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CURRENTS
Issue 53
May 24, 2007
Mirrored
Front Page

This week has certainly been a whirlwind for me, with two columns due within a (relatively) short time. Chances are you probably didn't read last week's column, so if you want a refresher or a quick recap on the happenings in the videogame world, feel free to click here and take a peek. I've learned my lesson, and I should be back to getting this bad boy posted up every Wednesday as usual from next week on out.

Everyone around here has been talking about Etrian Odyssey lately, and I'm starting to think about giving it a shot. My writing to playing ratio when it comes to videogames has been pretty terrible lately, and I'm thinking I should probably just embark on a giant adventure inside of an extremely verdant dungeon. Who knows? It just might be fun. Let's get this started.

The Results Are In: Nintendo Wins!
April NPD overwhelmingly in favor of the two next-gen giants
Title

I'm afraid of sounding like a broken record here, but Nintendo is still doing seriously well with its one-two console/handheld punch. April NPD numbers are out, and the DS and Wii blew their competition clear out of the water.

Riding high with its consistent handheld juggernaut, the Nintendo DS sold a grand total of 471,000 units in the U.S; over two-and-a-half times as many consoles as its portable PlayStation rival which came in fourth this month with 183,000 units sold. The Wii came in a surprisingly close second with 360,000 units sold, almost twice as much as both its competitors combined. While the Xbox 360 saw a surge of over 100,000 units, undoubtedly helped by its recently unveiled Xbox 360 Elite (or, my personal favorite, the 1337 60), the PlayStation 3 sold 48,000 fewer consoles than in March, for an admittedly meager total of 82,000 units in April. To Sony's consolation, the seven-year-old PlayStation 2 still managed to nudge out the 360 with a total of 194,000 units sold to show it's still going strong (even if some of the RPGs on it aren't looking quite so hot).

Nintendo wasn't just delivering hot slices of pwnage to its opponents in the "platforms sold" department; the big N also dominated the top four slots of the games sold last month. The hotter-than-habańero Pokémon series was clearly in command of the charts, with over 1.72 million copies of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl sold in only 14 days. In case you're wondering about the winner, the overwhelming favorite seems to be Diamond with 1.045 million copies(!) sold.

Thanks to the success of both platforms, total sales in April rose 20% when compared to last year's NPD figures (up over $130 million). According to Yahoo News, the Xbox 360 is still holding strong with the most consoles sold, with the 360 having 59% of the total next-gen install base in comparison to Nintendo and Sony's 27% and 13 (respectively). This console race is far from over, and with a strong showing from all three industry leaders expected this holiday season, it's still anyone's game out there in the videogame world.

Wii Reigns Supreme Among Consoles According To PC World
Sorry. PS3 not included
Title

Ahh, May. What a wonderful time to get outside, experience the flowers, and enjoy the last bits of the pleasantly cool spring before the excruciating summer heat that always seems to be looming on the horizon (at least if you're in Vacaville, California). Or, if you work for PC World, May is the perfect time to trumpet the "100 Best Products of 2007!"

While this seems to be a bit early for most rational people, PC World has undergone an in-depth analysis of all the products released around the last five to seven months or so and have surprisingly claimed Google to be the winner! Wahoo! Oh, you want to know about videogames? Well, a little product called the Wii came in third place, while the new take on a two-year-old console (the Xbox 360 Elite) came in a sweet 18th. Painfully absent in the top 100? The PlayStation 3.

What made PC World fall so deeply in love with the Wii? Apparently it was the same simplicity and fun everyone has been talking about since launch. According to PC World:

Readers went gaga for the first game console to get nongamers hooked on gaming, nominating it more than any other product. With motion-sensitive controls and a slate of fun games for all ages, Nintendo really has something with the Wii. Now if only we could find one for sale...

And what could have possibly dragged a two-year-old console back into PC World's limelight? Apparently it's not the massive hard drive, HDMI output, or the paint job that matches your inner soul; it's the "Xbox Live service, games and downloadable video on it, that make Microsoft's console really shine." I could be wrong, but didn't all of those things come standard with the first iteration of the Xbox 360 Platinum? Maybe it's just me, but I think the (admittedly) expensive PS3 packs more of a bang than the simple upgrade that brought this console back onto the list. The reason for the absence of the PS3 deserves more of a blurb than the ones that accompanied the consoles that made it onto the list, but I guess we'll never know the reasons why. At least not until next month when all the mail from fanboys reaches PC World.

Sources: PC World | GameDaily.BIZ
Microsoft: Just Say "No" to H4XZ0RZ
Everyone's favorite modbox just got a little more tricky
Title

As all of the l33t modders and hackers out there have already found out, Microsoft has officially implemented new measures to keep users from downloading and playing what they shouldn't. Many people on the forums of Xbox-Scene (a haven for all Xbox homebrew lovers and hackers) reported getting a variant of everyone's favorite blue screen of death detailing that their system had been "banned for violations of the Terms of Use" without any further details reporting what exactly they had done. It looks like Microsoft has pulled the plug on anyone using modified consoles or illegal region codes to access Xbox Live, and thus messed up the Xbox 360 owner's (current) chances of playing on the internets. In response, Microsoft seems to have this to say (via Gamerscore blog)

One of the great things about LIVE and the unified community is that we work hard to create a level playing field for all gamers and have a no tolerance policy towards inappropriate behavior like hacking or cheating. As part of our commitment to our members, we do not allow people that we have detected to have modified their console to connect to LIVE.... We have stated in the past that customers can only enjoy access to the Xbox LIVE community through the use of a genuine, unmodified, Xbox console and we will continue to enforce this rule to ensure the integrity of our service, the protection of our partners and the benefits of our users.

What could have brought this all on so suddenly? One thing that immediately springs to mind is the recent release of the Halo 3 beta. According to Gamerscore, the topic of modified Xbox 360's is "more important than ever given the recent release of the Halo 3 beta," due to the problems that could arise from modders messing with the beta code that was released to the public. People smart enough to know how to decompile and play around with the code have already unearthed things like flamethrowers, new medals, vehicles, and various other things which could possibly mess with the unfinished beta. Obviously Microsoft wants to guarantee that people wont be able to mess around with their products (especially when they're trying to get feedback via betas), so the move to ban systems comes as little surprise. I wouldn't shed too many tears for the modders in question. If the Xbox 360 scene has half the enthusiasm that the original Xbox scene had for working around whatever hurdles Microsoft throws their way, this setback surely won't daunt hackers and modders for too long.

Sony Hits Five-Year High
But still expects videogame losses to continue for a little longer after this past disappointing quarter
Title

With all of the mixed press that Sony has been getting lately, it's hard to keep in mind how they have such a wide range of electronics to keep their company going strong. Sure, there have been some misses and undeniable failures (MiniDisc? BetaMAX? ATRAC-3?), but Sony has managed to stay afloat for a long time due to its various successes elsewhere. This past week, shares of Sony stock rose to the highest levels the company had seen in five years after Sony announced plans for a sales surge in all of its areas (including their flailing games sector). Sony's stock rose up to 6,750 yen, a level that has been unmatched since 2002.

According to Yahoo News, Sony is setting up to take a large loss of $414 million in its game segment over the next year. While this past quarter has yielded Sony's largest loss in four years (over $560 million), the company managed to come out firmly on top with net profits of $1.04 billion for the fiscal year that ended in late March. A large part of the losses resulted from the disappointing sales of the PS3, with retailers only being able to sell 3.6 million consoles out of the 5.5 million total consoles that have been shipped so far.

Sony expects PS3 losses to continue for a little while longer while the software lineup is strengthened, meanwhile, the Wii still remains strong with its total console sales of 5.84 million. Sony remains adamant that things will change this holiday season, and if they can drop the price and release some killer games, they just might be right. Even though two of their killer apps have been pushed back to 2008 (Metal Gear Solid 4 and Final Fantasy XIII), this holiday season could still mean good things for Sony if they play their cards correctly.

Source: Yahoo! Games
Sony Expands Memory In Korea
Contrary to popular belief, everything is bigger in Korea!
Title

Sony announced this past week that it will be stepping up their Korean game big time with their soon to be released 80GB PlayStation 3. The next-gen behemoth will soon ship with a larger hard drive than ever before, at a price that is slightly below that of our puny 60GB version! The console will cost 518,000 won (US$581), and will be available for purchase at the official Korean launch on June 16th.

Feeling shafted yet? It's pretty clear that Korea is getting the good end of the PS3 stick here with their 20 extra gigabytes and a cheaper price, but this just might mean some great things for the rest of the world too. If Sony is able to feasibly ship the 80GB version of the PS3 in Korea for as much as they are currently selling the 60GB version to the rest of the world, maybe they could make a more affordable PS3 for casual gamers in search of a smaller (not physically smaller, the thing is still the size of a small grill or manhole cover) PS3 to just play games on. A newly released 40GB PS3 for $450 alongside some great RPGs this Christmas could certainly move some units and put the PS3 at the top of the next-gen pile.

Since the 20GB version of the PS3 has apparently been discontinued in the US (seriously, try to find it stocked by Amazon), a cheaper alternative for the mainstream gamer would be a wonderful way for Sony to move product and increase their user base. If the PS3 had a version that was cheaper than the Xbox 360 Elite, Sony just might have a great way of marketing its costly system. Don't count last-gen's forerunner out just yet, Sony just might be able to pull ahead this holiday season.

Sources: Yahoo! Games
ESRB Changing And Under Fire!
Management changes, Best Buy and...New York?
Title

This week had a handful of surprising shifts and surprises within the videogame industry, with many of them relating somehow to the ESRB. Just as a new president of the ESA comes into town, extra pressures from outside sources may be facilitating some change around the ESRB. What's going to happen to every parent's best friend?

As may people have known for some time, Doug Lowenstein, the current president and founder of the ESA, will be stepping down from his post as president of the ESA in June. While the founder's departure comes as little surprise to those that heard about it way back in February, few expected him to be replaced by the Bush administration's own Micheal D. Gallagher. Gallagher's first duties as the big President, according to Kotaku, will be to "listen and learn more about the videogame industry's ecosystem." While this seems a bit confusing, Gallagher seemed to have an idea about what was going on when he further mentioned how he was impressed by the work of his predecessors at "protect[ing] videogames as speech protected by the First Amendment and educating parents on videogame content ratings." Both of these things sound great, but what kind of change will a White House executive bring to the largest association within the videogame industry? Folks over at 1up have noted that his experience within the government will be of a great service to the videogame industry that has been plagued by increasing political pressures and legislation, but it's always hard to say what kind of impact that Gallagher will have on the occasionally tumultuous industry.

Title

While all of that is not exactly clear at the moment, further complications are arising with the ESA's own ESRB. Just a little over a week ago, electronic mega-conglomerate Best Buy began putting rankings from Common Sense Media on their website in addition to the ever-present ESRB ratings. Common Sense Media, a watchdog ratings group that aims to help parents "manage their kids' media lives," has been trying to get their universal rating system on all forms of media for quite some time now. This is the first time that their own rather confusing blend of 5 star ratings, age suggestions, and blurb-esque descriptions have been applied by a major corporation in addition the the ESRB. It's not clear if there is any ulterior motive for the ratings, but as some industry insiders have noted, "it really undermines the ESRB" and it "all goes back to Hot Coffee," the ubiquitous symbol of inaccessible danger in videogames.

On top of all this, it seems that just when parents started listening to the ESRB, everything had to go and hit the fan. As if Best Buy's passive attacks weren't enough, a new bill was recently passed through the New York state senate (in only four days) that aims to "take steps to crack down on video game violence, and combat and reduce children’s exposure to violent and inappropriate materials" within video games. Proposed by house representative Andrew Lanza, the bill aims to crack down on the inappropriate media through increased attention towards violent videogames. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno explained the bill as follows:

Title
The bill (S.5888) would establish the Advisory Council on Interactive Media and Youth Violence to review the [ESRB] rating system and its effectiveness, and recommend additional steps that can be taken to curb children’s access and exposure to such “adult-only” material… The bill would also require New York State’s retailers to place ratings labels on all video games, and establish a Parent-Teacher Anti-Violence Awareness Program to work with students and children on issues related to violence in video games

This bill seems to have been mixed meanings for many people. Honorably, the bill aims to increase parental awareness of potential dangers lurking within their five-year-old child's copy of Grand Theft Auto. Questionably, the bill also mentions restricting access to "adult only" material, which could lead to increased censorship of videogames across the nation (as no nationwide retailer seems to sell titles rated AO or Adults Only by the ESRB). Also, the bill seems to aim to transfer power to the people, which is generally an idea I endorse, but the people who are the most outspoken in the videogame debate seem to want any game with sex and violence tossed into the inner pits of hell in favor of something a bit more wholesome, such as the Die Hard movies and RoboCop.

So, after all this ESRB related madness, what do all of these things mean for the videogame industry? With an undoubtedly conservative President of the ESA (which also controls the ESRB) looking to make a change in his association given the apparent doubts of the ESRB by Best Buy and New York we may see even more problems with game ratings and censorship than ever before. Best Buy seems to be doubting the validity of the claims made by the ESRB (or else they wouldn't be substituting their own version of what they take to be a "superior" ratings system), while New York appears to be going down the same path by passing a bill to instate some sort of committee to look over the ESRB ratings in order to determine their "appropriateness." While I may be looking into this a little too much, if more retailers follow suit and use the ratings from CSM instead of the ESRB's, they will no doubt try and change the way that their ratings are presented. As long as the ratings are on par with one another (as can be seen in the screenshot), there shouldn't be much problems.

But what if CSM rates a game as Adults Only, or marks it as too indecent to sell, in comparison to the ESRB's rating (that is legally followed in terms of game sales)? The discrepancy could cause some major problems for consumers, while fueling the fires in places such as New York, and lead to even harsher marks of censorship and restriction from the ESRB. I'm all for spreading the knowledge of the content within the games that people are purchasing, in hopes that they will be able to make an informed decision (especially when buying games for children). I just worry that personal viewpoint combined with these pressures from retailers and politicians (who have time left over to worry about videogames after larger issues such as, oh, ending poverty) will result in some sort of "disc-burning" crusade of censorship and restrictions. While I hope that 1up's assessment of Gallagher is correct, I can honestly say that I'm a bit worried. But I can also say that the idea of a "disc burning crusade" strikes me as pretty ridiculous and funny. The mental image of a ten-foot high mountain of Mortal Kombat CDs ablaze just kind of makes me giggle.

It's that time of the month! NPD NUMBERS OF CONSOLES SOLD!!! Woohoo! While you might have been able to extract the total sales in the first Nintendo article, here is the good ol' NPD numbers in bar form for all to enjoy.

April NPD Reports of Consoles Sold in the US
Nintendo DS
471,000
Wii
360,000
PlayStation 2
194,000
PlayStation Portable
183,000
Xbox 360
174,000
Game Boy Advance
84,000
PlayStation 3
82,000
GameCube
13,000


Top 10 Selling Games of April '07
1. Pokémon Diamond
1,045,000
2. Pokémon Pearl
712,000
3. Super Paper Mario
352,000
4. Wii Play with Wii Remote
259,000
5. Guitar Hero II (Xbox 360)
197,000
6. Guitar Hero II (PS2)
142,000
7. Spider-Man 3 (Xbox 360)
117,000
8. Spider-Man 3 (PS2)
105,000
9. God of War II (PS2)
101,000
10. MLB '07: The Show (PS2)
79,000
Source: GameSpot
RANDOM: Things worthy of a quick mention for their obscurity, or sheer awesomeness
You can never quite get enough of the tidbits. Especially the juicy ones
  • In the effort of keeping RPGamer up to speed on all of the Nintendo Seattle happenings, Gamasutra recently revealed that only a small percentage of the Nintendo of Redmond staff will be moving to California. Phil Harrison, in an interview with Wired blogs, stated that he will be packing up alongside 60 other members of his crew in order to start setting up a Nintendo branch in the "center of innovation for marketing and technology" known as San Francisco. Good ol' Reggie Fils-Aime is apparently staying behind in Washington to help run just about every other part of the company. Good to hear that everything apparently worked out well for Nintendo and their employees.

  • Australia, it is officially time to get excited! Those ever so expensive PSPs have finally been knocked down to a reasonable price! According to breaking news on GameSpot, the ridiculously expensive PSP core pack has finally dropped down in price to A$279.95, down A$50 from its previous price. As previously reported, the Aussies had it the worst when all factors were considered when looking into the price of the PSP, so it's good to hear that they can finally get a decent deal on their PSP. I say decent because as Mikel reminded me, $279 AUS is still unfortunately $228 USD. So if you're in Australia, make sure and head out soon and grab a newly-cheapened PSP and catch up on all the great RPGs before the new Final Fantasies and Tales games come out soon.
Sources: GameSpot | Gamasutra

So, the questions area! Your time to tell me what YOU think about an issue. Share some thoughts, spread some knowledge, and help contribute to what you love.

What do you think about all of the ESRB drama mentioned above? Obviously there are a bunch of things going on, but is the ESRB being undermined by Best Buy's dual ratings systems? Will the new head honcho of the ESA prove to be problematic? Share your thoughts, and they just might make it into this space next week.

That wraps everything up for this fine week in May. This should hopefully go over a little better than that column that was turned in last weekend, which was just bad news all the way around for me. There really were worthwhile things underneath the tardiness, so if you get a chance, take a peek and email me some ideas. Considering how late last column was, it comes as little surprise that few people decided to write. This week, I'm expecting a few coherent responses in my inbox! And by coherent responses, I don't mean spam viruses. Seriously. Those need to stop.

Another random thought: is it wrong to wish on space hardware? A simple thought to ponder when looking up into the sky at night. You never quite know what you're looking at. My friend Billy always made this point, and I couldn't help but throw it into this column somehow. Extra points to people who understand what I'm talking about.

Take care, and I'll see you next time.

Cole Jones

 

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