...And I'm back! Yes, that's right, another randomly long hiatus from the head of the Currents department. With everything going on for E3 in addition to picking up a 40+ hour a week job, I've been a bit too busy for my liking. I've been trying to have some sort of semblance of a summer as well, which is working out to be a far more difficult task than I had envisioned in the middle of June. I think I've finally sorted out my priorities and put a lot of time into this column, so I'm hoping that it reaches each and every news-depraved reader out there.
Some huge updates this week regarding Sony's price drop, Microsoft's upcoming price drop (!), and a little bit of everything else inbetween. I love a great week for gaming news and gossip! I haven't given Nintendo the time of day in a few columns (since the whole "Wow! Look at Nintendo's sales!" update got a bit old), so let's start out with them, shall we?
Nintendo's E3 Updates
Bigger news elsewhere, but the Big N has been surprisingly low-profile as of late
While big game news was rather scarce during Nintendo's E3 showing, a handful of noteworthy announcements have come out way since the big little convention, including a special edition two-tone DS Lite, sales figures, and details on Wii versions of other Nintendo favorites.
For those who have found the Nintendo DS's color scheme a little too limited for their tastes, or just like to mix and match their favorite colors, the new Brain Age 2 bundle pack should be right up your alley. Featuring a devilishly good-looking two-tone (black and red) color scheme, the bundle pack should be on sale the same day as Brain Age 2 (August 20th). On the software side of things, Shigeru Miyamoto, in an interview with 1up, alluded to a new Animal Crossing for Wii by noting that the "[Animal Crossing] team is [already] working hard on that one." He was a bit more tight-lipped about future versions of Pikmin and New Super Mario Brothers, but didn't rule out their future possibilities either. And, more interestingly, Miyamoto noted that the new Wii Fit makes people "become instantly curious about their body," which is a first for an "E" rated title. Go Miyamoto!
The monthly NPD totals for June have finally been released as well (as it's the beginning of August, d'oh!), and Nintendo still continues to hold a strong position that doesn't seem to be wavering anytime soon. While you can hop right down to the Number Crunching section to take a peek for yourself, the Wii and DS had their strongest sales in over four months, with a combined total of over 900,000 units sold. This impressive number completely dwarfs Sony's combined output of 388,000+; however, it's worth noting that the PS3 sales during this period do not reflect the $100 price cut that was instituted in early July.
RUMOR ALERT: Price Drops Abound For Microsoft 360?
Various sources point to Microsoft's console becoming a tad more affordable
Rumors are the bane of my existence. While sitting here, scouring the Interwebs for worthwhile information to inform and excite, I can't help but come across wonderful news that just might be a complete crock of crap, or the work of a semi-talented photoshopper. Regardless, I must remain weary of just posting everything I get my hands on. Sometimes the news seems just plausible enough to be real, and that's why I couldn't help passing up every prospective Xbox 360 user's dream: a $20 to $50 price cut on Xbox 360 bundles!
According to an upcoming Toys 'R Us ad for the upcoming week (that was recently verified by a similar Circuit City ad), the Xbox 360 will be receiving a price cut on all levels for an indiscriminate amount of time. The winner of the largest price cut goes to the Premium bundle, which is supposedly being cut $50 down to $350, while the Elite and Core system packages will drop down in $20 and $30, respectively. This move makes perfect sense considering the system's August lineup, the PS3's huge price cut, and their holiday forecast (read: HALO...but then again, who wants Halo and doesn't already have an Xbox?). There's no current word on whether this will be a permanent price drop or some sort of backasswards liquidation sale (a la Sony) of the defective "red ringed" consoles, but either way, if you're looking to get into some Forza, Blue Dragon, or Halo 3, now just might be the perfect time to buy. Check your Sunday paper to see if a cheap console is coming your way.
Microsoft Up, Xbox 360 Down
$1.9 billion dollars down the drain and out the door
Even though the Xbox 360 has had a year head start on its competition, the road to success hasn't been quite as smooth as Microsoft might have hoped. With struggles in Japan and at home, Microsoft's next-gen machine hasn't quite been raking in the revenue for the media giant. Aside from holding down a steady second place among the three home consoles (which isn't too much of a feat considering its competition), the 360 hasn't had much luck at home: the console's overheating issues are so well documented that Microsoft has extended their warranty and shelled out over a billion to fix the problem, while another class action suit has come forward against the Xbox 360 for supposedly scratching discs.
The folks over at GamesIndustry have noted that the Xbox division of Microsoft has posted a whopping $1.9 billion loss for the past year. While Microsoft was quick to put the blame on their newly instituted Xbox 360 extended warranty and repair program, the system's hardware and software sales have been short of spectacular as well. Console sales were almost down 500,000 in comparison to last year, while software sales were down noticeably as well. The media mega-giant is still in a good position right now (as it always seems to be with as much pull as it has in the electronic industry), with Windows Vista being preloaded onto almost every computer that's created today, but the Xbox sector needs to start pulling its own weight here soon. Hopefully the rumored price cut will hold true and catapult the 360 into the black for the next fiscal year.
"PSP Lite" Redesign Announced For September Release
Filed under "U" for "Unsurprising, but awesome!"
After seeing the incredible success that a certain other company has had with product redesigns, Sony's decision to follow in Nintendo's footsteps comes as little surprise. It seems like everyone is taking cues from the Big N nowadays, especially when it comes to the success of the Wii in making "casual gaming" the new bane of most gamers' existence.
The long-rumored redesign of the PSP (initially [and ridiculously] titled the PSP 2000 after the model's product number) will finally be hitting stores in September and will include many nifty updates that were changed from the original PSP (PSPhat?). The ingeniously titled PSP Lite was unveiled at E3, and will be cosmetically very similar to the original, with the same button layout, 4.3" screen, and overall shape and size that we've come to love. However, according to Joystiq the redesigned handheld will not only include a TV out function, but will be significantly lighter and classier. The sexy new system will ship with a slew of new brighter, pastel-packed colors to choose from at launch that accentuate the 33% lighter and 19% slimmer chassis of the portable beast. The memory stick and headphone ports have also been moved around a bit for a better overall fit for the tiny console, so if you had problems in the past with either, the new system may treat you better than ever.
As if this news wasn't interesting enough, Sony is scoring huge points with the European crowd by releasing the PSP Lite in Europe before the rest of the world. That's right, Euros! You're getting the console FIRST, not the usual "four-to-six months after the rest of the world" launch schedule that has unfairly become commonplace. GamesIndustry broke the surprising news last week, noting that the slimmer PSP will be out in "early September" in Europe, while Japan will receive theirs on the 20th. It looks like Sony is full of more surprises than I had previously given them credit for. Let's see if they can manage to put some pressure on publishers to squeeze out some more good RPGs by the year's end. Hey, it could happen.
PS3 Price Drop Only Temporary; 80GB To Become Standard Model
Filed under "F" for "frowny face" :(
We had all heard the great news a few weeks ago, (about a week too soon, if you're Sony) and we thought that the PS3's problems would finally be on the right track to be something in the past. Oh, the joys of lower priced consoles, the increased accessibility of beautiful Blu-Ray, and the rallies from the poor RPG fanatics who couldn't drop the $600 for the next Final Fantasy. As with most things in this world, the celebration was over far too quickly, as Sony revealed what we had feared: that there would not be a permanently (slightly more) affordable PS3 for the masses.
According to Yahoo News, the current, $100 cheaper 60GB version of the PS3 will be phased out in order to make way for the new, standard 80GB model that will ship in August (complete with a Motorstorm pack in). While Sony's Dave Karraker noted that "Sony has ample inventory to meet the immediate needs of consumers in this territory for several months to come," I can't help but notice the slightly sour taste in my mouth from their tricky move. Yes, the 60GB will be around for quite some time (as the systems haven't exactly been selling like hotcakes), but it just makes me feel like Sony is dodging the giant problem of their system that is simply too expensive for most consumers. A $400 or even a $450 model that can permanently be purchased in stores would really give the system the huge push that it needs if it wants to do more than simply bring up the rear in this generation's console race. The future games will certainly give the system a push in the right direction, but until most people can truly afford the system, many gamers won't be able to play any game that actually makes the system worth buying.
Vice President Peter Moore Leaves Microsoft For EA Sports
Planetary shifts among the videogame industry
Big things have been happening while I was gone. So big, in fact, that they needed to be covered in my currents column that comes weeks after the event. Peter Moore, Microsoft's token executive for their betrothed Xbox 360, has officially jumped ship over to multiplatform giant Electronic Arts. This tectonic shift of sorts happened about two weeks ago, but the details are still being worked out as the dust, debris, and dollar signs finally start to make their way down to the general public.
Moore is no stranger to platform shifts; in 2003 he jumped from being the COO and President of Sega over to the Microsoft bandwagon, where he eventually settled as Vice President of Interactive Entertainment. When asked about the course of events that seemed to have pushed him away from Microsoft, Moore's camp responded that he had "decided to move his family back to the Bay Area for personal reasons and has secured another opportunity in the video games industry," namely with EA in San Francisco. Joystiq confirmed Moore's intentions in their interview with Robbie Bach and Don Mattick (Mattick is set to take over Moore's position). According to the two, Moore's departure timing (which seemed to be matched up with announcement of Microsoft's $1 billion loss) was simply "incidental," and not tied to the 360's immediate demise or anything of the sort.
When the story first broke on Kotaku, the industry was going crazy with the potential implications of Moore "trading teams," as it were, and whether this meant that the Xbox 360 was tumbling downhill. While I feel that there will certainly be a bit of a scramble getting Mattick to fill Moore's shoes ASAP, the Xbox 360 still has a handful of strong games coming out for it this year to make up their $1 billion loss, and help Mattick transition into his new shoes. All in all, 360 lovers and prospective owners shouldn't lose too much sleep over this high-level executive switcheroo.
After a long awaited hiatus, furthered by the E3 break and summer apathy, the best form of Number Crunching out there is ready to make its triumphant return: the monthly NPD totals!
June NPD Reports of Consoles Sold in the US
Top 10 Selling Games of March '07
|1. Mario Party 8|
|2. Wii Play with Wii Remote|
|3. Pokemon Diamond|
|4. Pokemon Pearl|
|5. Forza Motorsport|
|6. Guitar Hero 2 (PS2)|
|7. Guitar Hero 2 (360)|
|8. Pokemon Battle|
|9. Resident Evil 4 (Wii)|
|10. The Darkness|
*For no apparent reason, Resident Evil 4 and The Darkness's sales numbers were unavailable. I have no clue why they decided to divulge eight out of the top ten, but NPD does what they want, I suppose.
The NPD totals are always interesting enough by themselves, but how about juxtaposing them against the previous totals for other months to track overall progress? That's what one site did, and it sure yielded some interesting results. Take a peek at this carefully borrowed chart from GamaSutra that they created to illustrate the changes throughout 2007:
Some readers have ignored the rest of the chart and noted that it demonstrates the beginning of the fall of the Wii, while others have noticed the steady nature of the Xbox 360. Either way, the Wii is still firmly atop the pile of console sales, which is readily apparent by walking into your local game store and examining their inventory. Everyone had a pretty terrible March, which is pretty standard fare in the scheme of things, but only one console continued to fall instead of rallying afterwards (the PS3), while another reached its lowest point thus far (the 360). This chart tells us a lot about the year in sales that numbers don't seem to convey as clearly, but it shouldn't be taken to be too much more than a graphical representation of consoles sold. The games will ultimately make or break the system, and if Microsoft and Sony don't start making the ones that are needed (blockbusters and RPGs), they can kiss any chance of catching Nintendo goodbye. Likewise, if Nintendo sticks with the casual sector instead of getting out some real games for the hardcore gamers, they'll easily end up second or third. The console race is still young, and by the end of the year the winners and losers should be a bit more clear.
And that's it! That should be enough news to tide you over until next Wednesday, when I come back with my next batch of gaming goodies. I'm happy to finally have this out of my way so I won't be worrying about anything else while I play Twilight Princess from 12-5 am tonight. Nothing quite like a job where your main job is to stay awake during the terribly early hours, now is there?
For those that are fans of electronic based hip-hop, the new Ratatat Remixes album is great, likewise with the new Aesop Rock and El-P. I've been listening to far too much Hip Hop this summer, and I'm pretty sure it will wear off soon enough. Oh wait, this is where I talk about videogames, huh? ::flees::