Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 11, 2010

Is Sony on the “Move”?

Sony has unveiled their new motion based controller and software for it. Did you see it, reader? Here it is:

No, no, editor. That is not what Sony unveiled. Aside from the spelling and grammar issues above, that image isn’t too far off.

One thing I need to know is whether or not Sony is letting anyone play with their controller. Letting Industry controlled press play it doesn’t matter because, being Industry controlled, we cannot trust what they say. With Nintendo, they were putting the controller into as many hands as possible. The Wii hype was built not from game journalists but from regular gamers who had their hands on it.

Despite how creepily coordinated Natal’s push was, it fizzled because regular gamers never had access to it. I don’t know if Sony’s “Move” was placed in regular gamers’ hands. Playing is, indeed, believing. (Note that Nintendo of America sold the NES in the same fashion by forcing the controller into as many hands as possible at events in malls and wherever else they could.)

Sony and Microsoft not putting their controller into gamers’ hands tells me they are scared of their own product. Unlike consoles’ graphics intense past, reading about motion control games is utterly pointless. I need to ‘feel’ the game. Anyways…

After Sony GDC’s press conference, I quickly looked through disruption literature to pin down Sony’s response to the Wii controller so I could write it down here for you guys. And to be honest, Sony’s response doesn’t make much sense and isn’t fitting into any of the Christensen defined responses. The obvious knock-off games of Wii Sports clearly show this isn’t a cram. It isn’t a co-opting. The only one that is left is that Sony’s “Move” is a defensive co-opting. Sony’s words, themselves, give credence to this:

“We like to think this is the next-generation of motion gaming,” said SCEA’s Peter Dille during the official unveiling at GDC in San Francisco. “Nintendo has done a great job introducing motion gaming to the masses. We like to think the migration from Wii to PS3 is a pretty natural path.”

Let’s pretend for a moment that Sony actually believes what they are saying. Wouldn’t the above statement be seen as absolute surrender? If you are relying on the Wii users to migrate upward, then that means your audience size is going to be less than the Wii audience. Clearly, not everyone in the Wii audience would ‘migrate’. So if Sony believes what they are saying, this is a statement of absolute surrender. It reminds me of during the pre-Wii launch when analysts said that Nintendo’s only hope was to be a ‘second console’ to the HD machines.

The Wii got big because it got users that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 did not know exist. All the analysts were wrong because there were potential buyers out there the analysts didn’t see. Is Sony’s “Move” (awful name by the way) trying to get buyers we haven’t seen before? According to Sony’s statement, they are going after people who already bought a Wii. This makes no sense in any business sense (if Sony believes what they are saying). Why bother even making a motion controller at all? It would be as dumb as Nintendo putting out a Wii HD to migrate the HD consoles players over to the Wii. Why limit yourself to such a defined and small audience?

I believe Sony does not believe in their statement at all. I believe that the “Move” is a defensive co-opting. In other words, Sony is trying to put a roadblock so Nintendo cannot advance upmarket to gore Sony.

Here is Christensen on the subject:

Defensive co-option usually occurs later in a technology’s development. Incumbents recognize that they have lost the game in the volume end of the market and do what they can to block incursions from below. For example, Oracle introduced its disruptive relational database in the minicomputer market in the 1980s. When IBM realized that Oracle had decisively won the game in that market, it introduced a relational database at the low end of its mainframe market, attempting to block Oracle’s advance. Look to target customers and company announcements to see if companies are following growth-driven or defensive strategies. For instance, a company announcing that the disruptor’s home market is a strategic priority is a clear signal of a growth-driven response.

Sony’s titles and their statements clearly put them as saying Nintendo’s home market is a strategic priority for them. This suggests the “Move” is a defensive co-option. Sony is not so much interested in getting Wii users to buy the PS3 as they are blocking Nintendo’s advance.

This is different from Microsoft’s response. Microsoft is, without a doubt, performing a growth driven co-ption or offensive co-option. You know it is a offensive co-option when the company says that the disruptor’s home market is ‘not important’ and that the new markets out there are ‘more important’. Microsoft made this issue very clear in their E3 2009 press conference. And when asked about the Wii, Microsoft dismisses it and says ‘Natal will be bigger’ and that ‘Natal will make gaming mainstream.’

Microsoft’s strategy is the most impressive and the most threatening to Nintendo. However, Microsoft’s execution is laughable.

I have looked at Nintendo from the context of three simple stools. The first stool is Blue Ocean Strategy. The second stool is the disruption literature. The third stool is my own recollection of gaming back during the 1980s especially the arcades and the Atari and NES generations.

The third stool is extremely important. As soon as I saw the Wii, I instantly recognized it as the new NES. Consoles since the NES have gotten away from what a game console is to becoming little more than dumbed down media PCs connected to TVs. When I see a game like Wii Sports, I immediately think of the NES sports games. The NES sports games were very simple, but they were played by older adults. If I recall an earlier Miyamoto interview, he said he wanted two controllers so people could play baseball with each other. The point is that the Wii is attempting to return to Nintendo’s roots with the NES. Public statements from Iwata and Miyamoto made around the launch of the Wii confirm this. The software also confirms this. Wii Sports Golf has the courses from the NES Golf game. This is not a coincidence.

One of the problems of today is that when people look back at arcade games, they think of Defender or Tempest. Those were considered more of the ‘hardcore’ type games at the time. The real arcade games that you need to think about are Pac-Man and Donkey Kong as opposed to the space shooters. A game like Pac-Man is pure genius. If you disagree with this, you are wrong. Pac-Man was played by everyone and was a huge hit. Is Pac-Man a badly designed video game? Of course not. Is Donkey Kong a badly designed video game? If you answer yes, get off this page immediately. There is no hope for you if you say yes.

So here’s my point: games like Wii Sports or Mario Kart Wii are very well made games. Both of them share that ‘arcade spirit’. Most of the successful Wii games share those arcade and NES roots. Anyone surprised by Mario 5’s success clearly didn’t live through the NES Era. With the exception of Wii Fit, every hit Wii game I can find an equivalent of it from somewhere in t he 1980s. Even Combat, that came packaged with the Atari 2600, lives on through ‘Tanks’ in Wii Play.

Instead of the “Industry” looking at the Wii rise as this, they have concocted the ‘Casual Fallacy’ and have dubbed all these noob friendly games as ‘casual games’ and all the people who like them as ‘casual gamers’. The ‘Casual Fallacy’ is probably the number one reason why so many companies cannot sell to the Expanded Market.

Entertainment requires empathy for the audience. You must know how your audience looks at things. If you think your audience are a bunch of idiots, your show is going to come across as idiotic. The ‘Casual Fallacy’, being a belief system, is creating substandard products that are dead on arrival. In a way, this too reminds me of Warner back during the early 1980s. Being outsiders to video games, they thought video game players were stupid and would fall for their marketing schemes and bad quality games. They saw video games as just an expanding market to make money. The ‘Casual Fallacy’ is closely related to that 1983 mentality.

People who like Wii Sports are not stupid. And Wii Sports isn’t a stupid product. There is quite a significant game inside it. Mario Kart Wii, which has outsold Grand Theft Auto IV, is most definitely a ‘meaty game’ inside it. Note that with Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Wii, the developers said they were trying to get back to the SNES roots. The ‘Casual Revolution’ is actually an ‘old school’ revolution. ‘Old School’ doesn’t mean games made difficult like Mega Man 9 with retro graphics. It means games sticking to their gameplay and being more family orientated like Super Mario Brothers 5. Wii Play is far more ‘old school’ and ‘arcade-like’ than I can think of any game in recent memory. It has Atari’s Combat in Tanks, Nintendo’s Duck Hunt in Shoot, Atari’s Pong in Laser Hockey, and so on.

While the ‘Casual Fallacy’ has doomed third party companies looking to get rich on the Wii, it is now dooming competitor responses to the Wii. Just look at the software for the ‘Move’. Does any of this strike you as ‘old school’ or ‘arcade-like’ or some spiritual successor from the ‘NES Era’ or ‘Atari Era’? Or does it look like marketers and developers following the ‘Casual Fallacy’? The Expanded Market is nowhere as stupid as people think they to be. None of what I saw is going to entice them.

Thanks to the power of the Cell, they only have to repeat the same cowboy image three times. Arcade quality game? No.

Why is a gladiatorial combatant wearing a modern hat and sun glasses?

I almost spazzed out after seeing this photo. What the hell am I looking at? Forget it, I don’t want to know.

A decade from now, people will write how the “Year of the PS3!” began to go wrong. Perhaps a ‘gritty’ Wii Sports Boxing was a bad idea. Perhaps trying to cram ‘realism’ in every single game makes the customers’ faces look like that charming fellow pictured above.

Eventually, there were no games left, just a bunch of f***ed-up things that didn’t work.

No! Completely wrong!



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