Gaming

This post is an amalgamation of three drafts that have been kicking around my inbox for a while, each spawned by news articles I’ve read around the Net in the past few weeks. Instead of making three separate posts I’ve decided to collate them into one, explaining my thoughts on each issue in turn.

Microsoft Kinect

Kinect looks set to shake up the motion-based market once more, as when the Wii first debuted. No more controllers, now you can just use your own body. Unfortunately Microsoft then went and screwed up the pricing, which I believe will ultimately lead to its failure (anyone remember seeing the ill-fated HD-DVD drive on sale for a tenner in Game?). The price point fails on two levels, both of which will be disastrous to Microsoft.

Firstly, the market of existing players will balk at the idea of spending £129.99 for a peripheral, especially with very few games to make it worthwhile. What’s more, the more hardcore gamers will seriously doubt the effectiveness of such a device when they’re playing Modern Warfare for 12 hours a day.

More damagingly to Microsoft however are the casual gamers who might currently have a Wii or no console at all, and who looked at the Kinect with interest. Here was a device, bundled with a new Xbox, rumoured to be within spitting distance of the Wii’s price point. Instead what they now see is a hundred plus quid just to replicate what they can already do. Sony will fare better, if only that the initial selling price of their Move is less despite the total cost of ownership with additional controllers mounting up.

Microsoft has once again suffered from an internal conflict of interests. One department wanted to increase the market share of their product, so made a product aimed at pulling in some of the more casual gamers who would otherwise give the Xbox a wide-berth. And then the bean counters decided to whack a mighty price on the end result and price out that market. If the marketing department had instead gone after the hardcore market, working with developers to show a proper, meaty triple-A game it would find it’s place with the early-adopters and then trickle down to the casual market.

I want to see the Kinect win, above all of the others. I might eventually get one. But not at the launch price of £130.

PC vs Console

Story #2; apparently Microsoft had a team working on a secret project to allow multiplayer gameplay between PC games and their Xbox equivalents. However, upon testing they found console gamers were getting smashed and it wasn’t even funny. Now, I don’t know why this came as a surprise. Just watch a round of Counter Strike (1.6 please), and then compare it to Halo. Keyboard + mouse > controller for everything but racing games (IMHO).

The reason’s simple; you can get a lot more done on a keyboard and a mouse is infinitely more precise than a controller. I remember rebinding entire keymaps just to get the most efficient combos within finger distance of WASD.

But there’s something else: I’d take the console variant of a game over the PC version any day. And yes, that’s even with Steam of OS X now. Why? Because I like being able to sit back, fire up my Xbox and just play. Seriously, the only thing I miss from PC gaming are the mods. And with the way online gaming is going on the PC (more on that in a moment), having access to mods is becoming less commonplace.

Good on Microsoft for trying this, and maybe one day they’ll be able to normalise the gameplay, but until then PC and console are two completely different worlds of skill.

Online charge

And last, but by no means least, is the reported inklings that some publishers may begin charging for online gameplay via subscription model. This. Is. Suicide.

Adding a surcharge to any of the three major platforms would be a disaster of unmitigated proportions. Seriously, just think about it:

  • PC: Anti-piracy measures have already driven most PC gamers to their limits, charging them would result in a massive backlash. The only people who stand to gain are makers of smaller indie games.
  • Xbox: A subscription on top of a subscription? I am more than happy to pay for my Xbox Live membership, but that has always come with the belief that it exempts me from further subscriptions for game related things. If Xbox games started charging for online play, Microsoft would face intense scrutiny to absorb that cost or lower their Gold fees accordingly.
  • PS3: Sony fanboys have always maintained that their console is the best simply because it’s free to play online (when there’s someone to play against). PlayStation Plus would face a rocky start if publishers also started charging at the same time.

And these points don’t even begin to address the biggest concern; casual gamers and older games. My sister recently decided to pick up Call of Duty 5 and play some online matches. Needless to say she was hooked and hit Rank 65 yesterday (before realising about Prestige). Would she have picked that game up and played it if it cost 800 points for a months gameplay (that figures off the top of my head btw)? I highly doubt it seeing as how the only thing she’s ever bought is a Fable add-on.

The entire casual market, people who would just pick up a random game and play it would be lost and games halved in enjoyment because of it. And this leaves us with just the hardcore, mainstream games like Modern Warfare 2, Bad Company 2 and Halo 3. The analyst who began all of this furore said that Modern Warfare 2 clocks up 12 million players averaging 10 hours a week, and that companies need to start turning this into a viable revenue stream.

This analyst obviously has no idea how the markets work. I can see this all blowing over until another idiot speaks out about untapped potential. Very few subscription-based games exist, and trying to convert a market that is used to getting something for free into a cashcow is a non-starter.

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