Nintendo's Big Idea is Not the WiimoteThis whole Wii thing has been bouncing around in my head for weeks. There's some common thread between it, the Nintendo DS, the iPod and even Mac OS X. Is it less technology? Is it simpler technology? Is is overall experience? Then, of all publications, The Economist hit the nail right on the head.
The Economist article paraphrases for Nintendo president Satoru Iwata:
The main problem with modern games, he says, is that they require players to invest enormous amounts of time.
That's it in a nutshell, at least for me. The physical interactions of the Wii look interesting, and that's probably enough to differentiate it from PS3 and Xbox on the surface, but the new players won't stay if they have to restructure their entire schedule to find time to play.
The idea that you need to spend a lot of time upfront just to get oriented in a game before you actually get to the fun part is one thing. It's something else to consider you'll spend a lot more time trying to get to the end. How much of that time will equate to fun versus going through the motions is anyone's guess.
This was the basic problem I had with Oblivion for Xbox 360. Within a few hours of playing, I found out that the game is insanely deep and meticulously constructed. This sort of thing is only possible now because of more advanced hardware. It's not just RPGs. The same is true with many of the newer car racing titles.
Is Realism Really the Goal?
Part of me thinks (or thought) what I want in a game is a deep, intricate world which rewards exploration. The problem is that a realistic world leaves you with the same dilemma as the real world: it's not always obvious what you're supposed to be doing. Do I need to simulate this?
The question isn't if I'll feel like the game is rewarding after I play it for a while, but if it's fun right now. Why endure gameplay that isn't fun (for me) for the possibility of fun later?
Realism is part of fun, but only two a point. For a time, games were so unrealistic (meaning 8-bit games) that it was distracting. As the hardware got better, the distraction of unconvincing graphics slowly melted away. But infinitely more realism doesn't necessarily mean infinitely more fun.
I can't help but share a story that comes up in my head over and over again, because it fits so perfectly here.
My family went to Universal Studios about 15 years ago and I remember one of the stops on the "train" tour is the "avalanche." The train drives through a cylindrical, rotating tunnel. As you enter, the train tracks tilt about 20 degrees to the right to give you the impression that you're rotating too.
The tilt is "just enough" to experience the sensation without actually going through all the silliness of the train actually rolling over so you fall out along with all of your possessions and your loved ones. Enough realism to be convincing, but only to the point that it's serving the purpose of enjoyment.
The thing that's strikingly obvious now about Mario Brothers for the DS is that in most cases, any particular moment is fun. There's almost no learning curve, and you're rarely trying to figure out what to do, or digging through menus, or anything of that nature.
You can play for a few minutes, and just turn it off any time. A game like Brain Age is actually designed for many short sessions of play.
Even with more complex/specialized Nintendo games like Zelda, you're rarely bogged down in piles of busy work. It always feels there's an immediacy to your actions. You're generally not building up experience points or that sort of thing.
The Mac Side
So what I want is fun more than a "deep world." Maybe the counterpart to that in a computer is the idea of "deep features."
I need to meditate on all of this a bit more, but I have a feeling part of the link between the the Nintendo devices and the Mac/iPod is the assumption the user does not want to invest time. That is, the Mac tries to not assume that you're a "computer person." Sometimes it's simply unavoidable, or we'd end up with an appliance more than a general-purpose computer.
A quick glance at Photo Booth shows this mentality in action. No wizards, no tips of the day, no toolbars. Just what you need for the task at hand. The iPod is the same way. Instead of making a big deal about synching and playing music, it just does it.
A lot of gadgets get attention initially because of the idea of the thing. It's new, it's shiny, it has fancy specs on the side of the box. It seems like a moment in history.
Those moments are great, and even Apple and Nintendo users bask in them, but what sets the Mac, iPod and Nintendo devices apart is that you're still drawn to them after the initial newness wears off. The minute-to-minute experiences aren't a chore. They're simple, so they're in harmony with your real life.
Does any of this make sense? It's very late.
Nintendo's Big Idea is Not the Wiimote
Posted Oct 27, 2006 — 26 comments below
Posted Oct 27, 2006 — 26 comments below