A long time ago, the controller started as a dial in which you twisted left and right; nothing else. Now, our controllers have more than 5 buttons and usually multiple analog sticks. A long time ago, video games were too expensive to personally own. Now, you can go down to your local mom and pop video game shop and pick up a GameBoy Advance with some games for under fifty dollars. Innovation has lead the industry from being a small-niche hobby to being even more valuable than the film industry.
To have innovation, you have to release what’ll be termed a gimmick. What is a gimmick? According to Merriam-Webster’s second definition, a gimmick is an “ingenious and usually new scheme or angle”. Gimmicks in the gaming industry range from adding more buttons on a controller to viewing a game with 3D glasses. Many gimmicks have come and gone, but some gimmicks have stuck around longer than most people’s likes.
According to an article including a interview on GameSetWatch with Harmonix’s Brian Chan, gimmicks will continue to drive the gaming industry. Brian said this on the matter:
Gimmicks, so-called, are really just risky moves taken in the larger narrative of innovation. They are bold and sometimes stupid, but we should applaud such risk-taking. And sometimes they are thin at the start, but many good ideas mature over time and with iteration. These (plastic Guitar Hero guitars) just seem like pretty obvious steps in a larger project of immersion, of forgetting yourself in an experience.
What does this quote even mean to the average video game consumer? The bro breakdown is: “doing new things takes balls, bro”. It takes a lot of courage and usually money to be able to try to create an entirely new thing for the gaming industry. As I said before, gaming hasn’t always been the way it is now.
When Pong was released in the stand up cabinet model, there were only two dials. About fourty years later, Xbox 360 gamers are playing on a controller with 13 different buttons, two analog sticks and a directional pad. One controller included about 40 buttons and two flight sticks for the game Steel Battalion. Many people didn’t want to evolve with the innovations that were being released because they thought new games weren’t as good as one’s already available.
Between the SNES and N64, many gamers were in awe by these new graphics but couldn’t stand these new analog sticks that seemed to distract from their desired gaming experience. While the N64 controller looking back now is a terribly designed controller, it was perfect to adapt those gamers moving from directional pad only controllers to one’s with an analog stick like the Playstation controller.
The N64 also brought another gimmick that people stick question even though it wasn’t official apart of the controller: vibration. Entitled the ‘RumblePak’, gamers should feel the controller vibrate in response to dying or struggling in the game creating what some people call a more enjoyable experience. On Reddit a year ago, an unknown user questioned what the true purpose of a vibrating was other than to cause irritation.
Controllers since then have made it a standard to include vibration in the controller. While sometimes vibration has it’s place in games, it has passed it’s prime as being a necessity to core gamers. Sony recognized this with the original release of the Playstation 3 controller. In order to cut down on the price, the feature that had been deemed by gamers was eliminated and gamers realized how it may help them to not use this feature: it won’t drain the battery life.
The N64 controller had once again another gimmick that as Brian Chan would call “thin at the start”: an external memory card. The overpriced memory cards would become necessary to play games that would include any customization or have gamers use multiple profiles to play multiplayer. The Playstation, Playstation 2 & Gamecube featured these small thumbdrive-like hardware devices that would usually be charged over five times their computer parts comrades.
This ‘thin start’ would expand to a better and fairer market by allowing consoles to have hard-drives expanding from a few megabytes in a N64 memory card to a couple terabytes in an off-brand laptop hard-drive in the Playstation 3.
Not all gimmicks are successful though. Released in early 2003 by Konami and Sony, Lifeline had a speech recognition program that didn’t really recognize what people said. Back in 2000, Microsoft started testing similar software on a beta for Windows XP. Ubisoft also released a attempt at cracking voice recognition with Tom Clancy’s End War, which released in late 2008. Until recently with the iPhone 4S, voice recognition has been a joke. With Siri newly released, voice recognition might have a chance in the future.
Since the turn of the century, people have been trying to create images that were originally 2D and make them 3D. During the 50’s, camera developers started making multiple-lenses in cameras to create the 3D affect. During the 90’s, 3D was easily created through color manipulation using two color, red and cyan, lense on glasses and on the film to create an artifical 3D affect.
Recently, the film industry have made new steps to making a more believable and enjoyable 3D affect. This technology has been in development and is finally getting to a point where mass consumers are able to use it, but many still feel ripped off by the experience for how much it costs. The gaming industry has started to adapt the tech even though at least 90% of their demographic don’t use these features.
Gamers from the 90’s remember a Nintendo device that created a very basic video game 3D affect. It was the Virtual Boy, one of the few Nintendo failures. Many gamers would consider most of what Nintendo does now as a failure with motion controls despite a large part of the market shifting towards a non-traditional controller based interface. Sony has duplicated Nintendo’s Wiimote as Microsoft went with a ‘controller-free’ approach using infrared lights to detect a person’s movement.
Hardcore gamers consider these motion games a waste of time comparing to traditionally controller-based games. I disagree with the majority of my blogging peers seeing that motion controls are the future. No, this isn’t because I saw Minority Report. Creating a different gaming experience is needed to create a market that will live longer than an additional console generation after the current one we are in.
On the Playstation 2, the music genre seemingly appeared thanks to Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. Most traditional gamers passed this mass-market excitement by just sticking to their controllers while teenage girls were rocking out to the rock songs of the 80’s and 90’s and the young otaku dancing their heart out to some Japanese-electronica.
Konami releases DDR titles every other year now and Activision announced that they are indefinitely cancelling the Guitar Hero franchise. Some gimmicks come, but some live on. These gimmicks are what makes the gaming industry so unique comparing to other forms of media as you can’t really innovate things in written media other than making it simpler for professional drunks to become best-sellers.
If game developers and product developers don’t continue to innovate, we will experience another game crash within the next decade. Looking at how the crash of the late 80’s almost killed the entire industry. Developers were releasing as many platformers as possible into the market in order to attempt to make as much money as possible. This is the same for how most first-person shooters were during the end of the previous console generation continuing up until today.
In order for gamers to enjoy games we play now, we must be open-minded to new ideas and ways of playing our games as long as we don’t let these developers create nothing but garbage. Gimmicks lead to innovation. Innovation leads to the continuation of growth for the market creating more competition in an industry that is shrinking with the world economy. The point I’m trying to make is that though we may not like these features or gimmicks now, they could turn into something quite enjoyable in the future if we continue to work at making them better.