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Journal RogueyWon's Journal: Reflections on looking at some (very) old posts.

In the process of drafting this comment I had to do a quick dive into my post history, to remind myself of just when I'd started posting from this account. When I did so, I got caught up in reading a few of my posts from my early days as a slashdot participant. It's often slightly uncomfortable to read something you wrote many years ago - and this is no exception. Ok, ok, this isn't quite up there with cringe-worthy high school essays, but still, there are times I wince at just how young I sound in some of those posts (I was early 20s and relatively new to the "real world" of work when I started reading slashdot).

There's a real sense of self-certainty to some of those old posts that I don't think is still around. My early-20s self was clearly very fond of big, bold sweeping statements, backed up by little or no evidence. It's no wonder I felt like I fit right in around here.

Anyway, having read through a few of those olders posts, I thought I'd submit myself to some further humiliation by checking up on some of those bold statements and confident predictions I made back then and seeing how they stacked up in the face of reality, several years along.

Let's start with a few of the things I got wrong:

World of Warcraft is all hype and will die off quickly after an initial spurt of interest - Yeah, whoops. Here we are at the start of 2012 and it's only really over the last 6 months that WoW's subscriber numbers have started to decline. Bearing in mind that the historic trend for MMOs seems to be for them to spend two thirds of their active life with a gradually declining user-base, it's hard to see how I could possibly have been wider than the mark than I was on this one. Reading my other posts at the time, I was a huge fan of Final Fantasy XI and I suspect that there were some partisan... verging on fanboyish... motives driving my posts there.

That's not to say that my position was completely unreasonable or that I was the only one to take it. WoW had a pretty rocky launch; server performance was famously dismal for the first 6 months or so and end-game content was extremely slow to emerge. However, the swell of public enthusiasm for the game was so great that it was clearly wrong to doubt that it would succeed eventually.

Steam is rubbish and doomed - Now admittedly, I did change my tune on this one after a relatively short time. And it wasn't as if I didn't have any evidence - Half Life 2's launch on Steam was indeed extremely rocky. Indeed, it would be several years before the Steam client became robust enough, and the range of games available wide enough, to make Steam an essential for a PC gamer. However, I did badly underestimate Valve's drive to make it work.

PC gaming is doomed/about to become dominant - Slightly oddly, I seem to have predicted both of these in close succession on a number of occasions. I suspect I was generally being contrarian and going against a parent poster who had irritated me. I think over time, I've come to see PC gaming as cyclical; it becomes more prominent late in the console cycle, when developers are board of the aging console hardware, then fades into the background again when the console cycle resets itself.

Nintendo is doomed (said during the Gamecube era) - Kind of. I admit I did not see the incredible sales that the Wii chalked up in its first 2-3 years coming. However - I think I may have been wrong in terms of timing rather than end-point here. More on this later.

Square-Enix know what they are doing - Oh how I wish I'd been right. But I wasn't. It's not just Final Fantasy 13 and 14 that soured me. It's the company's utter failure to come to grips with the current console generation and its pathetic retreat into a low-budget handheld comfort zone for some of its strongest franchises (particularly the Kingdom Hearts series).

The PSP will be the dominant handheld - I was only partly wrong on this one. The PSP was actually a huge success for Sony. It chalked up the kind of unit sales that only Nintendo handhelds had previously managed - even if it did lose to the DS (which broke all previous records). However, outside of Japan, it failed to make a really lasting impact on the gaming scene. I blame this heavily on the "second line" of the game releases. The system had a good launch line-up and got a lot of interesting titles over time. But for about 12 months after its launch, there were only a few releases and most of them were racing games. The system lost momentum and - in the West at least - never really recovered. My view now is that both the 3DS and the Vita probably need to be considered failures. The iPad and iPhone are the dominant handheld gaming consoles (though not without their own set of issues and frustrations).

Now, having subjected myself to all of that, I suppose I should recognise that there were also a few things I called right.

The Wii will lose momentum and leave Nintendo in a difficult situation - Has now happened, as demonstrated through Nintendo's annual results. Nintendo opted to take the fast cash in this console generation, putting out a machine which was cheap and interesting early on and racking up incredible early sales. Then people got bored of the control gimmick and the technology fell so far behind the curve that developers stopped bothering. If Nintendo had a successor ready to go somewhere towards the end of 2009 (or even early 2010) they would have made an absolute killing. But they didn't. Now they've had to gamble their company's future participation in the home console market on the Wii-U - a device without much public interest, based around an unclear concept, scheduled to launch at the worst possible time.

The 360 and PS3 will more or less stalemate - Which is more or less what's happened. I don't think I've ever known two competitors in the console wars that had less to set them apart. While the hardware under the hood is massively different, both systems are neck and neck in terms of performance, games library and global sales.

For a Star Wars MMO to really work, it needs an Old Republic setting (and Bioware should make it) - My word, I called most of that early (admittedly, I only got to Bioware later, but still long before the announcement of The Old Republic). But even when Galaxies was still relatively fresh and new, I pointed out that lore reasons would always make a movie-era MMO an uncomfortable fit. Bioware's Old Republic setting, which felt palpably "Star Wars", but without being tied to a particular set of characters and events, was always going to be a better option. The Old Republic's initial sales figures would appear to validate the view that the buying public is happy to accept this. I have once ventured that a New Jedi Order setting could also be made to work. I think that's probably right, but it was always going to be the trickier proposition.

High street games retailers will commit a slow form of suicide - Ok, we're not quite there yet, but financial results appear to show it's happening. Since I first started predicting this 4-5 years ago, the experience of using high-street shops has gotten steadily worse. Grubby stores (particularly in the US, more than the UK), generally useless staff (with the odd honourable exception), a huge focus on pre-orders and pre-owned - all of these are driving older (and more affluent/bigger spending) shoppers away from Gamestop and Game and towards Amazon and the download outlets.
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Reflections on looking at some (very) old posts.

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