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One Stupid Question Deserves Another
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on February 11, 2005   |   Episode 47 (Show Archive)  

   

The mail section is a staple for just about every game magazine. Heck, some publications have been printing reader mail longer than actual game reviews. Thousands of faithful readers write in every month hoping to get their question or comment immortalized in a national magazine. But since there's only so much room (and only twelve issues a month), the chances of you actually getting your letter posted seems pretty unlikely.

But then, that didn't stop Cara from writing to several game magazines with the same stupid question. If you haven't done so yet, read Cara's letter in Game Pro (the letter on the right). Go ahead; read it all the way to the end, I can wait. Besides, while you read that I'll have a chance to get some food started. Alright, you finish up with that? Now, how about you read the letter below (click here if you need a larger, clearer version of the letter).

That's two letters in two magazines all in the same month. And to add insult to injury, both GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly awarded Cara's stupid question the coveted Letter of the Month prize. It would be one thing if all she got was the warm feeling of getting her letter printed twice, but she actually gets a brand new control and a copy of Def Jam: Fight for NY. At least one of those prizes could have gone to somebody who didn't win the same month in a different magazine. One of those prizes could have gone to somebody more deserving.

Cara's argument is simple, and one you find debated time and time again by uneducated netizens on video game forums. She smugly states that that since her DVD player plays all DVD movies; shouldn't her Xbox play all video games? After all, it allows her to watch Spaceballs, Mission Impossible, and Zoolander; it's as if it were the greatest invention of all time.


I bet Cara's CD player won't play this DVD-Audio disc! But then again, it's only the Stone Temple Pilots.
First and foremost, let's get one thing perfectly clear: the video game industry is not the only one that has had to deal with competition. The fact that you're current generation DVD player plays every mediocre movie you decide to pick up is one thing, but it doesn't mean there hasn't been competition in the past and won't be in the future. It wasn't all that long ago that VHS and Beta were locked in a full on battle, only to be improved on by the invent of LaserDisc and eventually DVD media. But DVD didn't just "become" the standard; it competed against the video cassette in an all out war. The same thing will happen next generation when HD-DVD and Blu-Ray compete for the high definition market.


I bet Cara's CD player won't play this DVD-Audio disc! But then again, it's only the Stone Temple Pilots.
But where video games and movies differ is in the actual approach. Movie making hasn't changed much in the last 50 years; the special effects have improved and we've figured out all kinds of tricks, but we still pretty much go about watching them in the same fashion we did ten, twenty, even fifty years ago. The same cannot be said about video games, which improve and change in just about every generation. If you're last exposure to video gaming was Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, then you're going to be in for a shock when it comes to how they look, how they are controlled, and what you can do with them.

And let's not forget that competition in the video game industry has fueled much of the technological advances. You can call that "bullshit" all you want, but this theory has been proven time and time again. Just look at the GameBoy, a system that was released in the 1980s! Although you could argue that Nintendo had competition, it wasn't really anything they had to worry about. Month after month their GameBoy ran laps around the GameGear and TurboExpress when it came to sales figures, and Nintendo really had nothing to worry about for a good decade. Which might explain why it took Nintendo more than 11 years to release something better than an 8-bit portable.

The GameBoy Advance was far from a major step forward in portable gaming, especially when it was running remakes of ten year old games. But Nintendo understood the market, they knew they didn't need to do anything over and beyond the bare minimum, heck, they didn't even need to give it a backlight ... they were that cheap!


This is the kind of stuff I'd expect from GamePro, but what was EGM thinking??
Cara seems to believe that the only difference between the companies is quality and price, but again I find myself disagreeing. A company like Nintendo has always done thing their way, and they have a legion of fans that would have it no other way. Nintendo isn't interested in online gaming, hard drives, or even DVD playback; they are interested in games the entire family can enjoy, and owning the inexpensive market. Would it be fair to face Nintendo to play by the same rules set up by Sony and Microsoft?

She mentions in her GamePro letter that a cheaper system could have worse graphics, but how would that work if you're dealing with an industry standard? The reason Cara can play every DVD on her DVD player is because there is a standard, whereas video games have no such standard, for many of the reasons I've mentioned.

Maybe 25 years down the road we will have a standard, after developers have tapped all the power they can from the medium. Perhaps then it will be like DVD players, and Cara's argument would actually make some sense. But until such a time, we should be happy that we have more than one company competing for our attention. And we should never, under any circumstances, say that Cara's idea has "sanity, logic, and a certain degree of economic sense going for it." GamePro, it's not fun to make fun of your readers, it's just not cool.
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