On Waggle and Prognostication

Naturally, the only thing on the collective hive mind of gamers this week is E3. The Electronics Entertainment Expo is the prized jewel of the gaming industry. Publishers lay out the groundwork for the next fiscal year, developers show off what their blood, sweat and tears have produced. And twitter crashes from the surprise announcements revealed at the major press conferences. Fanboys and blind zealots will claim that their Company (console) of choice “won” the press war and bank accounts around the world cringe at the number of quality games planned for release in the next fiscal year.

Nintendo has been the target of endless jokes regarding the waggle-fest, the mini games, the mass market appeal, the peripherals. We all know that their business plan, despite it’s initial unorthodox approach has yielded gold plated gold sprinkled in gold. when the Wii was launched, we laughed. When it sold out of the gate, we were skeptical. When it continued to sell, we remained doubters. I think it’s time we finally come to grips with the reality that the Wii is the future. Of course, there are some caveats to that statement, so wait a few paragraphs before you start throwing stones.

More appropriately, my assertion should be that the theory of the Wii is the future. Every developer wants to create a more immersive gaming experience. Nintendo took a big risk in not joining Sony and Microsoft in the hardware arms race but it’s clear that their strategy was both spot-on and unbelievably lucrative. The theory that games can be more than 2 analog sticks was not initially accepted as viable, but if this year’s E3 is any indicator Nintendo is way ahead of the game.

For all the criticism we the “hardcore” gamer have given Nintendo, I think some of us are turning away from the fact that Nintendo is setting the bar for innovation, not Sony, nor Microsoft. All of the so-called gimmicks offered by Nintendo have been or are being imitated or replicated by its competitors. Obviously I can’t speak to the timeline of research and development, but at a glace Sony’s DualShock 3 and Microsoft’s avatars seem like a direct response to what Nintendo has done. This industry can only handle one major jump at a time. Maybe Nintendo is embracing that fabled “next step” ahead of the competition. But if the competition is any indication, Nintendo will be leading the way to whatever comes next. Whatever results will be true innovation.

With the introduction of Project Natal and Sony’s upgraded PlayStation Eye experience, the future of gaming is not necessarily going to be experienced in 1080p at 60 frames per second. While I can appreciate the visual splendor of games with that kind of quality, I don’t consider that innovation. I consider that number crunching, using code monkeys to get things to work. By no means is it easy, if it were, every game would have the same output standards. However I don’t think that a game looking “pretty” is the right standard we should be setting for the games of the future. I’m not advocating sacrificing visual quality at the sake of immersion, but the Wii has proved that you can enhance the experience with (at times) sufficient graphical output. Sony and Microsoft will not be far behind in that department. While Sony and Microsoft haven’t completely abandoned what has brought them their successes (and I don’t think they ever will, nor can they afford to) they are starting to make a more earnest effort to expand their consumer base beyond the previous generation of gamers.

Nintendo has proved that the untapped market can be tapped for success. They proved that there is more out there if you are willing to take a risk on something new and different. Ultimately, we can thank Nintendo for truly advancing video games beyond the graphical and visual fidelity metrics that we so often get caught up in. We may not thank them today, maybe not tomorrow, but rest assured, the future of gaming will occur on the back of a plumber, standing on a balance board, with an EKG monitor attached to his finger.
Oh, and as far as Wii Vitality is concerned. I can think of at least one legitimate use out of the box. I’m sure Wii Fit and/or Wii Fit Plus would take great advantage of a way to incorporate your heart rate into the exercises and activities. And just for grins, imagine playing Left 4 Dead with some kind of sensor monitoring your heart rate. We all know how tense that game can be, what if your accuracy or weapon damage could increase with your heart rate to match the growing tension experienced within the game? If we are willing to give them a chance, Nintendo might have something with that. They just need hire some consultants to overhaul their presentation skills.

Nintendo should be praised for the decisions that led to the Wii. Their successes have forced Sony and Microsoft to take a hard look at their business strategy and have significantly changed the impact video games currently have, and will have on our lives. Not to be outdone, Sony and Microsoft have adjusted their business strategies to expand their reach to potential consumers. They might do this kicking and screaming the whole time, but THIS is the future of gaming and I for one am excited at the possibilities.

This post has been featured on Talking About Games, because I’m sweet like that.

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