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CURRENTS
Issue #52
May 19, 2007
The Prelude
Front Page

Ever have one of those weeks where you just can't seem to get anything done, and then you have to do an eight page paper on Plato's elenchus alongside sociological research? Probably not, but that's my excuse for why this column is so ungodly late. Consider this a prelude to next weeks wonderful column, which will include a few more goodies and the always entertaining April NPD sales figures! Oh sweet, sweet numbers! I think I'm going to have a mini question area in the column every few weeks, so if you get a chance scroll down and send me your thoughts.

Seriously, I promise I'll get this thing done earlier in the future. It's Plato and his damn elenchus' fault.

Oh well, let's start with Sony!

Is Sony In The Need Of Some Change?
How's last gen's leader holding up so far?
Title

Sony has been having a rough time getting both its expensive system and its handful of worthy games into the hands of the customers for the last few months. It's no secret that some systems take a little while to really start selling (look at the early DS sales vs. that of the DS Lite that was launched a year later), but will the PS3 have to play catch up forever?

As anyone who has played as Bowser in Mario Kart knows, once you get past the initial slow acceleration, the big guys are hard to stop. While Sony hopes that this clever analogy will ring true for the massive PS3, it may take more than a few killer apps to get the system on the path to true victory. Folks over at GamesIndustry talked with people at Lazard Capital Markets who have analyzed the system's sales so far, and have come to the conclusion that a "significant pre-holiday ramp in PS3 unit sales is unlikely without a more robust title line-up and/or a hardware price cut." In other words, if the price isn't going down, the majority of customers aren't gonna step up to the plate and throw their hard-earned $600 down to step into the next generation. This seems to be statistics-fueled speculation, as the emergence of a few amazing games (cue GTA IV, Final Fantasy XIII, and Metal Gear Solid 4) just might turn the tides in favor of the videogame monolith. However, Lazard & Co.'s forecasts will have no problem seeing the light of day if Sony can't put out some monster titles to compete with Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Halo 3 this holiday season.

Yet, is there an alternative? According to a GameIndustry article with SCEA president Jack Tretton, Sony has some seriously long term plans for their big black box. Tretton stated that Sony doesn't need to worry about its lackluster performance for these last 6 months since the system is projected to last "for the next 10 years and beyond." Tretton's claims were backed up by IDC analyst Billy Pidgeon who lauded the PS3 as being "ahead of the [current] market," establishing the PS3's opponents in an entirely different category aimed at "immediate market impact" instead of the future. With Sony talking about having such a long lasting system, is there a possibility of future product changes or a redesign that would allow for Sony to have the best of both worlds? While they will most likely happen eventually, Sony isn't saying anything at the moment. We'll just keep our fingers crossed, since it's a viable possibility for future success of their system that is simply too expensive at the moment for most gamers.

Source: GamesIndustry
DS Lite: Ten Million Japanese Can't Be Wrong !
The Nintendo DS is still the biggest thing to happen in Japan since neon lighting
Title

NEWS FLASH! The Japanese love their Nintendo DS! According to MCV the Nintendo DS Lite (Yes, just the Lite) has officially sold over 10 million units in Japan.

In the past 15 months since the redesigned handheld hit the market, Nintendo has managed to ship and sell over 10 million units into the hands of Japanese gamers. The sleek system has been in high demand since it came out over a year ago, with gamers in Japan still finding empty store shelves at most stores. The little console that could really took off big time with it's redesign of Super Mario Brothers, the innovative Brain Age series, and the handful of wonderful RPGs that have graced the system over the past few years (Final Fantasy III!)

What's even more astonishing about this story is that we're not talking combined sales of the DS Phat for a total number of units sold. That's 10 million units in a little over a year for a redesign of a console that was already out for a year prior.

With the newly redesigned DS Lite still selling like hotcakes baked by Jesus himself, Nintendo should have little problem keeping the momentum going in Japan. This becomes even more apparent when you consider the amazing remakes and original games coming this way over the next year or so (coughcough...Final Fantasy IV, Dragon Quest IX), and the fact that it currently has the largest number of upcoming RPGs out of all systems. Likewise, with the PSP building up its RPG category as well, handhelds should have little problem reigning supreme among RPGers for the next few years.

Source: MCVUK
Is The Industry Going Too Far? Will Microsoft Save The Day?
Are game publishers ego tripping at the gates of hell?
Title

"Oh sonny, everything nowadays seems to be getting more expensive. When I was a young 'un, I remember walking 10 miles uphill and in the snow to go get me a brand new NES game for under $30! And we liked it! And now you whippersnappers want me to shell out $60 for a game to play with my $600 PS3? Shucks to inflation! Things are just getting too expensive!"

Even though channeling my grandfather won't make prices come down any sooner, the sad fact is that the development, production, and advertising costs of the entire videogame industry are spiralling out of control. It's near impossible to stay on top of trends and new technology without upping the ante, which usually means raising price points to new levels. Many publishers are dumping tens of millions of dollars into the development of their products, which leads to a overall industry focused on astronomically high development costs. As Blast entertainment CEO Sean Brennen said in an interview on GamesIndustry, the copycat mentality has gone too far.

What a joke. What embarrassment. There's no way on a USD 20 million development project that you can break even on a game not now in the cycle. Maybe in two years time when the installed base is high enough, but it's an embarrassment at best. But all the publishers are doing it because it's a copycat mentality.

So what now? Should we call the four horsemen and proclaim the videogame industry as doomed? Possibly, but maybe there is a little hope in the most surprising of places: the Xbox 360 Live Arcade.

According to GameSpot, Microsoft announced this week that they will be releasing a little ol' sidescrolling shooter for the XBLA called Aegis Wing. While this title alone won't save the world, it has a few great things going for it. Firstly, and foremostly, the game is free for Gold and Silver Xbox Live members to download for a limited time. Secondly, the game was created by a triad of students who scored a super sweet summer internship with Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade division.

While this is seemingly trivial news, this game gives hope for the gaming community that has been watching the industry "spiraling out of control" for the past few years. Microsoft gave a chance to a handful of students who had a vision and desire to create something, and is even releasing it for no cost for people to try out and experience. Where Brennen was terrified of the industry getting larger and more lavish, Microsoft is taking a step to make it smaller and cheaper. This stands as a random occurrence in today's industry, but if more companies can allow for (and be taken on by) smaller, independent publishers, maybe the big budget guys can find some cheaper forms of innovation.

Sources: GameSpot | GamesIndustry
Square Enix Parties Like It's 2007
Even though E3 may not be the same, Squeenix parties are still in full effect!
Title

As every Final Fantasy nerd knows, Square Enix knows how to throw some serious parties. With the unfortunate demise of E3 as we all once knew and loved it, personal showcases such as this may be a glimpse at the future.

The extravaganza kicked off last weekend in Japan's Makuhari Messe Convention Center with boatloads of trailers, game demos, game swag, and new game announcements that made even the slightest Square-Enix fan smile. There were even a bunch of cosplayers, for those of you who are into that sort of thing. The event, which took a break last year to recoup and revitalize, had a few main areas for the public and industry folks to enjoy: An open mega-theatre/event stage, enclosed theatre for movies and speeches, game specific booths (to which Final Fantasy XI got its own stage), and a center area with all kinds of Squeenix goodies for people to ogle and purchase (including Final Fantasy VII figures, Valkyrie Profile statues, and a badass armor-clad Ivalice judge).

A plethora of new games were announced as well, with some great titles coming back from the dead onto new systems and others entering a new dimension altogether. Fan favorite Star Ocean is finding new life on the PSP (with remakes of the first two games slated for a Japanese release in the near future), while Final Fantasy IV is getting a 3-D graphical overhaul in the vein of last year's Final Fantasy III DS remake. Meanwhile, Square Enix also previewed a rather intriguing looking brawler entitled Final Fantasy Dissidia that you probably won't be seeing much of here due to its non-RPG status. Let's all just hope that Square learned from a little trainwreck called Ehrgeiz.

A whole bunch of other goodies were announced this past weekend, so feel free to sift through our archives to check out all of the juicy RPG tidbits. Our wonderful Japandemonium columnist Bret did a great job recapping all the things that I didn't cover here, so make sure to take a look here if you want to get the full scoop on the gathering. The event looked to be an amazing event for RPGers everywhere, so if you're ever in Japan this time of year, be sure to look it up to get all kinds of SE goodies and sneak peeks!

Source: GameSpot
Video Game Magazines: A Dying Art?
Is this the end of the line for our favorite publications?
Title

For many gamers, print magazines bring back warm and fuzzy memories of early videogaming. I remember waiting at my mailbox every day during the summers, wondering if the new issue of Nintendo Power or Electroni Gaming Monthly would grace me with its presence. Nowadays, the print magazine has diminished in ways that are almost terrifying. It's hardly more than bathroom fodder, as the internet has changed the way that almost all of us find out about our gaming news and industry tips.

It's sad to see how far things have fallen for wonderful staples of the videogame world such as EGM. A few months ago, GameSetWatch first noted that Ziff Davis media has had the long-standing magazine up for sale along with the rest of the game end of its media empire. It's been quite some time now, and no one is buying. Ziff Davis has had problems skirting bankruptcy in the past, and while its online business is doing farily well, the print magazine end of things is not quite raking in the money. With major companies going up for sale, is the videogame magazine an unnecessary and dying art form? Will we see a rise of underground gaming 'zines discussing nostalgia, and pertinent issues to gamers everywhere? While I personally wouldn't mind the latter, I'm hoping that the former isn't true.

However, try as I might to save them, it looks like the magazine end of the videogame industry may not be able to be helped. With few takers for the print portion of the 1up empire, alongside questionable rumors of Nintendo Power shutting down or switching gears sometime in the near future, it may not be long before we see the end of print magazines altogether. What effect, if any, will this have on videogamers like you and I? For an industry that is propelled forward through technology and constant advancement, it seems like a logical technologocal "next step" for videogame coverage to become entirely internet based.

What do you think? Is this the beginning of the end? With the overwhelming popularity of gaming blogs and websites these days, it certainly seems like a new era of videogame journalism has been in effect for quite some time. Send me your thoughts and maybe I can post some opinions and personal views in the next column!

Sources: GameSetWatch | Joystiq
Level Designer Backs Up Student
No way? Community overreacted?
Title

As I reported last week, the Virginia Tech shootings have led to some crazy occurences throughout the country, the most bizarre of which was the arrest of a Texas student for making a Counter-Strike map of his own high school. As the student's future still hangs in limbo between being kicked out of school and rightfully returning after he was decided innocent, encouraging words from anywhere in the industry can be helpful.

The folks over a Joystiq pointed out that level designer Kenn Hoekstra published a nice little response from the views of an industry insider. Hoekstra came out and affirmed what everyone was thinking after the map was found to not be a training device for a massacre: the student was simply "building what he knows."

I speak from experience when I say that just about every aspiring level designer starts out by building what he or she knows. In this case, this poor kid built his school because he was familiar with it. Over the years, Ive personally constructed the house where I grew up, my old grade school and high school, my old work office building and my apartment complex in various level editors. Why? Because it was fun! Plain and simple.

Hoekstra's point is a solid one that I mentioned last week, and is one that should be taken into account when the school's administration is deciding the student's future. Many people who want to become good at something (or even simply proficient) practice recreating things that have been done before in order to understand the ways that they were constructed, and in order to find out new ways for them to be improved. Architects, level designers, and even writers (such as Hunter S. Thompson, who painstakingly retyped The Great Gatsby among other books in order to see what it feels like to write a masterpiece) look at the world around them to draw their inspiration.

Simply put, a student recreating his school in a videogame is not a sign of madness. Unless he was specifically designing levels to target students to kill (which no news reports have stated that he was), then there doesn't seem to be much reason to "set a precedent" of disciplinary action. While being vigilant about students in order to maintain safety in schools is extremely important, it's also vital to understand situations and circumstance in order to properly respond to certain situations.

Source: Joystiq

Alright! NUMBERS! Here are some recently released profits that I found when searching around for all my news. It's always interesting to see just how much companies are making, and every once in a while you can actually see how much of the reveunes go back into the companies' pockets. Oh joy!

Profits of a few recently released yearly totals of videogame companies!
(White = Actual Profit, Red = Total Sales/Revenue)
Namco Bandai:
$3.8 Billion
$201.8 Million
THQ
$1 Billion+
$64 million
Infogrames (First Quarter)
$411.8 million

Infogrames' yearly earnings will be out June 21, and did not give any sort of actual profits. They did, however, note that sales were down 17% from last year, and blamed it mostly on poor U.S. sales that led to Atari's restructuring. THQ's recordbreaking sales were mostly due to big sellers Saints Row, Cars, and WWE Smackdown! vs. RAW, while Bamco cashed in on Dragon Ball, Tekken, and even Tamogatchis!

Sources: GameSpot | GamaSutra
RANDOM: Things worthy of a quick mention for their obscurity, or sheer awesomeness
We keep it short 'round here!
  • According to GamesIndustry, Sony is finally going to start selling prepaid cards in Japan. These cards, designed for the few lucky people that have managed to escape the evils of the fantastic plastic, will start hitting Japanese stores in June and will come in amounts ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 yen. As expected, the StationBucks can be used to buy all kinds of great downloadable goodies from the online PlayStation Network store. It's only logical that these prepaid cards will make their way over the ocean to the rest of the world (if they haven't already) so keep your eyes open for the cards if you need them!

  • Last week's rumor of Nintendo of America leaving Seattle seems to have had some truth after all. The Seattle Times recently found out that the sales, advertising and marketing divisions of the NOA Redmond staff (totaling about 80 people) will be making their way to parts unknown (San Francisco? New York?). The rest of the staff will apparently stay in the Seattle area and continue on with their usual Nintendo hijnks.

Sources: Joystiq | GamesIndustry

How do you feel about the situation with EGM and Ziff Davis mentioned above? Would you be happier if all magazines became extinct or online only? Or does this not even affect you since magazines are already a thing of the past? I know I wasn't the only one with fond memories of game magazines growing up, so let me know how this news affects you.

Either way, give me some thoughts, ideas, predictions, or concerns about the future of video game magazines. Or if there was something else that jumped out at you during this column, toss it my way. Don't think of this as the same as the Q and A column (since these are more opinions than anything else), but more of a "Congratulations! You read the column and can send a letter!" area. Yeah!

Well, that finally brings all of this belated madness to an end. Expect a juicy update next Wednesday, with far more goodies and even newfangled NPD numbers! Until then, go play a game for me. All these papers have sucked out my desire to live, much less game.

Until next time....

Cole Jones

 

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