Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"Happy tree over here..."

Bob Ross has passed beyond but still he lives on in our hearts, and in our dreams. One of these dreams it turns out will be an upcoming Revolution title where Bob Ross himself will teach anyone with the time how to scrape out mountains and highlight trees. Surprisingly, the response from the gaming community has been overwhelmingly positive since the announcement of the title a few days ago (April 1st as it turns out).
You may wonder why this would warrant an article from me when not a word was written about GDC. Partly because of my busy schedule, partly because I was fairly certain that nothing of import would come forth at GDC, partly because I am excited for this game. Mostly though, this game embodies Nintendo's call to arms. A new and unexplored genre is being created. In fact, this is a title that many would be hesitant to call a 'game' and yet there are many people across a broad range of ages, educations, and vocations of both sexes who are interested in getting their hands on it.
If you look at the history of video games it is readily apparent that there are cycles within cycles. Nintendo's adopted "blue ocean" strategy has an ebb and flow all its own. New genres have always been a part of the industry. A new game will be created that defies standard categorization, if it manages to be successful it will be emulated by other development houses until a genre is defined, a target market is selected, and the game evolves to cater to this certain slice of the gaming community. In this way the game steadily climbs up the ladder from exploratory, to a peak of popularity, and then beyond, becoming more hardcore at each stage. It is a tragic lifecycle of sorts where new gameplay elements are first introduced to refine the genre, and later these forays are implemented out of a neccessity to add spice to the otherwise bland copycats of an outdated original. Unfortunately these changes usually bring an increase in complexity to the point where only the most dedicated players will support the genre at this level. Looking at this problem from intelligent objectivity we can see one problem the industry faces as a whole; steadily losing customers of any specific genre after a peak of only a few years. Feast to famine.
The only solution that works is to create new genres to supplant the venerable ones. There are incredible risks involved in innovation though as one in ten new genres attracts enough attention to be worthwhile of emulation, an essential step in the cycle as only emulation will filter a genre through enough unique minds to produce the key concepts and core gameplay rhetoric needed to create our foundation for a peak. On top of this the costs of creating a new genre are substantially higher when compared to emulation. Thus we see most new videogame related innovation has nothing to do with gameplay but rather improvement on graphics, an easy and low-risk way to set a title apart from it's respective genre. In turn, console manufacturers see this trend of developers and create more powerful machines, capable of an ever increasing quality of graphical output.
Nintendo, however, has found a different solution to this same problem of a market always plunging toward stagnation. Instead of just creating new genres themselves (which they have been incredibly successful at) they are providing the tools to developers which make innovation easier and cheaper, lowering the risks and encouraging new market growth. With an army of creative genius spread across the breadth of the development market new genres will spring up, and because of the unique hardware of systems like the DS and the Revolution, these genres will be exclusive to Nintendo as they are explored, refined and perhaps peak five years from now while the genres of today have lost much of their following.
Who knows, maybe Bob Ross: Third Edition will be raking it in by then. I know I will do my part when the title hits shelves. Maybe we all will. For Bob.


Anonymous Tim said...

I agree with the statement that the industry is heading toward stagnation with the same types of games being stamped year after year with only graphical improvments. But I am not sold on the idea of listening to bod instuct me on how to put a little green friend on the canvas like this or how to paint a friendly rusty fence like that.

April 08, 2006 3:28 AM  
Blogger Benjdude said...

Whether you personally like this emerging genre or not has nothing to so with the fact that this kind of growth is what the industry needs to survive. I could point out a few emerging genres, and will in an upcoming post. I am sure at least one will tickle your fancy, in fact I distictly remember already talking to you about one of them, and I recall you were rather intrigued.

April 08, 2006 1:09 PM  
Anonymous Tim said...

I am not disagreeing with the fact that the Industry needs new "inovative" genres. IMHO I don't think this paticular one will as you say tickle my fancy. However, I am glad they are going out on a limb and trying new things which is needed!!

April 08, 2006 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Mina~ said...

A 'how to' on painting sounds a little less exciting than Burnout but I think it'll apeal to enough people just because it's different. And Bob Ross is awesome-so I'm sure his 'happy little video game' will be pretty interesting too. Like you said-it's another genre. Maybe some people like the idea of coming home, kicking back and picking up a few tidbits about painting. That doesn't sound any more boring to me than trying to figure out yet another puzzle on Zelda.

April 12, 2006 7:34 PM  
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