Monday, August 28, 2006

The Promise and Peril of Internet Hype

There are things that confuse me. For example, the popularity of Ann Coulter. The Microsoft monopoly's persistence. The media's fascination with the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey. The grossly anti-student vibe emanating from my university's housing and IT departments. For one reason or another, the explanations behind these phenomena are out of my reach. However, the linked article asks a question I thought everyone already knew the answer to:
Why didn't the snakes have legs?
Or, less metaphorically:
Why did Snakes on a Plane tank?
Of course, I may be putting the word "tank" in Hollywood's mouth. After all, $15.2 million (and the number one box-office spot) is nothing to sneeze at. But still, movie studios want to know why Snakes on a Plane, with all of the hype generated by bloggers (originating here), only garnered $15.2 million. Hollywood wants to know why their $36 million experiment failed to garner any profit. They're confused, because the huge amount of Internet hype (and there was a lot) didn't convert to ticket sales.

Well, let me enlighten you, Hollywood. Snakes on a Plane did poorly because Snakes on a Plane sucked. Snakes on a Plane was popular online because Snakes on a Plane is a terrible idea for a movie. I was part of that Internet hype, and I didn't buy a ticket. Nor did many other people. The reason is not cryptic: We were laughing at Snakes on a Plane, not with it.

I'll gladly spend 15 seconds reading a humorous webcomic or Photoshop that lampoons a terrible idea like this. I really liked the current-events-aware Liquids on a Plane. I'll even spend 5 minutes sending humorous messages to friends about it, or 15 minutes blogging about it, because it's funny. But I'll be damned if I ever pay $8 of my own money to go sit in a theater for 105 minutes of terrible cinema.

Hollywood was dumb enough to make this movie. That's why it was hyped.

Apparently, Hollywood is so dumb, they couldn't even realize this.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Seventh Console War and Online Play

Reggie Fils-Aime, CEO of Nintendo of America, regarding Internet multiplayer with the Nintendo Wii:
We will offer online-enabled games that the consumers will not have to pay a subscription fee for. They'll be able to enjoy that right out of the box. The Wii console is going to be Wi-Fi enabled, so essentially, you'll be able to plug it in and go. It won't have hidden fees or costs.
This is good news for Nintendo fans. And in my opinion, this is the "tipping point" kind of feature that will propel Nintendo to a surprising, massively successful launch. Let's review:

  • The Wii will cost half (maybe even less than half) what its competitors will/do.
  • The Wii can play Gamecube games.
  • The Wii will have a Virtual Console for (S)NES, N64, TG16 and Genesis games.
  • The Wii has a simplified, wireless, motion-aware controller.
  • Playing multiplayer games online with the Wii will be free.
All these features put Wii in prime position to, as Fils-Aime said, appeal to non-gamers and casual gamers. The Nintendo DS has proved that this approach can not only work, but that it can work incredibly well.

I, myself, am extremely excited by the prospect of free online play. When Xbox LIVE first came around, criticism started falling upon the PS2 for not having a centralized multiplayer gaming framework. I defended Sony's approach, saying that it promotes developer freedom, and encourages competition in service pricing.

Now, Sony has announced a centralized system for PS3, while retaining compatibility with third parties, while Microsoft has invested further in Xbox LIVE. For both Xboxen, Microsoft has mandated that Xbox titles use their service. This has two caveats: it locks players into paying for online play regardless of the triviality of the game (monthly fee to play Street Fighter II online? No thanks), and it forces developers to throw out their preferred in-house or middleware netcode, instead having to use Microsoft-blessed libraries. (For an example of why that's bad, see Final Fantasy XI's April release date, when FFXI itself was announced for the 360 before it launched in November.)

Nintendo has affirmed (ironically, with Sony's help) the superiority of a provider-agnostic gaming framework. With their increasingly impressive launch library, below-average price point and innovative control scheme, Nintendo looks to be developing a top-notch console launch. This latest development, a pro-consumer take on Internet multiplayer, should have their competitors shaking in their boots.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Thursday Hubris, Part I

Thursday Hubris is a recurring feature highlighting the gutsy (and sometimes foolish) hubris exhibited in the past week.

Video Game Media Watch has a very nice selection of quotes about E3, the annual trade show for the video game industry which was recently scaled down to a much more "intimate," business-oriented event.

ESA, the organization responsible for E3, feels that the hubbub of a massive, party-like atmosphere is the furthest thing from what a burgeoning game industry needs. I can't agree with them more, nor can many of the people quoted in the article. The only issue I forsee with the new format is over-exclusivity, to the point of censorship, and I really do think this will be a severe problem:
What does this mean for gameblogs like Kotaku and Joystiq? If publishers and platform manufacturers don’t like the site’s messages will they be excluded? The slope here is as slippery as its ever been.
--An extraordinarily lucid Luke Smith
While it's true that the new E3 will slough off lots of wannabes and me-toos, I think the real victims will be the likes of, Kotaku and Joystiq who, for the first time in video game journalism's history, are starting to consistently look like a real source of critical game reviews and commentary. Here's hoping they stay in the game.

Changing E3 is a smart move. Still, breaking a years-old tradition, and the largest game expo in the world? That takes hubris, and for such a gutsy, insightful rehash, the E3 downsize gets an 8/10.