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CURRENTS
Issue #43
December 8, 2006
Good News
Front Page

Glad you could stop by.

I have some very encouraging numbers for November sales in the video game industry, which demonstrate some surprising performances from some upstart consoles. The industry underwent massive growth in November, but you'll have to read on to see just how much.

Nintendo's being burned in an incident reminiscent of Sony's DualShock lawsuit in a story that broke less than a few hours ago; you'll want to read this one, since it'll probably be big news in a week or so.

Oh, and the Germans want to put gamers in jail.

And there's more NUMB3R CRUNCH1NG than I know what to do with.

iPong?

With Apple's brief foray into the video game market with downloadable iPod games, it must be patently clear to them that there's potential here. Jesse Tortua, analyst with Prudential, suggests that Apple may be heading in that direction.

Tortua describes the downloadable iPod games as a first step towards becoming a viable player in the video game market. He writes, "We think the video game market represents a distinct possibility for Apple," and goes on to describe what incarnations an Apple Game could take.

The game console device could be morphed out of some combination of the MacMini and iTV, while the handheld player could be developed as an enhancement to a future version of the widescreen iPod.

Now, the rumour mill's been grinding faster than a Terrier in heat when it comes to Apple's forays into gaming markets. While Tortua states that Apple has hired more software and hardware developers, there's no solid indication that Apple is headed in this direction. So keep your iPants on, and stay tuned.

Source: GameDaily BIZ
PlayStation 3

Paul Holman, VP Tech of SCEU, fired off a barrage of interesting PlayStation teasers this week. Bulleted lists? Yes, I have one of those.

  • Addressing rumours that the management changes at Sony had killed the PlayStation 4 before its holy name could even be uttered, Holman reassured gamers that the PS4 is still coming, but not until 2010. Pricing on the PS4 will land somewhere between the GDPs of Grenada and Djibouti.
  • As we expected, the PS3 will host a variety of firmware upgrades over its life, and Holman extolled the potential for third-party software and hardware, including (completely original and not copied from Nintendo or anything) motion-sensing controllers.
  • The PAL PS3 launch will be accompanied with a firmware upgrade and approximately 20 new games.
  • Holman said that the PS3 could come bundled with a keyboard and mouse in the future, proving once and for all what the PS3 actually is.
Source: SmartHouse

A new survey this week from The Harrison Group has interesting news concerning the role of video games in the modern family. The study, commissioned by Activision, took the form of an online survey of 1,014 gamers (8-24) and their parents. The results show incredibly strong support for the ESRB's rating system, as well as overwhelming acceptance of games into family life.

A few mitigating circumstances, though. First, the study was commissioned by a prominent game publisher; take that how you like. Second, as David Walsh at the National Institute on Media and the Family explained, families with the capability to participate in an online survey are likely to be more accepting of technology in general. Third, the potential for someone in the 8 to 24 year age range to be a parent as well does not seem to have been accommodated for. And fourth, Activision's press release was very selective about what numbers were included, so don't get mad at me for gaps in the data.

Anyhow, I don't know what to do with numbers aside from CRUNCH1NG them, so I hope you're wearing your dentures.

"Very familiar" with ESRB Ratings
Parents
84%
Kids (8-17)
65%
"Pay close attention" to ESRB Ratings
Parents
79%
Parents of
kids 8-12
89%

Sorry I can't provide comparative analysis on the next set of numbers, but I only report what I'm told.

ESRB is "effective in helping determine whether a specific game is appropriate"
Parents
68%
ESRB rating top purchase influencer
Parents
56%
Amount of games parents research prior to purchase
Games
52%
Video games are "part of their family's life"
Parents
74%
Parents who got game
Parents
58%

It should also be noted that 52% of video game playing among parents was done with their kids, and that 49% of the time, they play their children's games. So that Wii your parents get you for Christmas may not be a completely selfless gesture, after all.

What's the big question missing from this survey?
These numbers are encouraging in terms of parental awareness, but say nothing about parental involvement in the purchasing process. If the kid has an allowance and buys a game without telling his/her parents, we wouldn't know.

This study comes at an interesting time for the ESRB, as they've just teamed up with Senators Clinton and Leiberman in an effort to spread awareness of the rating system to parents. Clinton and Leiberman have been outspoken critics of the game industry and the ESRB for some time, but they are presenting a united front in the fight to make parents aware of game content in time for the holiday shopping rush.

The school shooting in Emsdetten, Germany two weeks ago has prompted some level heads in the state governments of Bavaria and Lower Saxony to draft legislation in response. Their solution is startlingly heavy-handed: inflict a fine or a year in jail for developers, distributors, or players of violent video games. More specifically, games which feature "cruel violence on humans or human-looking characters."

Germany is the third-largest video game market in the world, with over 40,000 active gaming teams and the world's third-largest video games trade fair, the Leipzig Games Convention. Currently, German versions of games are already censored for violence; a similar school shooting in 2003 prompted the ban. For example, the German version of Counter-Strike does not include blood or, remarkably, dead bodies.

How far will this go?

People who blame incidents like Emsdetten on violent games [MSNBC]
People
72%
People who support a ban [MSNBC]
People
59%

Well, 59% is a majority, so it's fair to say this legislation is more than hot air.

It is absolutely beyond any doubt that such killer games desensitise unstable characters and can have a stimulating effect.
Gunther Beckstien, Bavarian Interior Minister
Source: MSNBC

The NPD Group has released its sales figures for November, and industry executives are drooling over the numbers. Since last year, the worldwide game industry has grown by 34%, with November sales totalling $1.7 billion. NPD analyst Anita Frazier had this to say:

It's clear to me that 2006 is set to be a record-breaking year by a wide margin. With the industry up year-to-date, we're on track to achieving that $13 billion we talked about before, and maybe even closer to $14 billion.

It's CRUNCH1NG time again:

US Sales (millions, USD) [GameDaily BIZ]
Console Software
$618
Portable Software
$185
Hardware Sales
$771
Accessories
$158

US Software sales are up 15% from last year, hardware sales are up a mind-boggling 69%, and accessories climbed 19%. Breaking down console sales to specific systems, there are some interesting surprises from the "last-generation" consoles, which continue to surpass the "new-gen" by leaps and bounds.

US Console Sales (units, thousands) [GameDaily BIZ] [PlayFuls]
Nintendo DS
918K
PS2
664K
GBA
641K
Xbox 360
511K
Wii
476K
PSP
419K
PS3
197K

UPDATE (12/11/06): I tracked down the PSP figures.

The GBA was the surprise winner of this month's sales. Frazier suggested that the GBA was selling hot because of the enourmous price advantage it has over the other systems, making it ideal fodder for family gift-giving. Also good to note is the fact that Sony's last-gen console is outselling Microsoft's new-gen console by more than 130K units. But Nintendo's the big winner, here, with more Nintendo consoles sold than all other systems combined.

US Game Sales (units and USD millions) [GameDaily BIZ]
1. Gears of War
1000K
$61.5
2. Final Fantasy XII
869K
$49
3. Zelda: Twilight Princess
412K
$20.2
4. Guitar Hero II
356K
$28
5. WWE Smackdown vs. Raw
(no data)
6. Call of Duty 3
(no data)
7. Madden NFL 2007
(no data)
8. Need for Speed: Carbon
(no data)
9. Nintendogs: Dalmation & Friends
(no data)
10. Pokemon Ranger
(no data)

RPGs claimed the second and third place for sales this month, and rightfully so, considering the calibre of game we're dealing with. Frazier claims that FFXII has been the most successful Final Fantasy launch to date, and I'm inclined to believe her.

The future of the industry is bright, and this year's growth has been spectacular, thanks to you. Continue spending your hard-earned wages on electronic stimulation, and the industry will continue to supply you with it. Nintendo is cautiously optimistic about surpassing it's own sales targets for 2006, and Sony is pleased with their November sales figures, citing an increase on previous years.

Source: GameDaily BIZ

The first wave of fixes and updates hit the PS3 this week, and Nintendo is looking into problems with the Wiimote, to the relief of aggravated gamers everywhere.

PS3 owners got a double-dose of live content updates, with the release of firmware upgrade 1.30 and the unveiling of the PlayStation download center. To the discontent of HD-capable gamers everywhere, it was discovered earlier that the PS3 would default to 480p when outputting 720p to sets that only support 1080i. Unfortunately, this problem remains outstanding, but the firmware upgrade did change the PS3's settings so it outputs at 1080i on both 1080i and 720p televisions; a step in the right direction, but not a complete solution. The upgrade also included the ability to backup portable media onto the hard drive, format the hard drive, and use Bluetooth remote controls.

The PlayStation download center came online this week with five PSOne games, including Crash Bandicoot and Tekken 2. More games are expected later this month, but the games can only be played on the PlayStation Portable. Ultimately, the PSOne games will be playable on the PS3, but for now, the PS3 only emulates the upcoming PSP download site (which will allow you to use your PC to download and transfer PSOne games to your PSP). Currently, the PSOne games do not support multiplayer on the PSP; the games will need to be modified to support wireless play.

Nintendo is looking into their (allegedly) flimsy wrist straps after hearing complaints from gamers who launched their Wiimotes into walls and televisions. While there are no specific plans in place to replace the strap, Nintendo is suggesting that gamers use smaller movements and keep their hands dry until their investigation is complete. Engadget, however, is reporting that the Wii may already be shipping with more robust wrist straps.

Sources: JoyStiq | CBC | GameDaily BIZ
Wii

In a surprising lawsuit, a Californian company is suing Nintento for patent violation over the Wiimote. The company, Interlink, makes devices for business presentations, and they claim that their 1995 patent on a "Trigger Operated Electronic Device" has been violated. (The patent can be read here.)

This could mean big trouble for Nintendo, since the motion-sensitive controller is fundamental to the Wii itself. This will seem oddly familiar to gamers who remember the Immersion/Sony case; Sony was required to pay $90 million USD in royalties to Immersion for the use of DualShock in controllers. Consequently, the PS3 is completely rumble-free.

Interlink's Device

A quick perusal of the patent application tells me that this lawsuit is starting out on dubious grounds. While both the Wiimote and the "Trigger Operated Electronic Device" achieve the same ultimate end--a hand-held pointer, they go about it completely different ways. Namely, the Wiimote uses the Wiimote to detect IR signals from the sensor bar to discern motion in space, while the Interlink device uses an IR signal and a receiver to transmit a wireless signal from what boils down to a wireless analog stick. The Interlink device is intended to be a wireless mouse, but it looks remarkably like the nun-chuck attachment.

Nintendo's next move will be critical. Fighting the lawsuit will be costly, but if they win, they're in the clear. If they lose, or settle out of court, they stand to lose a considerable amount. Removing the Wiimote is simply not an option for Nintendo; Sony could ditch the rumble with minimal damage, but the motion-sensitivity isn't so disposable.

Interlink is claiming that Nintendo should pay up to three times the damages assesed by the court, as well as attorney's fees and interest. Also of note, Interlink is demanding that all proceedings by conducted by jury. Kotaku has the official complaint.

Source: Ars Technica | Kotaku

I can't believe how much NUMB3R CRUNCH1NG happened today. In context, you can find public opinion of the ESRB, German thoughts on a violent game ban, and the biggest set of CRUNCH1NGs to date on November's incredible sales figures.

Here's some quick numbers you can use to impress people at parties:

Question: How much energy do teenager's electrical gadgets waste when not in use?
Answer: In the UK, 100 million pounds worth of energy yearly. When teenagers leave electronic devices like consoles and computers on while the units aren't being used, it equals one-third of total teenage energy use, and the total is greater than the combined output of every wind turbine in the UK, or an average nuclear reactor. [Reuters]

Every week seems to get more and more interesting around here.

And it just gets more and more entertaining to tell you about it.

//Today is Christmas, I swear;
END OF LINE
Theo Litowski

 

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