Thursday, April 02, 2009

When Choice Hurts

London's Alpha Geek recently posted a review of the new Nintendo DSi - and it got me thinking a bit about choices. By rights, I think most people probably believe choices are a good thing. If I'm hungry for pizza, I like that I can choose my toppings. If I need shoes, I'll probably look at several pair before I pick my usual white sneakers. But sometimes, when more than a few bucks are on the line, I wonder of choice is a bad thing.

Let's start with Nintendo. Is it me, or is their product cycle for handheld gaming getting shorter with each crank of the Nintendo widget machine? Game&Watch begat Gameboy which begat Gameboy Pocket which begat Gameboy Color which begat Gameboy Advance which begat Gameboy Advance SP which begat Nintendo DS which begat Nintendo DS Lite which begat

Nintendo DSi (and I'm likely missing something, somewhere here). We now seem to measure the distance between models in months when it used to seem like years.

With every new device - a new feature or two and the subtle threat of backwards incompatibility. In the Nintendo mould, new features are put out there in the hopes of finding novel ways for Developers to incorporate them into games. But this constant evolution usually leaves me cold insofar as I hate to leave behind solid old investments to make way for better ergonomics or web surfing on a tiny screen. Maybe I'm too old and cheap for this racket.

Exhibit Number 2: selecting a GPS. I've been meaning to replace my long-gone GPS with a new one - mostly for car trips. As I've discovered, there are lots of choices. I just want a device with a nice screen, color maps, and a pleasant Moneypenney voice that tells where to go and when to stop. Instead I have to decide whether I want MP3 support, FM-based trafiic reports, selectable vehicle icons, routes, waypoint support, multi-calc auto-routing, books-on-podcast subcriptions, and 50 other options I cannot remember. The good people at Garmin have managed to package and re-package these options into about 4 different product lines and 30 different models. Predictably, I'm stumped. Just when I find one that does simple stuff for a fair price, the model is discontinued and I have to start over. I'm lost with or without a GPS, I fear.

I think Henry Ford probably had is right - and I'll just take the black one, thanks.


Kid Dork said...

I can't speak about GPSes, but with the gaming world, much of it has to do with shareholders. Nintendo is top of the world right now, and can't appear to be coasting, so this is why they have reconfigured the DS (the world's top selling gaming console) three times so far. This keeps analysts happy, and thus stockholders. To their credit, Nintendo is very accommodating for backwards compatibility--most times. Losing the GameBoy Advance slot in the DSi is one of the few times they've waved goodbye to a form of gaming gear.

I like my DS, and have no intention of getting a new one until this one dies.

But I see your point, CL. So much of consumerism is built on making you the buyer feel slightly inferior (so you must buy what's new to overcome that), and with gaming consoles there is this underlying assumption perpetuated by the companies and gaming press itself that you HAVE the money to keep buying new games, new consoles, etc. To say you don't is to admit you've somehow failed, or haven't reached the economic level you should have. Only in the past few years have I seen reviewers actually take cost into account--for years, it was assumed we all had swimming pools of cash.

And thank you for the AlphaGeek tag. I was looking for a new tattoo.

David said...

I'm still mulling over this great post until I have something substantive to say...but, I will pipe in and say that AlphaGeek is here to stay. As a badge of honour of course.

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