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PING/PONG: E3 2011 – The Aftermath
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PING/PONG: E3 2011 – The Aftermath

What will happen to the videogaming world after E3 2011? Listen as we speculate on the potential strategies for Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.

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With the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo in the books, what will happen in the future for Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo? In this edition of PING/PONG, your beloved blabbermouths John Lucas and Mr. Universal (AKA Nathan Evans) ponder the possibilities while reflecting on the companies’ E3 conferences this year. You’ve got many walls of text to climb in this discussion of the gaming world after E3 2011. So get out your climbing gear, readers. See you at the summit!

E3 2011 – The Aftermath

Let me just state the obvious; this was easily one of the most inconsequential, boring, and least interesting E3 ‘spectacles’ I’ve ever had the displeasure of witnessing, for a number of reasons. For me, the show itself breaks down almost evenly into two distinct groups: the conferences just before and the interactive sessions afterwards, and on all accounts, they both stunk. If you want to go back and re-read our initial post-conference reactions you might get a different impression, but let me just say that indigestion is setting in and I can’t find the Pepto-Bismol.

Let me start with Microsoft’s gala, which was a stunning mix of guided commercials (for mostly third-party games) and a series of orchestrated embarrassments, particularly in how they chose to show off their upcoming Kinect line-up. Call of Duty and Tomb Raider were fine, but I can play those on my PlayStation 3, too. As for the Kinect games, what’s up with the animatronic kids and their cringe-inducing dialogue? Is it really that difficult to get some real kids ‘playing’ games like Disneyland Adventures or Sesame Street without making them sound like robots? Or how about the long-awaited Star Wars game (“Lightsaber…ON!”) that kept fudging up? Or the two idiots showing us how intense football in Kinect Sports 2 is going to be? Fist bump? More like face palm.

If you have to crown a real ‘winner’ in this year’s conferences, give it to Sony, although it wouldn’t be because of their sleepy PowerPoint reel of upcoming PlayStation 3 titles. Nobody is quite as adept at sucking all of the atmosphere out of a room one second and filling it back up (usually with hot air) the next as Sony, but that’s exactly what they did here. Yeah, Uncharted 3 sure looks pretty good, but you probably shouldn’t have followed it up with Resistance 3 so quickly. Oh, and thanks for (yet again) keeping those of us not in attendance at arm’s length by streaming non-3D versions of 3D demos live. Speaking of 3D, that new PS3-centric 3D HDTV seems nice (and grossly overpriced), but the real star of their show was the PS Vita, which looks fantastic and – thanks to its unbelievably low pricing, stole the entire show for me. Kaz, you’re no longer “Mr. Five Hundred Ninety-Nine US Dollars” anymore.

Of course, this brings us to Nintendo, which I’ll let you chime in before I give my thoughts. I think I have an idea what you’re going to say, so let’s get the 500 lb elephant out in the open.

Wow. He almost kept it in 3 paragraphs. Haha. Well, Mr. Universal, it’s like this. I simply don’t see either Microsoft or Sony as the foundation of the videogaming business. They enhance it, sure. They help improve it, sure. But to me, it’s much less important what they do or do not do. I judge them on their own merits within their own circle. But when it comes to Nintendo, their moves determine the future of the industry. When THEY screw up, it is VERY important. The videogame console does not exist if Nintendo is not around delivering their innovations and exampling their viewpoints on what videogaming can and should be. Whether they are the market leader or not, they are essential to the future of the business. To use a reference from Nintendo’s Zelda, they are the Great Deku Tree of this magical videogaming forest. When THEY die, IT dies. And I left E3 2011 MORE troubled about Nintendo’s direction than ever before.

Wii U is purely contradiction in action. If ‘Wii’ is ‘We’ and ‘U’ is ‘You’, is the console’s philosophy inclusive or exclusive? Even phonetically it’s a reverse of itself. ‘Wii’ is ‘Ooh Eee’. ‘U’ is ‘Eee Ooh’. Wii spent all of its time convincing new audiences to play, the ones improperly labeled ‘casual’. Wii U seems intent on winning back the old audiences, the ones improperly labeled ‘hardcore’. Wii introduced the freedom of motion play through the Wiimote. Wii U seems to want to lock us back onto the plank through a two-handed touchscreen tablet. Both of those types of controllers cannot be used effectively at the same time. One will always take a backseat towards the other depending on the game. Even the logo for Wii U seems disjointed and confused. The old soft-touch Wii logo set aside this awkward looking sky blue box with a U-shaped dip inside it. Also, for the first time since the 3rd generation they started, Nintendo is releasing a new home console FIRST instead of LAST like they have usually done. None of this makes any sense to me!

During the show, we couldn’t quite tell what was going on in the displays of Wii U. Both of us began to think that the controller WAS the console since we couldn’t get a good look at the actual machine. It looked like a Wii from afar. Maybe this Wii U thing would be a Generation 7.5 option like Kinect and bridge the existing Wii console (and its record-setting base) to the enhanced capabilities (and newly-added base) promised with the new technology. I kept hoping that Nintendo wouldn’t be foolish enough to kill a still-vibrant Wii with the kind of stuff I saw on stage. I kept hoping for a parallel execution that kept Wii alive yet allowed it to claim the audiences (and developers) that remained out of its reach. Certainly I didn’t expect Nintendo to automatically follow this foolish 5-year cycle tradition and build a whole new console from scratch at this stage in the game! That’s just BEGGING for a Dreamcasting.

I’ve got much more to say on Nintendo’s strategy lately but let’s hear your thoughts, Mr. Universal.

I’m going to break up my feelings about Nintendo into three parts, as I think each is going to need its own special attention, especially with the company coming off one of its most disastrous and potentially dangerous public performances in years. Their E3 conference may have started out strong, particularly with a hyper-energetic Miyamoto and one of the most outstanding montages of music from The Legend of Zelda that I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard most of them). But it was all downhill from there, and while hardcore (or hard-headed) Nintendo fans may not like what I’m going to say here, it needs to be said. I’m not going to criticize the look and potential of the Wii U (controller) much, as I’m actually a huge fan of tablet-style controls, and really feel the addition of DS-style touchscreen controls to a home console is more revolutionary than you might think. It’s just unfair to hold a controller responsible for things it hasn’t done (yet), and I’m going to try to be as open-minded on the future of the Wii U as possible. At least, from a gameplay perspective.

As the original Wii console is effectively D.O.A. at this point, it’s not surprising that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was their only real demo, but even it was given a lackluster showing. No bother, because at least their 3DS line-up would be outstanding and revolutionary, right? Hardly. Reggie may have droned on and on about “the new”, but as we were treated to a sad retread of upcoming games, most of which looked like DS rehashes, remakes, and reissues. Even Super Mario 3D, easily my most-anticipated game of the show, looked disappointing. I saw nothing that erased Sony’s powerful PS Vita demonstration from my mind, and to me, the 3DS is looking a lot less desirable than ever.

But as you said, the real ‘star’ of their show was the Wii U, and I can’t help feeling like its a fading star. Then again, it’s difficult to really judge just what the Wii U actually is, besides its oxymoronic name, as Nintendo wasn’t sharing any details. Where’s Wikileaks when you really need them? I don’t mind that the so-called ‘demo’ of upcoming games was actually footage from those other consoles, but I do think this underscores your point about what Nintendo actually has planned for their future, especially when dealing with third-party developers. I’ll let you speculate what all of this could mean and save my opinions for the next round, but it’s clear from their mishandling of both their original Wii console and their seeming inability to ‘get’ the third-party market that they don’t really understand the videogame market anymore. Videogames, absolutely, but the market, no.

Before I go any further, let me just say this. It is ABSOLUTE BULL (can’t use the real word!) that Nintendo used XBox 360 and PS3 footage to show off what was supposedly for the Wii U. Straight BULL! I DO NOT agree with you AT ALL on this. It shows a lack of confidence in your product and it makes your competitors look better. Use a computer next time, Nintendo. There’s no excuse for that…”excrement”.

And while we’re on a fecal theme, Nintendo is flushing this 3DS project down the toilet so far. Excitement about Luigi’s Mansion 2 aside, they did not show that they were bringing out the big guns to compete with what the all-in-one mobile gang has to offer much less Big Vita. Nintendo’s been getting out of control with prices since the DSi and now that $250 price tag they’re putting the 3DS under looks comical to the $250 Wi-Fi version of PlayStation Vita. Nintendo could get away with being less technologically horse-powered so long as they put up a more economically horse-sensed price. They ain’t got neither with the 3DS compared to Vita or the rest and that should scare the pure dung out of Nintendo. What are they THINKING over there?! They are seemingly running against every tenet that has allowed them to become successful and hold their own against these corporate titans. And this has me speculating on their strategies for the future.

Well, as I said before, I don’t think Nintendo really understands the videogame market anymore, and as such, it’s difficult for me to get worked up over their apparent mistakes and misfires. If their success with the original Wii showed us anything, it’s that their whole gamble with motion control and snagging the casual market was just that, a gamble. Or a Hail Mary Pass, if you will, but it wasn’t the work of a company fully in control of itself, nor was it the end-result of a strategy borne out of anything other than Nintendo’s own survival. They had to make the argument that “graphics don’t matter” because, frankly, graphics didn’t (or couldn’t) matter with their diminutive Wii console. They had to focus on supposedly ‘lesser’ third-party developers and wade into the blue oceans of casual users because they had failed so spectacularly with the Gamecube and the N64, and built relationships more from necessity than any real strategic partnerships. But as I said, it’s clear they just don’t have an understanding of the videogame market anymore, and perhaps its time they cede to the experts.

I know you’ve argued in the past that most of the blame lay on third-party developers, but you’re wrong, as its the responsibility of the console manufacturer to get software on their machines for users to buy. Nintendo’s near-fanatical grip on what developers could – and couldn’t – package into their games, anemic online offerings, both gameplay and via DLC, restrictive communication options, and what appears by all accounts to be a complete disinterest in promoting any games other than their own all speak of a one-sided relationship that wasn’t ideal for third-parties to get on board with. I bring this up because of what I said just above, that Nintendo was effectively put into a position of selling the idea that ‘graphics didn’t matter’. And with their more powerful Wii U, they magically matter again. High-definition is suddenly important again. And to all those ‘lesser’ third-parties that supported Nintendo with original offerings when nobody else would? Sorry guys, but Cooking Mama just ain’t as hot as she used to be, if you catch my drift.

While I won’t question the quality of Nintendo’s GAMES, the timing of the Wii U does seem a bit off to me, just as with their DSi and 3DS consoles, both obvious attempts at keeping themselves relevant in this emerging world of tablets and all-things-Apple. But as you said, why do this now? Why convince nearly 90 million people to buy a Wii, not support it, and then move onto a console with an entirely different approach than what worked magic for you? The 3DS isn’t exactly setting records at retail, and the upcoming lineup looks mediocre at best. Factor in fierce competition from Apple and Sony, both of whom are offering superior machines at superior prices, with what looks to be superior software, and you’ve got a recipe for failure in not only Nintendo’s most reliable market, but with their future in general.

Back-to-back failures with both the 3DS and Wii U would ultimately spell the end of Nintendo home consoles, possibly leaving them to retreat into either third (or second) party software status, or continuing solo with a mobile-only platform. And for the first time in my life, I really don’t care if that happens.

We’re talking a lot about Nintendo in this conversation but that’s only natural since they’re the ones ushering in a new home console. And even though I’m not feeling Nintendo’s business direction lately, you might wanna scale back the hysterics about Nintendo going out like Sega. Be for real, Mr. Universal. If the Virtual Boy, Nintendo 64, and Gamecube didn’t shut them down, neither will the 3DS or Wii U. Also, I don’t think I’m wrong about placing most of the blame on 3rd party developers either. How much arm twisting does a developer need to make stuff for the best-selling consoles in the market? It’s absurd. Figure out a way to make it work. It’s money on the table. And no, graphics DIDN’T matter. That’s why the competition ended up mimicking Nintendo. Truth is Nintendo understood the market quite well which is why most of this generation’s growth was a result of their high-selling platforms.

That’s why their latest moves are troubling. Nintendo HAD the answer and just needed to finish the debate. All of a sudden, they began bowing down kissing the 3rd party’s backsides. They gave in, they gave up…on the Revolution. Seeing Apple and the Androids on the horizon, they lost confidence in their plans and started getting hasty. Putting out consoles that are not ready for prime-time, jacking up prices, using competitors’ machines for next-gen demonstrations, totally contradicting the winning philosophy and strategy that brought them to the dance. And as a result, Microsoft and Sony are looking more like the winners of the future. The 360 begins to eclipse the Wii, Vita looks like a serious threat to the 3DS, and everybody expects Microsoft’s and Sony’s next home consoles to obliterate Nintendo once again.

I care if ‘that’ happens, Mr. Universal. Nintendo is the heart and soul of this business and you know it. For them to drop out of the hardware race is the beginning of the end for the videogame biz. But if they’re going to trade leadership for follower status, then frankly they deserve to stumble. Would they die out? No. But they would revert back to their ‘outsider looking in’ status of the N64 & Gamecube days. Should this happen, how do you think Sony and Microsoft will fare in the next coming years? And should Sony and Microsoft be concerned about any ‘outside interference’?

I think when you (or anyone) anthropomorphize a billion-dollar corporation like Nintendo than, as with a real human being, you’d better get ready for disappointment. And no, I don’t think Nintendo had a winning strategy; they had an advantageous one, at least, for a little bit. Effectively disregarding the so-called ‘core’ market and concentrating on generating a new flock of casual users was enough to see them through their back-to-back-to-back ‘failures’ of their post 16-bit home console cycle, but there was little sustainability there, and the facts are, apart from the occasional third-party blip, that selling games on the Wii was pretty much a bust for anyone else BUT Nintendo.

If you want to talk winning strategies, than look no further than Sony and their back-to-back successes with their initial PlayStation consoles, and perhaps with their slow-to-start PlayStation 3. Mishandling and self-inflicted sabotage notwithstanding, the real path to power and real leadership within this industry, as with all power and leadership, will fall to those with an understanding of the masses, what they want, what they don’t want, and how to best effectively change with the times. I was wrong in my predictions about the PS Vita’s pricing, and the first thing I thought when I heard when Kaz spoke the words “Two-hundred Forty-Nine Dollars” was the air being sucked out of Nintendo’s mobile bubble. It’s clear that Sony is leveraging their massive advantage in both the third-party arena and emerging markets (i.e. mobile) and taking aim directly at what’s left of Nintendo’s fast-crumbling empire; their willingness to change with the evolving demands of the market, and by offering a fantastically innovative (if familiar) new platform that outperforms the 3DS on just about every level – while matching its price – speaks volumes to the long-term vision that Sony has set out before them. Its difficult to imagine at this point, barring some unforeseen miracle, of the 3DS every taking hold the way its predecessor does, and of the PS Vita not filling that void effectively.

As for Microsoft, I think they’re going to continue struggling with their own self-imposed myopia in the near future, especially now that they’ve effectively hitched their wagons – and the future of their Xbox 360 console – to what you called Nintendo’s supposed ‘winning strategy’ of snagging casual users. Nothing I saw during their presentation led me to believe that Microsoft is capable of reversing the trend of developers and publishers adopting the PlayStation 3 as their new lead platform, particularly as Sony’s once-troubled console is about to overtake the Xbox 360, at least, globally. You predicted – correctly – that Microsoft’s once-dominant cash-cows like Windows and Office aren’t what they used to be, as users continue to flock to alternatives from Apple and even Google replacements. This is a fact. Sony has stabilized themselves, and is prepared to expand into these emerging markets successfully, possibly giving them a revitalized revenue stream like they’ve never enjoyed before.

Nintendo, on the other hand, is risking the only two revenue streams they have, and it doesn’t seem likely the 3DS or the Wii U will catch fire as their predecessors did. We’ll have to see how this game plays out next year, and whether they’ve got one hell of a bluff in their deck. But again, that’s the problem with treating these companies like people; they’ll always end up disappointing you in the end.

Well here’s my take on life after E3 2011. Get ready for more anthropomorphism. In terms of long-term growth, Microsoft has one thing—and one thing only—going for them and that’s the XBox brand. Trying to prevent themselves from becoming the IBM of today, they will do whatever it takes to make XBox as successful as they can by every means necessary. Windows still rules but with the new wave of smartphones and tablets, one day it’s not going to be as reliable a support it has been for Microsoft all these decades. So Steve Ballmer and his buddies at Redmond will dig deeper and deeper into their Grand Canyon-like pockets (and hard-nosed Rocky Mountain tactics) to ensure success or at least the perception of success. Human beings tend to operate from perception of reality than reality itself.

Microsoft isn’t above scorching the earth to get what it wants so Sony can never take them lightly no matter how much the 360 is virtually confined to the American market. That market’s STILL the most buy-hungry market around until consumerism grips the billion-populated nations of India and China. So XBox has a chance to expand Microsoft’s reign by continuing to reach for this holy grail of ‘THE set-top box for all entertainment’. Question is are they reaching enough? More and more people are cutting the cable from Comcast’s umbilical and looking towards alternative means of watching TV. Here was a golden opportunity for Microsoft to use the 360 as an Internet TV conduit but all XBox Live TV lets you do is piggyback onto an existing cable or satellite TV connection and use the magic of Kinect to make selections. True, in many regions around the nation cutting the cord is easier said than done with internet connections also being provided by the area cable/satellite monopolies. But XBox Live TV just lets you substitute one box for another and that definitely falls short of the set-top box ideal. That’s a pity because now more than ever before the time is ripe for a game console to step into that long sought after all-entertainment box role. Because the more the 360 truly presents itself as an all-entertainment option, the better off Microsoft will be. By the way, Kinect’s NUads don’t help in this.

As for the PlayStation Empire, Sony has a much better shot with Vita than they ever had with the PSP. While Nintendo is busy contradicting their own tenets, Sony is following them. Vita, unlike the PSP and like all Nintendo consoles, is focused on gaming first and foremost. With the multi-touch touchpad, they are delivering gameplay options that others don’t have. And in their own way, Sony is concentrating more on affordability somehow getting this machine inbetween the $250 to $300 range. I don’t believe ANY handheld should go over $200 personally. But this is good for a Sony which not too long ago tried to pawn off the less-functional PSPgo for $250 aside a cheaper more capable regular PSP. Vita’s game prices haven’t been made official yet but if they match the 3DS games’ $40 price range, they can make the 3DS look really bad by comparison. But hanging onto that inflated price can just as easily make Vita look just as bad. They would do better to go a little lower.

The unaccounted-for hitch in Sony’s plans is their network security. If the hacker world is really intent on crumbling Sony by pulling down the emperor’s clothes, then there goes that all-valuable trust in anything dealing with the PlayStation Network. Reservations will be few for the PlayStation Suite if Sony can’t assure the public that their networks can’t safeguard vital information. Never forget that videogaming is a luxury and there are plenty of entertainment choices available. Repeated crucial attacks leaving credit card info out in the internet wilds will scare people away from Sony’s super-connectivity ideals. So tightening up on this aspect is key.

When it comes to the PS3, I’ve said it time and time again that Sony can’t get comfortable with slowly edging out the 360. The 360 has made it where its American advantage balances out with PS3’s European advantage. Only handheld-centric Japan gives the PS3 a slight edge and even that is fading due to natural generational decline (this gen’s going on 6 years old). The PS3 needs to salvage the remainder of this generation with a little more aggression towards the 360 in order to make a better lead-in for the PS4. Microsoft’s simply more desperate in this battle and has much deeper pockets to pull from. No matter what Sony should make the most they can out of PS3’s 10-year plan before making the next-gen jump. Ride it all the way out before making a PS4.

We have talked ‘til we’re blue in the face about Nintendo. Only thing more I’ll say on that subject is don’t expect a WiiDS Phenomenon out of Wii U and the 3DS. Nintendo’s definitely going to undergo a shrinkage in the coming years in my opinion. Self-inflicted, unfortunately. Maybe Apple really IS that big of a threat to the videogaming establishment as we know it. We’ll see if Nintendo was right to get all shook up once more high-profile games launch simultaneously on Apple’s platforms and the existing ones. As much E3 2006 heralded a transformative year for the industry, E3 2011 presents a year at the crossroads.

About the Author: Popzara Press