLC

So I was intending to leave this Friday’s post on a somewhat positive note on Switch’s possible future after reading Shigsy’s interview with Time. The largest positive thing here is that Miyamoto slightly hints that the Switch in few ways seems to be Iwata’s final piece, giving feedback on portability and ideas in networking and communicating. How much of the current networking elements are from Iwata and how much is made disregarding his feedback is an open question. Iwata spearheaded the Wii and the DS, and if the Switch is anywhere near them in terms of idea and approach, then the Switch will definitely do better than the Wii U. Not that doing that should be all that challenging.

However, Miyamoto also speaks of virtual reality again. In essence, Nintendo is looking into VR at the moment, which ties itself to the obsession of 3D Nintendo still has. If you look how long Nintendo has been pushing the idea 3D with games, you can trace it back at least to Rad Racer if not further. You could almost make an argument that the more Nintendo tries to push 3D and VR as the main element of their machine, the worse it does.

VR currently has gone nowhere. After the initial boom of Virtual Reality, nothing has come out of it. No software has changed the industry or has set new standards. We’ve been told that VR will be at its peak in few years for few years now, and this repeats every time a VR product comes out. It’s not about lack of marketing or failing to market the product right. It’s about the common consumer not really giving a damn about t he VR in actuality, and most VR headsets we currently have are far too expensive for their own good. None of them work independently, which only adds to the costs. They’re a high-end luxury product at best with no content to back them up.

That said, Miyamoto cites Iwata talking about blue ocean and red ocean marketing, two points that his own actions seem to dismiss most of the time, but does commend Iwata for bringing this ideology to the front within the company. To quote what Shigsy said;

This is something that Mr. Iwata did, to really link the philosophy of Nintendo to some of the business and corporate jargon, while also being able to convey that to all of the employees at Nintendo.

Iwata had a presence both with the company and consumers. While Nintendo had few faces after Yamauchi, Iwata stood out. He was the company’s corporate face that managed to juggle between worlds. If you’re a fan of his, you’ll probably find elements in the Switch that underline Iwata’s approach as the head of the company.

Nintendo has many faces now that Iwata has passed. It’s not just not Miyamoto and Iwata any longer, but numerous of their developers have come to front even further. It’s like almost each game or franchise is now attached to a face. Like you have The Legend of Zelda tied to Aonuma.

The recent BotW announcement video killed pretty much all my personal hopes for the game being something special, mainly because it confirms that even when Aonuma is wearing something that resembles a suit, he still comes off sloppy. Still, the video does right by having subtitles instead of him trying to speak English.

The fact that Hard Mode is now DLC signifies that Breath of the Wild won’t be Zelda returning to its glory days as an action title that requires skill, but it’ll continue being a dungeon puzzler. Whether or not these DLC packs are an afterthought or not, it strikes very worrying. The Legend of Zelda had a completely new quest after the first round. Aonuma saying that they’d like to give seasoned veterans something new and fun is outright bullshit. New Items and skins don’t add to the game but in miniscule ways. A Challenge Mode was in previous Zeldas from the get-go. Additional map features do jack shit, unless the base map is terrible in the game. New original story and a dungeon with further challenges are nothing new or exciting. These are basic run-of-the-mill post-game stuff Zelda used to have. Modern Zelda tends to have a terrible replay value, but this DLC announcement hints BotW has worse replay value than normal.

I guess this shows how Nintendo is going to deal with the Switch overall, at least after the launch. The Switch requires extra purchases to be complete, like to purchase the Charging Power Grip because the bundled ones don’t charge. The game industry has been blamed for cutting their games into pieces to sell as DLC, and it really does feel like that at times. DLC is often developed with the main game and nowadays DLC is planned from the very beginning. Taken this into account, with the announcement video with Aonuma Nintendo effectively showed that they took parts that used to be standard parts of modern Zelda to some extent and made them DLC. The veterans they refer to are core Zelda modern fans.

Nintendo can’t have two dud of a console in their hands now. Twenty years ago they could have N64 under-perform when it came out much later than it was supposed to, and GameCube couldn’t stand against the rampaging truck that the PlayStation 2 was. The economy was completely different now than what it was in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The Wii U was pretty much a disaster, but perhaps even more so that the Virtual Boy as it was Nintendo’s main home console with full backing of the company in the vain of two of the most successful consoles in game history. Granted, not all machines can see the success of Game Boy. They could, if developed properly and the software library would see proper maintenance from the first and second party developers.

I’m still going to stick with Switch being more a success than the Wii U. However, if Zelda BotW is any indication for the future, there is a fly in the ointment.

It’s been long time since SEGA got positive financial results

Sega never really recovered after Nintendo beat them with Super Nintendo. No matter how much we want to discuss how good 2D machine the Saturn was or how accurate ports the Dreamcast got, the truth is both consoles were mismanaged to hell and back. Sega’s consoles weren’t the only thing they mismanaged, but their Western front as a whole saw a dump. Franchises that went strong and could’ve continued strongly were dropped dead as Sega of Japan wanted to concentrate their side of the business. As with Xbox, the hardcore Japanese media doesn’t really find all that great success here in the West outside the niche audience. Streets of Rage, for example, is inherently Western in its styling as was Eternal Champions. Neither survived the paradigm shift Sega went through in the mid-1990’s.

However, with the Mega Drive Sega pushed the idea of them being the more mature console over its contemporaries. It worked for a time, and things like allowing blood in Mortal Kombat showed that they’ll be willing to give more exploitative products room to breathe. It really worked, giving the Mega Drive (or Genesis in Ameriland) that games-for-adults fame. Sports games helped by the boatloads, never underestimate sports games even if you don’t like them. PlayStation would inherit Mega Drive’s status. Not Sony themselves, but the brand itself. Sony’s fame has gone poof in the last few decades, and nobody really knows what the hell they’re up to now. Their movies suck and don’t make money, their electronics aren’t top-notch any more and the only thing that they seem to make a buck on is games.

The Sega we used to know is long gone. Not just because I should be talking about Sega Sammy all this time, but because of the changes the company went through. They went from one of the top arcade game manufacturers to top-notch console and game corporation, and then just failed miserably only to step down and become a rather lousy third-party publisher. I’m willing to argue that Japan didn’t really get why they were popular in the West. After they went third-party, it’s like they don’t care any more.

This is reflected in their Flash report.  This consolidated financial statement from the last nine months of 2016 show a rather nice result for Sega, putting them squarely in the black and getting some extra while they were at it.

The games that special mentions come in set of three; Football Manager 2017, Ryu Ga Gotoku 6 and Phantasy Star Online 2. Outside Football Manager 2017, the two other titles are inherently related to how Sega sees their model; Japan first, the rest of the world later. Neither Ryu ga Gotoku 6 or PSO2 are available in the west, and while the western release of Ryu ga Gotoku 6 will be out under its Western title Yakuza 6 next year, PSO2 is still officially Japanese-only despite being released originally in 2012. Whether or not PSO2 would be a success in the West is an open question, but it would be a venture worth considering for Sega. Phantasy Star name is one of the few franchises that Sega kept alive ever since the Master System days, and still calls up some positive reactions from the high-end gaming consumers.

Yakuza has always had a limited audience in the West, and probably will continue to have. However, it’s perhaps a core example of Sega willing to go all out to put the money down into a game development they truly believe in. Another is that Yakuza series is outright maybe the most mature franchise in under their belt, and it’s easy to see why they would like tone down some of the elements in these. Luckily, they’ve manned up and begun listening to their core consumers on the matter. However, it is highly understandable why they never localised the two samurai spin-offs. Not because of themes like child prostitution, but because samurai games don’t sell in the West.

Soccer manager games will keep selling, there’s a good market place for them that seems to be relatively healthy and not too saturated with low-end releases to jumble the market up.

But as said, Sega doesn’t really care how things go in the West. Their Kantai Collection arcade game seems to rake in the dough just fine, something a similar product wouldn’t make its localisation money back. Yes, I’m talking shit about your waifu battle ship. Similarly, their smart device sales indicate a thing that most consumers don’t seem to realize; in order for a smart phone game to keep you with it, it requires constant content updates and events, at least in Japan. Once you miss something or start game later than others, you’ve already missed a chunk of its contents. This works Japan rather well, as their keitai culture grew to this in many ways (there’s a post up about Japan’s keitai somewhere on this blog, look it up) but for a Westerner who wants more wholesome package in one go it doesn’t really do the trick. A niche audience would keep it up for sure.

Their non-game related products seem to have done rather well and their plans for future releases seem to be solid and revolve around Japan mainly. Valkyrie: Azure Revolution most likely will hit Western shores at some point, whereas Initial D Arcade Stage most likely won’t due to the series being pretty much forgotten outside its meme status.

Talking about Sega is really dry and boring, because the company is like that. There’s no sazz or sparkle with them any more. It’s business as usual and that’s all there really is to them nowadays, but that’s not exactly a bad thing either. Them making some dough does warm up my shattered heart a big, because it also means once-loved company could possibly try to up itself at some point. (No they won’t.) The difference between Nintendo and Sega was always very pronounced, but how they work nowadays is like night and day. Still, I’m happy I managed to shove in a positive entry about Sega for once.

Monthly Three; The Game Boy march

While reading on materials on the history of the Game Boy, there was always two things that popped up; people saying it outsold like no other despite having technological disadvantage and the fans of the its competitors calling each others’ favourites a piece of overpriced garbage. Unlike the NES, the Game Boy was a much larger success in all three main regions, despite it still seeing shortages in Europe overall. However, going into GB’s market success is not the point here. The design philosophy is, and how pretty much all ‘victorious’ consoles reflect this.

While I tend to give Gunpei Yokoi loads of credits about his philosophy about mature technology, he was no different from any other Japanese business executive. The corporate culture is that the man upstairs gets the glory over the hard-working underling, and this can go well up to the main chairman if it benefits them. Such was the fate of Satoru Okada in Nintendo’s R&D1 under Yokoi. In an interview with Retro Gamer (shortened here) he goes over the main design points that the Game & Watch, the Game Boy and the Nintendo DS had. Even in this small bit you see that Yokoi’s Game & Watch series was a good starting point for what was to come, as the Yokoi’s group first wanted to downsize it and make more pocket fitting. Indeed, while Game & Watch was led by Yokoi, and the D-pad design is credit to him, Satoru Okada deserves the same amount of credit for creating said device when he handled the technicality of things. A designer is only part of the solution, unless he is a jack of all trades, master of none.

The point of this group wanting to do technologically better game system is nothing new, and while on surface is all about the cutting edge technology, nothing in the Game & Watch games was new when it came to hardware. This is where the design sets in with the D-Pad and the overall shape of the unit. These are the hardware design choices that matter more than how powerful the CPU is or the architecture of the machine in terms of what makes things tick right. It’s not exactly about bringing in something new. I hate to use this term, but innovating based on existing facts. The D-Pad was, and is still a great solution to a control problem. Single buttons don’t really give the most intuitive feeling out there, unless they’re in a cross shape like on the PlayStation controller. The wrong kind of design can make it feel terrible, like on the Dreamcast and Xbox 360. In the end, the D-pad really is a very downscaled, flattened joystick in its core form.

As for the Game Boy, what is a surprise that Yokoi’s initial pitch is essentially a continuation of the Game & Watch, which Tiger Electronics’ games essentially were in many ways. Indeed, the Game Boy as it came out is the child of Satoru Okada’s ambition to push the envelope further. If Yokoi had not given in to Okada’s persistence to develop a far more robust and ambitious handheld gaming machine, we might be calling any other handheld game console a Game Gear.

This is one of the elements of the silver bullets in creation a successful console. It’s not enough it to use existing, mature technology and innovate with it, but it also is required to innovate. The Game Boy’s legacy for future handheld consoles is in its careful design to be cheaply produced and sold, while offering a lasting housing that can be carried easily and take serious damage before being decommissioned (or even survive a missile strike in Gulf War), but also offered games that last more than few minute at a time. The hardware was not cutting edge for these reasons precisely, but was good enough. Good enough is a magical term that is more successful than cutting edge. Game Boy didn’t succeed because it was like the Game & Watch, it succeeded because it used the same ambitious model the FC and NES had… at least in Japan and US. We know how well Nintendo handled Europe.

There is nothing special or magical in Game Boy’s victory march over Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear or PC Engine GT/TurboExpress. It sold for $99 at launch and was packed with Tetris, the only game that could be called perfect in design. Atari’s Lynx was out at $179.99 two months later, with lesser titles in its launch library. Game Gear launched at slightly lower price of $149 with the usual marketing campaign of it being the cooler option for mature gamers who liked hardcore titles. Like the PSP. While Game Gear was essentially a Sega Master System in a smaller box, the PC Engine GT really was a portable PC-Engine and able to play the same card based games as the home version. Its $249.99 price point was stupidly high, and this is 1990 money we’re talking about. Taking account devaluation of the dollar, the price equals around to $453.00 modern day money.

Paying $99 for a console that came with a game, earphones and a link cable to play with your friend was an option that couldn’t be beaten. Better, more robust hardware with backlit and coloured screens lost to a console designed to be enjoyed en masse by everyone, everywhere. Batteries ain’t cheap, and the fact that you got a whole lot more bang for you buck with the Game Boy than with any of its competition. The successive sales encourages more third party developers to develop games of the Game Boy over less popular options, and the rest is history. Nintendo would replicate the grey brick’s success with the DS… after they stopped treating it like portable N64 and tackled it as it were a portable SNES.

Yokoi left Nintendo at a point in the mid-1990’s and developed the WonderSwan, a terribly Game Boy-like console, for Bandai. Other than its extremely slim form and monstrous battery life of over 24h on a single AA-battery, it was also completely out of date and had no driving ambition behind it. Even its buttons were inferior in design, especially the loose D-pad that had no feeling to it. For a handheld console that came out in 1999, it had no legs to stand against Game Boy Color that was released a year prior. SwanCrystal, the best version of the console with colour LCD, saw a release in 2002, but with little support and mostly Bandai’s own games on the system, it was a relative niche product overall. Sure, it saw one of the best versions of Final Fantasy I, II and IV before modern era remakes, and even that is debated sometimes. WonderSwan is something what Game Boy could’ve been if Yokoi’s original idea had been implemented instead of Satoru Okada’s; a system standing on old ideas, re-using concepts rather than innovating based on them and creating something new.

To return to the opening to the start of the post, the very reason why people are astonished by the fact the Game Boy was so successful is because it was good enough, but still better than its predecessors. You don’t need to be cutting edge, just ambitious to have the good stuff available for everyone, and keep the quality high while delivering all sorts of games across the spectrum.

With this, I’m officially putting Monthly Three’s on hold. Whenever I get a subject that requires more than one post, it’ll return.

Monthly Three; The time Nintendo lost Europe

When we speak of NES’ success, it really is more about the success Nintendo saw in the United States and Japan. Europe, on the other hand, Nintendo lost in the 8-bit era due to their own direct actions and inactions in overall terms of their home consoles. It wouldn’t be until the SNES when Nintendo would rise to be a household name. While the PC market and console market are largely separate business regions when you get down to it, despite modern game consoles being dumbed down PCs and all that, they do exist in parallel and can influence one another. The European home computer market of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, before the IBM revolution had set in permanently, did compete with the home consoles almost directly, but there is a good damn reason for that.

When Nintendo brought the NES to the European region, it had to fight a different fight than in the US. The US console market was dead at the time, but in many ways such thing didn’t exist in Europe. European home computers, like ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC had firm footing in European game markets. One could even go as far to say that console market didn’t exist in the same form in Europe as it did in the US and Japan, and Nintendo’s entry to into European markets would be difficult at best. Let’s be fair, the second time North American video game market crashed in the 1983 affected European market worth jack shit. Atari was more known for their computers than for their consoles across the Old World.

Markets is the keyword here that needs to be remembered, as Europe is not one nation like the United States. While I’m sure everybody is aware that each nation in Europe has their own distinguished culture, people and legislation, I do feel a need to emphasize that you are largely required to deal with each nation independently. The European Union has made some things easier when it comes to business trading, but the less I talk about the EU here the better.

One of the weirdest pulls Nintendo did for Europe was to split the PAL territory into two sub-territories when it came to locking, with Mattel handling distribution in the  so-called A-territory, while numerous other companies handled the B-territory. The Mattel branded territory also had Mattel produced NES variant, that looks exactly the same on the outside, except where it reads Mattel version and has that locking mechanism, keeping wrong region games from working on it. It doesn’t make much sense that you’d had to keep an eye on regional lockout within your own region, but that’s how Nintendo rolled, until in 1990 they established Nintendo of Europe to handle continent-wide dealings, kicking the Mattel version to the curb. One of the reasons was that the NES was relatively rare console, especially in the UK, where the console was sold in specifically selected stores, mainly chemists and such, for whatever odd reason. You’d think selling NES at Woolworths would’ve been the best idea, but no. This applied to games too, but the rest of the Europe saw both games and consoles being more widespread. However, they were still relatively rarer sight in the late 1980’s compared to the computer software.

Some of the companies that handled NES outside UK fared better, some worse. Spain was handled by Spaco, who were lazy with their game distribution, and at some point tried to emphasize their own titles over others. In all European countries games came out few years later than their US versions, thou it should be mentioned that Sweden was one of the countries that got the NES as early as 1986, whereas some saw the console released few years later. Bergsala handles Fennoscandia overall nowadays, but before they only handled Sweden. Norway was Unsaco’s region, whereas Funente originally dealt with Finland. Importing games from other countries was a common practice in Fennoscandia, though the NES still had to fight against computers like the C64. Digging up all the history European NES has would fill a whole book, thus the scope of this entry will be kept limited.

The second reason why Nintendo failed in the region was in the pricing of their games. While the US had always seen relatively high-priced games, the European market was almost the exact opposite. A standard NES release cost about £70 at the time, which turns into about 82€ or $86. Even now that price seems over the top. In comparison, Sega’s Master System had games going for some £25, or  about 34€ and $36. Even the Master System had lower sales than home computer software, that could see as low pricing as £10, or about 12€ / $12. Regional variants of course applied across the board, but the level of pricing didn’t change at any point. You just got less bang for you buck on the NES.

To add to this, the Sega MegaDrive saw PAL region release at a time when home computers were having a slight breakage point, and offered new games to play still at a lower price, making Super Nintendo’s market entry that much harder. Both Sega and Nintendo had American emphasizes titles as well, with Startropics being one of the best examples, and Sega’s overall strategy how to sell the Genesis in the US, but Europe had no saw no such emphasize. Even Sega tasked third-party companies to handle the PAL territory, such as Mastertronic in the UK, who marketed the Master System aggressively, selling the console an undercut price of £100. Sanura Suomi handled Master System in Finland, while the Belenux countries were Atoll handled Sega’s licenses between 1987 and 1993. Only a handful of European exclusive titles exist compared to the US and Japan, and they’re not remembered all that fondly in the annals of gaming history, mostly because the historians rarely give a damn about European gaming.

Furthermore, game enthusiasts quickly noticed that the NES games ran slower than intended with black bars on the screen. This was due to different standards, where PAL region ran at 50hz and the NTSC ran at 60hz. Companies across the board didn’t give a flying fuck porting their games properly, instead doing a quick job and making their games run around 17% slower. Interestingly, the only game that properly optimised for the PAL region is Top Gun 2. A more interesting oddball of the bunch is Kirby’s Adventure, which was patched to have proper pitch and tempo in music while having the engine running at PAL’s 50hz. Except for Kirby itself, who moves at normal speed, so everything around him moves at 17% slower speed than intended. This kind of screwfuckery didn’t really install confidence towards Nintendo among European consumers. In the end, the NES didn’t penetrate the market, sold games at far higher price than any of its competitor and had less titles distributed that were worse than their NTSC counterparts in terms of

Because of these reasons, many third-party titles that American and Japanese audiences enjoyed on the NES were enjoyed in different forms on various home computers at much lower prices, and sometimes in superior versions too. This was the era, where ports of one arcade title was drastically different from one another. The current differences between ports are laughable at best in comparison.

The way the European markets preferred Sega and home computer products over the NES are directly due to how different the market was, and badly Nintendo handled themselves. The sheer amount of game software the home computers, and even the SMS, had at the time essentially made the rarer NES and its library a niche. Certainly, the NES saw a small renaissance in the very early 1990’s prior to the introduction of the SNES, but at this point it was already a lost battle. There were companies offering decently priced low-end and high-quality titles for other machines than the NES.

As such, it would do good to remember that while the disruption strategy works, each region requires equal amount of care in the manner that fits that said region. If a company were to push highly Japanese titles to America, it would fail. If a company would be pushing highly American titles to Japan, it would fail. Europe on the other hand is different, with each country having a different uptake on things. Countries like France and Italy at one point were the biggest European otakulands without them even noticing it, while others shunned both Japanese and American products, concentrating on their own titles. In order to succeed in European game markets further, companies had to learn some new tricks and utilise each nation’s or region’s specific nature to their advantage. European game markets have changed drastically since late 1980’s, and perhaps that’s for the better. However, the face of European game markets, and industry itself, left a mark that is still seen and felt how companies approach European consumers. Sometimes, they just don’t.

Monthly Three: Death of the casual industry

The title may be click bait-y, but it’s really the best title for this topic. This will kick off a loose Monthly Three for the time being, as it seemed most people deemed themed posts worthless. But first I’d like to note that I am talking about the casual game industry, not about the casual gamer.

What the term casual gamer entices in the end is muddy at best. Its meaning has changed significantly at the core to the point of it being mostly a throwaway marketing term to push certain kinds of products over the other, and largely to condemn consumers with certain tastes and habits.

The first console in the 2000’s to be named as casual to any extent was the DS due to it having low-end games in mass quantity. Low-end game does not mean a game that is bad, technically or in design, but a game that is extremely easy to get into and play. A low-end game is not necessarily lacking in content or anything that most people would associate with so-called casual games, as New Super Mario Bros. on the system would show. To go further back in time, many modern industry workers who played the NES would not consider Super Mario Bros. 3 in the same league as Wii Sports, but both titles are high-quality low-end games. In comparison, the DS had high-end games like Solatorobo and Umihara Kawase Shun Second Edition Kanzenban, which in comparison weren’t massive hits. Mostly because the aforementioned Umihara Kawase title was Japanese only, but you get the picture.

The Wii is often regarded as the pinnacle of a console, where quantity was over quality, thou history would disagree. There are consoles out there that may have smaller library of games, but in reality only one or two games are even decent. Virtual Boy being an example of this. The other end would the Game Boy and the DS itself. Nevertheless, the Wii was regarded as the most desirable console out of the three of its generation and sold higher number of consoles than its competitors. Not because of wagglan, like most suggest, but because the Wii disrupted the game industry.

The industry had abandoned low-end games almost completely before the DS and the Wii, producing mostly high-end games. These games were not of highest quality either, so for every few good title you got loads of titles with pretty design and technical aspects. The PS2 library is like this in large extent. The consumer base was not being expanded and companies continued to cater to the niche, red ocean consumers. Most people who bought a PlayStation seemingly moved to the PlayStation 2, with those who didn’t have faith in the Dreamcast and whatever Nintendo would be pushing out after the N64 were doing the same. Much like how most American comics only sell to comics comic nerds without any regards, and even in that there has been changes to cater a more niche audience.

The Wii however started much like other Nintendo’s successful consoles; low-end, but high-quality titles. This disrupted the industry, as there was very little production of low-end games going on at the time in comparison to the 1980’s or even the early-to-mid 1990’s. This goes hand in hand with the rising costs of game development, where higher-end game requires higher bucks to be finalised, but it will also lose big if it’s a bomb. Wii Sports is a perfect example of a low-end game hitting what the general consumers were looking for. Without a doubt it’s a game with a very simple surface that anyone can access, but the underlying layer of complexity, the physics, offered a challenge. There were multiple modes too. It’s execution left people to yearn more of content in similar philosophy, but after a booming start, not even Nintendo kept up with this. It’s much easier to realise your own dream of a game than take consumers’ voice into account.

However, making a good low-end game is hard. Not anyone can replicate Super Mario Bros.‘s quality, and even the Big N themselves shot themselves in the leg by giving their later 2D Mario titles less attention and resources during development, thou Miyamoto himself has admitted that 2D Marios take more work to make right. No wonder they released Mario Maker to take off that load from themselves.

The game industry doesn’t like being disrupted, especially when disruption ends up making a company huge amounts of money. Looking at the coverage the Wii was getting from both industry insiders and gaming press, the news are pretty raw. Outside the usual Nintendo’s finished we see every time they release a new console, the consumers were pretty much called idiots and considered almost like subhumans who couldn’t appreciate the marvels that HD gaming and cutting edge hardware could produce. This attitude is very apparent in the third-party games on the Wii across its years, as there is no passion in the titles. These people who bought the Wii, they weren’t the people who bought the PS2, these weren’t the people who played games. They were casual gamers.  Who has a passion to make games for people they consider as idiots, unworthy of appreciating true pieces of works?

The game industry created an industry just to cater the consumers they thought they were seeing with Wiimotes in their hands, but in reality no such area existed. This was apparent in the sales as well. When the third-party games turned out to be less than satisfactory, the Virtual Console titles became the main point of the console, outselling even Nintendo’s own new titles. Super Mario All-Starts 25th Anniversary Edition was a surprise to Nintendo, as people still wanted to play those games. Low-end and high-quality combination has always been highly desired combination when it comes to gaming, and largely is the silver bullet in plans to make a successful game. The rest comes with world and game design.

The death of the casual game industry essentially came to an end when the industry stopped making games for idiots. It wasn’t because of the hardware’s power, but the design and utility of it. It’s surprising how little people consider a console’s design anywhere else but in outer appearance and technical hardware, except when something negative had to be mentioned. The Wii could use traditional controllers, it had the Motion controls, which also served as a more traditional NES style controller, and it had the possibility for multiple other input methods (at least on the outer appearance.) However, all this largely fell apart, the potential of the Wii was kicked in the curb when Nintendo moved onwards to concentrate with their next console. If I were to say my view on the matter, the killing blow Nintendo dealt to the Wii was Wii Music, a title that nobody ever wanted and a title that showed that Nintendo too believed their consumers were idiots, unwilling to purchase their masterpieces… like Metroid Other M. Indeed, Metroid Other M is like anti-thesis to Wii Sports, filled with the intentions of making the best story-driven high-end Metroid that would wow the opposite audience of these idiots, ensuring that Nintendo and the Wii that they were the shit. What happened is common in cases like this, and the less said about it the better, except that it is a title that showcases how Nintendo once again left their larger audience, the audience that had made them a recognized name in the overall popular culture.

Nobody makes a bad game intentionally is something I hear people saying when it comes to terrible titles. However, not everybody aims to make the best title either, lacking either in passion or will to go all out on a game they themselves have little faith or value in. The casual game industry died when the industry largely stopped producing those games, to some extent. The Wii U is filled with middle-end games with no quality whatsoever, despite Nintendo making it the anti-Wii. The 3DS had such an awful start with ports and carry-over titles that it wasn’t desired until the library had grown and saw more low-end titles with less emphasize on the 3D. The less Nintendo listens to the industry, the more they find success. It just takes loads of work.

The argument that you need third-party products to succeed nowadays is partially correct. You need high-quality products on your system across the spectrum, not just from one end of the spectrum no matter who makes it. A game library is like a food circle, with high-end games being the meat and low-end games being the greens. Breads, rise, pasta etc being lower-mid end, milks, meat and fish being higher-mid end and high fat foods being the high-end foods. Roughly speaking, that is.

Ports of games people are already playing on a different systems does not allow it to rise above from the sea of grey, and seemingly ports are treated as the fries of a console library; they’re there to supplement the main burger. Third party burgers aren’t rare either, seeing both Microsoft and Sony have largely relied on third-party to make their systems big hits. Except for Halo in many ways.

Will Nintendo Switch have a casual game industry? Only if the developers start treating their consumers like retards again and unwilling to produce quality products for the system. They’ll feel that in their pockets then. Whatever the Switch ends up being is completely tied to its software library.