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Ten Questions the Next-Gen Hasn't Answered

For all the posturing about when the “next-generation” of gaming would actually begin, the three hardware manufacturers (Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony) sure haven’t answered much about what the next generation is supposed to mean. Is it realistic graphics? Not according to Nintendo. Is it motion-sensitive controllers? Not according to Microsoft. Is it affordable hardware? Not according to Sony. So what is “next-generation” gaming?
We’ve thought long and hard about some questions that are still unanswered, and since everyone likes a Top Ten list, we present our questions in that format. Keep in mind there are many more questions still out there; these are just our most pressing.
Why are “Mature” games generally the most immature ones out there?
Blood and guts aren’t appropriate for kids, so slapping an M on a super-gory game makes total sense. But GTA3, Vice City and San Andreas are far from mature. Honestly, doing (and then killing) hos and participating in a drive-by? Aren’t we as a society trying to discourage those activities? And what’s with all the “recreational” cursing in some games? Yes, people curse. But sprinkling the in-game dialogue with F-bombs and other curse words doesn’t make a game “cool” or “mature,” it just makes it something parents will never want their kids to play and might even find unbearable themselves. If you really want a “Mature” game, make one that tackles truly difficult scenarios and discusses moral questions like adultery and divorce.
Why do hardware manufacturers make a big deal about launch dates?
The Xbox 360 sold out within hours of launching. So did the PS3. So did the Wii. So what does it matter if a company releases its hardware four days before or four days after the competition? Sony and Nintendo got their sales regardless, and they knew they would. A year-long head start makes sense to tout (as Microsoft often does), but four days? Who cares? If you know you’re going to sell out on Day One, just release the system when you have enough units to keep gamers happy and eBay popular.
Why hasn’t the industry developed a standard save system?
Since the days of the SNES and Super Mario World, gamers have expected to use multiple profiles to accommodate different family members’ progress in a game. Yet here we are, in 2006, and games like Dead Rising and Gears of War still don’t support multiple saves per profile. Is it really all that hard to do? Do companies not want more than one person in the house to play the game? And for that matter, why hasn’t anyone come up with an industry-standard save system for we gamers on the go, the ones who don’t always have 45 minutes to drop into a game between save points? More companies should support a save-anywhere feature. Just because it’s there, that doesn’t mean gamers have to use it, but it’ll certainly be a nice tool for those of us who want to.
Just who is the “average gamer,” anyway?
So who are those gamers who don’t always have game time in 45-minute chunks? Parents, students, working stiffs who need a quick gaming fix. But are they the “average gamer”? Industry figures say the average gamer is 28 years old, but the number of 11-year-olds who spend their time annoying others online seems to imply otherwise. Even the games available now don’t paint a clear picture, as some are geared toward ADHD 20-somethings, others are designed for more cerebral thinkers, and still others are geared toward kids who are learning to speak Spanish. If there is an “average gamer,” just who is it? And if there isn’t, then why even bother talking about gamers’ demographics in the first place? After all, it’s not like Hollywood goes around talking about the “average movie watcher.” And we all know how much the videogame industry wants to be like Hollywood.
Would it kill you to make functional hardware at launch?
Don’t even start with me. “Oh, but Jonas, don’t you know how much more complex the new systems are compared to the older consoles? Bad units are bound to crop up.” OK, but these are uniform, stable platforms, yet it seems like we see far more instances of hardware failure with gaming systems than we do with top-of-the-line PCs that have multiple configurations. If it’s really the complexity of these things, go hire some better engineers who can make them work right. And do more thorough hardware testing. Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure you have enough customer support to deal with those calls from irate consumers who are now the proud owners of a $600 paper weight.
Has anyone asked if consumers really want an all-in-one system?
Ahh, yes, the $600 system. Not sure about you, but I never asked to have a new-fangled DVD player and a massive hard drive and something that streams recipes from my refrigerator. “Oh, but Jonas, don’t you know that these supercomputers will mean you never have to get your lazy ass off the sofa to do anything ever again?” Let me repeat: don’t start with me. I have a PC for word processing, a car for driving to the rental store, a phone for ordering pizza and an oven for cooking. I want my console to play games, maybe the occasional movie or two. Sony’s inclusion of a Blu-ray player is strategic and their Trojan horse for the next-gen DVD format. I respect that decision. Doesn’t mean I want to fork over the money for stuff I never asked for in the first place…even if I do recognize that Sony’s taking a kick to the financial shorts to get these systems into your living room so you can support their proprietary format.
What ever happened to science fiction?
We’ve just about beaten WWII to death, don’t you think? Same with fantasy RPGs and feudal Japan. So can somebody please tell me what happened to science fiction? There are a few good examples (Halo, Killzone, Gears of War, Mass Effect), but truly, where has all the sci-fi gone? Did good science-fiction die with Gene Roddenberry? Or is it simply because we know so much more about the galaxy and technology than we did before that sci-fi just seems passe or unrealistic? I’m done with WWII and dragons. Aren’t you?
Do you really think you’re fooling anyone with the “Tom Clancy” name?
OK, so this specific questions more a dig at Ubisoft than it is the industry, but it has ramifications for everyone. You’ve likely seen all the “Tom Clancy’s” games from Ubisoft, no? Um, guys, Tom Clancy hasn’t even written his own books in years; do you really think we believe he ever got within two farts of these games? This is a marketing arrangement, plain and simple, no need to force it down our throats. Yet as an industry, publishers see marketing arrangements as a way to fund development costs and make a little extra on the side, all under the guise of “immersion.” 2K Sports, EA, Microsoft, Activision, Ubisoft…everyone’s doing it, and it’s getting out of control. We all know you’re making money off these deals; the very least you can do is incorporate the brands in a believable, tasteful and palatable way.
Do any good writers still exist in the game industry?
If the “next generation” doesn’t mean good graphics or motion controllers or cheap hardware, maybe it means good stories. Oh wait, Prey and Gears of War tossed that theory right out the window. I realize there’s a lot of talent that goes into making games bug-free, fun and pretty, but let’s not forget about the narrative, OK? I can’t recall a game since The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion that had a memorable story, and more and more it seems developers are focused on multiplayer modes rather than single-player experiences. David Jaffe may have been blowing smoke when he said he wanted to make gamers cry in his next game, but just the fact that he said that shows he knows what the industry needs: a good narrative, emotion, connection with characters. Halo 2 may have pissed people off with its lack of an ending, but the fact that we were all so frustrated with it showed we cared about the story. And if I don’t care about your story, I don’t generally care about the game unless the multiplayer options are perfect. So someone, please, reassure me that the reason for all the multiplayer hubbub isn’t a sign of the industry’s lack of good writers.
Why do publishers only ship games during the holiday season?
This question doesn’t ever seem to go away, and it doesn’t appear to be going away with the “next-gen” systems, either. Attention, publishers: we get paid year-round, you know. Maybe we’ll get a Christmas bonus and be able to hack into the deluge of holiday titles, but we’re ready, willing and able to spend money on good games during the spring, summer and fall, too. Maybe you should lay off the holiday season release dates and release games year-round. Did you learn nothing from the Beyond Good & Evil fiasco a couple of years ago? Great game, holiday release, bad sales. When there’s too much available at once we need to pick and choose, so many good games go ignored. Don’t make us ignore you. Ship games year-round. We’ll all be better for it.
–Jonas Allen

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