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CURRENTS
Issue #64
December 18, 2007
Safety and Peace
Front Page

Ah, the holiday season is upon us in full force. Stores are packed, Wii's are sold out, and Christmas decorations are all around. I would say that snow is falling, but down here in Tennessee, we're lucky to get a few flecks come January. I envy all you people up north. It's a strange thing, though; the older I get, the less I seem to be affected by the atmosphere of the holiday season. Not to sound like a scrooge, but somehow the Christmas season, as it were, doesn't really resonate with me like it once did. (Sigh.) There's nothing new under the sun, I guess.

The semester is over, and I am faced with freedom that I haven't tasted in many a month. Needless to say I've been devoting a lot of my free time to gaming! In particular I've been playing a lot of Assassin's Creed, and I'm having a ton of fun with it. To be honest, I was sold as soon as I heard the game was being developed by Ubisoft Montreal, the studio behind the Prince of Persia trilogy. After punching in ten hours or so, I don't think Assassin's Creed is quite as polished or engaging as any of the Prince of Persia games, but it comes very close. The story is very interesting, the massive cities and environments are a joy to traverse, and the game is absolutely amazing to look at. I would recommend it to just about anyone if you can spare the time from your sure-to-be busy holiday gaming schedule.

I haven't spent all my time on videogames however, and this rather robust column should attest to that. For some reason I ended up with a lot of Nintendo-related news this week, which was completely unintentional. But it's all very interesting stuff, and there are a few other goodies mixed in. Read on my friends, and arm yourselves with knowledge!

Nintendo's Wii Close to Surpassing the GameCube's Lifetime Sales in Japan
The epic failure of that miserable box continues to reverberate
Title

My guess is that many of you reading this right now never owned a GameCube. And if you did, you likely used it to collect dust more than anything. The system really didn't do much for RPGamers, or any gamer to tell the truth. Sure, we had Tales of Symphonia, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and the two Baten Kaitos games, but in all, the GameCube's library paled in comparison to that of the PlayStation 2. Consequently, sales for the system were universally poor, with Nintendo bringing up the rear behind both Sony and Microsoft.

Perhaps you remember Nintendo's president, Satoru Iwata claiming that the Wii would be a "complete failure" if it did not outsell the GameCube. At the time, the gaming public, and probably Nintendo themselves, were unsure if they could climb out of the rut they occupied in the console race. Lack of third-party support was arguably what destroyed the GameCube, and novel as the Wii was, the question of whether or not it would attract the necessary support from developers was a tough call.

Well, I think Mr. Iwata can lay his mind to rest at this point. According to recent figures from Famitsu, the total sales of the Wii after a year on the market are within 100,000 units of the GameCube's lifetime sales in Japan. Since its release in 2001, the GameCube has sold roughly 4.2 million units in Japan. According to Famitsu, the Wii has sold around 4,025,356 units. According the Video Game Chartz, the Wii has sold 7.27 million units in the US, which means it has a bit of catching up to do before it reaches the 12.8 million units that the GameCube sold...over a period of six years.

So, we have concluded that the Wii is doing better than the GameCube. Good job, Nintendo. They set out to capture the attention of the non-traditional gamer, and so they have. At the same time, of course, you have more experienced gamers such as myself sitting here with maybe three or four Wii games in our respective libraries. Not to rain on Nintendo's parade, but it's something they may want to look into in order to maintain their current superiority.

Sources: GamesIndustry | VGchartz
Greenpeace Initiates "Clash of the Consoles"
This is not going to make me care
title

I commented a few weeks ago about Greenpeace's negative evaluation of Nintendo and their policies on chemical and waste management. Nintendo was taken aback by this, releasing a statement that said: "We were surprised by the content of the Greenpeace report, given that we take great care to comply with all relevant regulations on avoiding the use of dangerous materials, recycling, etc."

Well, the above statement failed to generate any sympathy from Greenpeace. In response to Nintendo's response, Greenpeace claimed that they gave Nintendo several chances to address the issues they outlined before the report was published. In addition, they stated that "the Greenpeace ranking criteria score companies on what they are doing beyond what is required by legislation. This is not a law enforcement ranking Guide--we are looking for environmental excellence."

In all, it looks as if Greenpeace is pretty serious about taking the console makers to task. On top of that, they want us gamers to get serious about it as well. In order to rally us to their cause, they've gone to the trouble of setting up a website called "Clash of the Consoles" which compares the environmentally-conscious performance of the three console makers. They also have a cheesy video for us to watch, which I believe was intended to make us, you know, care about this stuff. It didn't really resonate with me, perhaps it will inspire you.

Yawn. Is this something we gamers should care about? My opinion is no, but to be fair, I tend to be skeptical towards these green-people and their ilk. Why? Well, I'm not going to get into that, because I have no desire to anger any hippies environmentally conscious readers. So with that, I shall move on.

Nintendo Teams with GameStop to Initiate "Wii Certificate Program"
At least they're working to appear sympathetic

We've all heard the tales of the Wii's insane popularity and nationwide sellouts. Nintendo simply cannot meet the demand, particularly during its second holiday season. The Wii has become THE Christmas gift of the year once again, but the sad fact is that literally millions of consumers will have to go without. Nintendo has already made it clear that they cannot increase supply. In the UK, they actually went as far as to pull ads for the system in order to decrease demand.

Well, in order to further alleviate the despairing cries of the consumers, Nintendo has launched a "rain check" program for the Wii in cooperation with GameStop retailers across North America. Even if customers are unable to purchase a Wii before Christmas, then on December 21, they will be able to purchase a certificate from GameStop guaranteeing them a Wii for pickup on January 25. The offer will only be available one day, as long as supplies last, and will require the customer to put down the full retail price up front. According to Nintendo of America's president and CEO Reggie Fils-Aime, "many tens of thousands" of these certificates will be available. The certificate itself will come in the cute little case pictured below.

I honestly feel sorry for any kid who finds that sad little box under their tree on Christmas morning.

I find myself wondering the exact circumstances behind Nintendo's inability to produce the appropriate number of consoles. Is it truly something that can't be done? Is it something that they in particular lack the capacity to do? Or are they simply not interested in manufacturing any more than they are now? The third option is mostly just fuel for conspiracy theorists, but it makes some sense. It could be a ploy in order to fuel demand for the Wii and maintain its status as the must-have, hard-to-find item. I personally doubt it, though. Why? Because the amount of potential profit they are losing is staggering. According to the New York Times certain analysts have stated that Nintendo is losing over $1 billion due to this shortage, and that's only considering hardware sales. Adding software sales to that figure, Nintendo is missing out on quite a bundle. But at any rate Fils-Aime has assured that every major retailer will have Wii's in stock this week. Sounds promising, but if you want one, you'd better start pitching your tents.

Sources: GameSpot | Kotaku
Nintendo Sells a DS Every Five Seconds
Cor blimey

In case you somehow haven't picked up this little fact, I'll spell it out for you: Nintendo is dominating the current console race, and that includes handhelds. As popular as the Wii is, Nintendo's dual-screen handheld is arguably even more so. According to Nintendo, they've sold over six million DS units this year in North America. Not content with simply reporting numbers, they decided to hammer home this fact with a clever measurement of the handheld's sales frequency: in 2007, a DS has been sold every five seconds. This doesn't even count December, which is generally the industry's most lucrative month. According to Nintendo of America's senior vice president George Harrison, "There's no letup in sight. Nintendo DS appeals strongly to both core and casual gamers, and its momentum is set to propel us into 2008."

Oivey. It would appear that the only people who are happier than the Nintendo fanboys of today are Nintendo themselves. They've dug themselves from the ashes of the GameCube, made a miraculous comeback, and they want to make sure everyone knows about it. Hence reports such as this. And I suppose there isn't really anything wrong with that, it just gets a little old after a while. I honestly believe that the DS's success is well deserved. It's the best handheld ever released in my opinion, and while the PSP may look prettier, it just can't stand up to the DS's robust selection of both first and third-party titles. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass demonstrate the kind of unique gameplay experiences that only the DS has the potential to deliver. Some of you may disagree with me, but one thing you can't argue with is the sales figures. I mean, shoot....every five seconds? If that's the case, Nintendo's sold two or three since I began typing this closing sentence!

Source: GamaSutra
2008's E3 Convention Will Return to the Los Angeles Convention Center
Sadly, booth babes will not be returning
Title

Remember this year's E3 convention? Or rather, "Media and Business Summit?" No? Neither do I. That's because it somehow ended up being little more than a blip on the radar for most gamers. Upon the announcement that E3 was being "downsized," I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The idea of placing greater emphasis on developers and press events and reducing its status as a "trade show" actually sounded okay on paper. Somehow the execution went awry, and, well...E3 2007 ended up being a very dry, unexciting affair to most. Or at least, it was for me. I may not have been there, but I was literally at my computer all day every day waiting patiently for some huge announcement, exciting piece of news, or new trailer that somehow never came. Oh, and the lack of booth babes was appalling.

But that's enough of my ranting. The ESA has recently announced that in 2008 the convention is moving back to the Los Angeles Convention Center, after the short detour they had in Santa Monica; however, the format of the show will remain the same. From the press release:

The event will continue to focus on the business of the computer and videogame industry, with an emphasis on press events and small meetings with media, development, and other key sectors. While there will be opportunities for game demonstrations, the 2008 E3 Media & Business Summit will not feature the large trade show environment of previous years.

Well, moving back home is a start I guess. Nobody will argue that the LACC is an infinitely nicer place than Santa Monica high school. Being a forgiving sort of fellow, I am willing to assume that 2007's convention was merely an awkward venture into a new format, and that come 2008, all the kinks will have been worked out. But in reality, the convention is only as good as the news that comes from it, and regardless of the format, if developers remain as tight-lipped as they did last year, the LACC won't make a difference. E3 '08 will take place July 15-17.

Source: GamePolitics
Reggie Addresses the Quality of the Wii's Third-Party Titles
Well, it depends on what you mean by "crap"
Title

Nintendo and their third-party woes. If they're not struggling to receive support from developers, they're being swamped with a deluge of poorly designed crap. They've always had this issue. As a result of their "family friendly" nature, they've established themselves as the dumping ground for licensed garbage such as Bleach: Shattered Blade or Godzilla Unleashed. And with the Wii being so popular among children and casual gaming crowds, all of whom are so easily swayed by a pretty license, developers are having an absolute field day. In fact, this is apparently such a large issue that Reggie himself deigned it worthy of his attention. In a conference call with Kotaku he said, "On any system you will have a range of quality. Publishers are working extremely hard to take advantage of the Wii and its unique abilities. Those publishers who do a great job enjoy fantastic sales."

Makes sense I suppose, but when you look at the sales figures for games like Capcom's Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure, it doesn't quite line up. The game has an average ranking of 8.6 on GameRankings, placing it well above most third-party Wii titles in terms of critical opinion; however, it has sold a measly 120,000 units in both Japan and North America combined. Besides, this doesn't really address the issue that regardless of all the publishers "working extremely hard to take advantage of the Wii and its unique abilities," the system still has a shocking surplus of crap in its library. According to Reggie, "As publishers understand how to take advantage of the unique aspects of the remote you will see better and better games. We already have a certification program and publishers need to conform with a number of key aspects to get certified. What we don't do is have some sort of filter for quality, because quality is so subjective. Nintendo is working hand in glove with publishers to share with them our level of expertise with the technology."

Hand in glove, he says. If that were truly the case, then I doubt we'd see such a huge difference in quality of first and third-party Wii titles. And yet we continue to see just that, with releases such as Super Mario Galaxy being lauded, and titles such as Escape from Bug Island being flogged. (And rightfully so.) This being the case, I'd like to know what, exactly, this "certification program" they have entails. The only visible requirement is nothing more than "make sure that something happens onscreen when the player shakes the remote."

Source: 1UP | GameRankings

I opted not to include a chart this time around. In fact, I don't believe I will be featuring weekly sales charts from this point onward. Rather, every fourth column will feature the total sales for the previous month. Why? Because weekly sales charts are boring, that's why. They are also somewhat tedious and time-consuming for me to include. But fear not, we will still crunch numbers on a weekly basis. I will discuss some of the more interesting stories concerning game sales and such in this section, which to me is more interesting than simply plopping some numbers in front of you.

Assassin's Creed Sells 2.5 Million

Ubisoft Montreal has become one of my favorite developers in the industry. They won me over with their revitalized Prince of Persia trilogy, and now with Assassin's Creed they've displayed their expertise once again. The game really is amazing; I would recommend it to anybody who isn't afraid to venture outside the realm of RPGs. The game has seen both critical and commercial success since its November 13 release, with Ubisoft reporting that it has sold more than 2.5 million units in a month. Ubisoft predicts that the game will sell 5 million by March of '08, up from its original prediction of 3 million. According to Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft, this makes Assassin's Creed the fastest-selling new videogame intellectual property in history.

Mass Effect Sells 1 Million

Microsoft's new RPG Mass Effect has seen some unexpected success as well. In less than three weeks on the market, the game has sold over one million units worldwide. A trilogy has already been confirmed, but with EA's recent acquisition of Bioware/Pandemic, it will be interesting to see what direction the series may take.Mass Effect 2 for the PlayStation 3, perhaps?

Sources: 1UP | GameDaily
RANDOM: Without Which These Relatively Obscure, Yet Inherently Awesome Stories May Not Be Noticed!
This is the last time I will trouble myself with a subtitle for this section
  • It's a bit too early to tell if they will succeed, but Sony is certainly working on dragging themselves out of the hole they dug. Recently, Kazuo Hirai, Chief Executive of Sony Computer Entertainment, came out and said that he expects to achieve worldwide PS3 sales of 11 million by the end of the current fiscal year. According to him, the PS3 is "starting afresh as a console to play games with," and his goal as CEO is to help Sony's game division "escape as soon as possible from the red and return to the black in fiscal year 2008." He's making some bold statements and promises. Let us hope that they come to fruition.

  • Here's a story that can truly be classified as "random." An angry dad is auctioning his son's Christmas present, Guitar Hero III on eBay, as a punishment for his pot-smoking ways. Take a look at it here. I find this hilarious personally, although I'm unsure if it will actually keep his kid from doping; however, he is to be commended for taking any sort of disciplinary action and providing the rest of us with a good laugh in the process.

  • A few weeks ago I commented on Rockstar's attempts to lift the BBFC ban of Manhunt 2 in the UK. The case was heard by the Video Appeals Committee, who ended up ruling in Rockstar's favor, agreeing that the ban should be overturned. Just as it looked like Rockstar would be able to release the game in time for the holidays, the BBFC had to thwart them once again. They are applying for a judicial review of the VAC's decision, insisting on taking the matter to the High Court. In addition, they are seeking to keep the game off store shelves until the decision has been made. Perhaps they think the overturning of their decision would somehow cast a shameful reflection upon them. Or, perhaps, they just have some sort of twisted vendetta against Manhunt 2. Either way, my guess is that the only thing they'll accomplish is royally pissing off Rockstar Studios.
Sources: GameSpot | Kotaku

Mmmm...Christmas cookies. Every year, we make these special peanut butter cookies with a Hershey kiss stuck on top. The way it works is that you bake the cookies, take them out of the oven, and press the candy into it while the cookie is still hot. Best. Cookie. EVER. I'm not kidding. They are especially lovely if you eat them while they're still warm. We already made one batch, which I made short work of. Now that they're on my mind, I think I shall have to make some more. That's what Christmas is all about my friends: cookies.

Okay fine, but it's still a big part. At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this week's Currents, and be sure to join me next week for more!

Oliver Motok (Email Me!)

 

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