Sometimes it’s not what you say, but what you don’t say - and social gamer land Playfire seems to have made a particularly extreme omission in their recent poll regarding the “winner” of the console wars: the console that actually won. That’s right, they completely left out Wii, and in an odd moment of confusion seem to have decided to include, in its place… the PC? (There’s even a note that “we know the PC isn’t strictly a console” - but no such disclaimer about the exclusion of Wii.) How can you even begin to talk about the console wars if you’re going to leave out the most influential competitor?
Discuss that all you want, but I honestly think the inclusion (intrusion?) of PC is the more interesting. It’s true that of late, PC gaming has seen more and more overlap with the kinds of games that show up on consoles. Maybe this has to do with Microsoft entering the games business. In any case, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the poll both leaves out Wii (which is a console) and includes PC (which is not a console) - it represents a perception that’s been around for a long time but that’s become more and more rampant in recent years: that PC gaming is “elite” gaming and that non-PC gaming is inferior and for “casuals,” not to be compared with the real games.
Yes, I realize PlayStation and Xbox aren’t PC platforms, but… no, wait, on some level they basically are:
There’s a reason why PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are commonly associated with PCs while the Wii is not - because the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have basically inherited the characteristics of PC gaming, with its flashy graphics, need to keep up with “tech specs” to be seen as relevant, its narrow focus on a particular demographic as its main audience. This has become the widely-recognized “elite” form of gaming in basically the same way that PC gaming did before it. What does Wii represent? Console gaming.
Where did console gaming begin? With the Magnavox Odyssey technically, but in terms of major impact, it all began with Pong - with the arcades. Arcade games were designed around enticing the player to keep playing, even when it meant spending more money just for the chance to do so, and translating this experience into the home, removing the need for a constant stream of quarters, proved successful. This certainly serves to explain how Nintendo - which also began as an arcade developer - also managed to be so successful. They took their own arcade experiences and while maintaining the same basics of play managed to refine them for the home space. Super Mario Bros. was born out of Donkey Kong and its successor the Mario Bros. of the arcade… and from there the rest of Nintendo followed.
PC gaming existed at this time as well - and thought of itself as “high-brow” gaming in much the same way that it does now. The NES was not as powerful as the high-end computers of the time (which had already graduated to 16-bit). But did PC gaming ever achieve the same popularity as Super Mario Bros.? Of course it didn’t. What we had was a very similar situation to what we have now - PCs were for “elite gamers,” while consoles were frowned upon by those elite gamers.
Yes, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are “consoles,” but I also consider them to be part PC. They don’t revolve around a continuation of arcade or console gaming - which is why you don’t really see a whole lot of arcade-like games but instead PC ports or wannabe PC games. And their fanbases follow many of the patterns of the “elite” PC gamers.
Don’t take this as me slamming these platforms, though; I don’t think this makes them any better or lesser. (PC games are fine, I just don’t prefer them.) All I’m trying to say is that the Playfire poll is a clear indication of the “elite” mentality operating today, and how the Wii doesn’t fit (or at least definitely isn’t seen as fitting) into that mentality. (See the image at left. There is a reason why this image is not closely associated with PCs…or with the HD twins.)
There are two major variables in this equation that I’m not quite sure what to make of: smartphone gaming and the Wii U. I’m not 100% sure where either platform will wind up because both exude a degree of ambiguity, a place between PCs and consoles. Smartphones are pretty close to PCs basically by definition: they’re basically super-portable computers that you can carry around inside of your cell phone, not primarily game consoles (just as PCs are not primarily game consoles). However, because of their accessibility to developers we’ve seen an interesting palette of software on smartphone platforms. I’ll talk more about this in a future article.
As for the Wii U? Well, it just depends on the approach Nintendo takes. Are they going to focus on creating the kinds of games that made the NES successful (and differentiated it from PCs), like they did with the Wii? Or are they going to instead try mostly to compete with the PC and pseudo-PC markets held by computers and existing HD platforms? I think the answers to both of these questions will have a lot to do with how it fares during the future “console wars” - both in terms of whether it continues to prove the popularity of game consoles as differentiated from PCs and whether Nintendo can break into the circle of “elite” gaming.
What do you think? Do you think it’s important for Nintendo to keep pumping out experiences that set it apart from PC platforms? Do you think Nintendo should try to appeal to that gaming elite? Do you think those two goals are compatible in the first place? Share your thoughts in the comments!