Late last year I had dinner with a publicist for a major video game company and offered him what I thought was a terrifically modern suggestion about how to enhance gaming consoles. It was a solution, I thought, to the widespread neglect many video games suffer. And my idea, offered between bites of my gourmet burger, was shot down, for a reason I still have trouble accepting.
I suggested that video game consoles should no longer just support the playing and purchasing of games. They should support sharing. Just so the publicist didn't think I meant that his company should let their customers upload and download their games for free, I clarified the kind of sharing I meant: showing off stuff that's in the games.
I was talking about the kind of thing that "Halo 3" has been letting me do since September. That game allows a player to take a screenshot of anything they see in the story-driven campaign and multiplayer matches. The game also lets players record and share video of what they experience, which they can share with other "Halo 3" owners. The system isn't perfect. The videos can't be seen by people who don't have the game. The screenshots aren't as easy to snap and share as they could be. But it's a good step, one that feels right in the age of online-connected consoles.
The "Halo" system is a rarity among console games. Only a few others have similar features. "Super Smash Bros. Brawl," due February 10 on the Wii, will let players capture and share a couple of minutes of fighting footage. Last year's big skateboarding games allowed video capture. "Metroid Prime 3: Corruption" had an unlockable screenshot tool for use via the Wii's Photo Channel. But the ability to share, to show off what you've done and let your friends know how cool or funny or interesting the game you're playing is by just zapping them some sort of visual, is far from universal. I told my dining companion that is wrong.
I explained that I should be able to play any video game on any of the new consoles and send shots of what I've done to other people. That is the way the modern world works: You see something, you share it. That's what people use cell-phone cameras for. That's the point of Digging a story or posting it on Facebook. That's essentially what people do when they see a wild clip on YouTube and then IM it or e-mail it to friends. But that's not how it works in the world of video games.
In the video game world, what I play is mostly my own private business. That amazing thing I saw in "Zack & Wiki" last night, a cool moment in a game that few people bought? I can't take a snapshot and send it to all the people in my Wii friends list. Footage of the epic battle I experienced in "Ratchet and Clank"? A video capture of what is clearly the wrong strategy I'm using on a "Call of Duty" map that maybe I need a friend's help with? A shot of a funny glitch I saw in "Assassin's Creed"? I have no easy way to share any of this. I think that I should have one. I should be able to press a button and zap images or video to other people who own the same console I do.
I told my dinner companion that the video game industry would benefit from this. This would get more people talking about more games. It would be an extension of the increasingly popular practice of letting people download demos and, as of this holiday season on the Wii and Xbox 360, at least, provide downloadable games to friends as gifts. I often hear people bemoan the supposed lack of innovation in games while at the same time I am playing an innovative game. How often have you heard about a game you loved that didn't sell? How often have you struggled to get a friend to check out a game you think they would like? Making sharing/showing-off a built-in feature for a console could help solve this.
I thought I was on a roll. I thought I was convincing my publicist pal and showing him how my idea might turn video game players into a more effective band of viral marketers. I thought he'd like that. But he was shaking his head. My idea: rejected.
My publicist friend's main concern is that people would abuse this service. They would give stuff away. What would I think if I was on my PlayStation 3 or my 360 and one of my "friends" shot me some footage that spoiled the end of a game I had yet to play? What if they ruined a plot twist? I told him that people were already ruining things via YouTube and that any friend of mine who started abusing the service would simply get dropped from my list. But I could not change his mind. He told me that someone spoiling the ending of a game for me might discourage me from buying the game myself. Really? That didn't ring true to my playing habits, but he was firm about this. We went on to talk about other things, but I couldn't let this go. I asked him if he really thought the game-spoiling thing was a big problem. He said that for story-based games it was.
I suppose one of the reasons I started reporting on the video game beat is because I yearn to tell other people about video games. Maybe other people don't want to share as much as I do. Maybe. But perhaps people would if they could. In the world we live in, shouldn't it be an option?
More from the world of video games:
Las Vegas is hosting this year's installment of the annual Consumer Electronics Show — the site, sometimes, of big gaming announcements. The event hasn't generated any huge video game news this year. Microsoft announced that Xbox Live now has 10 million subscribers and Sony revealed that PSP users will be able to use Skype on their handheld gaming machine upon the release of a firmware update for the system later this month. The PSP Skype service will only be available to owners of the redesigned slim model of the PSP, which was released in September. ...
Xbox 360 owners who experienced problems with the Xbox Live service over the holidays complained loudly and with good reason. The service proved shaky throughout the holidays. Late last week Marc Whitten, general manager of Xbox Live published an apology on the company's main Xbox blog, writing: "While the service was not completely off-line at any given time, we are disappointed in our performance." To make amends, the company will be offering all Live subscribers a free Xbox Live Arcade game. Details on which games will be offered and when will be revealed in the next few weeks.
Recent video game coverage:
With barely a week back from the break, we've been in a posting frenzy at the MTV Multiplayer blog, posting news about how "Madden" is being used to help college football coaches, an appreciation of the "real-life" "Super Mario Galaxy" photos that apparently were not inspired by Nintendo's game, and a whole lot more. Keep up with it all at Multiplayer.mtv.com.
This week also sees the launch of the MTV Rhythm Game Track Finder, a project tailor-made for anyone who has ever played a rhythm game like "Guitar Hero" or "Rock Band" — or whoever has considered buying one. The Track Finder is the definitive search engine for more than two dozen major music-based games, letting you type in the name of any band or song so that you can find out which games it's in, whether it's an original or cover, and other important info. It's also the place to go to get full track lists for any of the big rhythm games. Check it out at Trackfinder.MTV.com.