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CURRENTS
Issue 51
May 9, 2007
This Ship, It Is A Sailin'
Front Page

Welcome back to the Currents section here at little ol' RPGamer. Last week was the start of my maiden voyage, and this week I continue a sailin'. This is the second column of hopefully many, and like always, I have a bunch of goodies to get to. Not too many huge things went on in the videogame world this week, but I managed to scrape up some highlights for the column. Thanks again for everyone's comments and emails about the column. I'm doing my best over here to try and present the best news that I can find around these here internets, so hopefully it shows.

Without further conversational chagrin, let's get to the meat! This week we start with Microsoft, who thinks it just might be able to make some money this year. Oh joy!
Will The Xbox 360 Finally Be Profitable?
Many shocked to find that billions in earnings just hasn't been enough for the Big M
Title

Xbox 360 fans and Microsoft stockholders can finally sleep easy at night, as Robbie Bach (president of Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices Division) announced last Thursday that the business of the two-year-old console is set to finally turn a profit next year. This may come as a bit of a surprise to most people who simply consider making $929 million dollars a quarter profit, but in actuality the Xbox 360 has yet to rake in more earnings than costs.

Bach laid out the three main areas where Microsoft will be able to turn a profit: games (first-party games and royalties from third-party games), Xbox Live subscriptions, and various peripherals such as controllers and headsets. In the past, Microsoft has had difficulties setting up the 360 for financial success due to the high production cost of the 360; however, after two long years in the market, Microsoft is finally ready to see some profits. With over six million members on Xbox Live, and a slew of upcoming games and blockbusters (Halo 3, anybody?), Bach humbly stated that the Xbox 360 will be a "business that will be profitable next year."

While it always makes me laugh that a little under a billion dollars in earnings isn't technically "making money," it's good to see that Microsoft will finally be able to have a profitable 360 division next year. Who knows, maybe this will result in more innovative games, since Microsoft will have the money to (hopefully) try new things and not have to worry as much as they did when frantically trying to break even. One can only hope.

Source: Joystiq
Is The Xbox 360 Already Falling Behind?
Will the killer apps have problems killing people on certain systems?
Title

The next-gen console race is finally in full effect, with all three chief competitors out and fighting for their niche and the consumers pocketbooks. Yet are internal differences starting to sort out the competition already?

According to CVG during an interview about Grand Theft Auto IV, the simple fact that all PS3s have certain things standard while the Xbox 360 does not is already being felt by developers. Dan Houser, the creative vice president of Rockstar Games, agreed that the guarantee of larger capacity media (Blu-Ray) and hard drive space for storage on the PS3 creates limitations for the lacking 360. While both of these things can be added onto the 360 (by buying both the HD-DVD-ROM and hard drive peripherals), they can't be counted on when designing a game that can be played on every Xbox 360.

However, this doesn't quite proclaim victory for the PS3, as Houser noted that "both [systems] have enormous challenges...[and] their own particular pleasures and pains." Besides, things can't be too bad if Rockstar is using the memory-deficient console to run press demos and display GTA IV to the media. Microsoft knew what they were getting into by making both of these things optional; so hopefully the developers will be able to work with the cheaper gamers that didn't have the extra few hundred dollars to throw around when they purchased their systems.

Source: CVG
Kutaragi Gone, But Still Omniscient
Ex-PlayStation leader still a bit kooky and proceeds to predict the future for Sony
Title

It's no real surprise that Ken Kutaragi, the newly retired "father of the PlayStation," is a bit psychic. He would almost have to be to foresee the amazing success of the PlayStation during the last two console generations. What is actually surprising about his powers is his ability to see all the way past the PlayStation 3 to the PlayStation 6.

All kidding aside, Kutaragi was kind enough to share his vision of what he takes to be Sony's future in the videogame arena, with PlayStation 4, 5 and 6 being consoles that will "merge into the network." While Kutaragi had to remain tight lipped about the future of the PlayStation while the PS3 launched in Europe, he seems to be envisioning a future of linked Cell processors that will work together in order to increase power and output. Does this mean the PS4 will be a pair of PS3s working together in tandem? Probably not, but the idea of using multiple cell processors in order to achieve greater realism is not really too crazy of an idea.

Kutaragi has announced that his future plans are "largely independent" from Sony (while Satoru Iwata has announced that Nintendo has no plans to hire him), so it doesn't seem like he will actually have much say as to the direction that future PlayStations take. His visions may not see light, but it wouldn't be too surprising if his plans for the future do share certain eerie similarities to reality many years down the line.

Source: GameSpot
Satoru Iwata Is Not Content With All Of Nintendo
Nintendo woes? More like NintendOHNOZ!
Title

With all of the positive press and sales numbers that the Nintendo DS and Wii have been receiving since their launch, one would think that Nintendo CEO/President Satoru Iwata would be the happiest guy in all of Japan. Unfortunately for the rest of Nintendo, the big man is not pleased with Nintendo's supply problems and the "underperformance" of Nintendo of America in comparison to other locales.

According to Iwata, Nintendo had planned to make a Wii available to everyone that had wanted one, and even had plans to branch out to other retail outlets in order to reach a "greater market penetration." It's certainly a shame that we currently cannot purchase Wiis at our local 7-11s, but will we ever be able to count on walking into our local electronics store and find a Wii like we could a Gamecube? Iwata isn't so sure. "Making a significant volume of the high-tech hardware, and making an additional volume, is not an easy task at all," stated Iwata. "In fact, when we clear one bottleneck for a production increase, we will face another one." It looks like there will continue to be a Wii shortage as long as there is a demand for the systems, which is expected to continue on with all of the tasty RPGs coming soon.

It's hard to call a huge demand for products a real "problem" for any company (Oh no! Market demand and money!), but Iwata seems to have pretty high expectations of his company. In fact, he was even complaining about the mediocre sales of a year old game in America when compared to Europe! According to Wired, Iwata doesn’t care about the outrageous sales of Pokémon Pearl and Diamond. Instead, it is all about Brain Age!

When I received a report from the U.S. that they sold 1 million Pokémon Diamond & Pearl already, I asked them, "why did you sell only 10,000 Brain Age last week, when Europe sold through 30,000?" This is a typical example of how I communicate with our people in the U.S.

I suppose no company is complete without a stern boss complaining about sales figures, so Iwata's obsession about the sales of any game is natural. That doesn't make it any less funny, though. Much like the awkwardly titled "witch touching" game that was at the top of the sales charts according to Amazon.jp. Japan never ceases to amaze me.

Sources: GameSpot | Wired Blogs
Atari and Nintendo Corporate Making Big Changes
Both companies moving people around for the future.
Title

When you quiz random people about the history of videogames, two companies seem to come to mind: Atari and Nintendo. With the Atari 2600 in the 1970's, Atari brought videogaming home to the masses and basically established the industry that we know today. Likewise, when the inevitable video game crash happened in 1983 (thanks, E.T.), it was Nintendo that brought videogames back to life with Super Mario Brothers.

However, while Nintendo is still going strong with its Wii and DS, things haven’t been so hot for the innovators of home gaming. According to Gamespot, Atari is currently planning to eliminate 20% of their total staff, including 26% of all of their administration employees. According to the new CEO of Infogrames (Atari's parent company) Patrick Leleu, there were simply too many redundancies around Atari that needed to be eliminated. Likewise, Atari's CEO David Pierce saw the drastic amount of departures as necessary, stating that it is a "significant first step in reorganizing Atari and demonstrates our commitment to restoring shareholder value." While everyone is hoping for the best, it’s hard to know what the future holds. Poor Atari. Things just haven't been quite the same since the 2600.

On a related but slightly more positive note, insiders at Nintendo have leaked information to GameInformer that suggests that Nintendo of Seattle is planning to relocate to either San Francisco or New York. While the rumors are currently unconfirmed by NOA, inside employees in Seattle have said that they recently received notification that they will have to either relocate and accept a new position elsewhere or decide to take a severance package by the first of June. We’re waiting to hear back from Nintendo about the matter, but it seems to be a pretty legitimate tidbit considering the wealth of videogame resources in both proposed cities. Thankfully, Nintendo seems to be willing to keep its employees around and make things work for those that don’t want to relocate, which is a much better deal than the unfortunate people working for Atari. I'll be sure to keep my eye out for any further details or confirmations about Nintendo of Seattle's relocation.

Sources: GameSpot | GameInformer
Sudent Arrested For Counter-Strike Map Of School
Hys•te•ri•a: n. Uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, often characterized by irrationality
Title

As one Texas student found out early last week, timing is everything when releasing almost anything, especially when the nation's tensions are still running high due to the tragic events that occurred at Virginia Tech a little over two weeks ago. While many avid players have recreated maps of familiar locales in videogames for years, a student at Clements High in Texas made the mistake of releasing a Counter-Strike map of his High School that led police to make a pre-emptive arrest for possible "terrorist activity."

Just about everyone that has played the FPS Counter-Strike for a decent amount of time has put together some sort of map of their own; either creating something completely random and crazy like a jungle fantasy land that you can surf on (my personal favorite!), or something that mimics real life, like, I don't know, your high school. With the aftershocks of Virginia Tech still being felt in schools all over the nation, such a seemingly trivial thing sent the school into protective overdrive.

However, you really can't put too much blame on the school, who obviously wanted to make sure that it's students were safe. With lots of incorrect information circulating the 'net (via our favorite supervillian, Jack Thompson) about VTech shooter Seung-Hui Cho's supposed "training" via Counter-Strike, investigators and school officials would obviously want to investigate such a matter. But is it really necessary to continue disciplinary action and send the student to another school after the maps were recovered and found to be relatively harmless? It's hard to say, but I don't really think so. According to trustee Ken Bryant, the case should be dropped.

I don't want to fault our police for trying to protect us. But once the evidence was found and looked at, I see no compelling reason why this child should not have been sent back to his original campus.

Another factor that may be playing into the increased levels of hysteria with this case is the student's race. While the Texas cartographer was of Chinese descent (which, contrary to popular American belief, is distinctly different from Korean Seung-Hui Cho), many people in their respective ethnic communities fear the overall backlash by people who perceive all Asians as "the same." William Sun, a member of the Asian American community, noted that the Virginia Tech shootings have created "new pressures" for Asian Americans, and urged the schools and community to not label all Asian students as violent or terrorists.

There's no doubt that schools and surrounding communities need to be on watch for any suspicious behavior around these times. After all, they just might be indicative of copycats who want to live on in infamy like Seung-Hui Cho. However, they also need to be cognizant of harsh punishments for things that seem to stem more from hysteria than actual "crimes" that are committed.

Iranian Government Enters Videogaming!
Many saddened that the game is not a response to 300, nor Sparta!
Title

Ever wanted to help Iran defend against the onslaught of the European and Russian allies who invaded to secure it from the Axis during WWII? Not really? Did you even know that it happened? The Iranian government invites you to learn some more middle eastern history with it's newly released Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game Saving the Port.

Created primarily in in order to "counter the West’s cultural onslaught and in order to promote the Islamic-Iranian culture," Saving the Port has been in production by the Iranian government for over two years. In a new twist on the traditionally violent RTS genre, Game Politics notes that the governmental project actually endeavors to focus on removing the "usual high level of violence found in world games" and replace it with, [gasp] "rational thinking!" The game features six stages based upon real events that occurred during the 1941 invasion, such as marine wars, midnight attacks, and of course the final defense of the Anzali Port in Northern Iran. While these nonviolent changes to the RTS formula may make the most brutal of macho gamers scoff in response, the game is apparently of a rather high caliber and could stand toe to toe with other RTSs that aren't furthering a government sponsored message.

Whether the game was designed primarily to provoke enlistment in the Armed Forces (see America's Army), or just as a simple response that is only slightly propaganda-ish, is uncertain. Either way, it's good to see games coming out from areas that aren't usually in the spotlight (for videogames, anyway).

Sources: GamePolitics | 1up
Are Parents Finally Listening To The ESRB?
"It's about time!" says everyone in the U.S.
Title

You know those little letters in the lower corners of all your videogames? Yeah, the ones that that you probably tried to cover up whenever your parents were making decisions and purchases? A recently released study shows that the majority of parents are finally taking them into consideration and using them to make educated purchases on products for their families! What a novel concept!

According to IGN, a recent study of over 500 parents found that 60% of parents with young children "never" allow them to play Mature-rated games, while 34% responded that they only allow it sometimes (probably just when playing slightly gruesome games in the vein of Bioshock). So what exactly does this mean, Jay Campbell of Peter D. Hart Research Associates?

Awareness and use of the ratings is clearly continuing to rise to considerably high levels, still showing steady growth from where they were just a few years ago, What is quite telling is that the number of parents who say they 'never' allow their children to play M-rated games rose as those who 'sometimes' do declined. This suggests that parents are becoming more assertive in using the ratings to set and enforce restrictions with respect to the games they allow their children to play.

In other words, this is great for the videogame industry that always seems to be taking flak for their products with clearly labeled "dangerous content." With more responsible parents taking an active role in what their children see, we can hope that a little bit of weight will be lifted off of publishers for all of the bad things that supposedly happen due to videogames. Who knows? Maybe there will even be fewer people that supposedly get their "bad influences" from videogames when they're young and impressionable. Who would've knew that those little ESRB letters were the first steps into Utopia?

Source: IGN

I have no numbers to crunch this week. All I found this week in the way of statistics were these silly Australian Game Charts, which are interesting in their own right, but provide me with no real big number to back them up! Maybe this will work until I find some numbers to much on?

Amount of "Awesome" contained within RPGamer *AU= Unit of "Awesome"
RPGamer:
1,567,980,021 AUs
Everyone Else:
1.5 AUs
RANDOM: Things worthy of a quick mention for their obscurity, or sheer awesomeness
Prefer briefs? Here is a whole slew of brief stories for you to gnaw on
  • Dance Dance Revolution. The odd phenomenon that swept bowling alleys and arcades across the world just a few years ago is finally reaching out to its widest audience yet: 1,500 schools. The folks over at 1up have noted that the process of bringing DDR to the school masses is a part of a larger program of "[various] school districts de-emphasizing traditional sports in favor of less competitive activities." As someone who thouroughly sucked at all things team sport oriented, I am overjoyed to hear that all the skilled/muscular kids will have to try something that is hopefully just as awkward for them as sports in P.E. were for me. Maybe DDR will finally make parents see videogames as useful products of society? One can always dream...

  • Annoyed that you can't demo games on the Wii's virtual console? It seems pretty obvious that people would want to try before they buy, and considering the amount of demos available on the PS3 and Xbox 360, the Wii's lack is almost as silly as its name. Nintendo isn't completely deaf though; according to Kotaku, they've heard your complains and now you can watch a 30 second video of games in action! You know, because control has very little to do with why most games suck horribly. Oh well, it's still a step in the right direction (even if it's a bit of a stumble).

  • On the topic of Nintendo's minor stumbles, everyone who hopped onto the DS bandwagon early won't be able to get onto the internet without jumping through some annoying hurdles. Apparently, just like ElectroPlankton, GameSpot reports that the Nintendo DS web browser for the DS-phat will only be available online and through Nintendo's web store. While this is annoying at best for early adopters, at least the big N is still making peripherals for its older, and "special", brethren.
Sources: 1up | Kotaku | GameSpot

Well, this brings another wonderful edition of the Currents column to a close. Ever get nostalgic for old random news? Want to see something on this column that isn't already here? I'm open to suggestions, so feel free to let me know. I would do a Q and A, but that would be beyond redundant due to Matt and Andrew's wonderful jobs around here already. Any comments/questions/concerns can be directed to me at my email, or more informally tossed onto the message boards.

I guess this wraps it all up! After a swell weekend with various concerts (Minus the Bear!) and good people, it's finally time to get back into the grind with midterms and papers (one every week for almost the rest of the quarter :( ). Hopefully this place will keep me sane. That or the 12 disc LOTR set I just got in the mail today...Mmmmmm....

Until next time...

Cole Jones

 

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