An Analytical Discussion of the Industry, Culture, Progress and Nature of Video Games.

 Speculative: Fiction (A Bit of a Rant)

Okay, here goes. The simultaneous release of the Wii and Gears of War, while not truly hurting the release of the PS3, will certainly put a dent in it, and while any console on release will sell out of it's initial run, the thin selection of PS3 launch titles and the recent jump of X-Box 360 titles, combined with a combination of Halo 3 anticipation and the inevitable 360 price drop will lead to the PS3's sales slowing down, to the point where they are merely selling steadily, and not fantastically, while we see an actual purchasing jump of 360s, due to customers finally being presented with the actual choice between the 360 and PS3 and choosing the one that is cheaper and actually has games. Add in the Wii60 factor, and you have, at final tally, an even and zero-sum market share of 33.3% of the market each. Only there's a problem here. Is it the logic? Not really. The reasoning here is no more spurious than can be found on any number of gaming sites. Is it the assumptions? Not there either, for the same reasons. Is it that I haven't backed up my points with solid evidence? Well, how could I? This is all about things that haven't happened yet. I'm just speculating, conjecturing, guessing about the future. I don't really need to back anything up, and it all might happen. And there's the rub.

Speculation (often in the guise of analysis) pervades the game industry and it's media in much the same way that similar palaver dominates the political press. A development will occur, and ten times the energy needed to report it will be burned off in the guesswork of what it means, what it's implications are (in both the short and long run of things), what could happen if another certain thing or set of things happen. Oh, and if you're wrong, it won't really matter. You may get teased, but no one's keeping score.

The whirlwind surrounding the next generation of consoles, while characteristic, is much more acute, much more sharply pronounced in the force of it's speculation. It's like that annoying moviegoer who is constantly asking, "What's gonna happen next?" and by doing so, misses the show. For example, an overwhelming amount of cognitive manna has been spent on the possible outcomes of this latest wave in the console wars, even to the point of consideration about what the various companies PR schemes (especially Sony's at times bizarre behavior) means for the future, as if Kaz Hirai or Ken Kutaragi 's cockiness is going to push PS3 sales up or down in any significant way. Meanwhile, little if any hay has been made of Sony's unflagging and continued support of the PS2, which continues to enjoy the releases of solid games, or Microsoft's contrasting abandonment of the X-Box (notice also the stuttering of the backwards compatibility). This makes sense, considering that Sony has a 40 million large installed user base in America alone that it must satisfy, while Microsoft is just jumpy to get behind a system that enjoys mass success.

Meanwhile, the usually highly respectable crew of the 1up Yours podcast is wondering if the console domination will be divided by territory, with Nintendo lording it over Japan, PS3 ruling Europe, and the 360 owning Europe. Now think about this. In certain ways it makes sense. The DS Lite has a stranglehold on Japan, so the Wii would have natural brand-bonds there. The 360 is doing the best in the U.S., and neither has control of Europe, leaving a hole for the PS3 to fill. But what about the DS's success in the U.S.? Or the fact that, in adjusted dollars (if I remember correctly) the PS3 will cost even more in Europe than it will in the U.S.? The "divided by continents" scenario could just as easily work as fall apart, but the nature of speculation in video games, politics, sports, and any media where it has infiltrated is that the thoughts of the speculator must only remain interesting until the gap between it and the next inevitable guess about the future is closed. After that it is forgotten. And this happens all the time.

Speculation as such isn't inherently a bad thing. It can be fun to wonder about what will happen next. It gets ugly when it is a habit, and pushes other news out of the way. Although it isn't at the crack-addicted level that political news is, video game media has tried it's first dose of E, and as we head into the console release frenzy of the fall, I have to wonder if we're diving headfirst into the rave scene, so to speak. Again, speculation isn't evil in and of itself. But our modern age (and please forgive the big proclamations here) is defined by its need to speculate, maybe as a way of coping with our worries about uncertain futures, either in the world's game of politics, or in the world of video games. No matter how hard we try, time won't move any faster than it ever has, so instead of waiting for the future, and discussing things we do know, we fiddle away our time trying to guess what's to come in the hope that such conjectures will act like prescient markers, safely guiding the future we want as it inevitably heads our way.

Perhaps if speculation was significantly reduced, the industry could concentrate on making games now instead of worrying about the future so much. If speculation increases, I think what could happen is more disappointments when grand predictions don't come true. But I think at some point we'll realize speculation is just guesswork, as easily conjured and dispersed as an illusion, non-binding and not on the record. Of course, I have nothing really to back this up, just guessing. And there's the problem.

August 13, 2006

Anthropological Inquiry and the Console War 

I’d like to publicly thank Aaron for his post this week (which I read during a break in taking all of my stuff – now broken – out of cardboard boxes), which discusses the asinine debate over the future of the console “war”. Video game journalism has real power when it criticizes and thinks analytically about choices made in the present time – not pontificating on the ramifications of choices future events. It’s a trait that should be present in ALL journalism, but alas, it is not.

Aaron’s post, however, made me wonder: What would it take to predict the upcoming console war? Or, at least, what could help us think critically about the upcoming orgy of capitalism that is Q4 2006?

And then it hit me: Anthropology!

The questions:
How do gamers conceptualize the qualities of the next-gen systems (Xbox 360, Wii, PS3)? How do these qualities compare with one another? What are the qualities gamers want?

The method:
Phase One: I would like gamers to make three lists.

List #1: The qualities of the Xbox 360.
List #2: The qualities of the Wii.
List #3: The qualities of the PS3.

These lists can be as long or as short as they would like, but five to ten responses would be ideal. The qualities are not limited to good or bad, and can be a mixture of both.

Phase Two: I would like gamers to make one list.

List #1: What are the qualities you want in a new game system?

The directions are the same. In a perfect world, the respondents to the first phase would be different from the respondents to the second phase, limiting the amount of bias in the answers.

The analysis:
Aggregating the responses and constructing a series of visualizations through multi-dimensional scaling and factor analysis should provide us with a way to analyze what gamers want and which system might best fit those needs. Theoretically, this preference should manifest itself as greater success (both culturally and financially) for a particular system (or systems). Combine this with geographical data, and it could also hint at the possible regional dominations mentioned by Aaron. Each week, I’ll be publishing the results of different parts of the data and I will weigh in on their meaning. I invite your replies as well as your own analysis.

It’s time to try something new. My apologies to Aaron for feeding the beast.

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