We're back and just look at what's happened since we've been gone...
Well, last time we spoke, we at Flatbatteries were feeling rather pessimistic about the video games industry. It was looking as if we were charging towards a world where video games were becoming narrow in their appeal; it was all about pleasing the twenty-something male, and it was getting boring as well as unsustainable.
But, fortunately, it has been all change.
So what has happened since the last (admittedly huffy) entry on to Flatbatteries? Well, Microsoft went for the first move, releasing a machine that was not - to be frank - finished. Microsoft's strategy had mixed results, but let's be honest: the release was well managed when you compare it to Sony's disastrous handling of the over-priced Playstation 3, a machine that still struggles to justify its price-tag.
The release of the Wii, meanwhile was relatively well managed, despite the problems with supply failing to meet demand and the rather insidious tales of overzealous (and drunken) gamers accidentally throwing their Wii-motes at their televisions. However, the occasional column of bad press was replaced with largely good press: there were tales of grandparents having a go on Wii-Sports, and it soon became clear that Nintendo had managed to broaden their market far beyond the usual demographics of twenty-something males. The truth was that the Wii-mote is a marvellous innovation and it has managed to capture the public’s imagination in a way that fancy hi-definition graphics couldn’t (or can’t).
Certainly, Microsoft and Sony were hoping that the novelty of the Wii would wear off but the fact remained that a lot of people had bought a Wii, and were less inclined to fork out more money for another machine that had a ‘been there before’ feeling. Factor in the fact that Nintendo's business plan only requires Wii owners to buy 3 or 4 games a year, and suddenly Microsoft and Sony's respective strategies look rather ham-fisted.
Nintendo's idea of backing away from the fetishistic (and expensive) worship of polygons and frame-rates was a visionary move. One could argue that Nintendo were not in a position to spend millions of dollars on the development of a high definition machine, but it is worth remembering that they had been bouyed by the success of the DS, despite it being a lot less powerful than the PSP. And the clue was there for everyone to see: a smart, ingenious approach to the design of a console could pay enormous dividends. Which is why we see a wide range of people playing on the Wii - they don't care about gigabytes and megahertz. They just want to pick up a game that is easy and intuitive to control but still offers a decent challenge.
Which brings us neatly on to the nay-sayers. There is a significant number of people complaining about the way that the Wii is quickly reducing the number of titles for the so-called 'hardcore gamer'. It is not difficult to follow the thread of their argument: software publishers stop spending millions of dollars on a new Gears of War, and instead plough money into small, simple games that will sell by the bucketload on the Wii. The problem with the ‘hardcore gamer’s’ argument is that it ignores the fact that the market will always dictate the sort of games that will be produced - and this isn't actually Nintendo's fault. And the fact remains that there is (and always will be) a market for 'hardcore games' and so there is no reason to suppose that the games will stop being produced altogether - there just might be less of them and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The truth remains that while Nintendo have done something really wonderful with the Wii, there is still work to be done. As we indicated last time, Nintendo need to start producing more characters to really bump up the number of titles that they release every year. Nintendo can't rely on third-party publishers, mainly because they are rarely interested in quality, just profit-margins. If Nintendo aren't careful, they could end up with the crappy work of others eroding their hard-fought reputation for quality. But, for the first time in ages, Nintendo find that their own worse enemy is themselves. Microsoft and Sony, meanwhile, are starting to look like two bald men fighting over a comb.