It's Day Two of the biggest week in the world of video games, and the industry is completely out of ideas.
If you missed it, here are my impressions from Day One of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, where I declared that the industry was floundering toward its own destruction, aimless and lost. You might think that was rash, considering I had only seen the sad disaster that was the Microsoft conference, where they tried to surprise the world with a series of games Nintendo came out with four years ago. And dancing.
All of that was for their new motion control gimmick called Xbox Kinect. However, Day Two arrived and saw conferences from Sony and Nintendo, also known as "the only two other companies in the game console business." I saw nothing to change my mind.
For instance, debuting today were two of the games I mocked in the graphic above, Killzone 3 and EA's embarrassing Modern Warfare 2 ripoff, Medal of Honor (though I guess if we're collecting "guy with cool machine gun with blood splattered on the screen" pics, then we could have thrown Bulletstorm in there).
Killzone 3 might be the most significant of the games Sony showed today, but not in a good way. Sony, perhaps horrified at the spectacle that was Microsoft and its demonstration of its motion control gimmick, barely mentioned Move, their own motion control gadget. The long gaps in their presentation, when it appeared they were trying very hard to fill time, made me think they took one look at the reaction to Xbox Kinect yesterday and quietly nudged Move under the sofa with their toe.
Instead, they spent most of the time talking up how you could play Killzone 3 in 3D. Well, as long as you have a 3D TV, also known as "The TV that costs several thousand dollars and requires $150 glasses to watch." A 52-inch 3D TV will cost $5,000, though at least that one comes with two pairs of glasses. Even then, if you want to have a few friends over, they'll need glasses too. So that'll cost you as much as a new console. That's assuming the headaches don't keep them away.
Don't get me wrong; I'm sure one day 3D TV's will be common. That point will be right after you no longer need glasses for them to work. Oh, and when the TVs cost less than a new kidney. In the mean time, Sony is spending all of their energy touting a feature that the vast majority of gamers won't be able to take advantage of for several years. It's as simple as that. Hell, most of us just bought our HD TVs in the last few years, we're sure as hell not ready to upgrade yet.
When Sony did mention Move, it came off as a brief afterthought. They showed off Sorcery, which appears to be a Harry Potter game only without the familiar character and lucrative license.
Then they spent many "fill for time" minutes showing off Tiger Woods 2011, the crowd watching in awkward silence as the guy demonstrated that their state-of-the-art game works exactly like several previous Tiger Woods Golf games for the Wii.
It's hard to know exactly which video they showed next was the most cringe-worthy. Was it the montage of people playing with Move set to a remix of "Bust a Move" by Young MC? Or was it this video featuring a stereotypical sassy black kid talking about the Sony PSP, using the most authentic urban dialogue a room full of white 30-somethings working for a Japanese electronics company can manage?
History will have to decide.
When Nintendo took the stage, many of us in the comedy industry got out our notepads and leaned forward. For about the last three years Nintendo has had some of the most spectacularly retarded E3 conferences in history, including the infamous demonstrations of Wii Music.
Instead they began by rattling off a list of games that combined will probably sell 50 million copies: safe sequels to their top franchises. There was a Wii Zelda game, which somehow looked significantly worse than the Zelda game made for the Gamecube four years ago:
We saw a new Metroid, a new Kirby, a new Donkey Kong, a new sports game starring Mario, none of it very original and yet I'll likely wind up buying all of it. But then Nintendo pulled out what many of us had previously assumed was just a cruel hoax:
A 3D game system that doesn't require glasses.
It's the handheld Nintendo 3DS. I'd post screen shots here, but what's the point? You can't perceive it unless you have the thing in front of you. But Nintendo passed out dozens of the systems on the show floor and according to the people who have seen them, it somehow works.
Hell, how can even a grizzled old man like me remain cynical in the face of something that even long-time journalists said filled them with childlike joy? And let's be clear, handheld gaming is pretty much all that matters now: there are about 40 million Xbox 360s in the world and 35 million PS3s, but there are 130 million Nintendo DS handhelds. That's almost double the total of the big fancy HD consoles combined. So this 3D successor should be a license to print money, right? Industry saved!
Well, maybe. See, while we game fans spent our childhoods arguing over whether or Nintendo could beat up your Sega, the competition now isn't another game company at all. It's this:
The iPhone has sold 50 million units so far, a number that is growing exponentially. Android phones are selling even faster. Yes, the 3DS can do gaming better--the graphics appeared to be roughly on par with the Wii. But as the famous saying goes, there is a limit to the number of electronic devices a person wants to carry in their pocket, and that limit is one. If your phone can play games that are perfectly competent at killing time in the dentist's waiting room, what motivation are you going to have to grab a Nintendo 3DS or Sony PSP2 on the way out the door?
Now, let's be clear. Video games aren't going away, just as they didn't go away after the game market collapsed in 1983. Enthusiasts like me will keep playing right on through. But right now, between endless Space Marine shooting games and everyone desperately clutching for the next tech gimmick, I'm seeing an industry stuck firmly in a rut. It's a market that needs another major correction before it can plunge into a future where it will likely be the cornerstone of our popular culture. Gaming is growing out of its childhood, but before maturity arrives we'll have to deal with some incredibly awkward teen years.
Don't laugh, we've all been there.
Here are my impressions from Day 1, if you haven't seen them yet.
For more of Wong's insight into the gaming world, check out 5 Things The Gaming Industry Will Never Fix (And Why) and The 7 Commandments All Video Games Should Obey.