Rapid Fire 09.09.04

Hello all, and happy Dreamcast Day!!! Five years ago, we received one of the greatest consoles ever, and we should all take a moment to remember it today. After you read this column, that is.

Nevertheless, welcome to Rapid Fire. Today’s going to be a fun one, with two distinct parts. First, it’s a special feedback-only edition of Firing Back, then we’ll go into the DVD Effect stuff I’ve been promising. So let’s begin our journey by…

Last week, I discussed Nintendo’s decision to drop the price of the GBA SP to $79.99. I thought it was a good piece, and apparently Widro agreed, as it was one of the top stories on the entire site for Thursday and most of the weekend. However, despite the sign of approval from Inside Pulse higher-ups, the GBA SP stuff got a most unique response – EVERYBODY disagreed with it.

Every letter I got last week took me to task on my stance, which I’ll attempt to clarify as I go through the different reasons people had for calling me out. Ryan Davis states the following…

Cutting the price of the SP surely is stock clearance, much like the Dreamcast’s price cut at the end of its life. Nintendo don’t want to be lumbered with warehouses full of SPs which will not sell when the DS is out.

This is the most common rationale that I was presented with. However, comparing the GBA SP and the Dreamcast is like comparing apples and oranges.

When Sega was left with warehouses full of Dreamcasts, it was because the system refused to sell no matter how strong the promotion. Sega didn’t plan on creating this situation; instead, it was delivered from an apathetic public who ignored the system. Now, take Nintendo’s situation. They have the hottest-selling system ever. They know that the DS is coming up and they are able to control how the SP sells over the short term. Here, Nintendo is able to dictate its system flow, which is in sharp contrast to Sega ending up with tons of inventory that they were never able to move.

As for the SP not selling when the DS is out, that remains to be seen. That said, it’s going to be a lot tougher now. If Nintendo held off on the price cut until the DS was released, they could point to the SP as a quality handheld at half the price of the DS. Now, people will demand an even steeper price cut if they are to choose the SP over the DS. In short, Nintendo is choosing the sure thing over that which it can’t control. By selling what SPs it can now, Nintendo is guaranteeing itself sales figures, but is also suggesting that the SP is an obsolete system that is far inferior to the DS. Considering that Nintendo has gone on record stating that the two systems aren’t in direct competition, that’s not the best thing.


Next up is Adam Pigeon, who says that the proof is in the pudding…

I totally disagree about the $20 price cut on the SP not being Worth it. I work in a popular toy store, and on the day of the cut I sold 5 SP’s that morning. I’m lucky to sell anything on a Thursday morning. Not to price-savvy gamers, but to cost-conscious moms. Moms have never heard of the DS. They know nothing about games. They go “Ooh! Sale!” and buy. You have to remember that Nintendo doesn’t just cater to gamers, but to mom and grandma.

Adam raises a good point here. While my analysis focused on the business side and questioned whether the move would make sense for Nintendo financially, the truth is that many consumers are in love with the decision. As Adam says, they see a system reduced in price and are far more inclined to purchase it.

The thing is, Nintendo has sold something like 20 million GBAs. While the SP has only been out for 18 months, it has quickly become THE must-have video game utility of our generation. It seems like every game fan out there already has one. Is it worth it to slash $20 off the price just to reach the small pocket of people who don’t already own one?

As for Nintendo catering to mom and grandma, I’m not convinced. If Nintendo really cared about the well-being of cost-conscious parents looking for gifts for their children, Nintendo would include a free game in the package before cutting the price. Uninformed parents looking for a bargain don’t realize that their kids will go through at least one $30 game a month… unless, again, Nintendo just wants to hook people into the idea of owning a Nintendo handheld, which lends credence to the next theory we’ll see.


From Akira Hirose…

There are others like me who I think will be similarly enticed into buying a GBA SP. Also, while 20 dollars is not an amazing price drop, it still does make a difference and I would be surprised if the SP units don’t move quite quickly. If the 20 dollar incentive gets some uninitiated people into the portable gaming world, all the better, as that increases the number of people who might then be interested in the DS.

Here’s the thing about this line of thinking – it’s easy to say now, but not so practical down the line. Remember this summer, when ESPN NFL 2K5 came out three weeks early for $30 less than Madden? Everyone who swore up and down that they’d buy both came to a REAL crossroads once Madden came out. Did they really need Madden? Was it worth it to spend $50 on a football game when they already had a perfectly good football game? Would they even have time to devote to both?

Now, it’s one thing to buy the SP just to see how it feels to have a handheld and put money into games for it. However, people who are only getting on the SP bandwagon now are going to have a tough time getting off for the DS. By that, I mean that DS sales might suffer as a result of people discovering the SP for the first time. And while I maintain that the window of opportunity for the SP to attract new customers remains small, it’s highly likely that those who buy their first GBA now won’t be so keen to buy a DS upon launch.

Of course, the “buzz” surrounding Nintendo handhelds will hit a fever pitch really soon, because everybody will be talking about either the DS, the SP, or both. This only plays into Nintendo’s hands. However, people aren’t going to buy two handhelds in a one-year span, let alone a three-month one. While Nintendo definitely aims to make long-term fans that they can have a relationship with, they want the DS to have as big a launch as possible to take the wind out of the PSP’s sails. It seems like Nintendo is reaching out to everybody at the same time when, in reality, it isn’t possible to touch 20 million people at once.


Bill Laird shares his thoughts…

At Holiday time, Mom might see the SP, quite a bit cheaper than the DS but still plays those Pokemon games Junior’s always freaking about, and with the extra $20 bucks, pick him up a copy of Ruby to go along with his Sapphire. That’s good parenting. Or she could get drunk with the money. That’s bad parenting.

The utilization of the extra $20 for an extra game is definitely Nintendo’s best-case scenario, but it’s not necessarily what will happen. People will use the $20 for the one game that they must have in order to make the system work; after all, if they’re that hard up for cash, they’ll have a hard time spending more than $100 for a system game combination. Besides, odds are good that the store will hit these people up for so many accessories, peripherals, and protection plans that the extra $20 will be gone before they even leave the store.

And just to say it, the “Mom” in this story must have been driven insane if the kid STILL hasn’t gotten to play a Pokemon game after nagging her for all of these years. Poor kid; even poorer mother!!! I’d use that money to get hammered if I were her, too. Very funny example, by the way.

Lastly, Chris Dennen…

And Nintendo has not even mentioned the DS in any advertisements. Diehard gamers who read the Internet and gaming magazines already know of the DS and the price cut and probably already have a GBA SP (like you said). But causal gamers [who now make up a large population of gamers (How else to explain the sales of Enter the Matrix and other bad games based on movie licenses)] who don’t look to the Internet or gaming publications for their gaming news have no idea the DS is being released. They therefore would have no reservations about getting a GBA SP at its new price.

If you think about it, the combination of no advertising for the DS, along with the price cut on the SP, creates a VERY interesting situation. Could Nintendo be this intelligent? If so, this is some impressive long-term planning on Nintendo’s part.

But again, not promoting the DS only takes away from the power of the DS upon launch. Last year, when Nokia launched the N-Gage with virtually no promotion, the system failed miserably. Nintendo’s a far too trusted name in handheld gaming to let that happen. However, Nintendo is stifling its own momentum here; the mere fact that casual gamers don’t even know the DS exists is a terrible thing for Nintendo at this point. This is unprecedented for Nintendo when it comes to a handheld, and it will result in poorer DS sales than expected. Is it worth it to compromise the new system for the benefit of the old one?

Nintendo has apparently made its choice here. And if Nintendo actually educated people about its new system instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist, they wouldn’t need to slash the price of the SP. Instead, they could focus their energies on marketing the DS – which is what Nintendo should be doing.

Last week, we discussed video game systems that offered more than just the standard gaming experience. Today’s games are no different. Like the systems they are played on, games offer us something more. The games we play today are crammed full of special goodies we never would have dreamed about one console generation ago.

Call it the DVD Effect. When DVDs first came out, they were neat, but they weren’t phenomenal. Most people kept their VCRs and bought tapes instead. But once DVD publishers started throwing extra features onto DVDs, people couldn’t buy them fast enough. In the current climate, special features are on the same level as movie quality to some people. That is, if a decent DVD has great special features, people are more likely to purchase that particular DVD than a good movie with a sub-standard assortment of neat stuff.

Take a look at what we now take for granted. Your average DVD comes with the movie, a commentary on said movie featuring the stars and director of said movie, deleted scenes, trailers, and maybe a featurette or two. Compare that to the VHS tapes you paid the same amount for (if not more) ten years ago, when all you got were some previews and a movie you had to rewind and fast-forward. Which would you rather have – the cut-and-dry tape, or the DVD that allows you to explore? All things considered equal, you’d go with the extras.

Gaming has taken a similar turn over the years. Today’s gamer seems to prefer a more open-ended approach to gameplaying, and this attitude has been noted by developers. No longer are gamers confined to playing one linear quest. Modern games allow players to explore and complete side tasks, which can be either part of the main quest or can be separate mini-games. The levels themselves lend themselves to exploration, which also helps the gamer to achieve a greater sense of freedom. In short, the games of today let the gamer extend the fantasy of gaming a bit – now, the gamer is in command of the fantasy, not the developer.

How does this relate to DVDs? Simply put, it’s an issue of control. When you pop in a DVD, it’s up to you where you’d like to from the main menu. Whether you’d like to watch the main feature with commentary, watch some deleted scenes, or just read some talent bios, you decide what it is that you’d like to do. Games offer you the same option. If you don’t feel like playing a full game of Madden, just do a Mini-Camp drill. If you can’t be bothered completing a full mission in Vice City, just run around and kill people. Again, it’s your choice.

Just like DVDs, most video games have a number of options, things you can do aside from the main quest. Whether it be consciously or subconsciously, game developers have picked up on the shortened attention spans of modern gamers. While today’s games are still ridiculously long, gamers can choose to immerse themselves in the main quest or goof around with the mini-games, unlockables, and the whole assortment of possibilities that are now open to us in this new age of gaming.

The correlation between movies and video games has always been there – it seems like games are following right behind motion pictures into the high-budget, high-reward stratosphere. Along the way, game developers have picked up on those things that cause people to buy. The addition of special features and mini-games are welcome to most gamers, especially those with time constraints. Developers don’t mind putting them in because it means that the game spends more time in the system rather than on the shelf collecting dust. It’s a win-win situation that results in satisfaction for all involved.

Thusly, we conclude this edition of Rapid Fire. Thanks very much for reading. See you next Thursday!