A Very Pretty House, with a Very Pretty Door…

I’ve said a few times on this blog that games sell systems.

For me, this isn’t a speculative gesture; it’s a belief I hold firm to with every fibre of my being. As someone who does like to look at hardware and software sales, it can be a bit depressing to see some games do worse than others – but this isn’t about the games themselves, per se, but about the direct correlation between games and games consoles.

Games consoles are like houses. Trust me, this will go somewhere.

A games console is the building, the foundations and exterior of a house, a gateway to enjoyment. The Vita, the 3DS, the PS3, the Wii – they are all very pretty, very structurally sound and look fantastic from the outside.

But, without games, there is nothing inside. You turn on the machine and sure, the bare bones of the firmware are exposed; but there is nowhere to sit, bathe, eat or relax. It’s unfurnished. It needs you to fill it with something.

And it is here that games are the device and medium to bring a machine to life; in order for a games console to work, it needs games to run. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and even Apple can make a very pretty, very powerful device but without the requisite software to run on these devices, they have no actual purpose. Games consoles want to play games. That is what they are designed to do. Aesthetic decor and a pretty frontage are nothing if you haven’t got a book to read inside, or a TV to hook up – likewise for games consoles, without a game to play on it, they have no real function.

“But Kami!” I hear you cry. “My PS3/360 is a media hub! I can access TV and movies and music through it too! It’s not useless!”

True. I’ll accept that case. But you bought a games console as a media hub? You could spend £300 on a decent desktop PC and get largely the same result, and you could do more with it. A games console is a GAMES console. For all the additional benefits to offset the experience and expense, these are still designed and sold on the premise of playing games.

This is for me why the 3DS had such a tough release; there were some games like Steel Diver, Pilotwings and Super Street Fighter 4 3D. But these aren’t exactly killer titles; they don’t inspire someone to rush out and spend £180 plus another £30 on one of those games too. For £210 as an initial outlay back in March, it wasn’t exactly screaming quality.

And I think that is why it wasn’t until the latter half of 2011, when Nintendo and others got their act together and released games like Monster Hunter Tri, Mario Kart 7 and Star Fox 3D that sales began to pick up. Titles Japan liked, and this led to a resurgence in sales which now sees the 3DS sitting on four million units sold. In a first year, and after such a troubled launch, that’s actually not bad at all.

And the Vita is repeating the same mistake. Uncharted is a great game, but it’s not selling the system. The best selling Vita game in Japan right now is Hot Shots Golf 6. That’s right, Vita’s hottest property right now is a golf game.

So why is there so much doom and gloom when a console stumbles?

Part of it is the technology. The games industry relies on it to run the games; and a new machine needs these days to have a new angle, a fresh gimmick. It needs games which look better and run faster than the previous incarnation, of course, and it is this reason that much money and research and development goes into the internal workings of new consoles. And then they doll it up with a very pretty exterior and a nice frontage firmware.

And part of it is a very human desire to enjoy watching failure; this is largely why shows like X-Factor and Big Brother became so huge on our screens in the UK (please insert your regional variations as well). There is a deep and morbid curiosity and pleasure in watching something do badly. Whether it be an athlete tripping up on a hurdle and landing face-first on the track, or watching one of those Police Camera Action shows as a driver accelerates into the back of a lorry full of manure, there is a rather odd human desire to enjoy watching failure, especially when it is not our own. We laugh. We mock. We thank the heavens it isn’t us.

Parents giggle as their children take their first faltering steps and fall over. Oh how cute! How fun! But they will learn to walk. Likewise, those who make mistakes on TV will be forced to endure them over and over again until such a time as they learn. It’s how things are. It’s human nature. We can’t picture how something is until we see and experience it for ourselves to find out if it is quite as funny or enjoyable on the other end.

This is perfectly normal.

The majority of us can’t make those mental leaps. We need the examples to be set for us, we see but we need to experience to get an understanding and appreciation. Which means, for a games console, it’s about what games are being released and when. If the bulk of big-hitting games come six months after the release of a machine, then people shouldn’t be surprised most will wait those six months. And then buy the machine for the game they’re after – be it BioShock for the Vita or Super Mario Land 3D for the 3DS.

So for all the design and money that gets spent on consoles, and for all the doom and gloom over the Vita right now, remember that content is the key to that front door. The Vita may be struggling, but once it gets the right kind of games and franchises on show, people will buy them – and a Vita to go with it, in much the same way when 3DS games started tumbling out, people bought them and a 3DS.

Houses need to be styled. Consoles need games.

For all the complicated numbers and technical specs and showy gimmicks, a console without games is an entirely pointless object.

But heck, as I said before, this has been the way of things for the past 15 years or more. If the industry hasn’t learned it by now, they never will. Therefore, we as consumers just need to relax, take a deep breath and not gloat or proclaim doom too early.

Because when the games are out there, it will look so much better.

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