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Currents Top Ten I Capcom, Nickelodeon to Bring Media to the Road I Turbine to Publish Dungeons & Dragons Online in Asia I Funcom to Distribute Software Online I ESRB Study Shows Parents Care I Lawsuit Filed Against Gravity I Stock Ticker I Opinions
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Issue #8 Turpentine Jubilee May 28, 2005


Front Page

There are certain underpasses in downtown Los Angeles that smell a lot like septic tanks. My solution for this problem is a turpentine jubilee. Everyone grab a barrel of turpentine, find an underpass, and have a ball. Remember to keep your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears covered.

Since we last spoke, I've endured a four-hour plane trip and two eight-hour drives. Frankly, I'm all traveled-out. I hope to never do it again, but alas I'll be traveling once again in a little less than a month when my family moves from the Chicago area to Fairfax, Virginia. I anxiously await the fall.

In the meantime, here's your column. The vast majority of news you'll find in this issue comes from press releases RPGamer obtained directly from the companies themselves at E3. This is pretty cool, as I've yet to find some of these stories elsewhere in the video gaming corner of the web. Also in this issue, I've thrown in an opinions section where people (mostly RPGamer staffers aside from one RPGamer IRC regular) got to spill their emotions out all over the place in a goopy, bloody mess of opinions. This section isn't a permanent addendum to the column, but expect to see it occasionally from time to time whenever big, opinion-making issues are brought to the table. As far as this particular chapter is concerned, I asked people to tell me what they thought about the next-generation systems and who they thought would take the biggest market slice home with them. So, enjoy. This one's a doozy.



 Currents Top Ten

No RPGs this week! After hanging on for several weeks, being the only thing on the Top Ten making the list worth having on the site, Jade Empire just couldn't hold on any longer. I'm hosting a candle-light vigil for the game in RPGamer's IRC channel, if anyone's interested. As big of a fan of Microsoft as I'm not, I hate to see RPGs get knocked off of the list. Goodbye Jade Empire, you will be missed. Come on people, let's get out there and buy those RPGs!

In other news, two versions of Star Wars III still claim the top spots. Forza Motorsport gives a bronze performance, but is still shy of the checkered flag. Two versions of Midnight Club 3 are back again this week, as is SCEA's hit God of War and Midway's Area 51. So, aside from the absence of Jade Empire, there isn't too much of a variance here from last week.


Position Title Publisher Platform
1 Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith LucasArts
2 Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith LucasArts
3 Forza Motorsport Microsoft Game Studios
4 Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition Rockstar Games
5 Lego Star Wars Eidos Interactive
6 God of War Sony Computer Entertainment America
7 Lego Star Wars Eidos Interactive
8 MVP Baseball 2005 EA Sports
9 Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition Rockstar Games
10 Area 51 Midway


Source: GameSpot



 Capcom, Nickelodeon to Bring Media to the Road

Capcom

PhatNoise, a company known best for installing digital media in automobiles, announced that it had signed partnership deals with Nickelodeon and game publisher, Capcom. The partnership will hail a joint effort to provide television programming and video games to General Motors' new Mobile Digital Media Player, which is being developed by PhatNoise.

This new system, which will contain content from the television networks, Nickelodeon, Noggin, and Nicktoons, as well as Capcom and other big-name, albeit unnamed, content providers, will launch in Chevrolet's 2005 Uplander. Later this year, expect to see the system grace various automobile models by Saturn, Buick, and Pontiac.

"We are excited to work with a leading-edge technology company and these top-tier entertainment companies to make access to the world of digital family entertainment in the car a reality," said Chevrolet Uplander market manager, Craig Stevens. "We are very happy to offer PhatNoise--such an innovative technology--to our customers."

The Mobile Digital Player consists of a 40-gigabyte hard drive, preloaded with content from Nickelodeon and Capcom. The content includes a two-hour sample of SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents; and 64 Zoo Lane from Nickelodeon. Oobi from Noggin, and Corneil & Bernie from Nicktoons samples will be included as well. Also part of the preloaded content is a separate package of classic arcade games by Capcom. Buyers can also expect music tracks from eMusic and EMI Recorded Music, both PhatNoise partners, as well as spoken word content from Audible.com. Additional media packages will be stored on the system as well, and can only be unlocked by purchasing each one for $19.95 a piece. There was no information regarding the ability to acquire additional content not included in the preloaded system.

The president and CEO of PhatNoise, Sharon Graves, had this to say about the new deal. "PhatNoise and its partners have also created a first-of-its kind approach to distributing new shows and games to consumers. One simple payment transaction on the home PC, and this additional content is unlocked instantly. No downloading or subscription needed."

"Nickelodeon is excited to lend its networks' programming to innovative technology such as this new system from PhatNoise," said the senior vice president of Nickelodeon and Viacom, Stephen Youngwood. "We aim to provide kids an opportunity to connect with their favorite Nickelodeon, Noggin and Nicktoons characters wherever they may be. This partnership with General Motors and PhatNoise allows us to do just that."

Hiroshi Tobisawa, the president of Capcom, commented as such. "Capcom Entertainment is pleased to work with GM and PhatNoise to distribute our classic gaming content through a unique in-vehicle entertainment system that expands our audience reach to family members of all ages."

The Mobile Digital Player will come standard in all 2005 models of the Chevrolet Uplander LT Entertainer model. The vehicle is priced at $29,455. There is no available information regarding buying the player separate from the vehicle.





 Turbine to Publish Dungeons & Dragons Online in Asia

Turbine, Inc., known best as the creators of Asheron's Call, announced that it had acquired the Asian language publishing rights from Atari, Inc., to sublicense the distribution, localization, and operation of the upcoming MMORPG, Dungeons & Dragons Online in Asia. Turbine is now looking out for potential partners to help it perform similar tasks with the game on a more local level.

The president and CEO of Turbine, Jeffrey Anderson, commented. "Dungeons & Dragons is a worldwide phenomenon that knows no boundaries. Asian markets are excited to bring the game to their players, but each country requires local game support and distribution. Consequently, we are actively signing up the best partners to bring D&D Online to the entire world."

Dungeons & Dragons Online is the first video game project to be totally funded, developed, and operated by Turbine. The game will be based on the latest d20 rule set and provide players with dungeon crawling, monster slashing, and plenty of puzzles. Under the terms of Turbine agreement, Atari will remain the publisher of all versions of D&D Online released in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.





 Funcom to Distribute Software Online
Funcom

Digital River, a company known best for e-commerce outsourcing, announced earlier this month that it had signed an e-commerce agreement with Funcom, a developer and publisher of video games, known best for its work on MMOs. Through the sales network established by Digital River, Funcom will offer downloadable versions of some of their software titles, including popular titles such as Anarchy Online. As a result of the agreement these software titles will become available through over a thousand online retail, content, and portal sites within Digital River's network.

"As part of our category diversification strategy, we continue to add new content to our downloadable software catalog, increasing the number and types of titles available for sale and delivery through our online sales network," commented the senior vice president of retail sales for Digital River. "We can offer game publishers such as Funcom a low risk, cost-effective avenue to incremental revenue streams by providing them with easy access to our growing sales network. By leveraging the affiliate relationships within our sales network and marketing our digital catalog on as many online sites as possible, we believe we can help our clients expand the potential of their online businesses."

Digital River will be providing transaction processing, digital product fulfillment, fraud protection, and customer service to support Funcom's online sales network of its software. "By signing Digital River and adding our products to its online sales network, we believe we can more quickly and cost-effectively attain our e-business goals," said the sales director at Funcom, Ove Forseth. "Digital River's network offers us access to new online sales and marketing opportunities. By selling our products on high-traffic sites, we can expand our consumer base and drive revenues on a global basis."





 ESRB Study Shows Parents Care

A recent study conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and commissioned by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The results show that a majority of American parents never allow their children to play M (mature) rated games.

"This study confirms that parents are actively making informed decisions about the games their children play," remarked the ESRB president, Patricia Vance. "We are gratified that the ratings tools we provide are helping parents regulate their kids' media diet appropriately."

The study consisted of a nation-wide telephone survey of 500 parents of children age three to seventeen. Results obtained from the survey indicate that 53 percent of parents say they never allow their children to play M-rated games and 8 percent say they generally allow their kids to play M-rated games. The study also revealed that parents of children under the age of 13 are nearly twice as likely to not allow their child to play an M-rated game.

Furthermore, 78 percent of parents are aware of the ESRB rating system. 70 percent say they check the ratings for age appropriateness when buying video games for their children "every time" or "most of the time" and 54 percent go further and check the content descriptors.

The study also found that the parents who do allow their children to play M-rated games do so after checking the game's rating, considering what's in the game, and making a judgment about whether their children can handle the content of the game. From the survey, parents identified four key factors when considering if a mature-rated game is appropriate. These include:

  • They monitor or play the games they want their children to play.
  • They read the information on the game's package to determine whether the game is appropriate for their children.
  • Their children know that it is just a game and it's not real.
  • Their children can handle what is in the game without it affecting their behavior or attitudes.
  • A few other details that the survey found include:

  • 95 percent of parents believe that the rating system is helpful in helping them to decide which games are appropriate for their children. 90 percent say they are confident the ratings accurately rate game content.
  • Those who most often use the ESRB ratings include mothers, at 81 percent, and parents of boys under the age of 10, at 87 percent. As children grow older, parents use the ratings less, as only 69 percent of parents with children over the age of 12 check the ratings.
  • 61 percent of parents are aware of the ESRB content descriptors, which is significant increase from 53 percent, which is what the number was at when the survey was given in 2003.
  • The ESRB rating system includes six age-based categories: EC-early childhood or age three and up, E-everyone or age six and up, E10+-everyone ten and older, T-teen or age thirteen and older, M-mature or age seventeen and up, and AO-adults only or age eighteen and older. The system also includes 32 content descriptors that describe why the particular game was given its rating.





     Lawsuit Filed Against Gravity

    Earlier this month, the law firm of Schatz & Nobel, P.C., announced that they had filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. This lawsuit is on behalf of the purchasers of the American Depository Shares of Gravity Co., Ltd.

    Allegedly, game developer Gravity Games violated federal securities laws when it issued false and misleading public statements. The Compliant says that the Registration Statement/Prospectus included positive statements concerning Gravity's financial status and growth, when Gravity was actually suffering declining demand rates for its biggest software title, Ragnarok Online. Furthermore, Gravity's mobile animation business was going downhill and its Chinese operations were in danger of being shut down.

    Soon afterward, Gravity issued another statement announcing that its financial results for the first quarter of the year were lower than they had anticipated. When this news was released, Gravity's stock price fell from $9.24 per share to $5.60 per share.


    Source: Yahoo!



     Stock Ticker

    Over all, things are looking fairly steady this week. Aside from Square Enix's $1.11 plummet, the rest of the companies on the list didn't have changes that were too big. Do note, however, that percentage-wise, Midway took about as big of a blow as Square Enix.

    Comparing this list to last week, we can see a general trend of how the prices fluctuate. Unfortunately, this doesn't tell us much else, as the prices have changed very little even from last week. It looks as though the price increase prior to E3 is leveling off and stabilizing.

    Parentheses denote negative numbers. Prices as of market close 05.27.2005


    Symbol Company Market Standing Change
    SNE Sony NYSE 37.70 0.08
    MSFT Microsoft Nasdaq 26.07 0.17
    NTDOY Nintendo PNK 13.50 0.15
    ERTS Electronic Arts Nasdaq 52.05 0.29
    ENIXF Square Enix PNK 29.52 (1.11)
    KNM Konami NYSE 20.00 0.05
    ATVI Activision Nasdaq 15.38 0.14
    MWY Midway NYSE 8.75 (0.25)
    SGAMY Sega PNK 13.70 0.11
    UBSFF Ubi Soft PNK 46.50 (0.35)

    Source: CNN Money




     Opinions

    Here are the compiled opinions that I received regarding the next-generation consoles and who you feel is most likely to emerge on top. Granted, we don't know too much yet, but I think we know enough for people to have developed strong opinions one way or another. Most of the opinions I received were from fellow RPGamer staffers, so now's your chance to see how everyone back here thinks about the industry and where it's heading. Now, keep in mind this isn't a Q&A section--these are just opinions, so you'll get no answers from me. Ha!



    From Heath Hindman, MMORPGamer columnist


    You know what I like about the PS3? The fact that it can still play PS1 games. You know why? Cause I still play them. I like the fact that when my aging PS eventually dies, I don't have to buy another one or, worse, never play those awesome games again.

    Even though I have cool, current-gen multiplayer games, classics are still the most cherished in this house, and with my family of casual gamers, the old ones consistently get more action than the new. I'm aware that the Revolution will also have backward compatibility, but for some reason I don't care as much. *Shrugs*




    From Jordan Jackson, Japandemonium columnist


    As a very loyal Nintendo and Sony person, I will of course be buying both systems at launch, but I was surprised by the 360. It put enough together to prove that there will be enough good games for it to justify owning it; something I feel the original XBox didn't do until late in its life cycle. So, I'll be buying all three at their respective launch dates, possibly more than one for the Revolution and PS3 if they launch first in Japan.

    J




    From Ian Eller, news reporter


    I'm not gonna spend that much on a new console when I haven't even played all the good games out for these babies.



    From Derek Cavin, Points of View curator


    PS3: Sounds really good, but the high price will probably make me wait on it for quite a while.

    Revolution: The ultimate backwards compatibility thing looks cool, but I would like to know more about how exactly they intend to implement it and what fees would be required.

    Xbox 360: System looks pretty good, but I won't get it unless it has a lot of RPGs. Additionally, there seems to be a lot of back and forth over backwards compatibility. I probably won't get it for a long time (or perhaps ever depending on how much money I have) unless it has both.

    Gameboy Micro: Unless I'm missing some vital piece(s) of information here, I see no reason to get one in addition to my SP. I also see no reason for anyone to choose it over a SP either. Even if the Micro is dirty-cheap, the SP still looks like it would be worth the extra investment.




    From reader, Ryan P. (oGMo on IRC)


    OK, first off, the PS3, because no one believes, or dares to believe, at least. Let's dispel the biggest myth: Sony was lying about the FF8 tech demo. Here are some shots:

  • http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v132/Squall_of_Seed/RinoaandSquall--FFVIIITechDemo.jpg
  • http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v132/Squall_of_Seed/Rinoa--FFVIIITechDemo.jpg
  • Of course, compare this to any of the ORIGINAL CG:

  • http://www.rpgamer.com/games/ff/ff8/screens/12+4+98-24.jpg
  • http://www.rpgamer.com/games/ff/ff8/screens/12+4+98-18.jpg
  • http://www.rpgamer.com/games/ff/ff8/screens/12+4+98-14.jpg
  • Yes, Squall is Paine's twin sister. But more importantly, it's pretty obvious the tech demo isn't even close to the original CG. In fact, it doesn't look all that impressive compared to some modern PS2 in-game graphics:

  • http://www.rpgamer.com/games/ff/ffx-2/screens/ffx2_1001.jpg
  • http://www.rpgamer.com/games/ff/ffx-2/screens/ffx2_1.jpg
  • http://www.latestscreens.com/playstation2/screenshots/jak3/J3s5.jpg
  • http://www.latestscreens.com/playstation2/screenshots/jak3/Jak3.jpg
  • http://www.latestscreens.com/playstation2/screenshots/godofwar/GOW4.jpg
  • Anyway, nuff said. Those original tech demos everyone is (still!) claiming were faked are actually looking pretty dated: we had stuff looking at least that good a generation or two ago. So no more of this "Sony's faking the FF7 demo like they did the FF8 demo." Maybe they're faking the FF7 demo, but the FF8 demo has not only been met, but exceeded.

    So let's look at the consoles. The XBOX 360 shots don't look impressive. Anyone who thinks http://www.latestscreens.com/xbox360/screenshots/dogtag/shot07.jpg is about the same as http://ps3media.ign.com/ps3/image/article/614/614722/killzone-next-gen-20050516075934164.jpg is either fooling themselves, hasn't seriously compared them, or needs glasses.

    This is a problem, because MS has pretty much relied on a single factor for their console: graphical superiority. Get an XBOX, and all those cross-platform games will look better. Now they don't have it. While they're becoming enlightened to the fact they need to go for the *games*, they have another problem: if their market was built on hardware superiority, both the developers and the fans they enticed with this are likely to flock to whatever console is shiniest next generation. And it's not looking to be the XBOX.

    Sony, however, already has the developers, the customers, the backward compatibility, and the experience; now they have the hardware, too. Could they still come out behind? Theoretically: overly late release, significantly higher prices, other silly mistakes. We've seen it happen with other consoles. I would however like to suggest that Sony doesn't quite have the same history of mismanagement as Sega.

    Now, stepping back for a moment from the unbelievable PS3 previews (and they certainly are, because plenty of people disbelieve them), there is something else that gives Sony the edge, something I found more interesting than graphics, something that most people seem to overlook when discussing the PS3 presentation: gameplay. Repeatedly, the presenters approached the system not simply from the "Look! SHINY!" perspective, but from a "here's how next-generation _gameplay_ can be improved, influenced, and opened to new possibility" perspective. While graphics are nice, _this_ is what we should be excited about. To me, the most impressive thing we saw was the eyetoy demo. If Sony delivers, the PS3 will be capable of truly _next-generation_ things, not just improved graphics.

    Notice, of course, I haven't said anything about the Revolution. After seeing Sony's demo, my excitement was piqued for Nintendo's new stuff. I was disappointed when their announcement was lacking much but vague generalizations.

    Then I realized something. Nintendo isn't going to be in competition with the 360 or PS3. What they've been saying all along is probably an extremely accurate description of their strategy. They're not going to try to win the hardware arms race. They're going to pick another race, one they're really good at: being Nintendo. The only other person in that race is themselves. If Nintendo can deliver Nintendo-quality and Nintendo-style games---and in serious number---that's all they need. Who else is going to give us Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and similar games? Nintendo has _Nintendo games_, and this is something different than Playstation or XBOX games. I think only problem they've had with the past few consoles is they simply haven't been delivering enough of them. And I hope that's what they're working on addressing.

    This isn't really to disparage Playstation games. I've got shelves full of brilliant ones. But I think (and hope) we'll see that in the next generation, Nintendo will not _win_ or _lose_ vs the other contenders: they'll be on their own playing field. (I was joking in one discussion that Nintendo's next console would be an all-new 8-bit NES, with a load of new 8-bit games. You know what? I'd buy one.)

    In any case, nothing is set in stone yet. We don't have anything more than promises. Some vendors don't lie as much as people would have you believe. They might even have a clue about this whole gaming thing.

    And hopefully Nintendo will get back to making us some games again.




    From Nick Ferris, Fan Art curator


    PlayStation 3

    Of course I'll pick up a PS3. I mean, if I want to play RPGs, it's a no-brainer. It doesn't matter how much it costs, what it looks like, or how many trillions of floating point operations per second it has, it's the PS3, and it will soon be sitting in my entertainment center.

    Xbox 360

    I was initially almost interested in the Xbox 360, but when the so-called backwards compatibility turned out to require recompilation (and re-purchase) of games, my interest evaporated immediately.

    Revolution

    With so little information available, I can't form an opinion either way yet on the Revolution. That said, if Nintendo is somehow able to open up the vast majority of its NES, SNES, and N64 library for download onto the Revolution at little or no cost, they can name their price on this system and I will pay it.

    Nick "kweee" Ferris




    From Philip Bloom, Editorials curator (taken from an IRC conversation)


    It's not which next-gen console is going to be the best. In truth, they're all going to rock quite hard. Sony easily has the good lead, but that's not the most important thing on what's coming. There's quite a few shifts that are about to hit. For one, ugly games, for the most part, are a thing of the past. Art, in general, simply isn't going to come into play from a 'pretty' perspective anymore I don't think. For another, there's going to start being a gap. It used to be, what I played here in my snes or ps or ps2 was pretty much what would be seen in any of them. This guy, http://www.penny-arcade.com/hookup_18.php3, puts it kind of nicely for one on what it's going to be meaning for those playing competitively. But for another... The beauty of console gaming for a long time has been, you own a box, everything is made for that box and for a very general tv, and it just works. For most of us, I don't think we're going to be owning that tv and for some, I'm not so sure that box is going to be very constant.

    Of course, this is the more negative side of the premonition. I'm saying that [the differing of the quality of games among consoles is] going to start happening that you can take the same game and the same named system and have it look and play significantly differently. I'm sort of hoping really that a lot of the negativity about the growth of the technology is overblown really. If you've heard the folks from Oddsworld tell it when they got out of the business, the technology under a lot of the systems is going to be pushing further towards smaller companies getting just blasted out. The best thing that could come out of this generation is if middle ware starts taking off. Since if low priced development tools get back in the market, what we'll see is something more reminisicient of early-mid PS era and late SNES era. With both top notch AAA titles getting made, and the quirky ones getting a chance to be made too--and actually made for a console and not just the GBA.




     Back Page

    Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Opinions sections of this week's column. It was really interesting to hear what you all had to say. If you submitted something, but don't see it here, then it probably got blocked by a spam filter. I put up every opinion I received, so if I ever do something like this again, better luck to you.

    Next week is feature week, once again. I'm planning to make a departure from the usual biography of a gaming industry star this time around. What exactly I plan to do instead, however, has yet to be decided. It'll still be as riveting as the previous Close-Ups though, so don't miss it.


    Elliot "Downtown LA scares me" Guisinger


    Carlisle@RPGamer.com

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