Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Arcades Find a New Home

Although physical arcades have pretty much gone the way of the dodo (Boomers, GameWorks, and mini-golf places are just about the only arcade hot-spots in North America that I can think of), those quick, "pick up and play" experiences have pretty much shifted to handheld systems and Downloadable Content (DLC). I'm here to elaborate on the latter method of gaming.

Historically, downloadable games have been around for a long time on PCs. Back in the 90's, "shareware" was a new concept for letting people try out a game with the intention of purchasing the remaining two-thirds if they really enjoyed it. Today, companies like Popcap Games make flash versions of their games available for free, and offer downloadable deluxe versions for sale. Now, this business model is making it's way to the consoles in a big way, with each company taking their own unique direction towards dominance of this new market.

Can you even tell what's going on in this Geometry Wars screenshot?

Microsoft's XBox Live Arcade, a carry over from the original XBox, offers a creative canvas for smaller, independent developers to create $5 - $15 gaming experiences, while also providing revisions to nostalgic classics like Frogger and Street Fighter II. This double dose of content offers a nice balance of alternate gaming experiences like the addicting Geometry Wars, while fleshing out the library with high-def remakes like Caslevania Symphony of the Night, Ikaruga, and Alien Hominid. Also look for some new upcoming titles such as Boom Boom Rocket (from the makers of Geometry Wars), Castle Crashers, and Mutant Storm Empire.

PS3 owners were treated to Gran Turismo HD for free.

Sony's Playstation Network (PSN) takes the downloadable games concept in a whole new direction with their "Download Initiative." In addition to offering smaller independently made games like the revamped flash game flOw, Sony has assigned many of its key first-party development studios to make slightly meatier download-only games. David Jaffe of SCE (God of War fame) is working on fun new title called Calling All Cars. Recently, Sony also released Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection and the concept game Gran Turismo HD as download initiative titles. With talk of the new Warhawk game possibly being download-only, the Playstation Network could provide a new avenue for game companies to push scaled-down versions of troubled products for less than half the price of store bought games. If anything, it gives the PS3 a way to distinguish itself from its competitors.

Cult classic Alien Hominid is coming to Xbox Live Arcade in high def.

Finally, Nintendo, although not fully embracing online yet in the traditional sense, has their own system of offering downloadable games. By offering titles, via the Virtual Console, from their own immense back catalog of software, along with games from Sega Genesis, Turbo Graffix 16, and Neo Geo, it seems Nintendo has potentially the strongest collection of classic games. The fact that they only debut between 1 - 4 games a week (every Monday) only works to keep up demand and anticipation for these titles you probably already own. Though they don't yet support original downloadable content, I feel this is a space they will soon occupy. Who wouldn't want to create a small, yet clever new way to use the Wii-mote?

This is yet another example of why the 3 way competition (or console war, if you prefer) works. If you were to take one of these away, you'd really be missing something. The third wheel in this race is just as essential as the other two, plain and simple.

No comments: