Same Sky
All Worlds Share the Same Sky…

The Blue Ocean Looks Clear From Here…

Something happened the other day that sparked interest to mark my own take on the modern gaming debate of the ages: graphics versus gameplay. However, I wish to address why graphics are even less important than we gamers realize: they don’t draw in consumers.

Take a peek at these two screen shots and compare them:

You could also take a peek at the beginning of this trailer for a more direct comparison.

I showed my younger brother both, and was taken aback by the fact that he could still not really see the difference between the two. To a savvy gamer such as myself, there is a clear different–one looks better. That difference is subtle, certainly, but excellent graphics are all about the subtleties. The polygons are rounded, the textures are sharp, the animation is fluid…all of these things are more subtle in their differences the further along you go in gaming’s artistic history. The difference between the Super Nintendo and the N64’s graphical capabilities is much larger than the difference between the N64 and the Gamecube’s, and the Gamecube to Wii difference is even smaller.

Here’s the big thing: gamers like me, we can easily see these changes, even when they’re more subtle. Consumers at large, on the other hand? Not so much.

So, holding this fact in your hands, ask yourself: “Why would consumers pay $350 more for a system that has better graphics when they don’t pay very much attention to the graphics in the first place because they just want to play a game?”

Games like Wii Sports and Guitar Hero 2 have been proving that graphics don’t matter to consumers, and that if your game focuses on being fun and replayable, especially with friends and family, it will draw a lot more people in than pretty visuals will.

This is not to say that graphics don’t matter–but the truth is that art style and direction go miles more than raw power does. That’s why games like Okami and Odin Sphere look better than many of the “now-gen” games out there

Regardless, bear in mind that if how something looks is the core determinant of how well a product will sell, look at the iPod: a very simplistic piece of hardware that sells not because of its look but because of its functionality. The DS is completely smashing the PSP will worldwide sales creating a two-to-one sales ratio. This is because the DS is cheaper and focuses on simplicity, innovation, and an intuitive interface rather than raw power, thus attracting many who simply want to play fun games, regardless of what they look like.

Graphics only really matter to gamers, because we notice the fine details and want more out of our games than just fun and enjoyability. We want graphics, sound, relaplayability, online functionality…We want it all. But he average consumer? They don’t have the time for that. They don’t care about the sound or the graphics near as much–games are for playing.

It is due to Nintendo’s brilliant efforts at attracting the mass markets to gaming as a casual pass-time–very much like movies have become in our culture–that they have been succeeded so well. They are sucking in money from people who are willing to spend $250 for a gaming device that is intuitive enough for them to use and have fun with friends. When you recognize that most consumers are not willing to spend $400-$600 for a system that is more complex (and intimidating), puts more focus on its audio and visual components (which most consumers don’t care for spending too much money on in the first place), more focus on online (which has a high barrier of entry when casual gamers get floored by the hardcore gamers and furthermore want to play with friends and not strangers), and has a selection of software that is much more narrow in its target audience, and it becomes no wonder at all that the Wii has been succeeding thus far. Frankly, I think this success will continue into the Wii’s lifespan.

Perhaps the hardcore gamers will not appreciate the Wii near as much, but business-wise, I must admit, Nintendo has been playing their cards even more intelligently than I imagined.

Their fans, myself included, love the new ways of playing games and fresh ideas they are bringing to us, helping us to bond with our non-gamer friends, and giving us online capabilities to games we love, not to mention our Metroid-Mario-Zelda-Smash Bros. combo that they are promising for this fall…

New consumers are loving the easy-to-access games, the cheap price, and the variation and quality of software that the DS and Wii are both exercising.

Nintendo’s “Blue Ocean” strategy has them sailing under clear skies.


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