||April 20, 2005
For this week's first order of business, let me announce the results of last week's poll (as though you couldn't just click over there quickly and check for yourself--although this is much more fun and dramatic). Cue the drumroll. With a total of 111 votes as of midnight CST on 4/19, the next Close-Up feature, which will appear next week, will be about famed Chrono and Xeno series composer, Yasunori Mitsuda. I would like to take a moment to congratulate Mr. Mitsuda and encourage a round of applause for the man. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my bio, I, myself, am a huge fan of Mitsuda and needless to say, am pleased with the results. For those of you who are still too lazy to check the results yourselves, here they are: first runner-up is Tetsuya Nomura with 95 votes, followed by Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu with 64 votes each, and pulling up the rear is Yoshitaka Amano with 54 votes. Obviously, this was a close race.
I've decided to dedicate this issue to the grandparents. I'm not sure when Grandparents' Day is, but it sure would be neat if it happened to be today. My grandmother recently passed away (on the same night that the premier issue of Currents went up, as a matter of fact) and RPGamer site designer, Jeff Walker's, grandfather passed shortly thereafter. It seemed appropriate to dedicate something I love to do to the memories of not only my grandmother and Jeff's grandfather, but to those of all passed grandparents. For those of you fortunate to still have your grandparents with you, make this an opportunity to give them a call and tell them something nice. You may regret it later if you don't.
After you get off the phone, rush back and check out all the great news we have for you this week. From yet another Eidos buy-out update to the possible end of voice acting in games, the merger of two major video game retailers (with commentary by a fellow RPGamer staffer), and more, Currents is covering it all. What are you waiting for? Read it. Heck, why not hit two birds with one stone and read it with your grandparents?
Yesterday, video game retail chains EBGames (Electronic Boutique) and GameStop announced their intentions to merge. Effectively, GameStop will be buying out and absorbing EBGames, keeping the name GameStop, and becoming the world's largest video game retailer, even beating out Best Buy and Wal-Mart. GameStop paid $1.44 billion in cash and stocks for the EB chain. EB shareholders will receive $38.15 and 0.78795 shares of GameStop stock for each share of EB stock. A GameStop spoksperson said the following in a statement regarding the merger.
"This is an exciting transaction for everyone involved - our customers, our shareholders, and our two companies. This merger, which is a very positive step for GameStop, will enable us to enter new international markets and allow us to compete more effectively in the highly competitive U.S. video game industry. We are merging these two companies from a position of strength. Each organization is performing very well now, and we will be able to do more together by extending geographic reach, improving customer service, and continuing our aggressive store growth plans. Electronics Boutique is an impressive organization with a strong management team and we look forward to sharing best practices across both of our companies. In addition, the combined company will retain a strong capital structure, which will allow us to continue to invest in our business going forward."
Based soley on earnings, Electronics Boutique is the larger of the two retail chains, with sales totaling $1.98 billion for the 2005 fiscal year. GameStop earned $1.84 billion during the same period. Since the merger was announced, stock in EBGames skyrocketed substantially, while stock in GameStop dropped.
The merger was approved unanimously by the boards of directors of both companies. The newly merged company will now have over 3800 retail stores world wide, 3200 of those being located in the United States.
For an internal perspective on the issue, RPGamer's own Anna Marie Whitehead, an EBGames employee in Canada, has kindly offered her views. Thanks for the input, Anna Marie.
"Gamestop is not a well known name in Canada; only a few of my friends, even
those that are hardcore gamers, have heard of it. I've spent plenty of time
travelling in the States and I'm fully aware of how big a presence they are
there. From a customer's perspective, the two companies have different
policies, but in the end their product is mostly the same: video games, and
why else would we be here if we didn't love them? I'm very excited about this
merger myself; unlike the US, where it seems the biggest concern is "which
store will close?" (likely neither, as the market for video games is huge),
there is a lot of good things that can happen for Canadians. A company twice
as large means twice as much buying power - leading to positive changes such
as a greater
variety for a cheaper price. Naturally it will mean some changes in the day
to day running, but with this merger being so fresh we're looking around a
year before much will get moving. Until then, it looks to be business as
usual; except with a big oomph backing us up. This means competition even
against huge multi-faceted companies (I think we all know who the big guns
are), something neither company could successfully do on their own. All in
all, I'm anxious to see what changes will come and am expecting nothing but
good things to come from this new business venture." - Anna Marie Whitehead
Voice acting in video games has been taking on an increasingly integral role. In fact, it could be said that voices in games have gotten to the point that they're now an industry standard and any game without some form of voicing is just cutting corners. Lately, video games have been seeing more and more well-known A-list actors providing the voices for larger-budget titles. Some more recent examples include Charlize Theron lending her talents to Majesco's Aeon Flux, David Duchovny and Marilyn Manson voicing Midway's Area-51, and Sean Connery breathing life into his former role in EA's From Russia With Love. This, however, may soon come to an end.
According to a trade magazine's website, the contract between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and game publishers is expiring. Apparently, the renewal of this contract could "go either way."
The problem is that the current contract pays these actors on a one-time basis, sans residuals--something that doesn't usually go over to well in the movie industry. With more games coming out that have opening weekends rivaling many Hollywood films (Halo 2, for example, blew through $100 million on its first day of sales), it looks as though actors may begin asking for royalties for their work.
Let's take a brief walk down memory lane to refresh our minds with the events that have transpired over the last several weeks regarding the Eidos buy-out. First, Eidos reported a £26.5 million operating loss and took out a bank loan worth £23 million from the Royal Bank of Scotland. In order to satisfy the terms of the loan, Eidos began looking for buyers. Elevation Partners LP made the first bid for the company at £71 million. Going unopposed for a while, it looked as though the deal was going to go through. A few days later, however, game developer SCi trumped Elevation's offer with a bid of £76.1 million in the form of a stock-swap. The new SCi offer was immediately supported by Eidos' largest shareholder and then later on, by another significant shareholder.
Here are the recent developments on the story. After Elevation did some down and dirty badmouthing of SCi for trumping their bid, Eidos announced last week that its corporate board has unanimously agreed to endorse SCi's offer. Although the deal is still pending final shareholder approval, it looks as though there will be no going back.
"The Board, who has been so advised by UBS Investment Bank, its financial adviser, consider that the terms of the SCi Offer are fair and reasonable," said Eidos in a statement. "Accordingly, the Board unanimously recommends to Eidos shareholders that they accept the SCi Offer." Once the deal is finalized, Eidos expects some upper-management reshuffling.
According to sales reports by NPD, Nintendo took a dive in the month of March when compared to the same period last year in both hardware and software sales. Specifically, hardware sales for the company declined 43 percent and GameCube software sales went down a good 22 percent. None of the hardware titles for Nintendo made it into the top five for the month. Each of the five slots went to Sony products.
In contrast, Sony and Microsoft did much better during March, with Sony seeing one of its best months of the year. Microsoft saw a hardware sales increase of 65 percent, where as Sony saw hardware sales increase by 13 percent. Xbox sales rose 20 percent and PlayStation 2 sales shot up by 34 percent.
A subsidiary of Disney, Buena Vista Games, has bought Avalanche Software, creators of games such as Tak and the Power of Juju and more recently, Disney's Chicken Little video games. Avalanche is a 10-year-old company with over 100 artists, programmers, and game designers working for it. From now on, it will operate as a division of Buena Vista Game and remain located in Salt Lake City, Utah. "Avalanche Software ... is a perfect fit for our Disney-based franchises," Buena Vista general manager, Graham Hopper said in a statement.
Furthermore, Buena Vista also announced that it was opening an entirely new game development studio in Vancouver, British Columbia. This new studio, operating as a wholly owned subsidiary, will employ a number of former Electronic Arts developers who worked on games such as NBA Street and Def Jam. As of now, the studio employs 20 game developers and plans to create action and adventure games for consoles.
Last week, financial analysts predicted that video game software sales would jump by about 25 percent in the month of March. Earlier this week, NPD released its sales data for March, showing that overall video game software sales jumped by an unprecedented 32 percent. This news comes despite the fact that Nintendo sales were unusually low for the period.
The sales jump was attributed to strong industry growth during March, which was helped by the release of several top-selling titles such as Sony Computer Entertainment's God of War and Gran Turismo 4 and Electronic Arts' Fight Night Round 2. The release of Sony's PSP also helped give hardware sales a jump of 56 percent over those of March 2004.
Though many game publishers did unexpectedly well in March, some were not as fortunate. Midway sales fell 38 percent compared to last year. This loss as been largely attributed to the poor reviews received by the drug-based action game, NARC.
NPD's sales statistics showed that March was kindest to Sony by far. All five top-selling game titles were released for PlayStation 2--Gran Turismo 4, Fight Night Round 2, MVP Baseball 2005, Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, and Devil May Cry 3. Two of the titles are PlayStation 2 exclusives.
This weeks stock results show over half of the companies seeing increases and the rest with decreases, though none of the changes are by much. The biggest increase goes to Namco, followed very closely by Sony, whereas the largest dive was taken by Sega. Despite the report that Midway saw dismal sales in March, they're up from yesterday by a few pennies, so it looks like they want to show April a thing or two.
Parentheses denote negative numbers. Prices as of market close 04.19.2005
I can't believe next week is already the week before final exams, commonly referred to as "dead week." I might also add that this is a fine time to add a Close-Up feature to my list of things to do. Needless to say, this semester has just flown by. I finally beat Metal Gear Solid 3 a few days ago, and it was one fine piece of software. I highly recommend it to everyone. If you've never played a Metal Gear game, don't worry, as MGS3 is a prequel to the series, so you won't have to worry about storyline gaps and the like.
I think I'm going to start on Baten Kaitos or Tales of Symphonia next. I also just remembered, though, that I still haven't beaten Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. I'm near the end, but it looks like I'll have to spend a few hours doing some leveling before the boss I'm stuck at will let me through. Until next week, say "hi" to your grandparents for me.
In loving memory of R.G.: 1915-2005
Elliot "I can't believe how much I have to do next week" Guisinger