Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
24 April 2006
Battle of the Virtual Arcade Titans (or: Revolution v. XBLA v. GameTap)
Will Nintendo's Revolution be late to its own retrogaming lovefest? According to this SPOnG report (found via Press the Buttons), Microsoft expects to put out arcade games by the bucketful on Xbox Live Arcade, much like what is now available for MAME. This sounds a little full of itself, but you get the drift:
Imagine the biggest arcade in the world, just 1,000 times bigger. It'll have as many machines as we can possibly get, all with score-rankings and other community stuff. It's not a secret that MAME was massive for hackers of the original Xbox and the pull and sales of retro game packs on current machines is still really high. If this is taken and put under the right noses, it should become the biggest thing in mainstream/hardcore gamer crossover in the industry.
A few comments on this, in no particular order:
  • I think I was right: emulation compilations are officially dead. Who wants to sell them in a store when you can just offer them for download? Judging from previous experience, putting together good physical packages seems to be a very, very low priority. These services give old game license holders an easy out.
  • This would make three services offering classic games for download: GameTap, Xbox Live Arcade, and Nintendo's Revolution.
  • Different systems is a good thing. you don't have to own a specific platform to get (cheap, legal) retrogaming action.
  • Moreover, the licensing of these games is not exclusive. I think that's a really key point. I may still get Zaxxon on the Revolution, since Sega (e.g.) is not marrying itself to one outlet (according to SPOnG).
  • My impression is that Microsoft would be offering actual arcade games while Nintendo will focus on home games.
  • That home vs. arcade difference might be key to the appeal of each service. Consider the recent Tecmo collection for the Xbox which had Tecmo Bowl on it, but not the NES version with which most people are lovingly familiar. Given the option to download one or the other, I know where most people will put their money.
  • Could the success of these services bring a new crackdown on ROM piracy? When these companies can make a valid argument that they've built a working business model on these old games, pressure will build to protect the profits. That could well mean hunting down ROM sites and traders.
  • Expect ROM pirates to claim some credit. If it weren't for them, these big companies wouldn't have realized how much interest there was in old games, right? Thank heavens people have been holding onto repositories of thousands of game ROMs. Future generations will thank them for their service.
  • Prices are the next big issue. I've maintained in the past that no price is low enough for those who want to rationalize their piracy. Whatever price Nintendo and Microsoft offer, I fully expect people to say "screw that, I'll just download them".
  • And the other question is: Rent or own? I've heard rumblings that Nintendo's downloads can be time-limited. If I can't download to own the game (as much as one can actually own 0s and 1s stored on an internal flash drive), I'm going to be much less interested. This is one of my main arguments against GameTap.
Anything I missed?


--Matt Matthews at 11:48
Comment [ 3 ]

Comments on this post:

>Nintendo will focus on home games.

Of course the other way to view this is "Nintendo will focus on the content it owns rights to - it's own" (not a bad thing, just a different way to view it).

I'd also argue that GameTap is focusing on... nothing ( )

>emulation compilations are officially dead.

We'll see. I'm not sure there's a parallel, but in casual games space the same argument was made, but there's still a significant market for retail versions of games that have 'graduated up' into the numbers that make it feasible (e.g. Bejewelled, Zuma...) Maybe same will play out here?

There's also the "compilation pack" in the form of a budget console selling at 20-40$.

By Blogger kim, at 24 April, 2006 15:59  

Kim: I read your GameTap post a while back (specifically the bowling pin bit stuck with me) and never got around to blogging about it. Interesting and compelling analysis. Certainly if GameTap were rolling in dough, you're right, we'd've heard about it by now. My take on GameTap has always been "it's not something I want", and as commenters regularly point out, I don't have the same outlook that most consumers have. I guess that's my blindness.

My view of compilations is that it's a market that has fallen to commoditization. We've gone from $50 for 8 games including developer interviews on the disc to $20 for 20+ games and a dozen scanned arcade flyers. It feels inevitable to me that this will end up one level cheaper, at download-for-a-dollar status. This cheapo product will suck up all the interest and money in the market until the retro flame burns out.

Are the DTV units making money? Jakks Pacific appeared to have plans for GameKeys for their units, but only a handful have shown up (that I've been able to find). Maybe the GameKey system was a nonstarter, but I figured if they were selling millions of DTVs, then the keys would go forward as well...

By Blogger jvm, at 24 April, 2006 16:14  

X-box Live Arcade seems to be arcade games (including graphic updates of those games) and some original stuff coming from the indie development scene. That's one of the coolest things Microsoft has ever done, in my opinion.

Nintendo seems like they'll have many more games, however. Arcade games are notable for requiring a certain minimum difficulty, and for having unique design requirements. Nintendo will probably have a wider variety of game than this. Microsoft could counter this by greatly expanding their outreach to indie game developers. Nintendo could counter that with their own stated plans to do some outreach... but they haven't said if those developers will be allowed access to Virtual Console.

I hearby predict that Gametap is doomed in the not-so-long run. The subscription model sucks, especially since some of the games available are hundreds of megabytes in size. X-box Live Arcade is cheaper and cooler, and Virtual Console will likely not have a subscription fee.

By Blogger JohnH, at 26 April, 2006 02:41  

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