Overcoming the "There Aren’t Any Games!" Criticism: Crossplay, E-Shops, and Backwards Compatibility

The first year or two of any console is the most critical, not so much in blitzing the market, but forming a solid userbase and establishing a precedent of quality. There is a reason that the first redesign of a handheld is usually the most popular. That reason is that most people jump to a new console or handheld after all the work has been done, and there is enough games and content to keep them busy for a long time. The early life of a console is about forming the character of that product. Now that the 3DS is considered a runaway success, the 3DSXL is likely to sell very well in North America, as it has in Japan. The Vita is still in that early period where people are questioning its existence. This happens to almost every console and handheld, and the number one complaint is always lack of games. This is the first, and often the last major hurdle a console or handheld needs to clear. When people stopped complaining about the lack of games for the PS3, nobody really ever questioned its success again. The same goes with the 3DS, the N64, or many others. The traditional way of generating content is to have a strong first party lineup and rely on third party developers to pick up the slack during lean times. This model doesn’t work anymore now that games take so long to create, thus leading to longer periods without games. Today we are going to look at ways companies have, and are going to break past the image that their console/handheld doesn’t have any games.

Never forget

Seriously, I hate you, Orphen

The launch of the Playstation 2 was notable for several reasons. Firstly there was a major media frenzy that made it the hot ticket item that holiday season despite its ridiculous price. The second notable feature is that there wasn’t a single good game launching with it (Trust me, I don’t own Orphen: Scion of Sorcery because it was great). Of course the PS2 managed to mask its terrible list of launch titles with the grandaddy of all content generators: backwards compatibility. Ignoring the Atari 7800 (Which you should), the Playstation 2 was the first video game console to offer backwards compatibility. It is such an ingenious idea, one that was only possible because of Sony’s other genius idea: disk storage. The problem with backwards compatibility was always that it wasn’t simple to adapt a console for multiple cartridges. However, the use of CDs/DVDs allowed for that problem to just go away. Thus, the Playstation 2 launched with a handful of terrible games, AND the entire PS1 library. Not too shabby really.

Unfortunately, backwards compatibility is kind of hit or miss after that era. The PS3 removed its backwards compatibility, so did the DS after the DSi redesign, and the Vita and 360 both have limited backwards compatibility. The only two consoles right now that are fully backwards compatible are the 3DS, which can play all DS games, and the Wii, which can play all Gamecube games. However, note that all of these consoles and handhelds have had some form of backwards compatibility early on in their existence. After all, it is easier to spur on an upgrade when you can claim that the consumer no longer needs the older device.

If you’ve never heard of this, good. Don’t look it up.

The downside to backwards compatibility is that it doesn’t bring in a profit, only early users. This generation has figured out another way of generating this style of content, but with a steady stream of profit as well. What I am talking about are the various e-shops selling older games, upgraded, or retro. This was started by the Wii back when it was inventive and fresh, with its Virtual Console. This amazing idea allowed consumers to put down money for individual classic Nintendo games such as The Super Mario Bros. Sure it was overpriced, but it allowed a whole new generation of people to experience classic games, and it allowed Nintendo to make a tidy profit while doing so. Early on in the Wii’s lifecycle, the Virtual Console was prolific, providing huge hits on a weekly basis, leading many to overlook the serious drought of games on the system.

Soon…soon

This, of course, had to be mimicked, and it was by Sony and Microsoft. Sony started early in the lifecycle of the PS3 with its PS1 Classics, but they abandoned them early on. It wasn’t until the past three years that Sony started pushing them more (Coincidentally around the time Nintendo totally abandoned the Virtual Console), and adding PS2 Classics (Probably to piss off those who remember that the PS3 used to be backwards compatible). Sony made the smart move of allowing these PS1 Classics to be played on the PSP as well as the PS3. The lack of Classics on the Vita was very upsetting to many gamers, and it hurt Sony, who had cut themselves out of free money, and goodwill. Fortunately, Sony will be allowing Classics on the Vita on the 28th of this month, and we can all pretend that it was always available, like the 3DS’ e-shop.

Now put PS2 Classics on it and we’ll be happy.

Now we have the most recent example of content generation, and it’s a doozy: crossplay. Sony is allowing crossplay for at least three of its high profile games, including Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (Still hate the name). Crossplay means, that when you buy the game for the PS3, you get a free copy of the Vita version of the game. This is genius in every sense of the word, and if Sony can make this more widespread, the Vita will be an amazing hit. After all, if you are a Playstation 3 gamer and buy the big games, you may find yourself with five or six free Vita games just lying around. Why wouldn’t you buy one? The possibilities are endless with crossplay, HD Remakes in particular make me salivate. The only problem is that it doesn’t generate money at first glance; however it provides a seriously useful service. Crossplay should shore up Vita numbers to a level where it won’t be seen as a risk by third party developers to make games for it. As I said at the beginning of the post, the first couple of years are critical, and crossplay could give the Vita some serious momentum.

I love you, internet.

Of course all of these are simply tools to be used by companies to make money. If there is no money to be made, or advantage to be gained from backwards compatibility, then companies aren’t going to bother with it. All of these tools are not there because gamers deserve it, but because they push systems or make developers money, or encourage further development. Crossplay is yet untested, and we don’t know how widespread it will be. Will it only apply to a select few games, or will it become more and more the norm? It is very exciting, and I intend to look at the greater implications of this tool the next time I look at the Vita. When the ideal situation has been reached and the console or handheld is selling well and has a steady stream of incoming high quality games, like the PS3/360 right now, there is far less impetus for a console developer to resort to these measure. However, for new systems like the 3DS or Vita, these are very effective tools to throw off the old gamer complaint of “There aren’t any games!”

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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