Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 1, 2009

The Birdmen Don’t Fly!!!

In 2008, an article appeared called “Birdmen and the Casual Fallacy”. Perhaps you have heard of it.

At the time, the Wii was sold out. The “Game Industry” was stunned. Everyone was declaring it was the time for ‘casual games’. So many companies saw the Wii as easy money to make “casual games”.

From the article:

The gentlemen, puffed with pride, failed every time. Had they examined the nature of flight, as opposed to the nature of birds, they would have realized the concept of lift (as Bernoulli did). One must examine the physics of the flight rather than putting feathers on one’s arms in imitation of birds. The descendants of these birdmen are with us today. In the gaming industry, they represent some of the highest gaming executives and esteemed analysts.

Nintendo is flying high. Rather than examine the nature of this flight, the birdmen are mesmerized by the feathers. The analysts and executives do not see the concepts of disruption and don’t even understand the Blue Ocean principles (though they think they do). The feathers they see on Nintendo’s ascent are casual games. Therefore, they surmise, if they make casual games then they will be flying high with Nintendo.

All of the above is still true. All the little executives and businessmen thought they were geniuses. Now, they blame Wii and Nintendo for their failure. It is amazing how they are never at fault.

The game industry was, and still is, distinctively hardcore. They generate their profits from sequels and big blockbuster games. The developers are all hardcore. The publishers are generally hardcore as well.

When a hardcore gamer looks at a hardcore game, he sees sophistication, magnificence, and, most important, art as if it were a mirror image facing him. When a hardcore gamer looks as a casual game, he sees simplicity, non-art, easiness, and, in sum, a retardation of gaming. Hardcore view casual games not as progress in gaming but as games tailor made for gaming retards.

“Retards!?” says a shocked reader. “Surely you can’t say what you mean!” Why not? When a casual gamer picks up the standard dual shock controller, he gets confused. He doesn’t have the patience to wade through these elaborate 3d worlds or memorize fourteen button combinations. While the hardcore call him “stupid”, he retaliates by calling gaming “stupid”.

Anytime you read ‘casual games’ in the news, just replace ‘casual’ with the word ‘retard’ and you will get how it is truly perceived by the industry. “There is a casual gamer boom!” should translate to “There is a retard gamer boom!”. The “EA Casual Games Division” really is translated to “EA Retard Games Division”. “Why are you calling casual gamers retarded!?” thunders one reader. I am not. I am saying that the hardcore industry is the one who thinks this way. ‘Casual’ is just a nice way of saying ‘dumb’ in their eyes.

When I wrote the above, there were people who were angry with me for phrasing it that way. I was called a “Nintendo apologist” or something worse.

The “Casual Games Industry” is no more. It blew up.

The reason why hardcore gamers’ hearts sink when a company says they will make the game include ‘casuals’ is because they know that all the edge, difficulty, and passion will be ripped out to make a generic, easy, and soul-less game.

Despite every company and their dog making these ‘casual’ games, the so-called casual audience is not buying them (just as they didn’t buy the platformer clones of the 8-bit generation, the fighter clones of the 16-bit generation, the GTA clones of last generation, and so on). When seeing their ‘casual games’ flop while seeing Nintendo’s ‘casual’ games in the bestsellers, the third parties growl and say, “IT IS ALL NINTENDO’S FAULT! People only buy Nintendo games! Third parties can’t succeed on this platform!”

This is EXACTLY what happened! The “casual games” are flopping left and right while Nintendo’s “casual games” (in their eyes) are best sellers. So the third parties are saying it is all Nintendo’s fault. And this was written almost two years ago.

And you know what the sad thing is, reader? In the article, I offered to help these companies. I offered to help them see past the ‘zOMG casuals’ fallacy they were doing. The article became so popular that I know it fell into some of their hands.

But there is something I know today that I did not know then, Mr. Reader. The objective is to make the cash register go *ding*. There are many different paths to make the cash register go *ding*. Nintendo chooses the path of quality games and taking the customers seriously. Other companies, like our friends of the now defunct “Casual Games Industry”, did not take customers seriously and relied on marketing or low prices in order to make the cash register go *ding*.

You have to understand that the GAMES are not their objective. Their objective was to make an INDUSTRY. This is why you have companies like Ubisoft with a zillion Petz games. They were not interested in making games but only interested in making an “industry”. In this case, it was to make a “Casual Games Industry”.

Satisfying the customer was not the goal. Making good games was not the goal. The goal was to create a machine, a system, that would crank out *things* and get money for it. There is no individual products tended and molded by love. There is only a soul-less machine. This is the “Industry” they were trying to make.

The above picture illustrates the Casual Fallacy well. Wii Sports is a game stuffed with complexity (of its physics), replay value, and many game modes. It is what people want: a friendly but powerful game. Consumers want more games like Wii Sports but they get the plastic dog instead. Sure the game is ‘friendly’, but the power behind it is gone. It is a neutered game castrated from any purpose.

If the reader happens to be a member of the NES Generation, compare the games of youth of the so-called ‘kids games’ you got on the computer to Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda. The tailor made ‘kids games’ then ended up plastic dogs while the Nintendo classics ended up being the real dog. Western publishers were stunned that the 1980s children were abandoning their specialized ‘kids games’ to play these ‘Japanese games’.

If the reader happens to be a hardcore player (oh, that word!), compare games like Grand Theft Auto 3 and Halo to wannabe GTA and Halo clones. The wannabe hardcore games will put in gratuitous violence or sex or space aliens to ‘give the game the edge’. These wannabe games end up the plastic dog which annoys hardcore gamers to no end.

Birdmen can only make plastic dogs. In order to make the real dog, they would have to study the concept of flight instead of studying the wings. Passionate developers also tend to create passionate products (which is why Blizzard puts on any business contract that its developers will be free to make the games they want). Will hardcore developers have a passion to create downmarket products? They certainly didn’t become game developers to make competitors to Peggle and online flash games. What we will end up with are more plastic dogs.

I remember getting made fun on various forums, including NeoGAF, for saying that Wii Sports was a complex game and was the ‘real dog’ where everyone else was bringing plastic dogs.

Passion is discussed in the quote above. In order to make a ‘real dog’, there needs to be passion for it. But if the developers think the customers are a bunch of retards, there can be no passion. The entire idea that Wii customers were ‘stupid’ ‘retards’ poisoned the development process. But that didn’t matter. The objective was to create a machine-like industry, not to create interesting games.

Casual game phenomenon? No. It is a disruptive game phenomenon. Despite all the talk about ‘casual games’, do you ever hear Nintendo (whose games are creating the big so-called ‘casual’ boom) join the ‘casual games are the future’ chorus? Of course not! It is because they are following the path of disruption, not the path of casual games (whatever that means). If there is a fad, it is the Industry’s sudden romance with ‘casual games’ for they see them as easy money (which they will soon discover that there is no easy money in this business).

God, I love reading myself.

I admit I find myself in astonishment. This is the process I am seeing:

Nintendo: “We are following the strategy of disruption!”
“Nintendo wins!”
“How are you winning, Nintendo?”
Nintendo: “We are following the strategy of disruption!”
Journalist: (ignores Nintendo) “What is going on here, analysts and third parties?”
Analyst: “It is a casual gamer boom!”
Third Parties: “OMG! Easy money! Quick guys, everyone start making casual games!”
Nintendo: “We are following the strategy of disruption!”
Journalist: (philosophically) “Will casual games cause the downfall of the hardcore games? Let me write many editorials about this!”
(philosophically) “Is the casual game boom a fad? Let us pontificate over this.”
Third Parties: “Hey guys! How you like my casual games? They sure are snazzy! I will make millions! I am such the business whiz!”
Nintendo: “We are following the strategy of disruption!”
Journalist: (scratches head) “You hear something?”
Analyst: “It was just Nintendo speaking. They are saying the same thing.”
Journalist: “Yeah! Haha! Same old marketing speak. I am so much smarter about business than Nintendo. In my next interview with Iwata, I’ll give him some business lessons.”
Third Parties: (cries) “Oh no! My casual games are not selling!”
Journalist: “Obviously, this is because people buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games.”
Analyst: “Nintendo needs to assist these third parties in getting their casual games to sell.”
Third Parties:
“That’s right! They need to do what WE want them to!”
“We are following the strategy of disruption!”
Journalist: (yawns) “Is that all they say? (becomes excited) Ohhh! Look! A new hardcore game is being made with fresh textures.” (runs off)
Analyst: “Obviously, Sony and Microsoft are branching with casual games themselves. Poor Nintendo. Too bad they are out of tricks. I expect Playstation 3 to be surpassing them in a year or two. The market revolves around technology you know.”
Third Parties: “My casual games aren’t selling? Why!? I do not understand!”

And the quote above me is YEARS old yet it is just as fresh today as it was then!

The conclusion is this: The Birdmen Don’t Fly!!!

The fad was not in Nintendo’s strategy but in third parties (incorrect) interpretation of Nintendo’s strategy. Trying to escape their hardcore labyrinth, many are donning waxy casual wings to fly over the vast Blue Ocean. Those wings will melt and many millions will be lost as they plunge into the deep.




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