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

 August 26th, 2006

How Boneheads Screwed Up
Anthropological Inquiry and the Console War

It was supposed to be magical. An anthropological sort of magic, but magical nonetheless. I was to survey a large number of avid gamers about their perceptions of the current next-gen consoles. Then, I was to survey another large number of gamers about the qualities they’d want in “the perfect video game system”. I was to call this exercise, “The Constrained Successive Freelist” and Russ Bernard would carry me on his shoulders cheering, “You’re a genius, Stev!” as I created a systematic qualitative method for consumer-related predictive modeling. Instead of baselessly posturing about the upcoming console war, I was going to take it head-on with data and make… err… less baseless posturing.

And it almost worked, too, if it hadn’t been for 1337-speaking bonehead fanboys.

As was discussed a few weeks ago, my strategy was to use a simple freelisting method with a number of respondents (mo’ respondents, mo’ betta’). These respondents would be in two groups: Group #1 would be asked to list the qualities of their imaginary perfect console. Group #2 would be asked to list the qualities of the three next-gen home consoles. I felt that two groups would be necessary to cut down on respondent fatigue, as well as prevent bias and blatant fanboyism. The two sites were chosen for their knowledgeable board-members, as well as their relative distance to each other (for example, I wasn’t going to use IGN’s board because I thought there might be members of both 1up and IGN).

The data was then to be aggregated and a correspondence analysis was to be performed. A graphical representation of this correspondence was to be created, showing the relationship of the three consoles to each other, as well as the relationship of the fourth, imaginary, perfect console. The spatial (and statistical) distance between the imaginary console and three next-gen consoles could be determined and, theoretically, the console with the smallest distance would be more popular with the game-playing public. This popularity, in turn, could be interpreted as potential future financial success. Hence, a winner could be crowned.

For your perusal, click here and here for .pdfs of the two board postings I made. As you can see, one board posting was more successful than the other – even if they did think I was a guerilla marketer (which, in a sense, I was. I’m just not employed).

For the “imaginary console” post, I had 21 relatively serious responses that could be used. The rest was chaff, banter related to postings, or something so analytically cryptic that I couldn’t include it (example: “a cross between the Phantom, the Virtual Boy, and an Atari Jaguar.” A $1000 computer with a 3D helmet that plays three good games? Huh?). 

For the three-console post, I was less lucky, gathering two interesting posts before the thread devolved into abject fanboyism. Whether or not it was sincere, it killed my thread and, hence, the ability to perform any sort of correspondence analysis. 

Let’s all thank Ultima_King for being an ass: Quality of the Wii? “LoL OMGZ0rZ tehy called it a Wii!!!1111lolololol.” Quality of the PS3? “Sony is teh SuCk!!!111oneoneone wii60 ftw!!!!111111oneoneeleven.” Honestly. If you’re savvy enough to mock fanboys and 1337-speakers, then you’re savvy enough to sit down for three minutes and answer my question in a mature manner.

That’s right. I’m calling Ultima_King out.

But I digress. Attached here, and presented below, is the table made from the data gathered from Forumopolis describing the perfect system. I used Visual Anthropac to get this table (praise be to Borgatti). Even if my envisioned analysis can’t be done, there’s still something to learn from the data I collected. Everything above 4.8% in frequency is a shared opinion, meaning that everything 4.8% in frequency is idiosyncratic and - usually - not a shared cultural category.

Item Frequency (%) Average Rank Sailence
good_games 42.9 3 0.31
online 23.8 4.2 0.143
in_room_multiplayer 23.8 5.6 0.116
wireless 23.8 2 0.207
reasonably_priced 19 2.5 0.162
game_specific_controllers 14.3 4 0.083
home_theatre_support 14.3 4.67 0.081
hard_drive 14.3 3 0.107
a_computer 14.3 1 0.143
well_built 14.3 4.67 0.076
portable 9.5 2 0.076
independent_development 9.5 4.5 0.054
stable_media 9.5 2 0.082
downloadable_content 9.5 3.5 0.069
backwards_compatible 9.5 3.5 0.071
rumble 9.5 3 0.07
favor_me_sexually 9.5 2 0.071
media_support 4.8 1 0.048
vmus 4.8 6 0.018
no_region_encoding 4.8 9 0.01
tuck_me_in_at_night 4.8 1 0.048
built_in_flashlight 4.8 2 0.032
cybernetic_control_interface 4.8 6 0.014
dispense_hot_chocolate 4.8 3 0.024
easy_data_transfer 4.8 5 0.02
cupholder 4.8 2 0.036
cook_on_the_grill 4.8 1 0.048
make_me_breakfast 4.8 2 0.032
grant_wishes 4.8 2 0.036
innovative 4.8 3 0.038
good_load_times 4.8 3 0.036
good_save_system 4.8 2 0.038

The top responses should come as no surprise: good games, wireless, reasonably priced, and online. Actually, all pretty standard this generation – aside from the reasonably priced part. In fact, one person specifically said, “Not $599.” A clear dig at Sony, but something that is present in many pundit reactions, although seemingly ignored by Wall Street. Good games, although totally subjective, are also interesting to see at the top of this list in both frequency and salience (a statistic combining frequency and rank. The higher the number, the more salient). It’s what gamers have been saying for years, but, again, ignored by console-makers through their perpetual posturing about graphics, online community, media-playing capacities, and innovation.

Surprises on this list? To me, I find in-room multiplayer heartening to see, even if online is higher in salience. The idea of playing people solely online depresses me – especially if I have to talk to them. It’s nice to see others feel this way. I also found game-specific controllers interesting to see. Especially since since there are many old-skool arcade controllers for more responsive Live Arcade playing. It also means that there might be some support for a FPS-only controller. Finally, it’s interesting to see downloadable content shared by two people. 1up seems to be on a crusade to rid the world of useless downloadable content, but there is some evidence that people dig it. Perhaps free downloadable content in the form of independently developed games – which is also preferred.

Disappointments? “Tuck me in at night” and “Dispense hot chocolate” Har har.

Bottom Line:
I’m seeing a success for Microsoft. And here’s why: If you look at the top 12 items (which share high numbers in frequency and salience) you see a number of qualities that the Xbox 360 has a corner on. Online. Wireless. Reasonably Priced. Hard drive. Home theatre support. And the key: Well-built. Granted, at the beginning of the Xbox 360s life, there were some quality control issues. But most of that has been ironed out. Sony, on the other hand, is always plagued by hardware problems – sometimes deep into the life of a product. At the holiday season, when people go to the store, the Xbox 360 will feature most of these top 12 qualities in ways superior to the PS3. As for the Wii, it shares a number of them as well, although it falls when compared to a computer and in home-theatre support. It may have the “good games” market cornered, however, with the virtual console, giving it a serious leg-up in a very important category. Note to Nintendo: Keep the flailing-on-the-couch marketing, but play up the games. It’s your strongest attribute and it’s what players care about the most. Do that, and you could make a run at Microsoft.

Of course, if any company thinks up a way to “favor me sexually,” they can start printing money. Oops. Too late.

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