East Vs. West: A Battle
How the West made gaming, how the East took it, how the West took it back. Simple?
What do you see today on the shelves of your average game store? Call of Duty, Halo, a shooter, a bloody action, a horror, another shooter, open world RPGs, and many adventures which lack color, but are filled to the brim with either scripted sequences or large open worlds with a girth that could rival that of an actual city. This is where the money is now, and you can't deny this is what kids these days want. As the saying goes, they are the future.
What happened to the games that the Eastern world, (or should I say Japan?) pushed out the door? Out of all games that we've played in our childhood, perhaps these were the ones that have touched us greater. You may remember cute, expressive characters that romped around in colorful platforming worlds... Or perhaps uber feminine looking protagonists slaying dragons and getting the girl in turn based battles? Why have they fallen wayside?
Japan's industry hasn't crumbled, but as it seems, North America and Europe (but especially America) are the only ones crafting innovation. How did this happen?
Generation Zero, the Gaming Precambrian
Before I begin, an ironic thing I'd like to add is that electronic gaming culture was begat in the West, in the United States, whereas a lot people think it all began somewhere in Japan. The earliest signs of gaming in the form where you plug a machine in an electrical outlet for example were electronic pinball machines and light gun games, both produced by American amusement companies in the 1930s. Later on, the first contenders for the definition of "video game" were released, all produced in the US and Britain(the US also invented the internet, so I'm guessing they invented modern nerds as whole).
- 1947: Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device (USA)
- 1947–1958: Chess (Britain)
- 1951: Nim (Britain)
- 1952: OXO / Noughts and Crosses (Tic-Tac-Toe) (Britain)
- 1958: Tennis for Two (USA)
- 1959: Mouse in the Maze, Tic-Tac-Toe (USA)
- 1966: Odyssey (USA)
- 1971: Galaxy Game (USA)
- 1971: Computer Space (USA)
- 1972: Pong (USA)
This was largely the Precambrain era of gaming. Despite being the least well known, this was in fact, the longest era in gaming, and Japan didn't touch it...Yet.
Gaming Truly Begins
After Pong's release, arcades were surely rising into the eyes of the public. For whatever reason, people everyone wanted to stuff quarters or tokens into the delightful coin slots of an arcade cabinet for some primtive gaming action! At the same time, the first game console, known as the Magnavox Odyssey (Which had largely inspired Pong), was released and subsequently failed to capture the eyes of the average consumer.
Pong's success spurred another console: The Atari VCS (Video Computer System), later and better known as the Atari 2600. Atari had not only created the first commercially successful video game with Pong, they had now created the first commercially successful video game console. It was full of classics ranging from Space Invaders to many of it's arcade classics like Missile Command and Centipede, but as time went on, the gaming market grew over-saturated. The Atari had way too many bad games than quality ones, there were just too many consoles, and the arcades were starting to slow down a bit. Just a few years earlier, Japan's presence was felt, though. Their dominance was rest assured.
The Orient's Domination
In 1979, a game known as Space Invaders was released. It beat the fuck out of the game industry. It looks primitive now, but shooting (pixelated) alien ass was a treat for anyone, especially when the last big arcade game was a game where you hit a square shaped ball with a line to make it another line. Yawn. The game did wonders for the gaming industry as you could most certainly tell.
This game quadrupled the sales of the Atari 2600 when a port of it came out for the console. Game designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima have both said this game was what got them interested in the video game industry, arcades were soon flooded by a boom of top-down shooters, and it pretty much set-up every shooter you can think of today. And I said EVERY.
After the enormous splash Space Invaders created, there was in fact, more room for applause from Japan:
Whilst everybody was busy pumping coins in the hungry, hungry machines so they could fly space-ships around to shoot aliens or something, a humble Japanese man named Tōru Iwatani decided to create a game based around a pizza with a missing slice...And strangely enough, it became the most popular arcade game of all time. Namco rapidly became the biggest arcade developer and manufacturer of all time, selling units of Pac-Man and many, many space shooters like Galaga and Xevious. Pac-Man had really started something special for Namco, but it did it's part in killing the gaming industry for maybe a while.
The Great Video Game Crash of 1983
Atari and the entire video industry itself fucked up. They clogged everything with so many consoles and games, more good than bad; consumers were left with a sense of mistrust. The crap port of Pac-Man and the ET game also did their respect parts...It was all stagnant...But for whatever reason, the Japanese gaming industry had survived. Arcades over in the land of the rising sun were greatly unaffected by what was happening elsewhere.
Just as quick as video games were seemingly dying, they were about to get better.
The Rise of the Orient
Nintendo was a struggling card-company turned game developer and publisher who'd gone through many business ventures. After the success of the Donkey Kong arcade game, Nintendo slowly became a player in the industry, and development for a home console had started.
In mid-1983, the Famicom was released. It was big. It came out in the US in 1985, it became bigger. With Super Mario Bros. packed into every copy, gaming was back in full force, and Nintendo was leading the way. The now Big N crowned Japan as the gaming center of the world. Capcom, Namco, Enix, Sega, Square, (later Square-Enix), and later the likes of Sony and others had come along and filled the gaming pantheon, ruled it, and lead consumers the way of the gaming samurai. Straight from the 3rd generation to the 5th and maybe some of 6th, it was all theirs....But things change.
West Be Wreakin' Shit
Somewhere in the late 5th era to maybe the 6th era, signs indicated that the West would be getting it's grip back. Consoles indeed sold much more in the Americas anywhere else, internet culture thrived there more than anywhere else, and many Japanese games were shifting their tastes over to the Western consumer, especially Capcom and SEGA. The best selling console of the 6th generation, the PS2, sold 21 million in Japan, but a staggering 50 million in the Americas and a whopping 48 million in Europe. The PS2 clearly had a larger presence elsewhere than native Japan, but another startling thing was the fact that the PS2's best selling game was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, owned by American company Rockstar games. At first you may see nothing wrong with this, but this game is all about driving around town and pumping lead into gangsters, that's very un-Japanese, that clearly shows that the ecosystem was changing. But another big piece of evidence that America was making a comeback was a green and black box brought to you by Microsoft.
The Microsoft Xbox was the first time since the Atari 2600 that an American game console had an actual part in gaming. It was the first time a game platform sold itself using online play as it's primary form of moxie. With it's best selling games being Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto, Fable, Splinter Cell, Elder Scrolls and the like, it was in fact, a very, very American console. The thing even managed to outsell the Gamecube by at least 2 million. The Xbox was perhaps a greater indicator than the PS2's library of what America was doing: It was innovating. Sony nor Nintendo gave rat's ass about online play, neither had a hard drive, and neither noticed that gamers starting to shift their interests in games where you had to shoot things in the face, ala Halo and GTA. Microsoft didn't win the top spot due in part that the PS2 was already an established brand made on already succesful console, but perhaps MS had already figured out that many gamers had radical tastes, and maybe Sony got off lucky. It was more capable than the PS2, and if the PS2 didn't have a astounding predecessor, it wouldn't have made it anywhere.
The 360 Unleashed
The Wii may have been the best-selling console this generation, but it was the Xbox 360 console that had truly captured the youth. The Wii's library isn't quite up to the 360, and the PS3 may be close, but Microsoft's new toy had a head start and a more robust online sector. Xbox Live made Sony and Nintendo quiver in their boots, it's what got Sony to make PSN, it's what made people go out and say "Hmm...Wii's online play isn't up to snuff".
The 360 was the console all the ignorant 12-year olds wanted, and it worked to MS's favor. It's online, the way it was advertised, the library...It truly marked something...Shooters and everything that tried to be dark and gritty is what took over the consumer. Even the PS3's library is largely made of the same thing.
No matter which console did better, you're always going to have this macho-manly game where you point your gun barrel at someone's crotch or a game where you slay magical demons and dragons and some Satanic shit like that...That's what's happening to not only the gaming industry, but the entire enertainment industry as a whole. In a world where gritty reboots and reworkings of famous properties is all we got, of course we're going to see it some shape or form in the realm of gaming. The entirety of the Xbox 360 library is American made, and the entire PS3 library is mostly American. And they both mostly involve shooting something or fucking shit up bad.
Making the Call
Let me state the obvious: THE ENTIRE INTERNET HATES CALL OF DUTY AND WANTS NOTHING MORE THAN TO SEE IT FALL TO THE GROUND AND BURN.
Okay, with that outta way, I gotta say something that isn't blatantly obvious....Call of Duty...Is the game of the generation. Buddy, I don't like this game either, but there are way more people that like it than hate it and it makes millions upon millions of dollars. This game is everywhere. It makes teenage men foam at the mouth. It has the entertainment industry by the balls...Jeer and boo at me, but this is probably the biggest game franchise this generation.
No matter how uninnovative, how uninspired, and how quickly Activision seems to be pushing this thing out of it's evil, evil anus, a lot of people love it...And devote soooooooo much time to it. It prints money.
The Red, White, and Blue Pushes Onward
How can I truly say that we beat Japan? Maybe I'll keep this short cuz I'm getting sleepy:
- Fucking Mobile Gaming
- Facebook gaming. (Oh fuck you game requests)
- Indie Games
- EA, Activision, Blizzard, Valve, and Ubisoft.
I love Japan and what they do, and maybe one day, I'll go there, but the gaming industry over there isn't up to the innovation we've seen in the 90s. Maybe one day they will rise to the same prominence and to the same levels they once were, but according to Wikipedia, their share of the gaming market is 10% as of 2010, where it was 50% in 2002. Japan is very closed as a game market. Development periods are long, 3rd party game engines are lacking, and the market is closed in comparison to what seem to be the rest of the world....Their PC support is low, strange considering that PCs are the most open gaming platform, the best place for upstart developers, and the best place for buying games cost effectively. (Despite that, South Korea fucking loves PC for some reason. I think anything made by Blizzard is a national sport over there.)
I don't hate you Japan, the spark isn't there anymore. I know we all started off with our Nintendos maybe a SEGA, but I guess times change. It's not to say the country is doing badly, they are doing pretty well, and have admittingly did great longer than expected. The market isn't in really in their control, but they are still awesome. Maybe if they were to get a bit less closed, maybe we'd be seeing an even brighter future.(..Also take cues from South Korea, I think they're getting the picture.)
Still I am enjoying Xenoblade at the moment, but how much longer till Steam takes more of my monies?...God help me, Steam summer sales...
God help me.