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CURRENTS
Issue #48
January 19, 2006
The Worm
Front Page

Mathematically, if a column goes up a day early, that gives it approximately 14 percent more time as the most current column. Unfortunately, it means that last week's column receives only 86 percent the "airtime" of its predecessors. But, since time is an illusion, I don't feel especially inclined to care either way. Besides, travel plans dictate that this week's Currents goes up now or sometime next week, which collides with the column's prime directive harder then the Enterprise hit the Scimitar. Here's a question: why do I feel more remorse for the death of an android then I do for every unfortunate red shirt combined?

Jocularity aside, this week was a hopping one in the industry. The PS3 got enough smack-talk to knock a horse's face straight off, so I've combined all of it into a single slap of uparalleled magnitude. Also, in a tragic incident a woman in the states learned two very important lessons the hard way: (1) stay sharp in high school biology, and (2) never assume that anybody else remembers their high school biology. Also, beware the dangers of thaleron radiation.

To top it off, I have a piece on a myriad of legislation in the States, and a story from Germany that hits unusually close to home. Not content to let the PS3 suffer silently, it seems I'll be rubbing salt on it's wounds with some numbers that suggest that Microsoft may be on the right track with their new-fangled gamebox.

PS3

Even after last week's little PS3 slap-fest, it seems that some believe Sony hasn't recieved quite enough punishment yet. While there are some that have leaped to the PS3's defense, it seems that a large group of people are quite nearly cheering for the PS3's demise. While I fail to comprehend how Sony's hiccups with the PS3 could be of benefit to anybody except their competitors, the critisisms are generally valid, and worth examining.

ONOES YAYZ
  • American Technology Research's PJ McNealy published a report last week on PS3 SKU's in the supply chain. He followed up this week with an encore on units stuck at the retail level. McNealy surveyed 52 retail stores, and found 28 of them had PS3's in stock. Most stores with a stockpile were down to single-digits (aside from one retailer, who had more than 60 units). But does the difference truly reflect a decreased demand? McNealy will continue to monitor PS3 stock levels closely, and perhaps we'll hear more soon.
    [Yahoo! News]
     
  • GameStop and EB have begun to ramp up marketing for the PS3, a move interpreted by many to signal a dip in demand for the new console. By trading in your stalwart PS2 (and some requisite accessories), you can recieve a $100 credit towards a PS3. Of course, the trade is win/win/win for the retailer, you, and Sony, so framing this entirely negative would be unfair.
    [Joystiq]
     
  • Despite the fact that Japan got shortchanged PS3's when supply was diverted to North America, there are some claims that units are languishing at retail regardless. Masayuki Otani of Maruwa Securities claims that sales are struggling to move from point-of-sale to consumers, and that Sony's shipment numbers are exceeding sales by a considerable margin. Back at home, another Japanese company is predicting that North American sales will fall short of Sony's expectations; Nomura Securities claims that Sony will fall 25 percent short of its six-million-unit sales target because consumers won't be pulling at retail.
    [Toronto Star] [GameDaily BIZ]
     
  • Bill Gates, in an interview with Dean Takahashi, slammed the PS3 for its use of Nvidia graphics cards instead of an enbedded processor:
     
    They were going to have the Cell be the video processor. But they didnít know what they were doing. They said the Cell is the video processor. But they turned to Nvidia at the last minute, but Nvidia canít do embedded DRAM. Go look at the bandwidth problems.

      He also described how he's trying to switch places with Sony in terms of market share and strategy; where the Xbox 1 was late to market and lacked hard-hitting IP's, the Xbox 360 will be trying to make up ground.
    [Mercury News]
     
  • Sony seems to have overcome it's initial supply issues in both North America and Japan, reaching its two-million-unit target with a flourish. One million units to North America were joined by a (slightly late) one million units in Japan. Every complaint about the lackluster sales on the PS3 could be explained away by noting that Sony has truly stepped up to the plate in terms of supply, despite early difficulties. Those of us that remember the Xbox 360 launch know what a true shortage feels like; Sony has dismissed the notion that point-of-sale is languishing by claiming that they've merely been able to produce enough units to meet demand.
    [GameDaily BIZ]
     
  • Howard Stringer, CEO of Sony, went on the record this week defending the PS3 in an interview with CNET. Stringer claimed that the first wave of developers are only using 20-25 percent of the true power that the PS3 has to offer. If this claim is true, and if developers are able to step up to the plate maybe the vacuum of quality games the PS3 is currently experiencing will dissipate. Stringer went on to defend Blu-Ray, expressing his optimism that the Blu-Ray will ultimately dominate the format wars: [CNET]
     
    Well, on the one hand you tell us we're not innovative enough, and on the other hand you tell us if we are innovative, it's too risky. It's a wonderful balance, and it is true. In the short term it's risky. But between the excitement of its potential and the availability of bandwidth that you have unused for interactivity as well as movies and 3D, it's worth the price of admission.

     

So there's how this week's comments shook down.

While the PS3 may be experiencing initial sales issues, largely due to (what Stringer referred to as) "the price of admission", the console race has only just begun. Let's meet back here in a month or so and see where we're at.

Source: GameDaily BIZ
Wii

In a tragic incident of console naming gone horribly awry, a punster radio station in California organized a contest where somebody could win a Nintendo Wii. The catch? You had to drink increasingly large volumes of water without urinating. The contest was called "Hold your Wee for a Wii," and it proved fatal for one of the contestants.

Jennifer Strange, mother of three, was trying to win a Wii for her kids. After she was eliminated from the contest (taking away the consolation prize, Justin Timberlake concert tickets), she returned home. She was found dead several hours later.

The coroner claimed that her death was consistent with hyponatremia, or water intoxication. While it is unknown how much water she drank, other contestants claimed that they ingested 8-oz bottles every ten minutes, and Strange drank well in excess of eight bottles. The contest went on for three hours, and the bottles of water nearly doubled in size.

During the contest, the DJ's commented about how they "should have researched this" and dismissed callers who warned the station the game was dangerous by joking that "they [the competitors] signed releases, so we're not responsible." They claimed that contestants would throw up before they suffered from any other symptoms.

On the air, Strange claimed her head was hurting, and that her stomach was bloated. She also said she was feeling lightheaded. The DJs described her as "having trouble standing" and they noted that she looked three months pregnant.

In response to Strange's death, her family has filed a lawsuit against the station. Some contestants claimed that they were not informed of the potential dangers, and many of them felt nauseated and dizzy after they were eliminated.

Homicide investigators in Sacramento have also begun an investigation after reviewing the audio of the Morning Rave show. The station said it would cooperate with the police's endeavors.

All-in-all, a tragic incident. There's now a family of five in California that's one player short of a game. Ten employees of the radio station were fired over the incident.

Source: NBC11
JT

I get to use my Jack Thompson picture for a third straight week as more legislation slides across the desks of lawmakers across the states. Oh goody. Also, I have more rigamarole from Thompson himself as one of his pet projects is halted before it even reaches a vote. Also, the European Union takes the first steps in enacting a potential violent video game ban.

Utah
Following up from last week, the Utah bill that was proposed, scrapped, then reproposed, has been postponed. The bill, which would create a classifaction system whereby games could be labelled "obscene" and their sale to minors blocked, has been taken off the table until its sponsor, Rep. Scott Wyatt, can sort out constitutional issues with the Attourney General. The AG, Mark Shurtleff, advised Wyatt to stay his hand until an Oklahoma judge rules on a similar law. While Wyatt claims that most games would not fall under his amendments to the existing pornography bill, it doesn't take a L.L.B. to see that his amendments are frightfully vague and could be interpreted in a myriad of ways.

Thompson had a hand in drafting the original bill, and upon news of its postponement, had this to say to its sponsor:

As you know AG Shurtleff is a video game enthusiast and apologist for the industry...He wonít take my calls, so he has intentionally isolated himself from the scientific, medical, and law enforcement evidence that violence games played by teens spawns violence...the US Supreme Court disagrees with him on this issue, but I guess we canít expect an Attorney General of a state to care what the U.S. Supreme Court has to say.

I wish I knew what he meant when he said that the Supreme Court agrees with him. As far as I know, it's never happened.

European Union
The EU is considering a blanket control system over the sale of violent video games, backed by Germany (surprise), Britain, Greece, Finland, Spain and France. Nothing is concrete at this point, the EU plans to take a census of current national measures in place and see if it needs standardization across Europe. After a shooting in Germany last year, among other incidents, there has developed a real push to control violent video game sales to teenagers.

Spearheading the initiative is Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, in concert with German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries. (Germany currently holds EU presidency. Oh, joy.) You may remember Frattini as "the crazy dude who got told off after whipping up media frenzy over Rule of Rose, subsequently getting it banned in the United Kingdom, largely due to misinformation."

Frattini told reporters that he will be encouraging EU states to ban violent video games, arguing that "the protection of children cannot have borders."

FFVII

Germany has some of the worst luck with teen teen violence and video games; this go around, we have a double homicide by stabbing with an anti-game twist.

In the small town of Tessin, two 17-year olds are being held for charges of murder, theft, and kidnapping after a brutal home invasion on Saturday. It is alleged that the two young men stabbed a couple to death in their home before kidnapping the family's 15-year old daughter. A 16-year old boy, the son of the deceased couple, locked himself in his room and called police.

They stole the couple's car and crashed it in a field. A standoff ensured between the two suspects and police; the girl was held at knifepoint. Eventually, they surrendered and the girl was released unharmed.

While many details have yet to surface, the brutal nature of the crime coupled with the seemingly arbitrary choice of victim has shocked the 400-member community of Tessin. It didn't take long for the connection to be made: the kids played video games.

Apparently, the two went by the monikers of "Reno" and "Sephiroth", known as the antagonists from Final Fantasy VII. An emulated copy of FFVII was discovered on their computer when police began their investigation. Now, FFVII has been added to the ever-growing list of "killerspiele", or "killer games" by the media, who have gone so far as to accuse the young men of copying the murders they had seen and participated in "hundreds of times before".

The absurdity of the accusation is matched only by the brutality of the incident. I expect this will only add to the EU's push for a unified rating system, but I think the fact that the game is (a) a decade old and (b) relatively non-violent will probably confuse the issue as the popular media processes the speculation. But that's just my own speculation.

Source: IGN | Expatica
Xbox 360

Some numbers from Microsoft are suggesting that the Xbox 360 may be poised to take the console wars to a whole new level. While the strength of the PS3 has often been described in terms of the PS2's incredible fanbase, the Xbox 360 is picking up some new followers.

Microsoft claims that 54 percent of Xbox 360 gamers did not buy an Xbox 1. In an media climate where the Wii is being lauded for picking up the non-gamer market, it is interesting to see the Xbox 360 do similar. The real question remains, though, where are they picking up fans from?

Common sense says: they're poaching PS2 fans. Mike Wolf, an analyst with ABI, said "this is one of the benefits Microsoft foresaw when they decided to launch ahead of everyone." PS2 players looking to upgrade to a next-gen system were presented with the option of the Xbox 360 a year before they could choose a PS3, which still remains largely cost-prohibitive. While there's a chance they are reaching outside the traditional "gaming" market, I wonder how many non-core gamers will jump straight into gaming with an expensive, HD-compatible console.

In many markets, however, the only new-gen competition that the Xbox 360 has is the Nintendo Wii, since the PS3 has yet to be launched in Australia and Europe.

This also provides us with another tidbit; since 24 million Xbox 1's were sold, we can extrapolate that there are still approximately 19 million Xbox gamers who have yet to upgrade. Compared to the PS2's userbase, however, these numbers shrink with fear.

Source: Red Herring

Just a quick Canadian CRUNCH this week, as NPD releases their data for the Northern wastelands:

Canadian Sales Data (thousands, CAD) [Globe & Mail]
Nintendo DS
374
PS2
327
Xbox 360
252
GBA
237
PSP
176.5
GCN
89
Wii
84
PS3
45
Xbox 1
32
CAN/US Sales Data (million, USD, CAD to USD converted at .85) [Globe & Mail]
US
12,500 million
Canada (795 million)
 

Well, a shorter column than usual this week. The road beckons.

//Casts FIRE2 on his bacon;
END OF LINE
Theo Litowski

 

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