<i>Before starting with the new article, i'd like to thank all the people that "lost" their free time reading and commenting my preceding post. And obviously thanks to all the people who pointed out my engrish, or suggested me how to cleanup my text to make it more acceptable for motherlanguage readers. I've made a great effort on my english in this article and i hope it shows somehow :P
I was happy to see the forum reacting when stimulated with a more tought inducing topic, expecially because i posted it in a time in which some people were complaining on the forum's topics quality. But now it's time to go back to our businnes. Again it'll be a LONG read and i choose a time close to christmas on purpouse! :P</i>
<b>IMPORTANT NOTICE!</b> this article contains debatable and not perfect information ON PURPOUSE! I want people to get passionate and express their ideas!
<b>karsten's videogaming talks Vol.2
"The Golden Era of VideoGames"</b>
I think i'm a lucky guy because i was already a gamer in the old times of 1988 and had the luck to pass through what i consider the golden age of videogames: The years between 1988 up to 1998 and a little later.
Why i consider this years as a golden age? Because in these years occurred an evolution in videogaming that is really unlikely to happen again. Many companies tried to enter in the videogaming world and brought in their different views on games, hardware, multimedia, marketing. But what i consider the most amazing is that almost all those companies that entered the fight had actually brought something precious in the gaming world (unlike nokia's effort for example...). Also most of the machine had the chance to be winners... What do i mean? Let me elaborate.
First of all, many machine were available to the public:
Neo Geo CD
and surely other systems i can't remember right now, along with many add-ons and handhelds.
That created a situation in which each company had to work hard to put out the best they could, as fast as possible and at the lowest price; a rush for technology and price. But not just that, all those companies tried hard to differentiate their offers to the public. And it was a critical time for technology; optical storage media were starting to take off, and all the companies had to make a move for not being left behind.
Let's start our analysis from the companies that didn't start immediatly with CD based consoles or didn't embrace the standard.
Some companies had faith in the new media and came out with new machines (Philips, 3DO, Sony etc), other companies come out first with "upgrades" of their current ones like Sega did. The part concerning the upgrades is really interesting, and Sega was quite a pioneer in it. The Mega CD, and 32x and later the Saturn were the machine that slowly made the customer's faith in the company go down and down, and that slowed down up to killing the Dreamcast. Nintendo too, as everybody knows, was planning a Cd-Rom drive add on for the SNES, that was later canned.
This was one of the most important steps in the story of videogames. Cancelling the SNES CD-ROM (that had the potential to became the first REALLY successful upgrade), meant 2 important things:
1) Sony entered the battlefield,
2) having no chance to come out with a CD based machine.
The N64 capabilities were GREAT. Great processor (100MHZ! it was insane, 3 times faster than a Playstation!), pretty 3d graphics.... but... the downside were great. COSTY, damn costy games, little space in cartdridges didn't allow the nice 3d system to shine due to bad low textures that were recicled more and more times, the great sound engine had to play low quality tunes (compared to CD-Roms) due to space problems...
Sega as stated before, first sent out the Mega CD, and interesting hardware, that had one fault: not expanding the machine's palette. That was bad. It was a complaint point to the old genesis. I remember reading an interview in some italian magazine in which they asked a Sega engineer why they didn't made so that the Mega CD could display better palette and or resolutions. He said "we planned it, but in the end the manufacturing costs would have raised by 2 or 3 dollars so we had to drop it". No comment.
But the worst came out later. Sega had another bitter medicine to serve with his fans. The 32x. Based on what would have later been the Saturn's architecture, was adding Mhz to the old Genesis and better palette and resolution, but was working with carts. See Nintendo :-/. Also the last crazyness was that a couple of games were released requiring the GENESIS+MEGA CD+32X togheter... :P Also word of the saturn release were around not helping the machine at all... why buying a machine that would be obsolete or not supported in a short time!?
Beside Nintendo someone else didn't embrace the upcoming new media immediatly, but tried to catch up later like TurboGrafx, Neo Geo CD and the Atari jaguar. Three really different machines, one succesful in japan, the other one born in hope to get some extra cash and relieve SNK financial stress (but was strongly criticized for having SLOW CD access and read speed [1X] and later even saw a revision with a faster cd drive [2X]), and the latter one was a real tech jewel that used too costy cartdridges and in his last days tried to save itself with a CD add-on that would have lowered consistently the game's price.
BREAK TIME (now go and take a coffee)
Now after this coffee you all people should feel less sleepy from my long talk, and we can go on... :)
The last group of machines, are the ones that had cd-rom support since the beginning. We'll concentrate our talk in just a few of them, 3DO, Philips CD-I, Playstation and Saturn. Since my knowledge of Pippin, FM towns etc is close to zero i'll gladly hear your points and comments about them. The 3DO was an interesting machine, born in an unusual way; instead of being brought on by a single brand it was a project that was made and licensed around at various companies. The machine was a nice one, with some really good games and arcade conversions (i remember drooling over Super street fighter 2) and was making a really good use of its cd media. It was available a VCD card as an expansion. The machine was quite a nice one, but was overly priced and had price drop far too late in its life for managing to keep the pace of the upcoming Playstation and Saturn.
The CD-I is a most interesting machine. The most bashed of the group too... :D The CD-I had decent processor and built in MPEG cart decoder (at least 90% of the players had it inside). With this machine Philips tried hard with it to enforce a new concept, to slide in every dining room a multimedia machine that could play games, digital video, music, photos, be a help for kids thanks to edutainment software and on disc interactive encyclopedias. A big, huge task, too difficult to comply for a lone company, and so it was in the end.
Playstation and Saturn had a great potential. But Saturn failed. Now we all know how bad is (was?) Sega for what concerns sales strategies, price points and advertisements... Playstation instead had great success (probably the greatest success in videogames history).
So each machine and company left us with something important beside games.
Sega teached the market many things:
that successful add-ons are a rare thing
that pissing off your fans by pulling the plug too early in the fight for the market (Saturn!) will make them have less faith in your future machines
not releasing the best japanese hits in the states and europe won't help sales
uselessly complicated architecture is hard to take advantage of
if you have a strong mascot, USE IT don't keep it in your closet until it's too late!
Don't push multiple hardwares at the same time. When users buy a piece of hardware, they expect it to have a reasonably long live
If you abandon a fight (gamegear) instead of keep updating and enhancing it (nintendo with gameboy, gameboy light, GB color), you give your opponents a great chance to dominate a market share
Nintendo teached that
you can't keep people waiting and waiting for an add-on, can it, exit with a machine whose games costs almost twice as much as playstation and hope to succeed
add-on can be succesful only on successful machines (64DD)
Having great tech chances, but limiting it throught obsolete media in the long run will make you machine feel old
3rd party support is important to fullfill all your customer's taste (N64).
censorship of games is a boomerang and can cause loss of image (MK1 was censored and failed, MK2 wasn't and was a masterpiece on SNES)
teached how to advertize a console and games and turn it into mass product
teached that when you're just in the market piracy can help improving the user base (psx was awfully [intentionally?] easy to hack or mod for backups, compared to saturn)
killer games can turn the tide to your side when the market is uncertain (Final Fantasy VII is a good example)
Great 3rd party support help turning the market to your machine
Neo Geo CD
Teached that a console must have reasonable loading times
having a good product, but not enough market penetration leads to failure. This later would express in the sony's strategy of selling at a loss for widening user base. something that if done at the right time could have really helped the machine.
it's impossible to push a machine in all homes like if it was a VCR recorder when:
-you are alone
-cd burners are not widespread and costy
-you publicize and distribute only in an handful of countries
being able to use great franchises (mario and zelda) doesn't make you an instant winner.
It's IMPORTANT to know how to publicize and market your console; you can't sell it first as a Hi-FI equip, then as an home computer, and then as a game machine.
being the best in tech specs doesn't make you a winner (see 3DO)
coming out with a console that is that costy is a risk, only healty companies should dare
the market is made out of 3 main regions. trying hard in only one is not enough.
price point is important for users
a late cd add-on can't save a doomed machine.
So what are your toughts? Are you happier now with a three sided market or enjoyed more these pionerist times? what do you agree or NOT agree with?