Archive for November, 2007

Parents just don’t understand

blankieThe Associated Press and AOL Games released a survey earlier this month on gaming habits among a field of about 3,000. There aren’t a ton of surprises here for anyone that follows the industry, but I was a bit disheartened to see, “parents simply don’t play video games with their kids very often. 43 percent said that they actually never play with their kids, while 30 percent stated that they play, but only for less than an hour.”

As the age of the average gamer continues to climb, I’d expect a lot more gamer-parents to pick up the controller alongside their kids. Still there, seems to be a real disconnect here between games and other media. You’d be hard-pressed to find any reasonable parent that would admit to never watching a movie or TV show with their kids, so why the free pass when it comes to games?

familyI’d be interested to see the same data broken out among owners of the individual new-gen consoles. Granted, Wii skews younger than 360 and PS3 owners, but I’m willing to bet that its “game for everyone” controls and family-friendly offerings put more than 43% of Wii-owning parents into the game along with their kids.

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Opportunity Knocks

StrikeOn August 7, 1919, Broadway stage actors went on strike. A rising entertainment medium, the motion picture, got the undivided attention of the country for the first time. The rest is history – and when was the last time you saw a play?

With all the recent hand-wringing over the current Writers Guild of America labor strike, I can’t help but ask, “what are videogame companies doing to capitalize on it?” The timing of this strike couldn’t be better for the industry. AAA titles have just shipped for all 3 home consoles, the PSP and DS both got sexy hardware refreshes in the last year, and the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 both saw a much needed price adjustment and new SKUs aimed at more casual gamers.

The problem is, all these developments are still below the radar for most non-gamers left in an entertainment desert once their shows run out of taped episodes. Chances are, there are a ton of “24” fans that used to play quite a bit of NES back in their college days. Now that the strike has Jack Bauer MIA, can’t we convert them into Mass Effect fans? And anyone that follows “CSI” will have at least a passing interest in Assasins’ Creed.

I think it’s going to take a lot more than placing the same basic TV spots into these shows’ rerun blocks. GalaxyA blitz campaign aimed squarely at the snubbed TV audience should’ve been in place yesterday. Nintendo’s obviously got the most drawing power for the uninitiated, so why not bundle Brain Training: Wii Degre AND Wii Sports with the hardware this season? Or throw a “buy Super Mario Galaxy, get 2000 Wii Points” coupon into TV Guide? For God’s sake, it can’t be that hard to get a an ad for Rock Band onto the “American Idol” fan sites.

Television, the industry’s biggest rival for entertainment mindshare, is down for the count. A smart campaign taking advantage of that fact could bring in audience (and revenue) that we weren’t counting on this holiday season. And quite possibly a big win for anyone smart enough to call out to them.

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simcityBetween that whole “making people work till they die” thing, muscling the competition out of football games, and breaking up THE BAND, man, Electronic Arts went from scrappy underdog to the Evil Empire of the games industry quicker than Trip Hawkins could say “3DO.”

While it’s done little to stop the cash register parade each fall during National Madden Day, EA gets a pretty bad rap among the hardest of hardcore gamers. I can understand rooting for the underdog – I mean, I’ve followed the Detroit Tigers for more than twenty years – but I can’t entirely get behind the “EA sucks” sentiment that seems to crop up in the comments of every industry blog as soon as they announce a new title.

Street 3Yes, EA tends to go overboard with franchises (see my earlier Skate post), and their need to meddle with a good, established game each and every year has produced some real head-scratchers, like that year they added “realistic” pressure-induced jitters to Tiger Woods PGA Tour. However, you can almost always count on a solid third-party launch title from EA whenever a new system comes out, and the mass market appeal of games like Madden, NCAA Football and Fight Night has pumped up the installed base of every successful system since the Genesis, and helped the entire industry find and maintain a very specific, vital audience.

LaptopLove them or hate them, it’s hard to find fault with today’s announcement out of EA: they’re allowing SimCity to be bundled with every single computer sold in the “One Laptop per Child” initiative (initially referred to as “the 100-dollar laptop project”). So kids that receive those funky little green-and-white laptop, from Argentina to Uruguay, will get the seminal Will Wright experience packed in.

Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You contains a great little passage about the higher-level thinking that SimCity effortlessly teaches, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that hasn’t played it in one form or another, at least for a little bit. It’s like Oregon Trail or Carmen Sandiego in that respect – widely available on a ton of platforms over the years, and a staple in junior high school computer labs.

I personally sank my teeth into the superb Super Nintendo port from a pre-EA Maxis almost 15 years ago. The portable, stripped-down version of SimCity 2000 EA recently put out is making me REALLY want a DS Lite today. The fundamental ideas behind SimCity dovetail nicely with the ambitions of the One Laptop per Child project, and these kids will certainly get more out of the game than they would have if Minesweeper or Solitaire were included. Bravo.

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skate boxBy now, you can probably guess that I like the occasional deep-thoughts, behind-the-scenes developer’s interview. However, I’m a little dumbfounded by this particular Afterthoughts piece with Scott Blackwood, the exec producer of EA’s Tony Hawk killer, Skate.

The whole interview is in this month’s Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine.  I think they send you this magazine as long as you have a mailbox, ’cause I’ve never ordered it, but it just shows up. My favorite tidbits made it to the online edition, in all their I-can’t-believe-he-actually-said-that glory:

Skate“[We’re] not planning any new content for Skate 1 … We didn’t want to go back and ask [people] for more money to get more shoes and shirts.” I know there’s a certain expectation for franchise games, especially when EA is involved. But isn’t it a little presumptuous to refer to your game as “Skate 1?”

Even better than that, I love how he positions the lack of downloadable content in Skate as a way to avoid seeming greedy. Believe it or not, there actually IS such a thing as DLC that adds value to a game. Oh right, but they’ll be too busy working on Skate 2…

On the much bemoaned lack of women avatars in Skate, Scott says, “We really wanted women to be in there and have all sorts of cool stuff to wear and hairstyles… I will say, however, that was the hardest decision on this project. But we are going to make it up to you. When we do it — and we will — it’s going to be done very well.” Awesome!  This guy’s actually saying, a month after his game shipped, that they’ll make up for all of it’s shortcomings in the next go-round. I mean, good to know they WANTED to add cool options for customizing the characters.

Everyone loves a closer look into the development process, myself included.  But if you can’t show a little more commitment to a game that hasn’t even been on shelves for a month, maybe it’s better to keep quiet on what’ll be better for the sequel.

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