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CURRENTS
Issue #68
January 16, 2008
Back to the Old Grind
Front Page

Hello, dear readers. I come to you today-
Wait a second. There's someone-
What the... who...
You?
YOU!
TREACHEROUS FIEND, HOW DARE YOU OVERSTEP YOUR BOUNDS! GET THEE GONE, WASTREL, OR YOU WILL SUFFER GRIEVOUS CONSEQUENCES!
Go! Leave! Vacate this place, and never return! Your reach is not as long as you fancy it! DO NOT force me to call upon Neist!

*a short scuffle ensues, from which your beloved Currents columnist emerges victorious.*

My apologies, folks. I was just assaulted by none other than our new Head of Interaction, Shawn Cooper. You may know him better as Lusipurr, host of our weekly Q&Abuse column. You see, while other columns fall under the jurisdiction of Interaction, (and thus under the jurisdiction of Lusi), my column does not. Currents is considered news, and thusly I answer to (the infinitely less obnoxious) Jonathan Self, also known as Neist, our newly-appointed Head of News. As you can imagine, this does not sit well with Lusi, who desires power above all else. His solution? Take control of Currents by use of lethal force. As it stands, he is a very prolific Black Mage, and his repeated attacks are no laughing matter. But as evidenced by our recent scuffle he has yet to best me, and I promise he never will.

Anyways, the new semester has officially begun and I'm already feeling sleep-deprived. It's not that I don't enjoy my academic endeavors, but it tends to take up a very large portion of my plate as it were, leaving little room for delicacies such as gaming and writing Currents. In spite of that though, Currents is here and in top form. Read on my friends, and be enlightened!

GameStop Holiday Sales Hit Record High
It's a monopoly!
Title

So, how many of you did your shopping at GameSpot during the holiday season? Quite a lot of you, if the sales figures are to be believed. I know it's fun to bash GameStop and all that, and a great many people seem to consider it some kind of bane on the videogame industry. I never really have understood those people though, and I'll freely admit that I shop at GameStop all the time. I go in, maybe peruse the shelves a bit, buy what I want, and then leave. I do not take the time to think of it as a "monopoly" or anything of the like, nor do I care to.

Anyways, naysayers notwithstanding, GameStop had quite a successful holiday season according to the numbers they recently released. In the nine-week period ending January 5, 2008, GameStop revenues amounted to 2.3 billion. This represents an increase of nearly 35% from the 1.7 billion they generated during the same period in 2006. New software sales accounted for approximately 43 percent of these dollars, with hardware accounting for 26 percent and used products accounting for 18 percent. According to GameStop, the five best-selling titles were Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Rock Band, and Super Mario Galaxy. In a statement, GameStop chairman and CEO Richard Fontaine said he was especially pleased with sellouts of the DS and the PSP.

I reported last week that the PSP was more successful than either the PS3 or the PS2 over the holiday season, with 1.4 million units total sold. We can safely guess that the DS only did better, especially since we have Mr. Fontaine speaking of PSP and DS sellouts. Oh, and just as an aside, I've only played one of the five games on that list, and that would be Assassin's Creed. Truth be told, I rarely buy games new, and the only other game on that list I might consider buying would be Super Mario Galaxy.

Sources: GameSpot | GamesIndustry
Alex Navarro Takes Leave of GameSpot
I guess...it could be a coincidence. Right?
Title

Folks, if there's one thing I don't want to do, it's beat a dead horse. I know that Gerstmann-Gate took place over a month ago now. I know full well that no conclusive evidence has been provided to confirm the dubious allegations surrounding Jeff's firing. I know full well that much of what I've said in previous columns, and much of what I'm going to say now, is pure speculation. That being said, however, I would like to think that I am making some reasonable speculations based on known truths. The fact is that Jeff Gerstmann's firing from GameSpot sent shockwaves throughout the entire gaming community, and they are even now being felt.

In a phone conversation with Kotaku, GameSpot's editorial director Ricardo Torres announced that longtime employee Alex Navarro will be leaving as of January 24. Navarro, the sites review editor, worked at GameSpot for eight years and is perhaps most famous for his video review of Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing. Alex also used to host the long-deceased Burning Questions feature for GameSpot, which was much like our own Q&A, but with a lot more attitude. The reasons behind Alex's departure are currently unknown, but once again, the timing is damningly suspect.

Alex Navarro was, perhaps, my very favorite GameSpot reviewer. If you have never seen his video review for Big Rigs, then by all means, rectify this shortcoming. His snarky brand of humor was all but unparalleled, and the quality of his work was consistently high. His Burning Questions column was where I first got to know him. It was also one of my favorite GameSpot features, and I was sad to see it... uh... disappear. (It literally vanished without a trace... or an explanation. This lament of mine has nothing to do with the story at hand, but I do enjoy these little asides from time to time.)

You might say to me, "come now, Oliver; these conspiracy theories have been talked to death, and there's frankly no life to them anymore. Besides, what if Alex is leaving for reasons completely unrelated to Jeff Gerstmann and his firing?

In response, I admit that the conspiracy theories have, perhaps, run their course. And I also concede that there is no evidence that Mr. Navarro is leaving for the same reason that reviewer Frank Provo did. But here's something to consider in spite of that: in less than two months, GameSpot has lost three very long-running and influential employees. Jeff was with the site for eleven years, while Frank and Alex both had eight year runs. Alex and Jeff in particular were very well-known figures, appearing regularly on GameSpot's podcasts and video reviews. Frank's presence may have been relatively quiet in comparison, but the 751 reviews he penned certainly did not go unnoticed. Even if CNet is telling the truth and none of these horrible rumors have any factual basis, the defection of these three employees represents an extremely sore loss on GameSpot's part. Not only will it negatively impact their many readers, it will no doubt have a very negative impact on the staff and their work environment. We can only hope that this exodus (be it forceful or voluntary) ends now. From strictly business point of view, GameSpot's editorial department is rather, well, understaffed as a result of it. When asked about this issue, Torres said "we're going to be realistic about our output." He also stated that GameSpot is still receiving letters of support from readers who "love the site and won't give up on it", and that in spite of all that's happened, GameSpot will be trying to "move forward." I wish them luck. As it stands now, they're going to need it.

Sources: Kotaku
David Jaffe Speaks of a Singular Game Platform
Well, if nothing else, it would save shelf space
Title

This doesn't necessarily fall under the category of "news", but I deemed it interesting enough to bring up. It should provide you with some food for thought, which is what I strive for whenever I write a story for the column. If you're the kind that likes his news cut and dried, then... well... what are you reading Currents for, anyways?

Are any of you familiar with a man named David Jaffe? I'm sure many of you are, and if not, then you are likely familiar with a certain action game he designed; namely, God of War for the PlayStation 2. Jaffe has left the series behind as it were and is now the co-president of the newly formed Eat Sleep Play development studio. He's a rather influential figure in the gaming industry today, and thusly things he does and says tend to get attention.

Recently on his Blog, Jaffe has asked why it would be so bad to have ONE console and one console only. To eliminate the "console wars" as we know them today, and instead have a universal machine upon which every studio published their games. In his own words:

The argument that keeps coming up is, ‘oh, it would stifle competition and competition is good for gamers!’ But I don’t understand this in regards to console hardware. One game publisher would be bad. One giant game developer would be bad. I get how those things would hurt gamers. But why would one unified hardware platform?
Jaffe argues that while competition between hardware makers would be gone, it would be replaced by increased competition among software developers, which, according to him, is "where it counts- because there is MORE competition to be the best on a single system instead of content creators splintering and never ever worrying about competing with 2 out of the 3 groups." He also claims that because developers would not have to (potentially) divide their resources among three to five different versions of a game, the quality of their work would improve.

Jaffe does, indeed, make some excellent points. However, there are also some issues with this business model that he fails to bring up. He says that a universal console would lead to increased competition among game developers and greater choices for the consumer, and indeed it would, at least for a time. However, over an extended period of time, I believe that this competition would end, and some clear-cut winners would be decided. Needless to say, the concept of "system exclusives" would be dead, and every single game under the sun would be on this universal console. As a result, the amount of software selection would be positively massive. Imagine every single game franchise of today stuffed onto one console. Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, Madden-the list could go on. The fact is that even today, with the business model we currently have, it is difficult for, say, a budding RPG franchise to contend with giants like Final Fantasy. With a singular console, what hope would a new franchise have? Why would there even be a need for a new RPG franchise, since every gamer in the world has access to Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest? I could be wrong, but it sounds to me like creative development would only be discouraged, and the popular franchises of today would, quite literally, become kings and regents of their respective genres.

Another issue is software quality. Every gamer in the world would own a Universal Console. This could potentially provide less incentive for developers to produce quality products. We see this even today with consoles like the PlayStation 2 or the Wii, both of which the majority of the gaming population owns. There is a veritable deluge of garbage on these consoles, and the sad thing is that many of these games sell decently. The problem would only be exacerbated on the Universal Console, I have no doubt.

What about innovation in console technology? Where would the incentive for that go? Would a company like Nintendo be able to produce something like the Wii? I wouldn't think so, no. Furthermore, what about competition among price points? It won't exist! Whoever produces this machine will have the power to set whatever price they think they can get away with. But then, suppose every hardware developer on earth had the rights to the Universal Console technology. Different brands would lined the shelves like DVD players, and perhaps you could get a TV or a PC with a Universal Console built in. I don't know about you, but casting all argumentative logic aside, that particular business model sounds completely and utterly distasteful to me.

The arguments for and against such an idea are probably endless. I've stated a few of my thoughts here, and while I could be wrong in my assumptions, I doubt we'll ever know. Jaffe's musings are not much more than fantasies when you inspect the gaming industry as it stands today. There will never, ever be a universal console, and to be perfectly honest, that's just fine with me. If it's not fine with you, the only recourse I can suggest is to whack off two of the three players in the console race, and ensure that nobody else tries to take their place.

Sources: GamesIndustry
PlayStation 3 Production Costs Halved
Maybe they should have waited an extra year, then
Title

It was a while ago now that I mused on the losses Sony must be suffering with every PS3 they sell, particularly the $399 40-gig version. Estimates for PS3 production costs back in 2006 put it at roughly eight hundred dollars per console, which meant that even the now-deceased $600 model was not making Sony any money. We might have considered this if we weren't all too busy complaining about how ridiculous a $600 dollar console was. (And I was just as loud as the rest, I admit.)

The woes over the PS3's price point have, for the most part, been alleviated. Instead of a choice between a $600 and a (hardly worth mentioning) $500 model, gamers can pick up a PS3 for the same price the Xbox 360 was launched at. For the slightly harder core, (and those who like to replay old games), we have the 80 gig version, which is not only $100 cheaper than the original 60 gig, it includes a larger hard drive to boot. This is all well and good for the consumers, but how much is Sony benefiting from this? If the PS3 still costs $800 to make, how much good can these price cuts do them?

Well, as you may have already guessed, the PS3 does not cost Sony $800 to produce any longer. In an article in Business Week, Nikko Citigroup analyst Kota Ezawa claims that Sony has managed to effectively cut their production costs in half. He attributes this to their efforts to shrink the PS3's chips, and generally tweak its design. However, in spite of that, Ezawa says that he does not believe the PS3 will turn a profit until late 2009.

Excellent news, excellent news indeed. I don't believe the PlayStation 3's price is going to drop again anytime soon, but with Sony continually working to decrease production costs, and with both software and hardware sales on the rise, these profits will eventually trickle down to the consumer. And that's what we all want, isn't it? They may never be able to drop it as low as, say, $99, but I think that over time Sony could bring their machine down into the $200 range. And that, my friends, would be a happy day indeed.

Sources: GameSpot | Businessweek
Wada Speaks of Nintendo, Sony's Marketing Schemes, Refutes "Universal Console"
Who would spend over $500 on a cell phone?
Title

Last week I touched on the first half of an interview with Square Enix's president, Yoichi Wada, in which he spoke of expanding his company's reach into the western market, among other things. The second half of that interview has since been released, and once again Mr. Wada has some interesting things to say.

When asked about a certain statement he had made to CNet Japan about the Wii being purchased by consumers as a "toy," Wada responded that the article had "interpreted what I said in a rather coarse way," but he did believe that Nintendo was marketing the Wii as a toy. "Nintendo seems to place a great emphasis on Wii Sports and Fit rather than Zelda, a role-playing game. In my opinion, if they expose the functions in this way, they are making the Wii look like a toy."

Wada also touched on Sony and their PlayStation 3, saying that "with PlayStation 3, Sony [is] not appealing to consumers with strong messages that say 'this kind of user can make use of PS3 in this particular way for this particular kind of fun.' That, they are quite weak at." When asked if the PS3's recent price cuts have improved the console's marketing position, Wada replied:

I am expecting an improvement. But I personally feel the price is quite low as it is. My mobile phone is actually more expensive than a PS3, but nobody thinks that's too expensive. But it really depends how the manufacturers communicate with potential users. Either they want to sell it as a games console, or a multifunctional machine. At the moment they're focusing on the price reduction, but if they communicate with consumers better, sales will improve anyway.

When asked about the current diversification in videogame hardware, Wada said, "I regard it as positive." He went on to say that until about the year 2000, just making sure everyone had a console was the main concern. But now, he says, the challenge facing developers is "to deal with diversified demands from diversified users." When asked if he thought it possible for games to have a single format, like DVD, Wada said that "it would be convenient for us, obviously, if everybody was to standardise. But that kind of standardisation would be impossible, in my opinion. I would like it to happen, but there's not much chance."

When asked about the possible future of digital distribution for videogames, Wada did not mince words. "I'm sure it will be huge," he said. "We have to read the trends correctly to act at the right time, but I'm sure that in ten years time it will be the main way games are experienced." However, he also stated that he did not believe that the physical side will ever completely disappear, and that a proper balance will have to be struck.

Interesting stuff to be sure. I have to agree with what he said about the Wii. Not that I have any hard feelings towards it necessarily, but Nintendo has largely been aiming it towards younger, and non-traditional crowds. How? They're not marketing it as a videogame system, but, as Wada said, a fun toy that everyone can play. Of course, there are more than a few people such as myself who have no interest in toys. But then, I did buy one. Why? Well... Zelda has a way of making me spend money.

To be honest, I dislike the concept of digital distribution wherever I smell it. It would seem, however, that a great many industry figures are more than ready to jump on board with it. Yet somehow, I can't help but think that the time for digital distribution is quite a ways off. Here we are trying to enter the age of hi-definition entertainment, and the age of digital downloads at the same time. If you ask me, it's not something that can be done at the moment. In ten years? Yes, perhaps. We will see. If you want to read the full interview, look here

Sources: GameSpot | 1UP
WGA Announces Video Game Writing Award Nominees
Too long now have their deeds gone... unrewarded
Title

As you are likely aware, the Writers Guild of America is currently sticking it to the man. Er, that is, they are on strike against Hollywood movie and television studios, demanding a greater cut of the money reaped from the digital downloading of movies and TV shows. At least I think that's what they want, who cares who knows.

Last year, the guild announced that they would be honoring videogame writers with an award of excellence, commemorating the impact that writers have on the commercial and artistic success of videogames. The nominees for this award have been announced, and they are as follows:

Crash of the Titans (Sierra Entertainment) Written by Christopher Mitchell

Dead Head Fred (D3 Publisher) Written by Dave Ellis and Adam Cogan

The Simpsons Game (EA) Lead writer Matt Selman; written by Tim Long and Matt Warburton; dialogue by Jeff Poliquin

The Witcher (Atari) Lead story designer Artur Ganszyniec; dialogue Sebastian Stepien; additional dialogue Marcin Blacha; writers Sande Chen and Anne Toole

World In Conflict (Sierra Entertainment) Story design Christofer Emgard; story consultant Larry Bond; script consultant Ed Zuckerman

I love that videogame writers are receiving this kind of recognition. Being somewhat of a writer myself, one of the most important aspects of any videogame to me is the quality of its writing. No matter what kind of game you play, (short of, perhaps, Madden), the writing plays a huge part in the tone, setting, and overall impression the game gives. There are some very, very well-written games out there, and that is because there are some very, very talented writers working for the industry. I am unsure if videogames will ever be considered an "art form," per say, by the general public. But a commemoration such as this is certainly a step in the right direction. The 2008 Writers Guild awards will be held in Los Angeles on February 9.

Sources: GameSpot | GamesIndustry
Entertainment Software Association to Form a PAC
Our money will speak for us
Title

It didn't used to be the case, but these days the videogame industry has more than a few interests vested in our government and the decisions they make. Issues range from such cut-and-dried affairs as copyright protections, to matters such as protecting free speech on part of videogame developers. The ESA has battled anti-game legislation in the courtroom a multitude of times, and have been victorious in virtually every case.

Well, it would seem the ESA is interested in ending some of these battles before they begin. How do they plan on doing that? Well, how do people get our government to do anything on their behalf? They throw money at them, of course. I would say "money talks" at this point, but I'm afraid it's far too cliche to be featured in my column. Anyways, the story here is that the ESA is forming their very own Political Action Committee which will make donations to politicians who promise to fight for the videogame industry. In the words of ESA president Michael Gallagher, "We will be writing checks to campaigns by the end of this quarter." He told the New York Times that the ESA will be donating between $50,000 and $100,000 dollars to politicians this year. (Being subject, of course, to the legal limit of $5000 per candidate.)

Hmm...some quick math tells me that the ESA hopes to have between ten and twenty politicians on their side by the end of this year. It's about time something like this came about. The film, TV and music industries all have committees that protect their political interests, and they hardly undergo the scrutiny that the game industry has been subjected to of late. Will it be effective? Time will tell, but I have a feeling it will. Money talks, after all.

Sources: GameSpot | GamesIndustry

Nintendo's DS Dominates Japan in 2007
I have some new Nintendo subtitles on order; they should be in next week
Title

In a report that should surprise absolutely no one, the Associated Press has reported that the DS was the best-selling videogame hardware device in Japan for the year 2007. They cite numbers from Famitsu publisher and industry tracker Enterbrain. Apparently the DS sold 7.1 million units, which brings its three-year total to 21 million. This is Japan alone I'm talking about here, folks.

Nintendo's Wii claimed the number two spot, with roughly 3.6 million units sold in 2007-just over 50% of what the DS sold. In fourth came Sony's increasingly popular handheld, the PSP, with 3 million units sold in 2007. In fourth was Sony yet again, with 1.2 million units of their PS3 sold. Microsoft continued to struggle, ending 2007 with a pathetic 257,800 units of their Xbox 360 sold.

I suppose I was a little surprised when I realized how much more prolific the DS was rather than the Wii in Japan. Sure, they're both selling like hotcakes, but I would not have guessed that the DS would end 2007 with twice as many units sold. But then, if not for the supply woes that seem to be plaguing the Wii, things might have turned out quite a bit differently. Who knows? Oh, and if I could, I would give Microsoft's Japanese presence a comforting pat on the back. But other than that, I don't think there's much that I, or anyone else, can do for it.

Sources: GameSpot
Nintendo Dominates First Japanese Software Chart of '08
Please refer to the previous subtitle

I promise you... if there were any other numbers to crunch, I would gladly do so. Unfortunately, and like usual, it's aaaalll about Nintendo these days. We just got through wowing at their 2007 hardware sales, and now it's time to marvel at their first software report of 2008. And believe me, this one is enough to make any Sony or Microsoft exec cry.

According to the latest Media Create figures for the week ending January 6, Nintendo has started 2008 off strong, to put it lightly. Out of the top 30 software titles, Nintendo takes up 25 spots, with the top 10 being composed entirely of Wii/DS titles. Here is the full list of the top 10:

1. Mario Party DS (DS)
2. Wii Fit (Wii)
3. Wii Sports (Wii)
4. Final Fantasy IV (DS)
5. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
6. Wii Play (Wii)
7. Dragon Quest IV (DS)
8. Prof Layton and Pandora's Box (DS)
9. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (Wii)
10. Mario Party 8 (Wii)

Okay... seriously. I really don't have a thing to say about this. I'm getting so tired of the ZOMG NINTENDOS RULZ reaction and variations thereof. But I have to say something here, so... allow me to think. Hm. Um... yeah. Hooray for Final Fantasy IV? It needs to come to North America so I can... play it.

Sources: GamesIndustry
RANDOM: Without Which These Relatively Obscure, Yet Inherently Awesome Stories May Not Be Noticed!
RANDOM SUBTITLE
  • Best Buy Won't Allow Man to Purchase Assassin's Creed
    I found this little story amusing. A 21 year-old man went shopping at Best Buy with his 15 year-old brother, intending to buy Assassin's Creed along with an Xbox Live Gold subscription. However, upon approaching the cash register with his little brother in tow, he was accused of "illegally buying an M-rated game for a minor" and was not allowed to purchase the game. Read the full story here, it's too long to paraphrase for a Random. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there is anything illegal in purchasing an M-rated game for a minor. I know it's illegal for a minor to purchase the game himself, but is it a state law that a parent must be the one to purchase the game? It makes no sense to me, and besides, the guy was buying the game for himself. If I were in his place, I probably would have become far angrier than he.

  • Nintendo and Sony Sued
    Hooray for lawsuits! They always make for some moderately interesting news, don't they? This one's reminiscent of an old one involving Sony and the technology behind their DualShock 2 controller. This time around, both Sony and the big N are being sued on behalf of a company known as the Copper Innovations Group, who claims that both companies are guilty of copyright infringement in the use of the motion-sensing technology behind their Sixaxis and Wii-Mote controllers. They refer to the technology as a "method for connecting devices to a system and sorting their inputs by means of hardware identification numbers tied to each transmission." Um... yeah, okay. As soon as I can figure that sentence out, I'll let you know if I care.

  • More Dark Tidings for HD-DVD
    This is getting to be old news, I know, but I can't resist bringing it up. New Line Home Entertainment and HBO have both joined the ranks of the many who pledge their support to Blu-ray and Blu-ray alone. So, when the Lord of the Rings trilogy finally receives its much-needed hi-def makeover, don't be looking for an HD-DVD release. In other news, in reaction to all the blows they've taken of late, Toshiba is slashing the prices on their HD-DVD players by up to 50% in the US. They also claim to be working on a new advertising campaign to promote HD-DVD in print, on TV, and online. Sounds like a final, desperate stand to me. They should just use Kamikaze and hope to take Blu-ray down with them.

  • TGS Gets Dated
    I don't know about you, but I personally found TGS 2007 to be far more interesting than E3 2007 was. I'm already looking forward to this year's show, and the CESA has recently set the date. The 2008 Tokyo Game Show will take place October 9-12, at the Makuhari Messe in Tokyo. (You may note that it has been pushed back slightly from its former September timeframe.) Once again it will feature two business days and two public days, a format that E3 should really consider adopting. TGS '07 saw nearly 193,000 attendees, and it's primed to go even further this time around.

  • Dungeon Siege Bombs
    Any of you familiar with a man by the name of Uwe Boll? You probably are, but in case you aren't, I'll get you up to speed: Uwe Boll makes it his duty to see that any respectable videogame franchise is brought to the big screen, and thoroughly masticated in the process. He has already done this with such bombs as Bloodrayne and Alone in the Dark. His latest victim? PC RPG series Dungeon Siege. Boll released In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale in over 1,600 theaters on Friday, January 11. It went on to score a grand total of $3 million on its opening weekend. Reportedly, the film had a budget of $60 million. Ouch. What's next for Boll? Well, his adaptation of Postal hits theaters in February, and he currently holds the film rights to Ubisoft's Far Cry franchise.

Sources: GameSpot | GamesIndustry

So, how many of you beside me are shedding tears over the continued delays of Super Smash Bros. Brawl? Quite a few of you, I'm sure. Seeing that headline was more than enough to ruin my day, believe me. It had better meet that March 9 release date, that's all I'll say. If Nintendo goes all Twilight Princess on me again, I will swear off their products for the rest of my life.

Well, I have lots of textbooks to be read, some homework to be done, a job to do, and some sleep to catch up on. Some games to be played, perhaps? Well, yes. But will I have the time? Therein lies the uncertainty. I bid you all adieu until next week, dear readers. That is, unless Lusi manages to end my life before then.

Oliver Motok (Email Me!)

 

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