Over at GameSpy, the staff is anticipating the release of the Nintendo 3DS with a touch of skepticism in an article called “The Nintendo Cycle.” Within, they look at “the six stages every Nintendo console goes through (excluding the Virtual Boy, of course).”
It’s not a terrible read, though someone really should have caught the error in Stage 2 where they attribute Super Mario Sunshine, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and Metroid Prime to the Wii. That aside, there is a bit of truth here and there, but at the same time, it seems to highlight another issue which seems to be growing within the industry.
If there is one complaint people seem to have, particularly with the Wii, it would seem to be that there is a lack of games for it. Personally speaking, a lack of things to play has not been a problem for me, as there is an ever-growing backlog of games I’ve yet to even touch. Sad as it is to say, Metroid: Other M and Kirby’s Epic Yarn seem poised to join that list, as I’m unfortunately doing what so many others are: looking towards the next big thing, which as of this writing is Donkey Kong Country Returns.
Admittedly, there is an economic factor to it: being able to afford everything and keep a roof over your head and the trains running on time is a tough balancing act for some. And by the time you might be able to afford another game, there is something else big, new, and shiny waiting for you.
But that seems to be how the business is run these days: full speed ahead, and no looking back, except to see what was successful and either emulate it with a sequel, or commemorate it with a best-seller re-release (or sometimes both).
As a result, it seems that there is little interest in the longevity of a title; if it doesn’t sell in large numbers within mere days of its release, it seems a game will often be written off as a failure, have its price slashed, and be thrown into the bargain bin. And even if the game is good, praised by reviews and those hobbyists who have played it… well, who’s going to give it a chance?
Over the course of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System, some have noted how games seemed less likely to be labeled as “old.” Due to sporadic shipping to different regions and a lack of the internet to rush things along and keep everyone in synch with what’s going on beyond the confines of their small town, sometimes games would arrive in different regions weeks, even months apart.
Furthermore, as children, the option of getting a new game every month, much less every week, was seldom there, save for the rich kids who got everything and paid less attention to any of it. And multiple games within that span of time? Outrageous.
As a result, games had a tendency to stick around on the shelf longer– much longer– than they do today. The explosion of the industry into the mainstream over the years seems to have practically cannibalized the longevity of games at retail. Some people even manage to make do by waiting for inevitable price drops before picking up their titles of choice.
On the other hand, Nintendo has done a pretty good job of maintaining a long shelf-life this generation. Many of their titles have enjoyed a “long tail,” in which they sell consistently over the course of the system’s lifespan; you’ll note that a lot of older titles (Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, etc.) have been on the shelf for years and continued to sell, with much smaller (if any) price cuts compared to their contemporaries. Compared to games which have been out for much less time, they practically appear to remain at their full original retail price.
Given the amount of time and money which goes into developing a game, it’s a shame to see titles such as Red Steel 2, A Boy and His Blob, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, No More Heroes, Little King’s Story, and more slide down so quickly and seemingly fade into obscurity. And of course, few manage to notice, because they’re already waiting for the next batch of games to come in and distract them.
Of course, replayability would be another given factor. Back in the day, when you had months between new titles, save for perhaps a quick two-night rental here and there, one would return to and replay those games you already had in your collection.
Now, it feels as though a lot of games are being designed to provide one big, quick bang for the player before they’re ready to be traded in toward the next title. How often does one tend to replay a game they own, or have owned for a while (and multiplayer/online games don’t count)?
These days, it feels like so much of the video game industry is stuck in fast-forward, without much time to truly appreciate quality video games, big or small. It feels as though it would be unhealthy for the business, particularly if the trend continues.
Consider this: classic, “retro” games are considered big business nowadays, thanks in no small part to the amount of time and fond memories many of us had with these titles as children. But when even the biggest games of today are such flashes in the pan, while other quality games are almost completely overlooked, what will the future bring when the time comes that this generation is considered “retro?”
Will anyone remember enough of them to maintain their longevity? And if not, what happens then?