Hello, and welcome to the eightieth edition of RPGamer's Currents column.
I am currently not at my residence in middle Tennessee. Rather, I am in a beach house in Florida, somewhere between Panama City and Destin. I had considered paying my good friend Jack Thompson a visit while I'm down here, but he lives in Miami, which, as I found out, is a looooong way from here. So, that will have to be postponed until next year, when I take a plane to Miami Beach.
It's pretty nice down here, but I must say, I'm ecstatic that I found this internet connection. There happens to be a connection just floating about here called "Great Escape." It's a secured connection, but would you care to guess what its password was? You guessed it; "greatescape." How very clever of them, whoever they are. But I really must thank them, and you should as well, because otherwise Currents would never have been written.
Actually, as I write this, (5/14, 5:53 CST) the connection is currently DOWN, which is causing me great distress. I managed to get this blasted thing all but written, and now the connection decides to quit on me. I think it will come back, but if it doesn't, I believe I shall go mad.
Sigh. Anyways, on the gaming front, I've been playing a lot of Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSP during my time here, and I'm greatly enjoying it. I've no idea why I ignored this game for so long, but in any case, I'm happy to be playing it now. I'm not too far into it yet, but I think it just might replace Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn as my favorite tactical RPG. And that's saying an awful lot, let me tell you. Because despite what all the half-brained reviewers out there told you, Radiant Dawn is a divine strategy game.
I suppose we'll head into the news now. Keep your fingers crossed, and hope that this connection comes back.
Pirates of the Caribbean Director to Helm Adaptation of Hit Game
Could this break a track record of crappiness?
Take-Two's critically acclaimed action game BioShock is coming to the big screen. Backing this venture is Universal Studios, with Gore Verbinski directing. Verbinski is well-known for his work on the mega-popular Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, and to a lesser extent, for the cult thriller The Ring. John Logan, writer of Gladiator, Sweeny Todd, and The Aviator, is in talks to write the film's screenplay. Strauss Zelnick, Take-Two's chairman, was responsible for negotiations. "BioShock has been hailed as one of the most highly cinematic and richly plotted titles in interactive entertainment," he said, "making it extremely well-suited to film. In partnering with Universal and Gore Verbinski, we have assembled a team that respects the uniqueness of BioShock and will translate it into a powerful movie experience. Our ability to attract a major studio and [an] unparalleled creative team speaks volumes about the strength of our BioShock franchise."
Verbinski himself seems excited about the project, as you can tell from his interview with Variety. It seems that Verbinski is pretty chummy with BioShock's creative director Ken Levine, and this friendship is what ultimately led to this deal. According to Mr. Verbinski, he envisions the film to have a similar look and feel to the 1982 classic, Blade Runner. He also says that he's prepared to make an R-rated film, in keeping with the game's M-rating. Hit the above link to read the full interview, it's fairly interesting.
Sooner or later, a quality film based on a videogame property must come. It took a long time before quality comic book films were made, but after suffering nearly a decade of crappy Batman movies, we finally got X-men and Spider-Man, and more recently Iron Man. So, it's logical to assume that someday videogames will break this trend of crappiness, and as of right now, BioShock has all the earmarks of being the first to do so. The director is a strong choice, this tentative writer is a strong choice, and they seem to be working closely with the game's creators. It's too soon to say though, so I'll just keep my fingers crossed. And, uh... I think I'll go pick up a copy of BioShock.
GameStop Strictest Among Retailers
Shoot... now what will they complain about?
The Federal Trade Commission has recently released the results of an undercover study that sought to determine how frequently minors were able to purchase Mature-rated games from retailers. The results were quite positive, and showed a sharp decrease in the number of Mature-rated games sold to those under 17. A similar study in 2006 showed that minors were able to purchase mature games 42 percent of the time, while this new study showed that the number has fallen to only 20 percent. Of all the retailers that were studied, GameStop was the strictest, turning away 94 percent of all underage buyers. Wal-Mart and Best Buy followed closely behind, with an 80 percent turnaway rate. Interestingly enough, the study showed that currently, Mature-rated games are the most strictly controlled form of media on retail. For example, while Best Buy turned away 80 percent of underage videogame purchasers, they turned away only 47 percent of underage shoppers for music, 38 percent for R-rated DVDs, and 17 percent for unrated DVDs.
There's no doubt in my mind that the inordinate amount of media frenzy surrounding violent videogames in recent years has put the fear of God into retailers. Now, in part, this is a good thing. I don't think small children should be able to purchase M-rated games. However, these figures bring to light how hypocritical all this controversy really is. It's clear that the majority of underage children are unable to purchase Mature games. However, over half are able to purchase R-rated movies, and a whopping 83 percent are able to purchase unrated movies. And what do we hear politicians squawking about? Videogame regulation! It's ok if most children have easy access to the unrated version of Saw IV, but God help us all if they get their hands on Assassin's Creed.
15 Double-Platinum Titles, Sells Most on Sony Platforms
They're going to take over... everything
Electronic Arts has released its results for the fiscal year ending March 31. In all, yearly revenue amounted to $3.67 billion, up 19 percent from the previous year. Additionally, Q4 accounted for $1.13 billion in revenue, an increase of 81 percent. However, year-on-year profits were down, with EA suffering a $454 million loss, compared to a profit of $76 million the previous year. EA's CEO John Riticiello plainly stated that these numbers "weren't good enough." "On balance, we're very pleased with our revenue growth, but not yet happy with our profit margins," he said. "In fiscal 2009, we expect to deliver another USD 1 billion in revenue growth and to double our operating profit on the strength of our slate of titles."
Alongside these semi-gloomy tidings, EA revealed that they have been the number one publisher across platforms in 2008, with a 19 percent market share in North America, and 20 percent in Europe. Reportedly, fifteen of their software titles have sold over two million copies, which is up from ten double-platinum titles in 2007. Finally, they reported that they were the number one software publisher on the Wii in Europe, with EA titles accounting for 15 percent of all software sold on Nintendo's system in that region.
EA also mentioned that they sold significantly more software for Sony platforms during Q4 than they did for Microsoft or Nintendo. Unsurprisingly, the PlayStation 2 saw the most software sales, with 166 million units. However, Sony's PlayStation 3 followed closely behind, with 152 million units sold. In comparison, EA sold only 128 million software units for the Xbox 360, and a surprisingly slim 75 million for the Wii. On the portable front, EA saw the most success on Sony's PSP, with 79 million games sold, accounting for 47 percent of its portable market. Nintendo's DS came in a fairly distant third, with a 25 percent. Strangely enough, mobile phones came in second, accounting for 28 percent of EA's portable market. PC sales were down 11 percent compared to last year, with 114 million units sold.
I generally find cut-and-dried financial reports such as this one to be dry, but in this particular case, there are a few interesting tidbits to take note of. First of all, the fact that EA, one of the largest publishers in North America, sold more games for the PS3 than for the 360 in Q4 is pretty shocking. However, it goes hand-in-hand with the PS3's sales of late, which have been consistently greater than that of the Xbox 360. Of course, in spite of this, the PlayStation 2 is still king, and probably will be for a while. Oh, and EA sold more games on the mobile phone in Q4 than they did on the DS? Wow. Just... wow. And while they didn't mention it, I'm inclined to believe that the massive chunk of cash they shelled out in order to purchase BioWare/Pandemic may have something to do with the dip in their profit. I don't know the specifics of EA's inner financial workings, but it's just a hunch.
Becomes Recognized as Fastest-Selling Entertainment Release
Who could possibly get tired of GTA IV news?
Guinness World Records has confirmed that Grand Theft Auto IV is officially the fastest-selling entertainment release ever made. Selling 3.6 million copies and generating $310 million in revenue within 24 hours, no movie, book, or videogame release comes close to it. In comparison, Halo 3 made $170 million on its opening day, Spider-Man 3 brought in $60 million on its opening day, and Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows brought in $220 million on its opening day.
In other news, (still pertaining to GTA IV, of course) GameStop has reported that the Xbox 360 version of GTA IV has, in fact, outsold the PS3 version by a ratio of 2-to-1, with the Xbox 360 claiming 64 percent of the game's sales. PlayStation's senior vice president of marketing, Peter Dille, shared some terse words on the matter: "There's a larger installed base right now on Xbox 360 than on PS3. So it's not surprising that there's going to be more selling on Xbox 360 than PS3. Having said that, we're really excited about the ratio. If I had an installed base advantage of 3-1, I wouldn't be crowing too much about a 60-40 sales advantage."
I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Dille there. According to the NPD, 9.9 million Xbox 360s have been sold in North America, compared to 4.1 million PS3s. Of course, that's not a 3-to-1 ratio, but it's still a pretty big difference. It will be quite a day indeed when the records set by Grand Theft Auto IV are broken, and I feel it's a day that won't be here for a good while.
Revenues and Profits Rise, PS3 Sales Top 9 Million
No! They're doomed! DOOMED, I say!
Sony Corporation has reported their financial results for the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2008. Overall, profits and revenues showed an increase over the previous year. In total, the company took in JPY 8.87 trillion, which translates to roughly 84.4 billion USD, a 6.9 percent increase over the previous year. Total income reached JPY 369.4 billion, or USD 3.51 billion, almost triple last year's total of JPY 126.3 billion (USD 1.20 billion).
While the majority of these profits came from the company's electronics division, (with sales of goods such as the Bravia HDTV and the Cyber-Shot camera) Sony's videogame division also had some good tidings to share. Sales in the department saw a 26.3 percent year-on-year increase, amounting to JPY 1.28 trillion (USD 12.2 billion). Unfortunately, this still resulted in a loss of JPY 124.5 billion, (USD 1.18 billion) but it is a significant improvement over last year's loss of JPY 232.3 billion (USD 2.21 billion). Sony attributed these improvements to reduced production costs for the PlayStation 3, as well as strong sales of their PlayStation Portable.
On that note, Sony sold 9.24 million PlayStation 3 units globally during the fiscal year, with software sales jumping to 57.9 million units over the 12 months. The PlayStation Portable, selling 13.9 million units. Sony's faithful standby, the PlayStation 2, almost matched the PSP with 13.73 million units sold. However, this number represented a year-on-year decrease of 980,000 units. In spite of this, 154 million PlayStation 2 games were sold during the fiscal year ending March 31; a number nearly triple the PSP and PS3. Sony says that it expects to see an operating profit in its games division by the end of the next fiscal year. "Despite an expected decrease in game segment sales as a result of a decline in sales for the PlayStation 2 business, the game segment as a whole is expected to have positive operating income for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009 as the profitability of the segment will improve significantly due to hardware cost reductions and an enhanced line-up of software titles in the PS3 business."
Worth noting is the fact that Sony saw a significant growth in European business, making that territory their number one market. Total sales in that region, including consumer electronics, games, and other divisions such as Sony Pictures, rose 14 percent to JPY 2.33 trillion (USD 22.1 billion). This is in comparison to Japan's JPY 2.06 trillion, (USD 19.6 billion) and North America's JPY 2.22 trillion (USD 21.1 billion).
Once again, a lot of numbers, and a lot of interesting stuff. I find the fact that Europe is now Sony's biggest market intriguing, although I wish they'd given the specifics on what percentage Sony's videogames division contributed to those numbers. PS3 sales, while not as impressive as Wii or 360 sales by any means, aren't as dismal as some would have us believe, methinks. By this time next year, I'll be surprised if their games division shows up in the red.
19 Million Sold Worldwide, 12 million Xbox Live Users
Just so that we don't lose sight due to Sony's positive Q4 results...
Microsoft has recently announced that their Xbox 360 has become the first current-generation console to break the 10 million mark in North America. Furthermore, they reported that the system has sold over 19 million units worldwide, and currently has 12 million users subscribed to their Xbox Live service. "This year will be the largest in the history of the videogame industry, with Xbox 360 leading the charge in the US and abroad," said Don Mattrick of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division. "History has shown us that the first company to reach 10 million in console sales wins the generation battle. We are uniquely positioned to set a new benchmark for the industry."
Microsoft said that Xbox Live subscriptions have surged recently as a result of the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. Also, they claimed that the Xbox 360 had the highest software attachment rate among the three current-generation consoles, with 16 titles that have sold over one million copies.
If I was forced to place my bets now on the winner of this console generation, I would have to go with Microsoft's Xbox 360. Sure, the Wii is selling like hotcakes, but I think it's a fad that will die off. Sure, Sony's fortunes are looking up, but I think the best the PS3 can do at this point is hope to finish in a respectable second place. The Xbox has the name recognition, it has massive social appeal through Xbox Live, and most importantly, it has games. Man, does it ever have games, and in the end, that's what counts. Am I right, or am I right?
QUICKIES: In Which I Make Passing Mention of Some Relatively Small, But Inherently Awesome News Stories!
Dell Discontinuing XPS Machines
According to a Wall Street Journal report, Dell will be discontinuing its XPS desktops and focusing solely on its Alienware line. Dell acquired Alienware back in March of 2006, and since then has been offering both Alienware and XPS machines for customers in need of some high-end gaming capabilities. However, according to Dell, the XPS line "ate into" Alienware sales, which is what prompted this discontinuation. I'm unsure if they intend to get rid of XPS laptops as well, since the report simply says "XPS desktops." I wonder if this will translate into price cuts on XPS systems soon?
Craig Ferguson on GTA IV
This is some funny stuff. Quite refreshing in the face of all the BS controversy around GTA and violent games in general. I'd never heard of Craig Ferguson before this, but I'm now officially his fan for life. Check out the video on Kotaku here.
Huh... only two quickies? That seems wrong.
So yeah, we definitely have to have at least three quickies. How about this: the truth of the matter is that I've never really enjoyed swimming. Or the beach, really. I mean, I find it enjoyable from time to time, but it's just not one of my more favored activities. And yet, here I am in Florida, where one is MORALLY OBLIGATED to spend time in water, be it the ocean or a swimming pool. Such a dilemma.
This connection keeps leaving and coming back, giving me the DISTINCT impression that they're trying to shake me off their network. Well guess what, it's NOT GONNA WORK. Well, actually it might, because it's not coming back this time. Ugh, such frustration.
I suppose I'll take this as an opportunity to announce that, over the summer, I shall become the regular host of RPGamer's renowned Q&A column! Lusipurr simply needs a break, as he is very busy with University right now, is finding it difficult to spare the time necessary to produce quality work. I am more than happy to step in for him, and I do hope you all will support me with some letters. (It's significantly easier to write the column when we don't have to write letters to ourselves, let me tell you.) So, henceforth, any letter sent to me will be used in Q&A, which is bloody perfect if you ask me. In general, Currents columns present a host of topics to write about, so don't hesitate! Click the link below and send me a letter about anything. Well, not anything; make sure it has something to do with games, or something related to the videogame industry in general. Other than that, there are no requirements, and I can all but guarantee that your letter will appear in Q&A. It should give you a fuzzy feeling inside. It did for me, back when I was but a hapless reader.
Until my next column, dear readers, which will likely be this week's Q&A. It may or may not be Matt, we haven't heard from him. Laters!
Send me a letter, and be featured in Q&A!