Welcome to the hundred and ninth edition of RPGamer's Currents Column!
It has been pretty busy around here lately. I finally got everything that I needed for Blizzcon, including my invitation. It should be a pretty fun adventure, and I'm really looking forward to this Friday. I have also been playing a bit of WoW to get myself in that Blizzard mood.
While Blizzard has taken up most of my attention recently, I did manage to find a few interesting stories and a prevailing theme this week. There has been a lot of talk about applications this week from Apple, Sony, and even Nintendo. I guess the iPhone really was a game changer. The idea of cheap, easy-to-download pieces of software for handsets that make them infinitely customizable is thankfully expanding to all the major handhelds and platforms. The best part is that you can partake in all of this as much or as little as you want and still have full rich experiences. This is definitely not a bad place for gaming to go.
The Push to Create a New Gaming Platform It seems like everyone wants a piece of Apple's pie...
When people first started calling Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch gaming platforms on par with the current generation of handheld systems, I didn't take it very seriously. Now that the App store is a proven success a year later and developers have had some time to learn the ins and outs of the iDevices, that initial claim is becoming more and more credible. Quite a few Apple gaming news stories have popped up recently, and I thought that it would be nice to condense a few of those stories below:
Namco Bandai's Big App Store Push
A lot of big publishers, like EA and Lucas Arts, have decided to seriously support the App Store and have seen a lot of success on the platform with games like Tales of Monkey Island, which has been a critical and commercial hit. Another big name publisher, Namco Bandai, seeing the success that these developers have had has decided to give the App Store some real attention.
Namco Bandai is going to open a new division in its company just to develop iPhone games and has brought in Jonathan Kromley, an ex-Apple games producer and designer, to head up the division. Namco Bandai and Kromley are very excited at the prospect of developing for the App store. Kromley said:
"My charge is to make games that are the best for the iPod Touch and iPhone. There is a gold rush to do Apps for the App store, and Namco is at the forefront of that movement."
Namco Bandai plans to start developing new IPs just for the iPhone/iPod Touch. The company also plans to bring legacy titles like Tekken and Soulcalibur to the platform. Kromley mentioned that it would be a challenge to find a control scheme that would work on the platform for twitch games like Tekken and Soulcalibur, but they are excited to see what works. As far as price and length goes, Kromley stated:
"If you are going to play a very casual light game for an hour, that's worth a dollar. Games that are bigger, that have peer-to-peer play, that are expandable, that are maybe four to five hours to play, that's a USD 5 price tag. Super, super duper brands that have all of those qualities, those will justify more."
Kromley's ambitions for the platform is definitely something to be excited about. His views on pricing and length also seem pretty reasonable and fair. The more big publishers putting actual iPhone/iPod Touch teams together with real budgets can only be viewed as a good thing, as it raises the bar for everyone in the store. I wonder how long it will be until we hear about an original Tales of game on the platform.
Games Consistently the Top Sellers in App Store
A recent study by the App Store analytics company Distimo has reported that gaming is king on the App Store. Among the top 15 paid applications bought on the iPhone/iPod Touch, 9 of them were games. Similarly, one third of the most popular free applications on the iPhone are also games. Interestingly, similar platforms like Google's Android operating system are just the opposite, where most of the applications downloaded are utility apps. It goes to show that there is an incredibly strong offering of game titles on the App Store and that the iPhone/iPod Touch are viewed as entertainment devices first.
Unfortunately, as with any platform with a large number of games, much of it is shovelware, and it can be difficult to sort out the good from the bad. Sites like Touch Arcade and AppGamer regularly review App Store games. They usually only pay attention to games that either are from big publishers, that are highly original, that are classic titles, or whatever they think is just plain fun. It's sites like these that help the cream rise to the top in the App Store. Also, from time to time, if I see a great game or RPG in the App Store that deserves some attention, I'll be sure to let you all know about it. In fact, I'll recommend as many great apps as I can from the App Store, DSiWare, and even on the PSPGo.
Rumor: The PSPGo Set to Get its Own iPhone-like Games Rumor or not, this is something Sony should be doing...
Gamescom in Cologne, Germany starts this week, and there is already a lot of talk of what Sony will have to say at its press conference during the show. According to Pocket Gamer, Sony is set to announce iPhone-like games for the PSPGo. What I mean by this is that Sony is gearing up a new tier of smaller, low-cost games similar to those on the App Store. Sony is said to have already started courting iPhone developers to bring their existing titles to PSN. Sony already laid down the groundwork for smaller developers and titles to have a presence on PSN when it announced at E3 that the cost of PSP development kits would be reduced by 80%.
The fact that Sony is interested in this kind of market is no surprise, especially since everyone views Apple's App Store as a huge success. The cost of these games would range from $1 to $7. It's interesting to note that while Apple doesn't have an upper limit for the cost of games in its store, the market has already determined that $9.99 is considered the premium price for a game with anything priced above that standing little chance for success. It's a smart move on Sony's part to try to match Apple's $9.99 games like Real Racing and The Sims 3 with slightly cheaper $7 alternatives on the PSN store.
While there may be a lot of opportunities for smaller iPhone developers to make more money on the PSP, it will take some reworking to get games up and running on the handheld. The obvious differences between the two devices is the lack of a touchscreen on Sony's handheld and the different screen sizes, 480 x 272 on the PSPGo and 480 x 320 on the iPhone. All the same, it's an incredibly smart move that even Nintendo is trying to emulate on the DSi, and with over 50 developers signed on to produce content via digital distribution on PSN, it has a pretty good chance of succeeding for Sony. We'll see how much of this is true later this week, but rumor or not, this is the kind of thing Sony should be doing with PSN.
QUICKIES: Some Small, But Inherently Awesome News Stories! Bit Sized Tidbits of Knowledge
It's funny that this story just popped up because I was getting together a column about the changes that Sony needs to make to its PSN website to reach the same level as its other big online competitors, Xbox Live and Steam. Basically, this new PSN website update makes checking your trophies and stats that much easier and more social. Rather than give you a long list of all the updated features, I thought I would try something new by showing you a video.
This is a good first step. It's a small little feature that Xbox Live members have been enjoying for quite awhile. Of course, there are still quite a few things I would still like to see implemented, like being able to manage your purchases and being able to set up a download queue directly from the PSN website similar to how Xbox Live Marketplace handles its website. Well, at least we know SCEA is listening to its users and is committed to continuously upgrading its service. I just wish they'd hurry up.
Facebook X DSi Now Everywhere: Update
In the last column, I talked about the DSi firmware update that allows users to upload pictures directly to Facebook. When I wrote that article, the service was available everywhere but North America. Well, funny enough, the day after I posted that column, North America got the update too. It seems like Nintendo of America is pretty excited about the update as noted by Cammie Dunaway's, Nintendo of America EVP of sales and marketing, statement:
"Facebook and Nintendo DSi build on the trend of personalization that is so important to consumers. We're giving people the tools to express themselves in creative new ways and show off the results to their friends and family on Facebook."
Well, I tried out the new Facebook upload feature, and it works pretty well. Although, I don't think that I would ever really use my DSi to upload more than a handful of weird photos to Facebook. I think the thing that is really dissuading me from using the new feature is the fact that the DSi's cameras are rather low quality and look pixelated when blown up on Facebook. It's an interesting little novelty that probably best serves lovers of sticker picture photo booths. Well, I'd really like to hear from those of you readers who have a DSi. Is this kind of social media integration something you are all excited about?
Unlike the Facebook picture uploading application, here is an application on the Nintendo DSi that I can actually see myself using quite often. I first mentioned this application in the December 20th Currents Column where I described it as both a flip book and as a memo pad for taking notes, drawing pictures, creating animations, and inserting sound effects, pictures, and video using the DSi hardware. Perhaps the best part of this is the fact that you can upload your creations to a Youtube-like website called Flipnote Hatena. Nintendo teamed up with Japanese web service provider, Hatena, to create a place where users can view, trade, and rate creations in order to create a sense of community on the DSi. It's even possible to embed your favorite Flipnote creations into webpages. After a little bit of scrounging on the Hatena website, here is my favorite creation so far:
The best part is that all of this is absolutely free. The application is available to download right now in the DSiWare store, and you can even sign up for the Hatena service for free directly on your DSi. It may seem like a small application, but it has enough forward thinking features to remind me why I wanted a DSi in the first place. If you're not sure on how to download the application, Nintendo has easy-to-follow instructions on its website here.
12% of Americans Buy Digital Goods
Since we are talking so much about digital services and online market places, I'd thought I would throw in a quick interesting statistic. Magid and Associates has done a study over the past 12 months with 1,927 men and women between the ages of 12-64. It found that about 12% of Americans buy digital items like online games, items in virtual worlds, and social networks. The average cost of items purchased is around $30 but about 51% of these people could not remember how much they spent. I guess that nicely sums up a lot of what this column is about, and I guarantee you that number is just going to keep growing larger and larger as these kinds of services get easier and more accessible.
This was a really fun column to write since it let me dive deeper into an area that is gaining a lot more focus from publishers and consumers like myself. Oh, and in case you didn't notice, my title is a tiny homage to Leo Laporte and the This Week in Tech network that both me and Sabin are a fan of. It felt appropriate given this week's topic.
Before I close off this week's column, I'd be interested to know if any readers will be attending Blizzcon this year. I'm planning a small reader meet up to see how our fellow RPGamers are enjoying the show and to get their take on all of the new announcements from Blizzard.