I'm a greedy gamer. I love to chase the next audiovisual high or high-impact feast, but as I hurtle towards the next generation of consoles I wonder if I have too much of a good thing. The "just good enough" technology movement tells me that efficient design rather than horsepower can create just as much fun and excitement.
I'd heard about the idea before, but was reminded how widespread this approach to tech was when I stumbled across Robert Capps' article in Wired. Although he makes a great case for "just good enough" websites, gadgets, music and media, game consoles went unmentioned.
Being a gamer, I immediately thought of Nintendo. Its restrained approach to gaming mirrors those magical devices that succeed with a "just good enough" user experience. It's an approach I like because it means game design becomes about the player rather than the technology. In fact, they seem to have been reading from the same playbook. Capps' comments about disrupting existing industry values could just as easily have come from Reggie Fils-Aime.
A lot of this is gaming history now, but go back a few years and the idea of low-fi gaming was unheard of. Before the Wii and the DS broke onto the scene, everybody clamored for fidelity, resolution, and hardware features in new gaming consoles. Each new generation had to outgun the last and deliver previously unimagined graphical realism. Go back to the GameCube, though, and you can hear Nintendo quietly building its vision of games not dependent on horsepower. Its big idea: fun from ideas and implementations rather than processor speed, polygon count and frame rate.
I remember that my response was intrigue and skepticism. It sounded more like the marketing hype platform manufacturers often roll out rather than a genuinely new idea. But then, while Sony and Microsoft were releasing hi-spec machines, Nintendo came to market with the DS and Wii - hardware that lagged behind a generation.
It took a while for the penny to drop for me - this was a revolutionary approach that would deeply affect the games I held dear. Nintendo had left the power race and instead played to its strengths. It knew that Sony and Microsoft could out-punch it in the hardware ring, but it would always be the king of in-house first party games. Its answer was to create this now-familiar concept of "just good enough" by focusing on gameplay and convenience rather than graphics.