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CURRENTS
Issue #139
August 30, 2013
2D Madness
Front Page

Welcome to a new issue of Currents. I'm still going bonkers trying to move, but that doesn't mean I'm not taking time out of my day to enjoy the little things. One of the more enjoyable aspects of my life these days is nostalgia; I recently purchased a watermelon red Nintendo 64 and a bunch of Rareware titles, starting with this gem:

I realize that the DK Rap is awful, but you have to admit that it shines a little brighter now that Rare has handed off properties like Killer Instinct off to other developers and spends its time working on Kinect titles. Regardless, this week's issue is dedicated to the most interesting thing Nintendo has done in a while: The Nintendo 2DS. It may be a head scratcher, but at least it's interesting.

If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:

  • Will you be buying a 2DS?

  • If you already on a 3DS, do you see any benefit to the 2DS?

  • What do you make of the initial internet reaction?

I first found out about the Nintendo 2DS from a Reddit post and immediately wrote the handheld off as another instance of sophisticated, ridiculous internet trolling. This instinct wasn't due to me not being a Nintendo handheld enthusiast or that I've somehow become cynical towards innovation in the handheld gaming space, but rather that everything from hardware design to initial reveal seemed akin to an elaborate April Fool's Day joke. This clearly isn't April, I was clearly wrong, and the slate-like system will be out this Fall in both blue and red iterations for the low price of $129.99 (US).

Can any of us really be criticised for doubting this system's legitimacy though? Weighing less than a 3DS XL and maintaining the same screen dimensions as the regular 3DS, the 2DS is Nintendo's first stab at a low-cost handheld in simultaneous release with their high-end flagship handheld (a strategy that some believe will be replicated by Apple in the next few weeks with their iPhones). Unlike all Nintendo handhelds since the Game Boy Micro, the 2DS is not a clamshell device — opting to instead offer its dual screens on a tablet-like slate. Where it is low cost, there is no power-saving mode, the battery life is less impressive than the 3DS XL, and the speakers are now mono. Oh, and the console no longer has the ability to play titles in 3D — the initial selling point of Nintendo's current handheld generation.

It's easy to understand where Nintendo is coming from with the 2DS. By releasing this base model at the low price of $129 — $40 less than the core console's going rate — much of their audience who chose not to invest in a relatively expensive 3DS can finally join the party. The handheld's tablet-like design, large video game library, and spec simplicity also make this device for first time gamers and children. Unfortunately, there are a few important business reasons as to why the 2DS isn't a slam dunk for the console manufacturer.

I'm no slave to console capabilities and certainly don't have the strength of vision to use this feature at length without feeling as though my eyes are about to explode, however, cutting out the one feature you prodded as a "main selling point" seems more than a little odd from a branding perspective. The general messaging of this new product also doesn't make a lot of sense unless you're knowledgeable on the subject of video gaming. We gamers may understand that the 2DS is a basically 3DS without the 3D, but do you think that many parents shopping for their children — which have historically been the prime audience of video game handhelds — will understand that you can play DS and 3DS games on a 2DS, but that there are no 2DS games? Why didn't they just call it the 3DS Lite or DS Slate?

This marketing approach juxtaposes the messaging conflict of the Nintendo Wii U, where much of the unindoctrinated gaming masses don't understand why their Wii can't play Wii U games and that the Wii U is actually a completely new gaming device. The general market will always adapt to what is currently available and inform their expectations based on what is available. If you have a console and release a number of games for that piece of hardware, completely with accompanying hardware branding, there will be consumer confusion when the naming format of your follow-up is either too distinct when it should be similar or not distinct enough when it should be different. Whether they realize it or not, Nintendo will have to bear the heavy cross of this complex messaging.

It's also hard not to be upset by the console's design. I have no issues with the 2DS's slate form-factor and I have no idea why so many internet commentators seem to, however, the amount of potential lost in the 2DS's core design is sickening. To clarify, the 2DS doesn't actually have two screens — behind the console's shell is one massive touch screen with a plastic divider frame placed over top to give the appearance of two separate screens. Think about that for a second. Technically, this could have been the first functional and affordable gaming tablet in the history of the industry. Instead, Nintendo has placed a thick piece of plastic on the upper half of this touch screen in order to simulate playing a 3DS; a possible disruptive innovation has been completely thrown out the window for the sake of console conformity.

Still, can it not be said that the affordable price and refined aim of the 2DS ensure success in emerging markets and with casual gamers? Maybe, but there another problem with the 2DS being successful: cannibalization. The 3DS sells well now to general audiences because of its low price and the 3DS XL sells well to hardcore gamers due to its premium features. If a new alternative is introduced which is simultaneously cheaper and removes a feature which many 3DS owners choose to ignore, the end result will be suffering 3DS core sales and dampened 3DS XL sales. Lower sales for systems with higher margins is bad news for Nintendo unless they move several tons of these low-cost devices.

All-in-all, it's hard to walk away from this new handheld announcement and not feel at least a little bit conflicted. Regardless of where you might stand on the Nintendo 2DS's pros, its cons are too sizable to be ignored.

After thirteen years of declining stock value, Steve Ballmer is finally walking into the sunset and leaving an open chair at Microsoft. Investors and industry analysts are claiming that this the time for innovation, new leadership, and strategic change. In many ways, Ballmer has paved the way for this to happen just by leaving, however, the monopolistic and overly diverse way Microsoft currently conducts itself will have to change if it is to survive. One of the business units that has been criticised most over the years has been Xbox, and some investors are saying that the company would be better off without.

In an odd twist of fate, Microsoft has actually been cursed by its own success. With over $7 billion in annual sales, the Xbox unit has actually been benefiting Microsoft's bottom line for a few years now. The problem? Microsoft isn't a consumer electronics company; it's a sales and services company which has predicated its market success on high margins and even higher install bases. While a number of video gamers own an Xbox 360, the electronic doesn't dominate over 90% of the market like that of the Windows business unit, and the business margins are actually pretty low. The company's attention on hardware is also a problem because Xbox does nothing to sell Windows, Outlook, the Office Suite, Cloud, or CRM utilities — making it more of a distraction than an organizational benefit.

Whether Xbox is ever spun off remains to be seen, but would it be such a bad thing if it was removed from the hierarchy? Most investors and fund managers seem to agree that Xbox could be an attractive standalone business, worth $15-30 billion on its own. Does that sounds like a big number? It isn't in Microsoft terms. The software megagiant currents has a general market value of roughly $275 billion, and has managed to lose roughly $280 million in market value as the Microsoft missed the boat with smartphones, web search utilities, and tablet computing under Ballmer's leadership.

Before announcing his retirement, Ballmer organized the single greatest restructure in the company's history. Part of this restriction was tying the Xbox business unit to all entertainment and home service units. This makes the hardware platform a pretty firm fixture in Microsoft's structure ‐ something that is likely to remain if Ballmer's successor is hired from within the company. However, if Microsoft's next leader comes from outside the company and has an open enough mind to attempt something different, Xbox may someday be broken off. It could be a very good thing for both Microsoft's market value and the Xbox unit's independent growth.

Source: GamesIndustry

The Shadow of the Eternals crowdfunding campaign has ended unsuccessfully. Precursor's spiritual successor to the GameCube critical darling Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem had set a revised crowdfunding goal of $750,000 and only managed to raise about half. The game's developers originally set out to raise $1.5 million between Kickstarter and the Precursor Games website, but canceled that campaign after they were only able to raise less than $300,000 three weeks into its five week campaign. The team has now failed twice and, while they still vow to continue work on their successor, it's clear that the their studio doesn't have as much support as they may have thought.

Why is it that Double Fine, inXile Entertainment, Obsidian Entertainment, and Creative Intelligence Arts can raise millions of dollars with brand new IPs, but Precursor cannot even hit half their target with a sequel to a proven gem? It's simple: bad blood. Several of Precursors assets and team members come directly from Silicon Knights, including its controversial founder Denis Dyack. After disappointing fans with Too Human and abusing them with X-MEN Destiny, Silicon Knights sued Epic Games over Unreal engine maker, lost said suit, laid off its staff, quietly disappeared, and Kotaku eventually posted an unsourced story which ripped Dyack's reputation apart.

To be frank, fans weren't willing to trust the people running Precursor in spite of the great potential of this Kickstarter campaign. It doesn't help that another founding member was recently arrested on child pornography charges. I don't know where Precursor will turn to for funds, but it's clear that this game will be an uphill battle for them. Personally, I'd love to play it as I'm a big fan of the original Eternal Darkness, however, I also was one of the people who chose not to fund the project.

Source: Kickstarter

New consoles from both Sony and Microsoft loom on the horizon and GameStop is hyping their launch as, "the largest in console history." GameStop president Tony Bartel recently stated in an investor's call that the retailer's launch allocations from both Sony and Microsoft are "much stronger" than they were for the release of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Bartel maintains that the company expects a significant increase in launch-day quantities of both machines compared to the previous generation.

It's not hard to see why. I'm sure many of us were around for the launches of previous generations and the composition of this one has been a little different. Generally, Sony or Microsoft's systems have benefited from an early start, with the other launching alongside Nintendo. All due respect to Nintendo, but this is the first time that the less-family oriented gaming consoles have gone head to head at launch. It's a big deal and fanboys everywhere are happy to take sides.

While he wouldn't give specific preorder numbers, Bartel did say GameStop has increased its supply chain capacity for the launch by 60 percent using contracted distribution centers. It is also apparent that console specific email update subscriptions have Xbox One trailing PS4 (which isn't to say that more people have preordered Xbox One so much as more people want to be harassed about PS4). Who knows who will "win" this console launch, but it's clear that GameStop is going to have a good holiday season.

Source: GameStop

This is a newer section of RPGamer's Currents where we take a hard look at some video game industry rumors and attempt to assess how plausible they are. Nothing in this section has been officially confirmed, but who knows which rumors will float to the surface as fact in the future?

  • You'll Be Able to Capture 650 Pokemon in Pokemon X and Y
    A roughly translated tweet made by Pokemon X and Y director Junichi Masuda seems to indicate that "650 Pokemon live in Kalos (the setting of the upcoming 3DS title)." Likelihood? Possible. The regions in Pokemon Black and White boasted big numbers and I wouldn't be surprised if history repeated itself.
  • Prey 2, Again
    Kotaku recently reported some "leaked emails" from Arkane Studios creative director Raphael Colantonio which would seem to indicate that Prey 2 has indeed been moved to their studio and may be revised or rebranded to fit the structure of "a spiritual successor to System Shock 3."Likelihood? Doubtful. Ignoring the fact that there is no such thing as "System Shock 3," the emails look forged.

That's it for this issue of Currents. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.

Your dork from the Great North,

Trent Seely

Stalk me on Twitter: @InstaTrent

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