10 big blunders of the current generation
By: Jeff Rivera
Nintendo said, "Wii would like to play" while Microsoft told everybody to "jump in." Sony told us to "welcome chang3." All three console makers came to this generation with a different viewpoint and strategy for capturing gamers and their hard-earned dollars. Nintendo sprinted out of the gates with the Wii and ended up limping over the finish line. Microsoft has ran a steady race after a slow start and has been sprinting hard as of late. Sony has had a rough run, but has shown moments of brilliance. On the handheld front, it's a two man race, with Nintendo showing that their still in a class of their own and that Sony is more pretender than contender.
Most importantly, it's been an entertaining race full of bright moments, but the areas where things didn't go smoothly can't be ignored if we hope to make next generation better than this one. Here are ten things that were nothing short of major blunders.
Microsoft's poor quality control
The first major bump in the road this generation was a huge one. Xbox 360s around the world were failing at an insane rate, and it became clear that Microsoft had bungled quality control during the manufacturing of the first model of Xbox 360 units. I've had three fail, and I know many others who have had to send their consoles in as well. Reports of poor heat dissipation or outright fault components floated around for a long time, but when it comes right down to it, Microsoft put out a console that had flaws in its design and it took a long while before those issues were ironed out.
PSN security breach and outage
When the PSN was hacked, Sony went into full damage control mode and took the PSN down. They scrambled to explain how a security intrusion compromised the network and it seemed with each statement released that they hole Sony found themselves in became inexplicably deeper. Sony did their best to mend relationships with free games, but the debacle was deeply embarrassing for Sony.
3DS launched without a proper Super Mario game
The Nintendo 3DS is selling quite well these days, but it got off to a ragged start. Super Mario 3D Land missed launch, and early sales and enthusiasm suffered as a result. It became obvious that Nintendo waited too long to shift internal development from the DS to the 3DS, and a bad launch lineup nearly sunk the hadheld. The 3DS is still working on image repair in the West, but much could have been avoided with some stronger 1st party support at launch and soon after.
Terrible support for Virtual Console
Before the Wii launched, the Virtual Console service was easily one of the most anticipated features. People envisioned an iTunes-like service where a deep library of retro games would be available. Instead, releases trickled out, never causing too much of an excitement and the service became little more than a novelty. There's still time to fix the Virtual Console on the Wii U and 3DS, but Nintendo has yet to inspire confidence.
Sony PS3 launch pricing
When Sony announced the launch pricing for the PlayStation 3, just about everybody interested in picking one up felt one big collective gut punch. At $499/$599, the PS3 was prohibitively expensive and it made for a very slow launch. Already behind in install base, the PS3's launch pricing allowed Microsoft to widen their lead in Western regions, and developers started choosing the 360 as their lead platform. Sony never managed to recover from their slow start outside of Japan, and Microsoft's improved 3rd party relationships helped pave the way for better exclusive content in multiplatform titles.
Sony's insistence on proprietary memory cards
The only people that like proprietary formats are, well, those who make and sell proprietary formats. The end user hates proprietary formats, and when Sony created a new one for the Vita's memory cards, it was understandably received quite poorly. To compound frustration, the PS Vita memory cards are prohibitively expensive and some games won't even boot without a memory card being inserted into the Vita. The price of the memory cards has become a major sticking point for those looking at the Vita; and with sales already being slow, it's just one more hurdle that Sony faces while trying to get the Vita on track.
Developers/Publishers neglecting "middle class" games
As games like Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed gobbled up hugh sales numbers, publishers and developers got wide eyes and many decided that they'd shoot for the moon with their projects. Publishers began canceling projects that wouldn't aim for AAA status, and as a result, the risk attached to each project grew immensely. If a project failed, it was a massive failure and studios have been folding left and right this generation. In addition to higher development risk, the budget title has disappeared almost completely unless the game is basically shovelware.
Piracy concerns led to the creation of all sorts of DRM (digital rights management) and copy protection practices. Some of these DRM practices became so heavy handed that they burdened legitimate owners with all sorts of annoying hoops to jump through to just play a game. In some cases, gamers who had purchased a game were flagged incorrectly as a pirate and locked out of their games. The heavy-handed DRM has eased up a bit, but for a while it was exteremely inconvenient to deal with certain types of DRM.
Japanese developers Westernizing their properties
Not content to serve a niche audience, many Japanese gamers began to introduce "Western" elements into their game design. Cover systems, open world mechanics, and many more traditionally Western concepts began to invade Japanese development, and it felt as if far too many Japanese games traded their soul for a bit of extra marketability in the West. Most recently, Resident Evil proved that this infusion could make for a disastrous recipe. Did Japanese developers need to modernize mechanics? Yes, they did, but they should have refined their own styles rather than trying to assimilate.
Gamers accepting abusive DLC
This one is on us. When the Xbox 360 launched, the idea of "microtransactions" or "micropayments" was introduced. At first it was silly things that you could add to a game through DLC, but eventually it became obvious that developers were holding back assets from a game so that they could sell them to eager buyers later. In many instances we've been paying $5-$10 to unlock content that is already on a retail disc. And since we bought into the practice so eagerly, we're never going to back to the days when you could simply unlock content by playing a game. We're now going to be paying for what used to be free. Some games, such as Asura's Wrath, don't even have a proper ending unless you pay for it. This will even be a bigger issue from now when we're a generation or two down the line and we can no longer access DLC and many games from this generation are doomed to be forever incomplete.
Obviously more mistakes have been made by developers, publishers, hardware makers, and gamers over the past few years, but these are the ten I feel we could really learn from and try hard not to carry over into the next generation. It remains to be seen how committed we are at improving gaming with a new cycle, but I have high hopes.