Japan 2.0

Game journalists and publishers alike are always on the look-out for the Next Big Thing, and apart from graphical prowess, storage capacity and digital delivery one thing that people talk about in hushed, excited tones is a thing hatefully called “games 2.0”, referring to the internet “revolution” called “web 2.0”.

As far as I can understand it, the “2.0” suffix is used to denote a move away from straight content delivery to creating a platform for a community where the users themselves provide the content that keeps it alive. In gaming terms it seems to boil down to “user created content”. In a real sense I suppose titles like Shadowrun could be called “2.0” as without other users on-line there is no game, it being multiplayer only, but the real great white hope for the idea seems to be in Media Molecule’s highly anticipated Little Big Planet for the PS3. In it players not only create their own characters but their own playfield, presumably sharing it with others.

The real question for me, though, is whether Japan is “2.0 compliant”. My first instinct is to say: no, probably not. I really don’t think the average Japanese player is that interested in taking control of the entire game and sharing their creations with others. I even have my doubts it is a big deal for your average Western player either, but at least there is a small hard-core who will love it. But in Japan I am really curious to see how well Little Big Planet will sell.

Obviously the game is saccharine cute, which is a good thing. It has a lot of character and just looks amazing. Don’t let’s focus on the install base of the PS3 but take the game on its own merits. Why might a Japanese player not “get” it? A lot of it comes down, again, to what I proffered before, in that they seem to prefer a more passive experience in Japan. They want to be told a story and be swept along in a finely crafted experience. They want to be the hero, but a designed, fleshed out hero, one with a back-story they can try and identify with. If you give them a sandbox and total freedom to do what they want, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were taken aback and possibly slightly dismayed. “I’ve paid good money for this game, and now I’m expected to make it myself?”

At this point it is all conjecture, of course. Little Big Planet seems to be one of the first in a new breed, so there is little to compare it to, other than maybe RPG Maker. The latter obviously only sold to a small hardcore interested in making their own RPG, and the title left little to the imagination.

Is there maybe a cultural issue involved too? In the West people are encouraged to reach for the sky, to think they are equal to or better than others and hence get this sense that they can do better than any game developers if only given the chance. In Japan there is more social rigidity and the idea a young turk could even think he could outdo a seasoned and older vet is, well, unimaginable. Possibly, though, this may be going one armchair psychology lesson too far.

The one true “2.0” software we have on consoles at the moment is probably Nintendo’s “Mii channel”, combined with “Everybody votes!” But even here it is slightly different. The Miis are obviously meant to be a recreation of your own image, with little extra to make mad fantasy characters. And even though these Miis crop up in a number of games, they don’t dictate how the games are played – they just offer you a little version of yourself to appear in otherwise fully designed experiences.

As for “Everybody Votes!”, a channel where you can create questionnaire questions and vote, locally or globally, on a variety of non-issues, is nothing less than an ingeniously designed marketing data gathering tool, and with that is the one true “web 2.0” application out there. Don’t let’s forget that “web 2.0” survives on databases that collate information and data, from Amazon ratings to eBay rankings that can be used for marketing and other census taking programs. “Web 2.0” isn’t really about user generated content as much as it is about how willingly we give the mega-corporations our personal data willingly and for free, and in that sense Everybody Votes! is ideal.

“Game 2.0” may be a possible future of our industry, but it may not be the best one. At least in Japan they have a natural protection to it: the reluctance to be involved in creating their own entertainment; games are passive experiences.

9 comments:

  1. Didn't Sony announce Game 3.0 already? I forgot what they mean by it, might have been that Home stuff. I'm pretty sure they shouted Game 3.0! a few times though.

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  2. Game 3.0 would be "Make your games yourself, we'll just sell you the console".

    About the Everybody Votes channel and using it as a market research tool, shouldn't there be actually questions concerning that?
    I only remember the question whether the player uses a 4:3 or 16:9 TV as possibly useful for market research. Asking people if the prefer cats or dogs isn't exactly that useful.

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  3. Seems like the ones most receptive to UCC would probably be the geeks, freaks and otaku - in other words, the ones shunned by mainstream society. Have you seen some of the pain (sic ;) cars made by otaku in Forza 2? See also: Graffiti Kingdom (Rakugaki Oukoku 2).

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  4. Remo, to be honest I stopped listening to Sony PR since the fateful E3 press conference of two years ago. It just got me too angry. They mentioned Game 3.0? Probably as meaningless a phrase as "Emotion engine" and "$599". I should pay closer attention, I suppose.

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  5. I tend to greatly enjoy games with user-created content. And of course, just because the player can make content, or even those where he must make all content, it isn't true that the developer has done nothing. In fact, making these kinds of games, that can support meaningful user creativity, are among the most difficult to produce of all.

    But anyway. The thing about games where the player is a pre-made hero off on a canned adventure is that they speak of escapism, of getting away from the real world. Games which ask the player to create have greater aspirations, but they also further blur the line between games and work, which is at times surprisingly thin.

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  6. My shear fluke I found myself back here on Japanmanship- quite surprising to see it resurrected! A bit late here so I'll have to catch up, but great to see you've given it another shot.

    /totally off topic

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  7. "Asking people if the prefer cats or dogs isn't exactly that useful."
    I beg to differ - it's *extremely* useful for Nintendo to help them decide whether or not they ought to develop "Nintencats" before next Xmas.

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  8. Of course Nintendo is already developing it, they don't need a survey for this.

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