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Friday, July 17, 2009

The Tipping Point

Are you tired of endless peripherals?  I know I am.  For instance, in order to play Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you need plastic instruments.  In order to play Wii Fit, you need a Balance Board.  In order to play the upcoming Tony Hawk Ride, you need a plastic skateboard.  In order to play Wii Sports Resort, you need a MotionPlus doodad.  In order to play any games coming out for Natal, you need a Natal setup.  In order to play Dance Dance Revolution, you need DDR pads.  ExciteBots and MarioKart come with a Plastic Wheel.

Are we reaching the tipping point?  Are we reaching the point when gamers throw up their hands and say "No more"?

Consider:  Up until this generation, the most you needed to play the vast majority of games were controllers.  That's it.  When a game did have a large novelty controller like Steel Batallion, it was laughed out of the marketplace.  What changed?  We can trace this all back to the explosion of Guitar Hero, when publishers realized that people will willingly spend extra money on something if it's cool enough.  The Guitar Hero idea was awesome and still is, but since then every publisher wants to replicate their success.

Why wouldn't they want to replicate that success?  How much does it cost to make a plastic guitar with a couple of switches?  Not much, frankly.  I mean, they were able to drop the price of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith down to $30.  We're not sure if they were still turning a profit with that price point, but even if they were breaking even on that discounted price, the normal price is $70.  That's $40 they're pocketing for each guitar.  Imagine how much they must be raking in for a kit with a drum set, guitar and cheap USB microphone priced at $190.

If you're a publisher, you obviously want a piece of that.  What do you do?  Well, you make your own cheap plastic peripheral, jack the price out of it and hope that it gets purchased.  That's exactly what a lot of people are doing, and it's leaving a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths.  Sure, there are some peripherals that definitely enhance your gaming experience, like MotionPlus and Natal, but at what point is enough enough?  When do gamers start to rebel?

I have a feeling that it's going to be with Tony Hawk Ride.  First, early reports are saying that it's OK, but not great.  It's not $80 great, which might be the price point.  Early previewers are saying that grab tricks are a little too hard and they keep falling off of the board.  I don't know about you, but I play skateboarding games because I CAN'T SKATE.  I fall off the board enough in real life that I would like to stay on the board in a game.  Guitar Hero took something complex (guitar playing) and made it into something that just about anybody could do somewhat successfully.  Tony Hawk Ride doesn't.

So what will happen?  Will gamers keep buying peripherals that are only good for one game of middling quality, a la Steel Batallion?  It's doubtful, but a lot of publishers are banking on gamers doing so, and it's going to backfire and backfire badly.