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CURRENTS
Issue #49
January 29, 2007
Shuffle Off
Front Page

I went to post my column Friday, and was struck by a wandering time vortex. It took the shape of a large fridge, and as it passed through the wall of my lodgings precisely the way fridges don't pass through walls, I glimpsed into the depths of oblivion. It dragged me back in time to last week, where both versions of myself colluded in preparing last week's Currents early. No sooner had we finished when the vortex returned, and I dropped through a hole in space-time that materialized in a nearby bagel. A dollop of time passed me by, and it wasn't until a lonely paper shredder directed me to a fourth dimensional turnoff that I rejoined existence.

And wouldn't you know it, I stepped out of the fridge into Monday. Just my luck.

This week, we have a step backwards for Jack Thompson's crusade, the PS3 launch in Europe (and elsewhere), and some assorted tidbits (roasted and salted).

PS3

After waiting with baited breath since November, gamers in PAL-encoded regions so inclined will be able to pick up a PlayStation 3 March 23 of this year. The much anticipated and equally delayed console will be hitting the streets with a million units, chasing two million units in the North American and Japanese supply chain. If you're looking for a 20GB version, don't bother; Sony will only be providing the 60GB SKU to their PAL's across the pond.

The consoles won't come cheap though. Equalized to the US dollar, the most fortunate gamers will be in Australia, where the unit will cost $1000 AD (or roughly $785 USD). The most expensive systems will be in the United Kingdom and Ireland, where gamers will pay £425 and €629, respectively (or $840 and $811 USD). The rest of Europe will be able to pick one up for €599 ($799USD). Gamers in the South Pacific will be set back either A$1,000 Australian or NZ$1,200 ($785 and $839 USD). Check out NUMBER CRUNCHING for how this compares to current markets.

Sony's launching a well-endowed stack of PAL-encoded games to accompany their hardware as well. 36 launch titles can be counted, most notable among them (a.k.a. the RPG lineup): Enchanted Arms, The Elder Scrolls lV: Oblivion, Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.

So, to those that chose not to import a PS3 or buy a different console, you have less than two months of waiting left. [insert verbal exlamation of choice here; some suggestions include "Huttah", "Hooray", and "Whoop"].

Source: Macworld
Sony

Perhaps in an effort to get the development community moving at pace with the PS3's impossibly powerful Cell processor, Sony and Bandai Namco Holdings are combining their powers to create a new, more powerful entity. The new creature, aptly named CELLIUS Inc., will be jointly owned and operated by both companies. CELLIUS will focus exclusively on content for the Cell chip.

Bandai Namco will bear 51 percent of the ¥100 million investment fee, and will install their own president, Isao Nakamura, of Ri(iiii)dge Racer renown. Of the three remaining senior executives, Sony will appoint two of the three; Namco, the remaining position. A total of 30 people will be on payroll at CELLIUS when it begins operations March 6 in Nakameguro.

Exactly what CELLIUS will be creating is still up for debate. Currently, the Cell processor drives the PS3, and will probably be the first platform that the new company will focus on. As the Cell chip is integrated into other technologies, the future of CELLIUS remains to be seen.

JT Is this three straight weeks of Jack Thompson? Why, I believe it is. Unfortunately for Thompson, things didn't go so well for him this week in Utah. His latest attempt at blocking the sale of video games to minors was shut down before it arrived at the legislative assembly. But not before he threatened the Attourney General with impeachment and malfeasance. It takes a special kind of lawyer to do that.

HB50, proposed by Rep. Scott Wyatt, was publicly critisized by Utah's Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, for being unconstitutional. Thompson took offence to Surtleff's comments, rightly noting that the AG's job is to defend the state's laws in court; if the AG critisizes the bill to the media beforehand, his defence in court is that much weaker. A strongly worded letter to Shurtleff accusing him of colluding with the industry, and a second letter to the speaker of the the house calling for his impeachment were pre-emptive strikes to shelter the bill if it was challenged in court. Despite his intentions, it never made it that far.

Before even being put before the general assembly, the bill was reviewed by the House Committe on Public Utilities and Technology. After two days of testimony and deliberation, a final 7-2 vote spelled "Game Over" for Thompson's latest shot at the industry. GamePolitics has audio of both day's deliberations, and they are definitely worth a listen.

Despite the outcome, some tangible results will be felt. In place of HB50, another representative will be drafting legislation to direct the AG to file "friend of the court" with regards to the states that are currently deliberating the issue. This translates into public support for the other states' measures without running through the process themselves. As well, the Committee promised to draft legislation that would allow the Utah house to formally oppose video game violence without controlling it.

For the most part, a pyrrhic victory. One less attempt at controlling the industry is a sweet enough success, but the aftertaste smacks of unfinished business. If any other state successfully creates legislation along the same lines, Utah will be all over this issue like ugly on an ape. With the proposed formal opposition to violence and the "friend of the court," it's patently obvious that the Committee felt the issue was worth pursuing, but not worth the legal cost of a potential loss.

Source: GamePolitics

His Holiness the Catholic Pope addressed the video game industry in a January 24 speech. In recognition of World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI taught on the role of the media in education, and the role of the community in montoring it's childrens' exposure to media.

The role of parents is of primary importance. They have a right and duty to ensure the prudent use of the media by training the conscience of their children to express sound and objective judgments which will then guide them in choosing or rejecting programmes available.
 
While affirming the belief that many people involved in social communications want to do what is right, we must also recognize that those who work in this field confront "special psychological pressures and ethical dilemmas" which at times see commercial competitiveness compelling communicators to lower standards. Any trend to produce programmes and products - including animated films and video games - which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behaviour or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programmes are directed at children and adolescents. How could one explain this ‘entertainment’ to the countless innocent young people who actually suffer violence, exploitation and abuse?...Again I appeal to the leaders of the media industry to educate and encourage producers to safeguard the common good, to uphold the truth, to protect individual human dignity and promote respect for the needs of the family.

It's interesting to read what such a powerful international figure has to say about video games. Even if you choose not to subscribe to his Church's philosophies, it's hard to brush off comments from the freakin' Pope.

His comments on the role of the parent and the value of discretion in the industry seem to ring true; the ultimate responsibility for children lies with parents, while the producers of the media need to consider the value their message adds to society as a whole. I suppose the point of contention with most people will be the point at which a program moves from featuring violence to "exalting" it; the "common good" is not a universally excepted measurement.

Source: Joystiq
Xbox 360

After screaming from the mountaintops that they shipped 10 million Xbox 360's by the end of 2006, Microsoft has been taken to task on the medium-term effects of their interesting marketing strategy. While it made for a successful holiday season, and will probably not affect long-term sales to any extent, the flood of units they poured onto the market last year has washed back at them. Microsoft announced that they would be reducing fiscal year sales targets on the Xbox 360 from 15 million to 13 million.

While Microsoft was largely unnafected by the announcement, the drop in projections was not taken lightly by the surrounding stock market. Shares in THQ, Take-Two, Activision, and Electronic Arts slipped between 1.7 and 4 percent Friday, after the announcement.

Share Price Drops [Yahoo! News]
THQ
4% ($1.25)
Take-Two
2.3% ($0.40)
Activision
2.3% ($0.83)
Electronic Arts
1.7% ($0.70)

In positive Xbox news, Microsoft was bouyed in their second fiscal quarter by strong Xbox 360 sales; this, despite the fact that the entertainment division remains unprofitable. Xbox revenues jumped 76 percent up from last year (to $2.96 billion USD), taking the Xbox to nearly one quarter of Microsoft's total revenue. With total revenue of $12.5 billion USD (and net profit of $2.63 billion), Xbox is predicting a gangbuster Q3, climbing to $14 billion USD in revenue.

PS3

The picture for Sony, who will report their earnings tommorrow, is looking decidedly more bleak. Taking the average of five analysts, Bloomberg predicts that Sony's net income could drop by as much as 50 percent; largely due to the launch of the PS3. The analysts suggest that Sony lost more than 50 billion yen on their games division this quarter, and pull a deficit of just shy 200 billion by the end of their fiscal year.

The overall picture is far from complete doom and gloom. Sales on cellular telephones and televisions remain strong, and Sony's movie division is predicted to move from a net loss to a net gain over last quarter.

Six-Month Share Price Increases [Bloomberg]
Nintendo
61%
Microsoft
26%
Sony
9.6%
Q3 Forecast/Comparison (billions, Yen) [Bloomberg]
2005 (actual)
67.8 profit
50.9 loss
2006 (forecast)
Fiscal Year Forecast/Comparison (billions, Yen) [Bloomberg]
2005 (actual) (8.7 profit)
 
191.9 loss
2006 (forecast)

A duo of console updates this week, split between Sony and Nintendo. Oh, the wonders of live content.

  • Haven't left your parent's basement in two weeks, but still want to know what's happening outside? Nintendo has the solution: the Wii News Channel. Consoles connected to the intertubes and running Opera are now able to view news from around the world in seven different languages. Users in Japan will are treated to their news by Goo; gamers elsewhere have their news routed to them by AP. The Wii News Channel features a map that allows gamers to zoom in and out of regions worldwide using the Wiimote.
  • PS3 Firmware upgrade 1.5 has been upgraded, most notably, the bizzare PS1/PS2 backwards compatability issues have been repaired. Korean keyboard settings have been added, as well as the ability to associate an image with your online ID. Technical details can be gleamed from Joystiq.

As promised, the PS3 price CRUNCH:

PS3 Worldwide Prices (USD)
Cost
$840.35
UK
$840
New Zealand
$839
Ireland
$811
Europe
$799
Australia
$785
US
$600
Canada
$592
Japan
$494

It seems that my time at RPGamer has come to an end. After nearly two years of working here in one capacity or another, I'm moving on. There's not enough hours in the day to continue at the feverish pace my life currently operates at.

So be as nice to the next columnist as you were to me and you'll have weekly industry information served as fresh as we can make it.

//Oh, the Voganity of it all;
END OF LINE
Theo Litowski

 

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