The Day the Gaming Industry Died: Impressions from E3 2010
If you don't have time to read, let me sum up the death of the video game industry in one animated GIF:
Dance Central, for the new Xbox Kinect system
This week is maybe the biggest of the year in the world of entertainment. This is when all of the games you'll be playing for the next 12 months are unveiled at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. This year's event, however, will more likely be remembered as the precise moment video gaming as we know it died a tragic and embarrassing death.
If you haven't been keeping up with the conference, let me summarize by saying Microsoft--and I'm not making this up--had Cirque du Soleil unveil a $150 kitten petting simulator via interpretive dance. The Cirque du Soleil performers rode in on animatronic elephants:
See those people wearing white in the background? Yeah, they also had the audience dress in white cult robes. Here's the kitten petting simulator in action:
All of that actually happened. Does this all sound like an industry's desperate, final plea for attention? Because I'm pretty sure it was. Let me back up a little bit.
The games industry has had a massive problem from day one, one that nobody is quite sure how to fix. This problem is the reason thousands of arcades had to close down after the 80s, and it's why Atari, Sega, NEC and countless other electronics giants had to bail out of the console business after losing millions. It's the reason why even Microsoft has lost billions on its gaming division.
The problem is that video game players simply won't keep playing without a new gimmick every five years or so. Where people have been happy watching celluloid movies for like 80 straight years, for whatever reason gamers won't keep playing games unless given a completely new format every half decade.
Now, some people mistakenly say, "Well, duh, we stop playing the old games because the new ones have hit the market, making the old ones look obsolete!" Not so. We stop playing the games long before the new games arrive. For instance, there are no new consoles on the horizon now, yet video game hardware and software sales are both collapsing. Eventually we just get bored with the medium.
That's a huge problem for the industry; it costs billions to develop a new console from scratch. It's getting to the point that game makers can't make a profit off the last console in the five years before gamers have given up on it and started demanding a new one. Which brings us to the animatronic elephants.
See, the console that "won" this generation was the Nintendo Wii, because Nintendo 1) designed it primarily to cost very little and 2) introduced gimmicky motion controls and other peripherals that made the console seem like easy-to-get-into fun for the whole family. You can stand in your living room and wave your arms around for an hour and have a great time. But going on four years later, people are starting to get tired of that, too--the Wii's sales are plummeting like everyone else's.
But this gave Microsoft and Sony both the bright idea that, instead of bringing out expensive new consoles at the five-year mark (the Xbox 360 has been out since 2005) they'd just introduce their own motion control gimmicks, and sell it as a whole new machine! With Microsoft, this device is called "Kinect" and it was the star of the first day of E3.
It has a built-in camera and microphone, so it can track the movement of your body, and recognizes both your face and voice commands. Microsoft sold the device as controllerless gaming--you don't even need a Wiimote for this, you just wave your hands through the air like Minority Report. Sounds like it could be cool. And then they showed us the games, and a bedridden industry started coughing up blood.
The game that launched the Nintendo Wii in 2006 was called Wii Sports, a collection of motion-controlled minigames including bowling, boxing and tennis.
So Kinect is launching with... Kinect Sports, a collection of motion-controlled minigames including bowling, boxing and table tennis.
The same game, only four years later. Meanwhile, the rest of the launch lineup looks like the cheap knockoff fitness games they've made for the Wii balance board over the last couple of years, most of which you can find in the bargain bin at CostCo.
I see... three fitness games, three dance games and something called Game Party. Are you starting to see why this is a crisis? Those games up there are what they are depending on to save the industry. All those people who've stopped buying games? THAT is the shit that is supposed to get them excited about gaming again.
Oh, wait. We have Kinectimals. It's a virtual pet simulator. Microsoft demonstrated it by having a young Asian girl take the stage and air-pet her virtual tiger.
Of course, you can't feel the animal's fur or warmth, and it can't curl up on your lap or sleep in your bed or snuggle up against you. But, you know, it can do all of the other things pets can do.
At one point the virtual cat licked the screen, and the little Asian girl giggled and reacted as if she was being licked and tickled by a real cat.
The audience at the conference reacted in exactly the same way you react when you notice the homeless guy next to you on the subway is masturbating.
Hey, did I mention that Kinect is apparently going to cost $149, in addition to what you've already paid for the console?
I mean, this is it. There are no other huge, ground-breaking games coming. The only other games they showed off at the conference were sequels--the third game in the Gears of War series, the fifth game in the Halo franchise, the seventh game in the Call of Duty series and the 800th game in the Metal Gear series. I'm pretty sure all of those games star space marines, except for Call of Duty, which stars Earth marines.
Oh, hey, Metal Gear uses Kinect! You can slice your hands in the air and operate the guy's sword that way.
Yes, that's watermelon.
But none of that is what convinced me the industry was on its proverbial deathbed, having just pooped a proverbial lung. No, what convinced me my favorite hobby is dying was the fact that Microsoft devoted easily half of their conference to showing things the Xbox 360 can do other than play games. For instance, you can download TV shows! And movies! And it can do it almost as well as the devices you already own!
They actually demonstrated the viewer waving around their hands to make the menu bring up the right movie, then using voice commands to pause, stop and fast forward. So saying "Xbox, stop" will stop your movie, and waving your hand will presumably make it skip ahead. Awesome! Nothing can go wrong with that, as long as you remember to stay perfectly still and silent while your movie is playing. If you're not clear on why random conversation or ambient sound in the room would fuck up your playback, I'm guessing you've never used a voice operated device in your life.
"No, I said tech support. TECH SUPPORT. TECH. SUP-PORT. "
Also, you can use Kinect to get on Facebook. And watch sporting events. I mean, how else are you going to do those things? It also has video chat. You know, like ChatRoulette. Yes, in just a few short months your child, too, can see a stranger masturbating on your 58-inch plasma.
Sony has their conference today. I'm not hopeful. Why? Because they're devoting their conference to two things: Move, their new, completely original motion controllers...
...and 3D games, aka Games with Glasses and Headaches. HERE ARE MY IMPRESSIONS OF DAY TWO.
David Wong is the Senior Editor of Cracked.com, and the author of the horror novel John Dies at the End, currently banned in 36 states. Also read his 5 Reasons It's Still Not Cool to Admit You're a Gamer and 5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted.