Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The end is nigh! (and that's not a bad thing)

There's an apocalypse coming!  And we're NOT gonna die!


There's an old proverb: "those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it."  It means that we can learn from past mistakes to prevent future ones.  What if repeating history would be good instead?  Before you start dismissing this as a 2012 rant, it's not.  Gaming is on the cusp of another crash, and I can't wait for that to happen.

Businesses have a knack of taking a great idea and driving it into the ground.  Subject A: Activision Software.  The Guitar Hero franchise raked in billions of dollars for the company, and every household and their mom has owned at least one guitar.  That worked, at least until Activision tried to sell four new Guitar hero titles in one year: 2009.  Metallica, Smash Hits, Guitar Hero 5, and Van Halen.  Greed got the better of Bobby Kotick, Activision's CEO, and sales of Guitar Hero games were dismal that year.  Releasing four games under the same banner meant that each Guitar Hero game had to compete with its siblings, right alongside Rock Band.  That's simply not a good business plan.

However, this is not the first time that something like this has happened.  Atari and Mattel were once locked in console warfare.  Atari had their eponymous console, and Mattel had the Intellivision.  In 1981, Atari released a home console version of the arcade his, "Pac-Man."  It sold well, to be sure, netting 7 million units sold in a matter of months.  Then the critics got wind of it and the public saw disgust.  The best selling game on the Atari 2600 was, by all accounts, a complete flop.  12 Million units were produced, and Atari found themselves on the hook for around 5 million copies by the time the video game crash of 1983 happened.

Pac-Man wasn't the only failure for Atari.  Steven Spielberg's classic film, "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.  According to Next Generation Magazine, Atari lost $100 Million in producing the game.  Then-CEO for Atari, Ray Kassar, attributed E.T.'s commercial failure to over-production, expensive movie licenses, and merchant returns of 85% of stock.  Atari dumped crates of unsold copies into a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico.  Rough estimates place the number of copies of the game around 3.5 Million.  If you really want a copy, They're probably for sale.  I'm not sure why you'd want one...

In addition to these large scale failures, there were literally thousands of poor quality video games made for the various consoles available.  Creating a game was rather simple.  Anyone with an idea and some start-up cash could make one.  Quaker Oats, Purina, Parker Brothers, and even K-Tel, made games for the Atari consoles.  Too often, these games would languish on store shelves, only to be sold for pennies on the dollar, if at all.  Retailers couldn't return them to the publisher for new merchandise or cash, because neither one existed.

All this talk about the video game crash of 1983 has a purpose. Call of duty has sold 12 million copies since its release on November 8.  Along with the record sales, IGN and Gamespot loved the multiplayer, but lamented the forgettable story.  MW3 didn't really do much at all in the way of innovation.  It's usually a good idea to start listening to reviewers when youtube videos like this show up.  Tony Hawk's more recent forays into the video game world tanked critically and the sales numbers proved it.  The once great "bird man" has found his wings clipped, as Activision has cancelled all Tony Hawk games indefinitely.

EA has transformed from the risk taking publisher it once was to a software giant, bent on annual releases at $60 a pop.  When, on the rare occasions that EA does take a risk, they almost set it up for failure.  Look at my oft-cited Shadows of the Damned.  It's an EA game, but it received nowhere near the ad exposure/coverage that Madden and Battlefield 3 received.  It's almost like they set it up to fail.  Shadows received a ton of critical acclaim, and my GameStop is regularly sold out, with the exception of the occasional trade-in.  Why, EA? Why?

The worst offender, however, is the Wii.  The Wii is bloated with "shovel-ware," to the point that nobody takes it seriously anymore.  Go into any GameStop and there will be whole shelves of used Wii games for $15 or less.  99% of them are utter trash.  It's no wonder Nintendo announced the Wii U.  There's too much crap on that system! Hopefully you see where I'm going with this by now.

If you don't, let me spell it out for you.  We need another crash to spark more innovation in our industry.  After the video game crash of 1983, Nintendo and Sega rose out of the smoldering ashes and gave us Mario, Alex Kidd, Duck Hunt, and all the other now retro titles.  Those wouldn't have been possible without the industry contraction.  Once the industry has a truly clean slate, and the juggernauts of years past are gone, can true innovation in gaming really begin.

I don't know about you, but I want to see something like this happen.  Think of the possibilities of a new game that would have the same impact on future generations as Mario or Sonic.  When both franchises first came out, they were nothing short of technical marvels.  Wouldn't you want to witness the next generation of technology unfold right in front of you?  I know I would.

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