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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Question of the Week Responses: Controller Revolution?

Question of the Week Responses: Controller Revolution?

Free Image Hosting at"Last week, we asked: “Now that Nintendo has revealed details of the controller for its Revolution next-gen console, do you think this bold move is beneficial for Nintendo itself, third-party developers, and the industry in general?” The general buzz from game professionals is that the controller creates a great opportunity for innovation within the game industry, and would benefit all parties involved, as well as the industry as a whole.

In terms of whether or not the controller will benefit Nintendo from a financial standpoint, the response was fairly positive. Many noted that, of course, while Sony and Microsoft are going after the same market, Nintendo is positioning itself for a broader demographic. However, a few of those who replied wondered whether innovation would necessarily translate into financial success.

Because all player actions are mediated through a controller, it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of a well-designed innovation here can have on the experience/form of a game. Of course, it might also be difficult to underestimate our ability to take something so promising and squander it; novelty doesn't preclude banality. It hasn't been since the introduction of the original Dual Shock controller that a console controller has been this exciting though the promises this device would seem to be making are much greater. If we assume that they are kept, then there is no doubt that game designs will benefit and, with them, all the rest of us.
-Isaac Barry, Secret Lair Studios

I certainly hope [the controller will be beneficial]. More of the same thinking in terms of developing the future of games can only take us so far. As a lifelong gamer and game developer, I urge everybody in our industry to support the innovation and risks taken by Nintendo on sheer principle. We always lament that there is no creativity and innovation in the games industry anymore. Guys, we have to rally around these initiatives. It brings a tear to my eye that somebody out there in this big brutal word of ROI and risk management still dares to go out on a limb like that to push gaming further. And my mouth waters when I think of designing for such hardware.
-Marque Sondergaard, Powerhouse

[Beneficial for] Nintendo: Yes. It will give Nintendo a unique place in the next generation. They probably won't "win", but they'll do well.
[Beneficial for] third-parties: Nope. This will be a challenge to develop for, and doesn't allow easy cross-platform development. They won't get a ton of games, but Nintendo likes to thrive on a few good first-party games.
[Beneficial for the] industry: Change is good. Evolution is good. This could open up new possibilities, both in gameplay and in audience.
-Tom Smith, High Voltage Software

Beneficial for all -- with the exception of developers/publishers that build run-of-the-mill games and port to every platform. Obviously the stock Nintendo controller could present them with some porting challenges. However, I think development trends on the current generation of game consoles have shown that Nintendo can't count on cross-platform porting to ensure a steady stream of games. In the coming generation, a SKU which targets Xbox 360 and PS3 may require too much processing power for the Revolution and have resources downgraded to match the platform's capabilities. This could easily make the Revolution look like an also-ran. A similar bad result would be for developers to shoehorn gameplay from a standard game controller format into the Revolution controller format under the guise of "full support" for the Revolution controller. More than ever, Nintendo needs original games, developed primarily for its platform. It has adopted a strategy of pushing its platform away from resource intensive, large scale, long play session games (expensive to develop and expensive for the consumer) and towards casual games, mini games and "market expansion games" (which encompasses titles like Nintendogs). A niche market in the short term -- but potentially a far larger market than the hardcore gaming market over the long haul. From a business standpoint, this is a risky but vastly superior strategy to that of going head to head with Microsoft and Sony. It also opens the door to smaller developers and publishers who may not have the cash reserves to develop asset rich next-gen titles, but who would rather rely on innovative (and perhaps unproven) game mechanics to differentiate their games. The greatest risk here is that Nintendo performs poor quality control on third party games, and the Revolution becomes a platform flooded with quirky/gimmicky games rather than those that are truly innovative and fun.

I honestly don't see who doesn't benefit from this. Microsoft and Sony get to battle it out for the existing market, and if all goes according to plan, Nintendo gets to create a new one. If the Revolution content checks out, as a gamer on a budget, you'll be left with a choice. Which 'other' console to pick up?
-Mike Kasprzak

Personally, I welcome the new controller design from Nintendo. Whether the Revolution controller is going to be a success or not, of course, still remains to be seen. The novelty and sheer "differentness" of the design has divided many people into pro and con factions, and who is going to be right whole depends on if people can think outside the conventional game interfaces. What the controller design and Nintendo's video has done is to make developers think of totally new ways to interact with the games, which in my book is a success already in itself. The controller is the last part of a console design that hasn't been evolving at the same pace as every other machine part, and this new design is certainly a kick in the head for many people. Hooray for innovation and hopefully we, as game designers, will be able to wield the new mechanics that has been made available to us.
-Soeren Lund, Deadline Games

I think everyone was shocked when the controller was unveiled - it's very different. But it certainly looks like an extension of the strategy Nintendo pursued with the DS, and having seen the innovative games that came from that, I think they're on the right track. The most interesting part of the new controller to me is the expandability. This will hopefully give developers a lower barrier to entry for providing their own game interfaces. We could see all sorts of interesting games and new genres invented just because of that feature. On the other hand, though, if a conventional controller attachment is released, it could drain support for the new gameplay methods by giving developers a crutch to fall back on. So - It could go either way for everyone. If third-party developers do a good job making use of the opportunities, and are willing to forgo easy cross-platform development, they can make some exciting new games. If that happens, Nintendo will succeed, and if that happens, the industry as a whole will have grown - at least in diversity, and hopefully in the number of gamers playing our products. If the controller fails, however... I fear the industry may become even more risk-averse, and continue its spiral towards stagnation.

It's beneficial for Nintendo in that they have essentially reinvented themselves to appeal to a broader audience by simply changing the appeal of the controller. The simplicity of the controller allows unsurpassed levels of control, while at the same time, appears unintimidating. I would expect third party support to gain momentum as more consumers 'pick it up'. The keynote speech also talked about less need for developer horsepower in favor of unique gameplay options. The industry as a whole may follow Nintendo's lead, not only for profits, but for the ability to incorporate interesting gameplay into licensed and sports titles as well as developers' passion projects.

Absolutely [beneficial]. As I was reading the press release I was imagining in my head what it would be like to control a current game (I'm playing through the modern Prince of Persia right now), and I could envisage how easy it would be to use this control for that sort of game. It's intuitive, and that's the key. Nintendo claim anyone could pick this up and start playing, and I'm inclined to believe them. At the same time, it should open up the possibilities for a whole new range of game mechanics. We've all seen how much fun EyeToy is. And with the Revolution controller shipping with the console and every Revolution game supporting it, it's going to be amazing.

This new control system really differentiates Nintendo from its competition and should allow them to position the Revolution in the marketplace very clearly. IDG did a study that shows that more households will go multiconsole when the next-gen systems hit. Gamers may consider the Revolution as a good companion system to their more mainstream consoles (Xbox 360 or PS3). There's a lot of potential with the controller as far as game design, I'm sure designers all over the world are probably thinking of ways to exploit this technology. We could see some really amazing games and possibly new game genres making its debut on the Revolution. How much support the Revolution gets is entirely up to Nintendo. Software sells hardware and the launch line-up for the Revolution and clever marketing from Nintendo will determine if this gamble pays off. This is a chance for developers to break out of the mold of "formulaic game design" and really explore what games can be, possibly expanding the audience at the same time.
-Carlo Delallana, Ubisoft

Everyone seems to count Nintendo out. But most people forget that Nintendo isn't after the same market as Sony and Microsoft. The new controller is neither beneficial nor detrimental to Nintendo itself; a control scheme in and of itself doesn't define the future of the console. Looked at another way, the controller is an expression of Nintendo's corporate philosophy about what kind of entertainment they want to provide, and whom they want to provide it for. The proof will be in the software, and the accessibility of that software _combined with the control scheme_ to Nintendo's desired consumers. Right now, it is too early to tell how this will play out. But ESA research data would seem to suggest that Nintendo isn't as dumb as most of the hardcore gaming audience thinks. After all, the majority of the game playing public isn't a hardcore gamer. Incremental sales spread among a larger audience translate into much greater volume--and income--in retail. Also consider that Nintendo is seeking to attract an audience who otherwise doesn't play games at all. Even among game players, it is important to remember that it is Nintendo's own IPs that drives its sales. The ability to download titles from their back catalog for a modest fee is a clever alternate revenue stream. And Nintendo has been remarkably consistent with the quality of most of their franchises. I'm sure this quality control will continue into the next generation. I'm also sure that first-party development will reveal interesting applications for the hardware, and some first rate entertainment experiences. I'm just as sure that the novelty of the controller as compared to more standard interfaces (i.e. control pads) will alienate most third-party developers. Even if Nintendo releases a standard game pad for the Revolution (which either they or a third party hardware manufacturer almost certainly will), the demographics and philosophy of the platform itself will make third party developers reluctant to port titles to the system. For the Revolution's desired mainstream audience, a lack of sports titles will hurt in particular. However, the system will hopefully open the doors to titles developed specifically with an eye toward simpler, more accessible game play.
-Thomas Kim
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