Friday, January 24, 2014

Fanwank Corner: Is a Gaming Netflix the Future?

The big news of January, at least in the gaming world, is Nintendo's recent announcement:  its flagship console, the WiiU, has failed.  Rather than a predicted nine million units sold, it has not managed even a third of that.  With that, Nintendo is predicting an operating loss of twenty-five billion yen, or nine million US dollars.  That would be the third straight year of Nintendo losing money, never a good sign for a major international corporation, who usually, you know, try to make money.  The WiiU is beloved by critics, but mostly ignored by the gaming populace.  I don't own a WiiU*, most likely you don't have a WiiU either.  Its not the fireworks explosion that the original Wii was.  Its a dud.  A Dreamcast.

Now there are any number of reasons for why the WiiU is failing.  It isn't distinguished enough from the old Wii.  Nintendo's drought of Wii games was too long and made consumers forget the brand.  Much of the Wii's success came from its gimmicky motion controls, which appears to have been merely a toy fad, which has ended.  The WiiU second screen is not the same kind of wild original concept for entertainment that every member of the family can enjoy.  The biggest and best gaming releases, particularly "Super Mario 3D World", have come too late, when its been entirely eclipsed by the hardcore gaming platforms, the PS4 and XBone.  Zelda is entirely MIA.  But here's the real problem as far as I can tell:  console gaming is ending.  The PS4 might be wrecking profits right now, but that's only because its managed to appease the hardcore gaming crowd and the idiots who will buy anything in order to get a new Call of Duty.  But its not sustainable.  The big consoles might get a nice long run, but in a decade, maybe less, we're going to see the end of console gaming.  Console makers can already barely manage to justify the purchase of the new systems they're already producing.

Nintendo was the first hit by these changes in the market because its probably the most conservative.  In many ways, the Eighties have never ended for those guys.  And as awesome as the prospect of a perpetual 1988 is for me, the rest of the world seems to prefer 2014 for some reason.  We've seen the problems already with the N64, the GameCube, the Wii.  Great systems, but always suffering from chronic droughts in games, weaker graphics**, great starts but slow finishes, and a lack of third party support.  What are you going to buy?  A WiiU, with barely HD graphics, old-looking gaming, and a silly-looking controller.  Or a PS4, with cutting edge hardware, and the newest and best games.  The old-school gaming crowd isn't going to carry you forever, Nintendo.  And PlayStation's crowd isn't going to carry them forever either.  Trends are changing, technology is coming together, focusing towards a single entertainment devise that will combine television, gaming, the Internet, music, and communications.  The XBox One is already pretending to be that singularity device.  Nobody believes them, but they're trying, Microsoft sees where history is heading.  So what is the future of gaming in a world that inevitably will not have room for consoles?

Naturally, this is going to be terrifying for some.  Nonphysical media, a console-less world, we've never really seen gaming like this.  Even the ancient consoles, the Ataris, the Colecovisions, they all had cartridges.  Even PC gaming is probably on its way out, because how much longer does the PC as an institution have to live***?  I like my PC, I like my TV, I like my phone, I like my 3DS, I don't need them all fused together into a single gray blob of media and circuits, but its the future.  If that's scary now, just imagine how you'll feel in another few decades when we all have to surrender our physical forms to become beings of pure energy living on the Internet.

Nintendo's WiiU is the first victim of a changing market.  The 3DS still has enough of a niche to keep going, if only because its an awesome console with a beautiful line-up of games.  I'm sure Nintendo would love to keep making Gameboys, and I would keep buying DS's with any number next to their title, but its already an anachronism.  If I were fifteen years younger, where would I be?  On this:

Yes, the black monolithic specter threatening the entire gaming world, the iPad.  Mobile gaming, the very epitome of evil.  iOS games will steal your wives and rape your children, assuming you have any considering you've spent most of your reproductive years playing "Final Fantasy VII".  So far free-to-play has seduced all of Square Enix, leading them to create unrepentant pieces of shit such as "Final Fantasy All the Bravest", and "Final Fantasy Tactics S".  Right now little children are blowing their parents' paychecks on Gougeware titles, spending small fortunes to get access to dinosaurs in cheap barely-finished scams that hardly even fit the definition of "video games".  (Let's ignore for a second the multitude of actually brilliant and innovative games that come out for the mobile market, just to play up this dark future joke.)  If you want a dystopian future, we're living in it.  Who run Bartertown?  iPad run Bartertown.

If you are currently suffering from a wave of nausea and despair, do not be alarmed.  It only means that you are still sane.

But does it really need to be so bad?  Maybe you don't need to swallow a cyanide pill to escape from a future where your DualShock 4 controller will be as useless as a tape deck.  The age of consoles, cartridges, and discs might be over, but does that mean what replaces it has to be cheaper, worse, and uglier?  Let me tell you a nicer story.

There once was a time when movies had to be watched on these most unusual devices called "DVDs".  It was like a PS3 disc, only non-interactive.  (Sorry if I'm showing off my History Degree again.)  If you wanted to watch "Terror of Mechagodzilla"", you would have to drive to the video store, pick out the physical copy of the movie, and then drive home.  Within a day, if the movie was not returned, then you would be charged a late fee.  Sources vary on what the punishment for a late fee actually was, but most scholars agree that it was most likely public execution.  These were dark times.  Then came along this magical system called "Netflix Streaming", which liberated us from physical movie media.  Now all you have to do is turn on your gaming console, switch over to Netflix, and in a quick search, you'll find "Terror of Mechagodzilla", and now you can watch it.  Immediately.

What if instead of moaning about the death of gaming, we instead imagine a better future.  One where gaming is freer, cheaper, more accessible to everybody, and open for a fast streaming at any time.  What if we had a Gaming Netflix?

 Imagine being able to play any of these games.  Right now.  
For a monthly fee.

Yeah, I know technically there's that "" that an endless stream of Adult Swim ads have told me about, where you can rent a game through mail order.  That's technically a Gaming Netflix, but using the old mail order system, which is hardly Netflix's bread and butter anymore.  That is not what I'm talking about. is not cool, was never cool, and never will be cool.

I'm talking about a system where after paying your $19.99 or whatever, you are given immediate access to the entire history of video games within minutes.  You want to play "Super Mario Bros. 3"?  Click on it, then you have it.  You want to play "Panzer Dragoon Saga" - and who doesn't? - select it, and its yours.  No download, no extra payment, you've already bought into the service, and now everything from "Pitfall" to "Mirror's Edge" is available to be played.  The only download you'll need on your end is holding onto your saved files.  When you get tired of playing "The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons", you stop playing, save the game, and switch over to some other element of your Super Future Multimedia Box.

Right now there's already a multitude of systems trying to give away this kind of service.  The PlayStation Store, the Nintendo eShop, the whatever XBox has, Steam, even the IOS gaming services, they're all trying to be that easy to use, efficient outlet from which you can get your gaming buzzes.  However most of the releases are expensive, require large downloads, and are still based in the old idea of transactions for games.  In the worst case scenario, you can find yourself paying companies again for games you already own, just because you want to play "Majora's Mask" on your Wii and don't feel like dusting off that ancient Nintendo 64 that's sitting in your closet.  Or discovering your library of Wii downloads will not be able to be used on the 3DS, because Nintendo hates me.

This is almost a Gaming Netflix, but not quite there.  Its still too inconvenient, and too expensive.  Trust me, if I want to play "Final Fantasy VII" again, I'm not going to pay Square Enix for an iPhone download, I would just use an emulator and torrent an ISO.  This is not hard.  Its a similar problem with Netflix.  Yeah, they have "Terror of Mechagodzilla" available to stream, but not "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla".  Do I actually pay money?  No, I download it, and delete the files once I'm done.  Some call it piracy, I call it, "the modern world".  Netflix steaming's library seems to be improving all the time, but even its not quite there, not at the point where you can play literally any movie at any time.  A truly idealized Gaming Netflix would bypass those restrictions.  Whether Tecmo or Namco, Sunsoft or Squaresoft, Electronic Arts or LucasArts, Factor 5 or Level-5, it will all be there, ready to be played.

Now that's a future I can live in.  This is what gamers should be demanding.  The technology is there, the will is there.  All we need is for everybody to agree to share the wealth.  So maybe this is nothing more than utopian fantasy.  But dammit, I need something to hope for, because a world without Nintendo is one I really do not want to live in.

* Or any next-gen console.  I am never an early adapter of technology.  Its safer to wait a year and make sure none of the new consoles are absolute crap.  And what do I need a PlayStation 4 for when my PlayStation 3 can play just about all the big new releases that are coming in 2014?  Let's review:  "Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes", "Thief", "Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2", "Dark Souls 2", "Watch Dogs", "Persona 5", and "Dragon Age: Inquisition".  My current black box is going to have a great year.

** Besides the GameCube, which kicked the PS2's ass graphically.  However, graphics are not everything, as it turns out.  Its marketing that's everything.  The PS2 was perceived to be cooler and more powerful, therefore it was.  Everything is marketing.  That money in your pocket - its only money because you perceive it to have value.  If we all came together and really wished for it, the WiiU would be the God-Emperor of the Console Wars.  But we won't.

*** Actually probably a damn long time.  Tech nerds are not going to drop their computer systems very quickly.  The real hardcore programmers are going to need workstations, no matter how advanced the cell phones get, at least for the foreseeable future.  But that generally limits the PC market down to what it was in the 1980s and the early 1990s - down to just a chosen few of people who actually know programming and do serious computer work.  Which is a niche, but not exactly a gold mine.  The average consumer probably does not need a PC anymore, or will not need one in what will be a surprisingly fast amount of time.


  1. Hmmm, that really made me think. The videogame industry going into that direction makes a lot of sense, but I can't think what form this combination of entertainment will take, and that is making me nervous. Had Nintendo come up with something like that for the WiiU maybe things would have gone differently for them, maybe isn't too late for them? What will happen if for the whole current generation the WiiU doesn't sell anymore? Can they only rely on the handhelds and pokemon to make ends meet?

    1. Obviously with licenses and other problems, this would be a massive undertaking. However, luckily Nintendo themselves have a massive library of titles they personally own, along with just as many they created in collaboration with other companies. I'm sure an agreement could be made just for a First Party Nintendo streaming system.

      The bigger problem though, is this is not playing to Nintendo's strengths. Look how much trouble they've had with the PokeBank. This would require a really massive computing power.

      Now as for Nintendo's further existence as a company, well... they'll take their beatings with the WiiU, one failed console isn't enough to sink a company, especially with the kind of gold reserves Nintendo has. But it does mean they need to radically change their business model, and I don't think even they know what to do. They can stay afloat probably longer than other console-makers in a console-less business just because Nintendo is also a premier game-maker (if not the best in the business). But I don't know what Nintendo will look like.

      Its going to be a very weird time in the industry for the next decade or two.

  2. It truly is a dark time for consoles. The only thing that I can say is doing good of the top of my head is the 3ds and that's because it has everything I want for it and I've already sunk a few hundred into it. As for WiiU sells I think that when they announce Smash Bros or Hyrule Warriors it'll really start to pick up. As for the Xbone: What you just described is what the Xbone was trying to be before everyone went "RABBLERABBLERABBLE" over the whole DRM thing. I feel that it's not a bad idea, but the internet isn't ready for that. And I mean that literally the internet is NOT ready for hundreds of millions (or hell even Billions) of people to be on one server at the same time. For that to happen Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and varies other companies to keep it running at a smooth enough pace, were the server isn't going to constantly crash.

    If Nintendo wants to start increasing their sells then their going to have to start getting with the times. For God's sake Nintendo make a competent account system! We get it: you're scared of pirating, but making a online system that's TYED to the system is a bad business plan and if you can believe what some commenters say on certain websites this is real turn off for them and they refuse to buy anything Nintendo related. With the third party support, it's a misunderstanding on developers point and Nintendo being arrogant. The developers don't have a clue with what to do with the gamepad and Nintendo think that the only the games that come directly out of them will sell gold. I really hope that the WiiU picks up fast. It's an interesting system and I plan to get it when they announce Smash bros.

  3. If Mario and Zelda aged more honestly, like their creators, they wouldn't
    be so cute anymore. I think this WiiU is a great wake up call for Nintendo.

  4. I'm thinking that maybe in the future, Nintendo could partner up with Sony or Microsoft to make a new superconsole and partnering with Netflix to make our dream come true. If you've heard about the rumor for the new Nintendo console "Nintendo Fusion" where they integrate a handheld and home console to work together. Or at least that's the theory for it, I don't remember much about what I was told, but that's what Google's for I guess. I think that this'd work really well since it's basing itself on a big, new idea. Hope you see this since I posted this a week after you wrote the blog!