[qi:046] TOKYO: I’m at the Tokyo Game Show, which drew in more than 190,000 people last year, looking for games that really stand out, games that take the state of gaming in new directions. I’m searching for signs, in other words, that the Japanese game industry isn’t moribund — that the wave of disruptive technology Nintendo started with the Wii is continuing to push other innovations. But with an anemic keynote by Sony (SNE) and a floor packed with RPGs and third-person action and insipid puzzlers, TGS has failed to prove, so far, that the Japanese game industry is looking squarely at the future.
By all rights, Sony should have owned this show. Nintendo isn’t around, Microsoft (MSFT) is barely making a dent — the show is Sony’s for the taking. And what do they announce? Dual Shock controller! Hooray, last-generation PS2 technology is finally on PS3. The company also made some vague promises of cross-platform play linking the PSP to the PS3, but offered no specifics and no demo.
Oh and they also let it be known that PlayStation Home, the networked 3D virtual world application that will let users buy virtual items, download games, and contact other users, will be delayed until next year. But where was the news of a price cut in North America and Europe, an admission that the market just wasn’t ready for a $600 console? Where was the vision for really leveraging the increased high-quality broadband penetration in Japan? (About 19 percent of the country’s households are now wired.)
At the same time, you have U.S. companies like Microsoft and EA (ERTS) looking to crack the Japanese market, and that’s in evidence on the floor, too. Microsoft has a pretty decent lineup of new Xbox Live Arcade content, including a downloadable version of the trippy genre-busting music-shooter Rez, polished up and remixed in 5.1 surround sound. EA just released MySims for the Wii in North America, with a Japan release scheduled for next week.
This brand-new iteration of Will Wright’s classic Sims game features Japan-friendly anime-inspired art and an emphasis on socialization as the main gameplay element, rather than how to exert bladder control. EA is also hunting around for Japanese studios to acquire or to partner with in order to get a foothold into expanding its sales eastward.
The show as a whole has so far felt a little behind the times. The emphasis on cutting-edge graphics still dominates the floor, with giant screens displaying CG movies that often seem to have little to do with what a player actually does in the game. And booth babes abound — how retro! But there’s little indication that developers are responding to challenges from the realms of web 2.0 such as user-driven content, social networking, or even the rise of casual and web-based gaming.
There are some bright spots here. Echochrome elegantly channels the mind-bendery of M.C. Escher drawings to create a simple, small game that approaches something like art. There are also non-gaming applications on the PSP, such as Talkman Travel, the interactive voice-activated translation application. But overall, after two hours on the show floor, I’m still underwhelmed, asking myself, what are all these people here to see? The latest Metal Gear Solid 4 Trailer?
I’m heading back in. There’s got to be something in there that acknowledges that the times are-a changing! More tomorrow. And if I run into any acquisition-minded EA suits, I’ll be sure to ask them what they’re looking for… maybe the same thing as I am?
Founder of the legendary, highly influential, and still kicking blog Game Girl Advance