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Talking Point: When Do Console “Gimmicks” Become Standard?

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Talking Point is a weekly series that posits a question concerning the gaming industry. We encourage readers, as well as our writers, to offer their thoughts on the topic. Hence the name: Talking Point. Feel free to join in below.

A month now after its release, Switch owners have had a decent amount of time to test out all the various features of its unique hardware, a blend of many gameplay ideas Nintendo has introduced over the decades and console generations. From a touch screen to HD rumble to the Joy-con gyro sensors, with portability and a return to cartridges to boot, there’s a little bit of DNA from nearly every one of the company’s previous systems. Unlike with those previous game machines, however, none of these features takes center stage, none really stand out in any noticeable, distracting way. Instead, they seem to work together, feeling almost natural. I hardly even think about using motion control to fine-tune my aim with Link’s bow or paint in Splatoon, and tapping the touchscreen to build bridges in World of Goo is as instinctive as playing on any number of modern mobile devices.

There have been plenty of console and controller inventions since gaming’s inception, often to divisive response. To some, these attempts at experimentation are wholly welcome, lending an open-world sense of the unknown to an industry that sometimes seems like it’s restricted to narrow corridors, if not on rails. To others, however, who simply want to play their games in tried-and-true fashion, these attempts at “innovation” only serve as unnecessary intrusions on the tried-and-true core experience, gimmicks meant to attract a wider audience, but that in the process alienate experienced players.

At what point, however, do these gimmicks worm their way into gamers’ expectations for what should be standard? The N64’s Rumble Pak was just a fun schtick at first, nothing necessary to the fundamentals of the medium, but having some sort of vibration feedback is now considered par for the course with any controller, a basic that sparks criticism if omitted (see PS3 Sixaxis). Analog sticks/buttons, triggers, wireless ability, and other evolutions all started off as attempts to expand the options for player input, experiments to enhance the experience, but are now accepted norms. Personally, I’m getting to the point where some uses for motion controls are becoming second nature, a reflex action that feels strange and lacking when not present, but for others, they’re still seen as inferior to traditional control methods. Will accelerometers and /or gyro sensors, or any other recent technological “gimmicks” ever catch on in the same way?

Sound off in the comments below!

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Ricky D

    April 3, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    gimmicks are just that. They never last. Personally I have no issue with the controls for example on the Switch but I never use them. I purchased the Pro Controller right away and I’ve never wanted to use the JoyCons. In fact, when my battery died on the Pro Controller I tried using the Joycon to play BOTW and gave up after 15 minutes. It just isn’t the same. So I guess to answer the question posed in the headline: NEVER.

    • Patrick

      April 3, 2017 at 9:33 pm

      What about the feedback given by the Rumble Pak becoming more refined and standard now? That was definitely a gimmick at the time!

      • Ricky D

        April 4, 2017 at 2:28 am

        Yeah but that isn’t a standard, not by my definition. Who uses that feature but Nintendo and only a few games?

        • Patrick

          April 4, 2017 at 2:46 am

          Rumble feedback is pretty standard these days. When Sony didn’t include it in the Sixaxis controller because of some legal issues, there was some grumbling. They rectified it in the Dual Shock 3 pretty quickly. Most players probably don’t even notice it much these days just because of how ubiquitous it is.

  2. James Baker

    April 3, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    When they make a sizeable profit. Motion controls are becoming a standard for Nintendo because the Wii sold so many units. If a gimmick makes enough money, it’ll stick around.

    • Ricky D

      April 4, 2017 at 2:27 am

      Even when they do make money, they eventually die out.

  3. Brent Middleton

    April 4, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    I think they become standards when they’re enjoyed by enough people to become an expected part of a console. Rumble was enjoyed enough to become standard in controllers. Motion, while it has many detractors, was also enjoyed by so many people last gen that every current gen console has it built in in some way. The Wii U’s dual screen gimmick wasn’t liked by most of the gaming population, and thus lost its chance at becoming a standard.
    VR seems to be pretty popular right now, but it also seems too expensive to become a standard. Maybe it will be in a few years when costs go down.

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