Velocity Girl: A Cautionary Tale of Next-Gen Promises Never Delivered
Recently since E3 there has been a lot of back and forth over who is more deserving of our gamer dollar, Microsoft or Sony. A lot of the rational being used in support of one or the other has to do with features that not only don't currently exist, but were only described in marketing speak. There are places in both keynotes that the companies in question gloss over unseen tech with grandiose statements. Cloud gaming was a major standout on this front for the Xbox One, Gaikai was the same for the PS4.
One difference between the two bullet points is that Gaikai actually existed and performed its purported functionality prior to being acquired by Sony, so in that case there is less of an empty promise there. However, how seamless it will be remains to be seen, when the scale reaches to as many households as there are PS4 (which there will be a lot). They didn't present much on this front, but at least the service actually existed, it's not like Sony bought them for nothing.
Microsoft on the other hand talked about cloud gaming with some inherently vague language, they gave use some general verbal examples, but it ultimately felt like the marketing department caught wind in this era of Google and Apple that saying "cloud" makes you seem cutting edge. Nothing was really presented beyond some aspirational jargon (sony can be also faulted for talking in the same way regarding the cloud, but it wasn't serving as a tent-pole of their presentation). While listening to the Keynote, I felt the strategy rang familiar. It reminded me of Microsoft's 2005 Keynote, when J Allard pivoted to talk about Velocity Girl.
Velocity Girl, or Rather, the User Generated Content Market that Never Was
Velocity Girl was a fictional gamer, who didn't game much except for at a friends place. She was a gamer that was not so deeply into games, but into the scene of games. The 360 was going to appeal to her because their, on the Marketplace, she could tap into her boundless creativity and produce content for Tony Hawk games; t-shirts, custom decks, stickers and the like. The game would give her the tools to create, and the Marketplace would give her the venue to distribute her wares and be reengaged with gaming.
She was a layered promise, one that failed to exist on every front. First she was an example of how the 360 would be home to lots of user generated content, accessible by other gamers. That not only didn't happen but the only way people can identify themselves is through top-down developer produced content and icons. She was also an example of how the 360 would become a place of commerce for everyday people, a micro-economy of sorts where content could be produced by users, and bought by other users. The reality quickly became that even indie developers would have a hard time getting things approved for the market, let alone everyday users.
She was a promise to non-gamers as well, that there was a place for them on the console that didn't have to directly engage with the games to be a part of the console. This point of course never came to fruition, but in a way it sort of did, just not for games. There are people who do use their 360, and for that matter their PS3 considering its the lead platform for Netflix, as simply media devices; rarely playing games on them at all. Lastly, it was a tacit appeal to female gamers, to say in a way that the console wouldn't be just a haven of young men, but that there would be experiences that would appeal to them as well. One that front, Velocity girl comes of a bit patronizing (as if all girls want to do is play dress up?), but the reality of online gaming is that it is as hostile towards women as it ever was.
So what is the point of this post? I just wanted to remind people that a lot of promises get made before consoles are released, so it is best to bank on the ones you know have a likelihood of coming into fruition. I am sure both Sony and Microsoft are doing to best to make good on their promises, but remember sometimes the climates change and old promises tend to fade when new challenges present themselves. Both companies seem keen to not repeat their past mistakes, but that is not to say there wont be new ones made.