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CURRENTS
Issue #45
December 29, 2006
The List
Front Page

There's this List.
The List.
The List that's maintained for the duration of the year, checked twice, then acted upon every Christmas Eve. This List is constructed of two columns; the names of boys and girls worldwide falling into either one.

I assume that every one of you found your name to be on the winning half of the List this holiday season. I wouldn't expect any different from RPGamer readers. If you are the new owner of what appears to be a lump of coal, reflect on the events of 2006 and remember that Santa has agents across the internet. That flamewar you started with a ten-year-old over which Naruto character is coolest? All those times you compared Jack Thompson to assorted animals? Your sordid affair with that hot Mithra? Don't think he didn't know.

Wii

While holiday sales figures for new-gen consoles are still pending, fuzzy evidence from talking heads across the board are predicting that the Nintendo Wii dominated this Christmas. There's a shock for you.

One analyst pegged the Wii at two million consoles sold in North America, with the PS3 at one million units, which is more than a little fishy to me. Considering November's sales figures, the ratio seems legit, but in light of Nintendo's comments two weeks ago, namely, that they aren't promising one million consoles in North America by the end of the year, I'm suspect. The analysts have been saying a lot of things. Anectodal evidence from retailers seems to suggest that demand for the Wii is outpacing the PS3, supply notwithstanding. One retailer in Toronto described how PS3's were sitting on shelves for a day before they sold, while he still had line-ups for the Nintendo Wii. A spokeswoman for Best Buy described both consoles as "stock challenged," and maintained that both consoles sold out as soon as they arrived.

Another analyst, with American Technology Research, suggested that Sony would make the one million-unit mark this season, but he was prudent to point out that Sony includes units en route and in storage with these figures. The adjusted figures, said Paul-Jon McNealy, would be in the range of 600K to 800K units at point-of-sale.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is predicted to be 10 million units strong by year's end, with three holiday shopping season notches on the Xbox 360's bedpost. I think that gives them at least a little bit of license to gloat; Chris Satchell, GM of Microsoft's game division, critisized Sony and Nintendo in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz:

On the Wii:
It's going to start very fast, it's a cool thing that's different, but I'm not sure how big it's going to be in the long term.
 
On Sony's use of user-generated content
I don't think Sony has the right focus. I'm not even sure, looking at how they execute, that they even think that it's important. Like providing people with tools so that they can be creative; they certainly don't seem to do it in their professional space, so I don't really believe they're going to do it in other spaces.

At this point, I think all we can say is that the holiday season was predictably strong for video games sales across the board. While I can't quantify it, I would guess that PS2 consoles and games carried the Sony torch proudly this holiday season, and when it finally passes the torch to the PS3 in 2007, we'll say a very fond farewell. I think we're all looking forward to NPD's December figures next month.

Why do you play video games? I'm sure we've asked the question of ourselves at one time or another, between shots of Red Bull and bowls of Ramen. A study at the University of Rochester, led by psychologyst Richard Ryan, suggested that the traditional paradigm, where games are considered "fun," may not be the case. The study took the form of a survey of 1,000 "gamers," who were given the questionnaire before and after playing different kinds of games. Working in concert with grad student Andrew Przybylski and Scott Rigby, President of Immersyve, Inc, they sought to explain just why people are willing to suspend their real lives for forays into the digital world.

Gamers responded the most positive to games that "produced positive experiences and challenges that connected to what they know in the real world." This would seem to run contrary to the "escapism" postulate that dominates discourse on the issue at current. The researchers made special mention of MMO games, emphasizing the need for relatedness as a key element in motivational behavior.

It's our contention that the psychological 'pull' of games is largely due to their capacity to engender feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Richard Ryan

Apparently, games can actually enhance "psychological well-being" in the short term, presumably for the reasons explained in the quote above. It would also explain why gaming can be considered "addictive"; the fulfilment of needs is a fundamental human behavior, and I have a COMM 109 (Organizational Behavior) textbook on my lap that tells me six ways to Sunday that feelings of autonomy and relatedness are the most powerful of human motivators.

Maslow's Heiarchy places gaming as fulfiling the top three needs on his pyramid (Self-Actualization, the highest need, less so), and its offshoot, ERG theory, would infer that gaming is filling the top two needs (Relatedness and Growth). Lawrence and Nohria's four-drive theory proposes that people are driven to aquire, bond, learn, and defend. While the drive to defend is reactive, the other three are proactive, and gamers are certainly acquiring, bonding, and learning while playing. McLelland's learned needs theory, which states that people need Achievement, Affiliation, and Power, is more than fulfilled by Ryan's research. Ryan's evaluation is based on Self-Determination Theory, a model for motivation developed at the University of Rochester, and (unfortunately) not a part of first-year business curriculum. But here's a Wiki on SDT for the curious.

Source: Psysorg.com (via Joystiq)
Nintendo

Disney's newly-minted gaming arm, Buena Vista Games, added a fourth development studio to their existing three last month, with a bit of a twist: the new studio, named Fall Line, will be focusing exclusively on Nintendo consoles. RPGamers have brushed up against Buena Vista Games (nee Disney Interactive) through their involvement in the notable Kingdom Hearts series and the upcoming DS game, Spectrobes.

The Hollywood Reporter scored an interview with Scott Novis, the newly-appointed head of Fall Line. Novis' previous posting had been with THQ, where he developed the Cars game based of the Disney IP of the same name.

Novis described his plan for the Salt Lake City studio; he expressed his excitement at building up a facility from scratch. He described the studio as a "Nintendo center of excellence," and dished his plans to build a small, concentrated facility made of industry veterans. In terms of nuts and bolts, Novis anticipated that the end of 2007 will see between 50 and 60 employees at Fall Line, and he forecast a staff of 70 with three paralell teams by mid-2008.

The first thing we ask ourselves is 'What is the human interface with the game?' Nintendo has clearly stepped out -- with both the Wii and the DS -- and said that they were going to change the way people interact with software, and that they are going to give developers the opportunity to use those new tools to come up with games that are new and different. That, I think, is one way in which Nintendo has separated itself from its competitors, rather than, say, trying to come up with the next generation of graphics. I think gamers might have a hard time differentiating between gameplay on an Xbox 360 and on a PS3, but they would immediately see the difference with a Wii.
 
We won't necessarily be the lead studio in driving all the SKUs, all the platforms for a given game. But we are going to be the experts on making sure that a version of a game runs as well on the Nintendo platforms as it can possibly run. At the same time, we'll be working on original properties that we think are the types of titles that can only be made on Nintendo platforms.

After the success of Kingdom Hearts and my (brief) personal experience with Spectrobes at E3, I hope we can expect good things from Fall Line. Quality before quantity.

Source: GameDaily
Wii

Here's a quick Merry Christmas gift to Jack Thompson: his very own logo on Currents. Best wishes, JT.

A press release from Thompson sent to GamePolitics outlined his battle plan for 2007. His culture crusade will be taken to state legislatures, where he will continue trying his hand at getting games declared "public nuisances." I fail to see exactly how this plan will work, considering his last attempt at it, though it kicked up a media duststorm, was destroyed by Florida judge. His suit against Bully earlier this year ended with defeat, but not after the presiding judge filed an ethics complaint and Take-Two's lawyers tried to hold him in contempt.

The press release also went on to state that the judge's choice to view the game before her ruling should be viewed as precedent for Thompson's strategy in the future. Following that logic, I will infer that the outcome of those cases could be considered precedent for outcomes in the future. But maybe not.

Source: GamePolitics

If you've lived in a hole for the last few decades, here's a quick history lesson: North and South Korea are slightly irritated with each other. While the (Democratic Republic of) North Korea is renowned for its repression of free speech and love of nuclear weapons, South Korea is is one of the most liberal powers in the far east, and has a rich history of destroying the rest of the free world at Starcraft.

I was surprised to learn this week that South Korea had previously banned war games that featured North Korea's political situation. I was simultaneously (and pleasantly) surprised by the news that South Korea plans to re-allow them as of next year. The head of the Game Rating Board of Korea indicated that the group would be allowing games after reviewing their content; it must be nice to live in a country that puts freedom of speech first. Cough. Games that could be moved off the blacklist include Ghost Recon 2 and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.

Following up our Korean coverage is an interesting attempt by the Korean government to put a stop to gold farmers. For an encore, they plan to move Seoul one foot to the left with a group of monkeys and some medical tweezers. The legislation, courtesy of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, would prevent Korean residents from selling or buying virtual gold, but would continue to allow the selling and trading of items.

Or, to put it another way, the Korean people would pay out the nose to investigate and prosecute people who violate MMO EULA's. According to Shin Jong-pil, the deputy minister of the Games Industry Division, it's a question of health, not economics, and the new law is an attempt to "tighten regulations on hazardous gambling activities." The game industry supports the Korean government's foray into virtual fiscal policy; the government is doing their work for them, I suppose.

Gambling? It sounds like the talking heads don't quite understand the nature of the beast. Gamers giving digital macroeconomic policy a beating do not equate to gambling addicts, nor would this bill prevent people from becoming addicted to video games (I assume that's what the minister meant by "gambling," but if not, then he's even farther off-target than I suspect.)

Moving out of game for a moment, it doesn't take a genius to realize that the economics here need to be respected. By prohibiting the sale of an item for which demand exists, Korea would be tripping the rift between the halves of Marshall's scissors in a most ungainly way. Gamers who need their gold will get it from suppliers elsewhere, and gamers within Korea who want it bad enough will find ways to do it. The already "grey" market will slip underground, raising prices and creating externalized costs for society as a whole.

The King of In-Game Marketing

By now, I think most of us have experienced the wonder that is in-game advertising. Sometimes it adds to realism, sometimes it's just a pain, but it's big business regardless. With more and more young consumers jumping online or in-game to get their daily dose of vitamin media, marketers are trying to stay ahead of the trend; moving advertisements to video games seemed like a logical progression.

Bunnyfoot, a behavioural research group, conducted a survey of 120 gamers to find out how they responded to in-game advertisements. The subjects played sports games--virtual spaces where one might expect advertisements benefit realism--like Gran Turismo 3, NBA Live, and WWE Smackdown vs Raw. The results were discouraging for video game advertisers.

According to Bunnyfot, recall and recognition of advertisements was notably low: "current methods are not optimising consumer engagement and are failing to influence the consumer in any significant way." It stands to reason that if billboards and posters in real life are failing to grab our attention in a message-saturated world, then the same advertising paradigms shifted to a virtual plane stand about the same chance of grabbing our attention, possibly less, considering how engrossing a video game is (compare Gran Turismo to the daily commute; my point is made).

I think we all know who the king of in-game marketing is right now.

Sony

Micheal Comeau, a research analyst for RealMoney, gave the PS3 a solid tongue-lashing, and warned investors to avoid Sony's stocks for numerous reasons; the PS3 being the most prominent. He gives about dozen reasons for the PS3's negative impact on Sony, most of which we've heard or said before at one time or another, but it's nice to get it all in one heap. I've flowcharted it for you, because I'm such a nice guy.

  1. Blu-Ray
    • The Blu-Ray components are expensive and are making the PS3 uncompetetive when placed side-by-side with the Xbox 360
    • Blu-Ray bits are hard to come by, which stalled launches worldwide and gave Sony's competitors time to make up ground
    • Consumers are slow to adapt to Blu-Ray since the format war with HD-DVD has yet to be won
    • The prevalence of digital distribution is such that physical formats may be obsolete in the near future (I have my doubts about this one)
  2. Hemorrhaging Exclusive Titles
    • Dynasty Warriors 5 will end up on Xbox 360
    • The previously exclusive Grand Theft Auto series will also be on Xbox 360
    • Guitar Hero 2 will also be on Xbox 360 (the game that's driving PS2 sales this holiday season)
    • Virtua Fighter 5 will also be on Xbox 360
  3. Costs
    • Comeau anticipates an Xbox 360 price drop next year (If they can tighten up that CPU, it's certainly a possibility), which will damage Sony's fanbase further
    • The profit margin on the Wii combined with Nintendo's ability to keep up with demand are huge points in Nintendo's favour
    • Comeau says that Sony will "almost certainly loose market share," and since 60% of its operating profit comes from video games, he predicts a fall in profitablity

All that negativity's a little saddening. I think it's prudent to note that he makes no mention of the PS2 in there, which is sure to keep Sony moving through 2007 without a total existance failure. And if Sony actually wins this format war, I think every analyst I've ever quoted will be eating their own words.

Source: Engadget (via Joystiq)

I wish I could describe what NUMB3R CRUNCH1NG tasted like. Roasted chestnuts with butter is the best I can come up with right now.

American Views on Technology and Congress [Ars Technica]
The Internet is Better than the Printing Press
One-Third
By 2016, there won't be anywhere in the world without Net access
Two-Thirds
The average pre-teen knows more about the Internet than members of Congress
%83
China vs. USA on Tech [CIA Factbook] (millions)
China: Population
1,313
USA: Population
298
China: Internet Users
123
USA: Internet Users
205
(thousands)
China: Internet Hosts
232
USA: Internet Hosts
195,138
JP Console Sales Dec 18-24 [Media Create via Jpystiq] (millions)
DS
485,964
Wii
279,277
PSP
138,588
PS3
76,882
PS246,209
Xbox 36017,213
GBA4,309
NGC1,250
Xbox11

The numbers without bars were simply too small to display properly against the Nintendo DS's massive sales.

New years is a great time to set your life on track for a new year. For many of us, that means deciding how to proceed through the post-Q4 backlog of RPGs. I'll start with FFXII, then work my way through Baten Kaitos: Origins.

To use a tired cliche: see you next year.

//O draconian devil;
END OF LINE
Theo Litowski

 

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