With the Kinect, Wii, Move and the iPad, Hardcore Console Gaming is Dead
What Does the XBox Kinect, Playstation Move, Wii, and iPad have to do with destroying hardcore gaming?
The XBox 360, Kinect, Playstation Move, Wii, and iPad have formed a perfect storm of delivery devices poised to decimate the sales and future of hardcore games, like Half-Life, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Gears of War, and Call of Duty.
Games for the casual player, like Wii Bowling, will dominate development teams, as innovative tools will dominate the marketplace for games. The hardcore gamer is actually not the game demographic that sells the most units. Newcomers, and casual games dominate the market. Angry Birds, by Rovio, has sales figures that would make an Assassin's Creed fan weep.
Even hardcore games require external elements plugged into Facebook, and the iPad to make sure the different gaming brands survive the transition to new media channels. The console, and the hardcore game is dead.
With Motion Control from the Kinect, Playstation Move, and Wii, console games are party games
The first time I saw the Kinect, I knew I was soon going to be out of work as a game designer. I had been working on a hardcore game targeted to the core gamer demographic of males, eternally trapped in a long adolescence. When our gameplay lead pulled out the Kinect, and began to dance with his avatar on the screen, I thought that our hardcore console project was going to get shrunk, maybe canceled, to reallocate company resources to this new device. After that, I believed the flood of out-of-work game design talent was going to flow away from hardcore games, towards the iPad and Google Android.
My prophecy was correct. The project is gone, swallowed up in pre-production hell, and the team shrank with two waves of lay-offs. I went with it. Most of my fellow designers have moved on to designing games for the Google Android, Apple iPhone, and the iPad. Hardcore, console gaming is not going to last the shift towards physically interactive games. The glory days of Halo 2 multi-player and marathon sessions of Grandtheft Auto will never return. The epic narratives of Assassin's Creed and Dragon Age are going to fade away until all that remains are quirky games that want people to get up and jump around like gibbons to eternally-cheerful encouragement by avatars that will never get as winded or as weary or as bored as the gamer.
Motion control games are not hardcore games. Imagine playing Wii bowling for ten hours straight. It doesn't quite have the same allure as ten hours of headshotting your stupid cousin that always jumps out of cover the moment he sees motion over XBox Live with your sniper rifle, does it? The story will not be as engaging as Neverwinter Nights, in motion control gaming. Even relatively early motion games, like RockBand had a story so thin you could smear it on toast without noticing any juicy story nuggets in the thin, thin paste of becoming the greatest air guitar cover band to ever grace the pages of Tiger Beat.
What alternative is there for the hardcore gamer? The computer still hangs on to Sid Meier's Civilization series, but the talent and the money are flowing towards companies like Zynga, dedicated to making browser-based games to toy with gamer psychology without any sort of gameplay or narrative or... What is it exactly you do in Farmville? You click on things to harvest them? Really? That's it?
The talent in games is falling away from the hardcore console games. A few stalwart studios cling on, releasing the rainiest version of LA in the history of the desert city, and a game about jumping through portals while a computer is taunting you. (Okay, I actually love Portal... But it's still a dying breed!)
More game studios are designing iPhone and iPad games and starting-up to do so, than are working to design RPGs for the computer. Personal computing has dramatically changed. No longer the driving force of computer processing power, gamers are moving towards cloud computing, the app store games, and Rovio's Angry Birds.
Rovio seems to have created the next generation of hardcore game. It's ridiculously easy to play, but ridiculously difficult to play well. Demonstrating skill by hurtling various birds against various bricks and pigs is the same gamer impulse that led to the success of the Tony Hawk series of games. As soon as Rovio figures out multi-player, teenagers will be up late at night, hurtling birds at each other instead of RPGs. They'll do it on their iPads. The software will cost .99 cents. It will have no narrative. The production values will remain as ridiculous (polished, but cartoonishly simple!) and no one will ask for more.
Next Christmas watch for a flood of new games for the Kinect and the Playstation Move. Watch for the release of the Wii 2. Notice that there will not be as many successful titles that do not utilize these motion controls.
The success of motion control titles is not based on the hardcore gamer. Hardcore gamers have proven time and time again how much they hate moving. No, the success story will be parents buying more active games for their kids, and adults experimenting with the goofy, casual-style of gameplay that motion control favors. Games won't last more than a few minutes, when played, and gamers won't demand more from their games, because people, like gamers, generally don't like to move.
Netflix will surpass actual gaming on all these devices, followed closley by LastFM or Pandora.
Hardcore gaming is dead.
As a designer, I've already gathered some mates for an iPad game. If anything can presevse narrative in games, it's the low-fi technology of the iPad with the simple touch interface. There's simply less moving involved. I specialize in story-based games, and I know for a fact that it's hard to appreciate the nuances of a narrative experience when the game wants you to jump up and down for ten minutes to get to the cut scene, where all you want to do is take a moment to breathe, sit down, and maybe get something cold to drink, because jumping up and down like a hyperactive gibbon for ten minutes is bloody WORK!