[A note from Geoff: I have been playing Star Wars Clone Wars Light Saber Duels and World of Goo for the Wii, but I do not have much to say about them, other than they are both pretty fun.]
Before I talk about what I've been playing, I want to start with what other people have been playing. There was a great story on the gaming blog Kotaku last week about a report from consumer research firm: NetworkedInsights wherein NI compared game sales in October (as determined by the data group NPD) to "Gamer Interactions" (as determined by message board posts, socal networking sites and user generated content sites like YouTube)
The data is most interesting as it shows some real discrepancies between what people are buying and what people are playing.
Four of the games on the "interaction" list represented games which were not in the top 10 in sales, and one (Little Big Planet, which I gushed about earlier) did far better on the Interaction list than it did in sales.
The value of NPD data has been much debated for some time, it only surveys Game Specialist outlets and doesn't include shops like Toys R' Us. Amazon.com and Wal-Mart. As such it skews to the elitist/hard-core market in much the same way as the New York Times Best seller list fails to include Romance Novels and other such "low-brow" "mass-market" books [and Watchmen, by the way] which invariably aren't included because they are primarily sold in Supermarkets and convenience shops. Similarly though, the 'interaction' aspect of NI's survey also skews to the 'hardcore' as it is by it's nature looking at a vocal minority of dedicated, connected people who take their interaction with games beyond the console and actively participate in Internet discussions about their hobby.
So, let's forget that the top 10 purchased list isn't real and that Littlest Pet Shop probably sold 10x more copies than Dead Space, and discuss what we have in front of us.
People LOVE Rock Band and Guitar Hero. I personally don't need my living room cluttered with gigantic plastic instruments but those that do sure seem to get a lot of use out of them. I think Wii Play is an interesting inclusion on the Interaction list as the game is essentially an extra Wii controller with a $5 game thrown in. With that and one other exception (Dead Space), the rest of the Inclusion list contains games with a huge depth of content. Fable II, Fallout 3, Far Cry 2, GTA 4 and Saint's Row 2 are all 'open world' games which can be played for 100s of hours while still providing new experiences. This divergence of sales to interaction and the seemingly high correlation between interaction and depth of content makes me wonder if making higher quality, deeper games isn't shooting the industry in the foot by providing so much quality content that it slows down purchases. I cancelled 2 games I had pre-ordered this fall due to the fact that I didn't think I would have time to play them. I still haven't had time to go back to Fallout 3 because LittleBigPlanet keeps me coming back with the promise of newer and ever more competent user created levels (the new 1.7 update makes it super easy to find the most popular user created levels and I spent several hours yesterday discovering new delights.) Widening out to PC gaming where the World of Warcraft juggernaut seems to be obliterating all comers due to its massive popularity and demands on the player's time we begin to see the future of the Hardcore gaming market. A subscription model where ongoing service charges or regular updates/add-ons subsidize the fact that a single purchase of Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft might provide so much entertainment that the consumer won't feel compelled to purchase Midnight Club or Call of Duity when they come out because they are still enjoying the earlier product. On the console side, added downloadable content also provides the benefit of causing gamers not to trade-in completed games as more content is just a few months and $10 away. This in turn keeps new consumers from buying used games and keeps profit rolling into the publishers rather than being sucked up by the retailer.
Of the 5 'deep content interactive' titles I mentioned above: 3 of them (Fable, Fallout and GTA) all have announced massive downloadable add-ins due in the 1st quarter of next year. The Lost and the Damned expansion for GTAIV will likely dwarf all proper game releases in the Month of February, and it too won't show up in the NPD numbers.
All of this relates to what I've been playing as that list primarily consists of LittleBigPlanet which has so much amaizing user generated content I even got sucked into their website viewing movies of all the cool levels I haven't played yet for 20 minutes while trying to write this blog entry.
Check out one of many Batman Levels, a superior Mario inspired one: or the fairy tale inspired Sack and the Beanstalk: simply amazing, and these three are some of the more straight-forward levels out there, as other span the gamut from artistic to inspired to just plain odd.
I'm also playing Chrono Trigger on Nintendo DS. A remake/reissue of a 13 year-old SNES RPG. Which holds up wonderfully, though does waste the touch-screen capability by providing lousy controls rather than using the more ingenious Map-making/note-taking functionality invented by The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.
And WipEout HD which modernizes and revitalizes a 10-year old franchise with assets repurposed from the PSP WipEout games which are 4 and 2 years old respectively.
I don't mean to indicate that this lengthening shelf-life is a new phenomonon. Chrono Trigger was revolutionary when it was released by being having multiple endings which took a 20-25hr game into the 100s of hours with excessive replayability. In the last 2 generations we've seen the standard slip from 20-25hrs to 12-15 and then again to 8-12. This made sense with the aging demographic of gamers with more disposable income and fewer hours to play factored into the increased budgetary requirements of each successive generation. Now, with the current economic problems I wonder if the value/money ratio will be pushed in the other direction. 80 hours of GTA for $60 and then another $20 for 20 more hours 11 months later is roughly 10x more entertainment for the dollar than a single movie ticket, and just under 20x the value of a $3.99 Marvel comic which takes 10-minutes to read.