It's October-November-December 2003 as I write this. 2 years had passed since my last foray into crystal-ball predictions. First off, let's see how I did...
The Gamecube isn't doing so hot. I did think that the XBox would do much better (I was more than right about it in Japan), but right now it looks like they're both having a race for second place. However, with the PS2 outselling them both by a 5 to 1 ratio, it's like a race to be the best loser. (Note- the $99 price of the Cube seems to be helping)
The PSX is coming out... A Playstation 2 that does everything but wash the kitchen sink. I was intrigued to read about it, since it has some features I expected to see further down the line on the next Xbox. Including (and I quote my previous "Future" article)
"The "E" in E Box stands for Everything or Entertainment. I predict it will have the following:
So Sony did it first. The PSX will most likely fail (aka "niche market" in gaming terms) since it costs more than the average college student's car's and everyone has a PS2 already, but it will imbed an idea and it's a sure-fire bet the XBox 2 will have all those features and a bag of chips. As for reducing cables behind the TV, well, to the average person I don't think that's worth $700.
Speaking of X Box 2, as I predicted, they're not calling it X Box 2, rather, probably X Box Next. Because X Box 2 is lower than PS3! On that same token, isn't it kind of lame how Sony is just sticking numbers at the end of the word Playstation for each generation? Notice how very few movie sequels actually use numbers these days? What's with the Playstation then? I always thought "Playstation" sounded like a term from kindergarten anyway, "All right, children, go to your PLAYSTATIONS!" It's kind of a lame name, and it feels so awkward and redundant to say "I'm playing Playstation." Oh well.
HERE WE GO!
It seems that a slew of new portables will be coming out before the next batch of consoles, so that's where I'm going to concentrate my time. Here, for your consideration is:
The Future of
Since the dawn of time (or 1989, whichever comes first), Nintendo has kept a steely cold grip on the portable gaming industry. Despite the fact that every contending system has been technologically better, the Gameboy endured. Now, there are not 1, but 2 new contenders on the horizon! Ok, the N-Gage is already here, but bear with me. Let's see how I think they will do! Dive in!
Nokia N-Gage (AKA 2600 "ET")
I wish I could have gotten this article done BEFORE the N-Gage came out so I could predict what a flop it would be. First off, do that many people play the games that are already built into their cell phones? Granted I'm sure the N-Gage games are more advanced than "Snake" and even "Snake 2", but still. Cell phones are meant to make PHONE CALLS, you know, so people can call each other to say "Hey, what's up?" and "Where you guys at?" Also, $200 for a phone is a lot, especially for an item that is likely to be damaged. Cell phones get scratched, bashed, chipped and dunked in Lake Michigan (well mine did at least). An N-Gage could get turned into a junk heap pretty fast. Also without a folding cover (ala GBA SP), the screen is open to attack.
The ads for the N-Gage are a little hard to swallow. Have a threesome in a cab? That's the only one I remember but they all seemed to involve being outdoors and playing multiplayer. But that begs the question-
Who goes out on the road, or outside for that matter, to play multiplayer? Multiplayer is meant for dark living rooms with a bunch of trash-talking Gen Xer's playing NHL 2004, or people sitting at their computers fragging long into the night with Counter-Strike. Multiplayer videogames are not meant as quick and dirty little disposable wastes of time. Myself and anyone I know, when we play multiplayer, we sit down with the intent of playing a lot of videogames. Not that I'm proud of this, but I distinctly remember playing (and winning) 85 rounds straight of Street Fighter Alpha 3 once. (with Sakura) Does someone log onto a Half Life deathmatch for 5 minutes? Did people play Goldeneye for 1 round? Unless I'm REALLY out of the loop, I'd say the answer is no.
I don't know who else has noticed this, but it seems like people in general are moving away from Nokia phones as it is. Everyone these days, especially in the age group that the N-Gage seems to be targeting, has those sleek silver folding phones. You know, with the blue lights, zillion color displays and PCM ring tones. Maybe Nokia makes those, but it seems like they're mostly done by other companies.
The N-Gage could be the flop that costs Nokia critical amounts of market share. I just hope they can find a landfill big enough in the end...
At the other end of the ball field is the
Official Sony PSP
Wow, "PSP", what a clever name, Sony, where did you ever come up with that one? Why not just go all the way and have the 'P' lowercase? Oh, well. The PSp, I mean, P, is something they could have and should have done a couple years ago to smash the GBA right out of the gate, but better late than never. Even my PRIMITIVE version of a PSp/P showed that people were just salivating for such a thing to exist. So to Sony, I say, GO FOR IT!
I am going to make a prediction on this right now, that Sony will market it as a game system / music playing device. Heck, it might even play movies but it seems it would be very limited in that aspect. As long as they don't throw in a cel phone I think we're OK...
I did some concept drawings of what the PSP might look like for a magazine back in June, so I thought now would be the time to share them! I fully expect the final PSP to look just like this. :) (Sony, just get me a forest green 2004 Subaru Outback 5 speed with turbo and a trunkfull of MGD and I'd be happy.)
Here is my main PSP concept drawing. I drew it using all the specs available for the PSP at that time, including screen size/ratio, size of media and ports. Also taken into account are the internals such as motherboard, battery, disc drive mechanics, speakers and buttons. The main reason the controls are to the sides of the screen and not under is so that an analog controller can be used. If Sony wants to "Out Cool" GBA, then it needs an analog control stick. If Sony omits the analog stick on the PSP, people will cry out "WHY?????" just like they did when Greedo fired first. To have that, it has to be off to the side so it doesn't ram into the screen or the UMD drive. Analog control sticks take more depth than digital pads.
Here is a detail of the screen. As you can see, it's possible that the screen may not only tilt up, but swivel around and fold back down onto the unit. Most Sony camcorders have this ability and putting the feature in a handheld would allow for more viewing angles. The screen on this thing is HUGE, according to the specs.
Also note the LCD screen/playback controls on the back of the main screen. This allows the unit to function as a media playing device when not in game mode. I strongly suspect Sony will release some sort of new music format that will be sold on the UMD's (Universal Media Disc) that the PSP uses. Note the word "UNIVERSAL". Remember how long Sony has tried pushing their Minidiscs, well, meet "Son of Mindisc" Quality-wise a UMD would clean a Minidisc's clock so who knows?
Whoah, look at all the guts! Again, the screen, battery and UMD drive will take up most of the space at the center of the unit. For any decent controls/shoulder buttons to work, those things will have to be out to the sides. There is NO WAY this thing is gonna look like a GBA SP (sorry EGM)
I've said this many times already, but I think Sony is really gonna clean house with this. It's gonna be well, well over the $100 mark, probably $150-175, but people will go for it. It being the first portable system with a DISC will attract a lot of business just for the sheer novelty of it. It's going to be COOL in ways the GBA never was. This means they'll get the older market AND the kids. Sony can port all their PSOne titles to it with ease and develop new ones. Multiplayer should be pretty sweet with the USB2 cable. I see this thing outselling ALL systems for Christmas 2004.
Gameboy More Advanced (No, really this time!)
From the sound of things, Nintendo is not only moving up their next console (mistake) but also moving up their next handheld (mistake). For the time being let's concentrate on the handheld. In 2004 they're saying? To compete with the PSP? Nintendo, WHY? WHY WHY WHY?!?
First off, why wasn't the Gameboy Advance more "Advanced"? Compared to the PSP, the GBA is gonna look like last week's Pong console. Nintendo must realize this, otherwise they wouldn't fast-track a successor. But I feel that will be their undoing...
Ok, many times now I've compared Nintendo to Sega and Atari. Both of those latter companies released too much hardware, devaluing their entire line. It is my belief that this is gonna bite them in the butt...
Nintendo already got everyone and their pet chicken to buy a Gameboy Advance.
Next, a scant 20 months later, they release a BACKLIT Gameboy, the GBA SP, something they could have done in 2001. And it's selling like mad.
Now, a scanter (is that a word?) year and a half later they'll be releasing a Gameboy Advance successor?
Are people gonna put up with this? Does Nintendo think it can be kept afloat by selling people the same thing over and over again? (and I'm not even getting into the re-re-re-releases like" Super Mario Advance 4 - Super Mario 3-Stamos DX XP 2000-X")
Look at Atari. They kept trying to shove barely more advanced stuff down people's throats, like the 5200 and the XE Game System, and people were like "forget this, let's buy a Colecovision or a Nintendo!" Atari repackaged the same old games in each new system, similar to Nintendo.
Consider how Sega sold the Sega CD add-on for the Genesis. Then came the 32-X. People were wondering "what is Sega up to, anyway?" They had all these systems floating about, not to mention to Nomad. Then, a mere 5 or 6 months after the 32-X comes a new system, the Saturn. People didn't know what to expect, or what was worthwhile, because so much hardware was coming from Sega. And thus started their hardware downfall.
I would bet that Nintendo's next Gameboy will out-spec the PSP. If so, then they are officially DOOMED! Why? Because it is an undisputed, historic fact that the LESS advanced game system is always the most successful. It has been the case in every generation. Atari was weaker than Intellivision, NES weaker than Master System, Genesis weaker than SNES, Playstation weaker than N64, and PS2 weaker than the Xbox or Cube. And the Gameboy was weaker than EVERYTHING. Why this is, I don't know. Top that off with the fact that the next Gameboy will probably STILL use cartridges, and you've got yourself a lose-lose scenario.
So, it is my prediction that after the success of the GBA wears off, and the PSP invades the market, Nintendo will end up with second fiddle in the handheld arena.
Now that I've talked about the portables, let's move onto the Fate of the Consoles...
Locked in a ferocious battle for second place with the XBox, the Gamecube has managed to do 'alright'. A lot of their best games are things available on all 3 consoles, which I think is hurting them. Since I've already touched upon Nintendo's desire to release a Gamecube successor ahead of the other companies, I'll spend this time discussing why I think the Gamecube, and Nintendo in general, is starting to lose out:
The core problem of Nintendo is their games were aimed at too low an age demographic for too long.
Let's look at videogamers. I'll break them down:
Yuh-Gi-Oh (sp?) / Pokemon' Generation, (Now ages 0-13): These are the kids keeping Nintendo afloat, but mostly with the portables. They're into the kiddie stuff, but even then, it's stuff like Yuggie-Gee-Oh (sp?) and Pokemon' more so than Mario. Even this generation will outgrow Nintendo in time.
Old Schoolers, (Now ages 30-35): These people got Ataris when they were young and it was the first videogame influence on their lives. However, they were less likely to be into Nintendo because by that time they were going to high school, college or getting married/etc. Also, the videogame crash happened during their time, so they may have stopped playing videogames altogether.
Target Generation, (Now ages 20-30): I'm in this group and if I had to bet, this is where the money is for videogame companies. You've got people in college sitting around playing Madden 200X, you've got bored married people who never go out sitting around playing Final Fantasy X, you've got roommates just out of school sitting around playing Grand Theft Auto. But the most important thing about this generation is this:
A) Our first real
MAJOR exposure to videogames was Nintendo.
The 'no videogame crash' thing is important. Why? Because most everyone I know around my age got a Nintendo, usually in 1988 when it really took off. Then what? We all got Sega Genesis. After that? Sony Playstation. And so on. We never stopped playing videogames. We only put a system in the closet to make room for the new one (where most Old Schoolers put their Ataris away FOR GOOD which caused their videogame hobby to lapse)
The important thing is, since videogame systems kept getting more and more popular, people kept buying one every generation. But there was a problem.
We got older. Nintendo didn't.
Even starting with the Sega Genesis, Sonic was 'cooler' and 'faster' than the plodding Super Mario World on the SNES. The Genesis had BLOOD in the games, and they were darker in nature. The 'darkness' being literal and figurative since the Genesis had a much smaller color palette than the SNES and the color black was more prevalent for technical reasons, but still. The SNES did eventually catch up (sales-wise) with stuff like Donkey Kong Country but even that was the cutesy stuff for kids.
The sales of Donkey Kong Country probably prompted Nintendo to make more stuff like that. Then came the Playstation, which everyone bought. Its games were even darker. When I was 20, I wasn't playing Super Yoshi World or Donkey Kong Country 12. I (and everyone else I knew) was playing Twisted Metal, with its dark themes and psycho clowns.
Side note: I worked at Funcoland when the PS1 was released and if there was one game everyone was after, it was Madden '96 for Playstation. We of course know now that at the time it was a horrible mess that would never had been ready when initially promised, but imagine if it had been released by holidays 1995 and was pretty good. Sony might have had a killer app a year before the N64 arrived on the scene. Ouch. Nintendo should thank the development team of the aborted Madden '96 for their accomplishment. (or lack thereof)
The trend continued with Resident Evil, a game that was fairly bloody, scary, more mature and violent. Developers caught wind of the more mature trend. Playstation had games with profanity, scantily-clad babes, and they sold like hotcakes.
Then of course there's Final Fantasy XII. From what I hear, this is the game that really made the PSOne take off. I've never been an RPG fan so I can't attest personally, but I can imagine how things went:
Generation" gamers loved Final Fantasy on their NES
See the linkage? Nintendo held onto that genre for 2 generations, then lost it. The practical lack of an entire genre is not good for a system. In the N64's case it was RPG's. In the Gamecube's case it's Gamecube-only titles that appeal to adults. (like Goldeneye 007) The downward spiral begins spiraling faster!
It's kind of ironic that at one time Nintendo was going to release the NES under the Atari name, but didn't and Atari died. It's also ironic that ten years later, Nintendo and Sony were going to make the Playstation together but Nintendo let the deal fall apart and got their butts handed to them. Nintendo may keep puttering along, with the idea "as long as there's kids in the world, we'll make money". But slowly and surely Sony is eating into that market as well.
I'm not sure what all I can really say about the X-Box. Both people I know who have one never play it. Not sure what that means. It seems to have a lot of "X-Box Only" titles, but they don't appear to be as appealing or popular as the PS2 exclusives. And now with the Gamecube getting a sales boost with its bargain price of $99, the X-Box may have its work cut out for it. They were losing money at $300, probably still at $200, at $100 it would basically be a charity gift to the buyer. Microsoft will obviously make another X-Box and market it aggressively. (Microsoft executive: "Let's Attack Aggressively!") But will it be enough? Neither the X-Box nor the Gamecube have sold enough to really be called a major success. However, the pride & perseverance of both companies will compel them to go on. But, (ever notice how many sentences I begin with a contradiction?) ONE of those systems must fall in the next round. Either Microsoft or Nintendo will drop out by 2010. I can't really see 3 systems at once going forever, especially with 2 of them so far behind. True, Microsoft and Nintendo have the BILLIONS to sustain a number of flops/underperformers, but so did Atari at one point.
The PS2 has had a great run of things, with lots of killer PS2-only titles such as Gran Turismo, Grand Theft Autos, Final Fantasy X and more. Great system-only games is the way to win. It sure helped the NES kick all manner of butt, and some great N64 only titles helped that system hold its own against PS1.
Technically, it is beginning to show its age... Textures are looking muddier, the load times don't win any awards and the displays aren't as crisp. But, as I said before, it's the lower tech system that wins, and the PS2 is certainly winning!
PS2 will have one more big Christmas in '04, with most likely Gran Turismo 4, Grand Theft Auto Sin City (my prediction!) and maybe another Devil May Cry title all burning up the charts. Online will be BIG, being a major selling point of the new games. (Personally, I think a massively-multiplayer Grand Theft Auto would break ALL the records and sell a lot of modems) Then, Sony will promptly abandon all the millions of PS2 owners when they release the PS3 the next year. However, this is a good thing, because it means they'll make a small little re-designed PS2 that I can hack into a portable!
Future Games in General
As I mentioned above, online gaming is only going to get bigger. Games that can't go online will be seen as archaic as 2D games now. The Gamecube is once again more or less ignoring a major trend in the industry and will get burned for it. The advent of high speed modems being more and more common will help fuel this trend. The next-generation systems (2005-ish) will all be Internet-ready right out of the box. Well, maybe not the Gamecube 2. Nintendo touts "connectivity" between the Gamecube and the GBA, but let's face it, it's just a way to get people to buy more games and junk. It can't compare to an online experience.
I often wonder about the role of the home computer in the future of gaming. Even a mid-range PC cleans any console's clock when it comes to games. It would be cool if versions of a game on a PC were compatible with the console version, however seeings as computer games are usually a couple years ahead of console games tech-wise this probably will never be the case.
It's my thought that massively multiplayer games are going to become a large portion of the gaming world, especially once high-speed internet reaches a larger amount of homes. In my earlier "Future of Videogames" article, I discussed people living out entire alternate virtual lives through videogames. Sure, I pegged this as being 75 years away and with Matrix-like plugs in our heads, but the roots of it can be seen even now. The popularity of open-ended videogames, where you can do things however you please is a good indication of this. The Sims allows people to live little virtual lives, and Grand Theft Auto let you do things in traffic you wish you could do on your commute to work. It's the escapism, the alternate reality of videogames wherein lies their true value. In the past, escapism was afforded in the form of books, movies and TV. With games, however, you don't have to sympathize with the main character to be part of it, you ARE the main character. Society will always use its highest technology for its amusement, someone once said, and games are it!
Well, I should wrap up this installment of FUTURE-GAMING so I can get to work on the Future of Homemade Portable Gaming myself. Until next time!
Benjamin J. Heckendorn, December 15th, 2003 AD