Nintendo proclaims the Revolution will be about attracting new gamers to the market using a radical new controller that feels like an extension of your body. It’s a big bet — a major departure from what the competition is doing — and that bet will be released sometime in 2006. But we don’t need to wait until then to see if they’ve got the right idea. If you listen closely, you can hear Nintendo being proven right at this very moment, through wailing guitars in living rooms all over. The sounds of Guitar Hero.
Guitar Hero, released earlier this month, quickly sold out all over NYC and online. Combining the unusual yet familiar guitar controller and the addictive gameplay of forerunners Guitar Freaks and Frequency, the latest from Harmonix is a home run in terms of fun, accessibility, and (let’s hope) long term sales. A radical new controller that makes games accessible indeed.
But the deeper point is one about what makes huge selling games so popular. Huge means games that break out of the standard 18-35 male demographic and sell off the charts. To do that, attracting that ever elusive female audience is paramount. The Sims did it. So did Tetris. Nintendogs tapped the market recently. And women love Guitar Hero, too. In fact, some would argue that to open up sales in this way, one needs no particularly female-tuned content or genre. No, time is much better spent just making a damn quality game. Go figure? A recent Edge article says it best:
Funnily enough, the games that you’re talking about, the ones that girls seem to really like, have one thing in particular in common: they’re all just really good games. (E156, p. 79)
So, the early success of Guitar Hero serves as a reminder of what can happen when you use a wicked cool controller to make a great game accessible. At the same time, the failure of games like position-sensing-maracas masterpiece Samba de Amigo serve as a warning to those who would follow in their footsteps. In fact, looking at these two games provides a kind of microcosm of the Revolution — potential pitfalls and all.
While Sony and Microsoft continue to argue over who has the largest penis, Nintendo aims to take the road less travelled. It’s a riskier path but one with potential for far bigger rewards. For the sanity of those of us without testosterone poisoning, let’s hope this Revolution succeeds.
More on the minds behind Guitar Hero can be found at Edge Online. For proof that those minds are indeed as cool as they seem, visit Deathmonkey. An obsessively updated list of the best selling games of all time is on wikipedia