Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Day after Christmas gaming deals

Be sure to check around for day after Christmas gaming deals. And be an informed day-after-Christmas shopper.

For example, GameStop is doing a day after Christmas sale. One of their deals is an "Xbox 360 Pro Bundle", and at $399.99 (the price of the Pro SKU alone), it comes the with the Pro SKU of the console, a copy of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (fantastic tactical game), and a one-year GameStop product replacement plan. But keep in mind Microsoft just extended the Xbox 360 warranty from 90 days to one year, so it's not that great of a deal; still free stuff, though. And you can take a defective console to a local GameStop (though I've found the turnaround process from Microsoft to be absolutely amazing).

GameStop also has things like $10-off Xbox 360 Call of Duty 3, Tony Hawks Project 8, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance -- making them $50.

But go over to Target. They've got select Xbox 360 games for $20-off -- Top-tier games like Gears of War, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and Tony Hawks Project 8.

Enjoy your post-holiday shopping, ya greedy gamers. Buy me stuff.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Saturday, December 23, 2006

AAAHH! You haven't bought anything for your gaming loved one!

Relax. I'm here to help.

First, read this post. Then, remember Sunday is a pretty full shopping day for most places.

Now, there are couple of items outside of this list for you to consider.

GIFT CARDS/CERTIFICATES:

Seriously. Best Buy. Circuit City. GameStop/EBGames. All of them have gift cards. They fit in stockings. It's not as nice as something physical, but you did wait until the last minute, yo?

MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONS:

You can go with a platform-specific rag, like the Official Xbox Magazine (great periodical with a disc, and a subscription makes the price reasonable, rather than the $10 shelf price).

You can also go with something like Game Informer, a multiplatform (including PC) magazine. Best bet is to get a GameStop/EBGames card for something like $15, which gives you a year subscription cheaper than you can get it through the magazine, a card that gives you discounts on used games and higher trade-in on games, and access to the "Unlimited" section of Game Informer Online, with exclusive screenshots, videos, articles and interviews not in the magazine, and only available to Unlimited members. Not bad.

VIRTUAL CURRENCY:

For the Xbox 360, you can buy Microsoft Points, either from your loved one's Xbox dashboard, or from brick-and-mortars like Best Buy. The game freak in your life can use the points to buy full Xbox Live Arcade titles, picture packs, customization themes, and now even TV shows and full-length movies through Xbox Live.

You can do the same for the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console, and they're claiming 32 games before the end of December -- including seminal classics like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario 64, Mario Bros., Golden Axe, and Donkey Kong/Jr.

If you go the Wii route, just make sure you also buy them a Wii Classic Controller, too. In theory there is a Classic Controller package that also gives you a ton of Wii points, but I haven't seen that, yet.

In theory, the Sony PlayStation 3 has something for the PlayStation Network, but their site sucks, shows two games that may or may not be available, no details on how you pay, and PS3 owners are busy mugging each other in alleys for the hardware to care about virtual currency.

OK, that's good for now. I had a list of other stuff, but between this and the last post, you're good.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Video Game Proposal ...

I've been chewing on a video game proposal for some time, and last night I buckled down for a couple of hours and hammered out a doc containing the Concept Paper, Executive Summary, Sample Artwork, and Milestone Schedule (the latter mostly stubbed out).

In the process, I came up with a bunch of the items that will feed into the design document and the TDD, and the more I work through this project, the more stoked I am about the possibilities and amazing applicability of this whole effort. It is great to work on a project that makes me feel like, "Why in the world has no one thought of this before?"

It's also nerve-wracking, because I keep worrying that someone will come up with the same idea, and beat me to the bunch. But since I'm a "glass-half-full-and-how-do-I-fill-the-other-half" kind of guy, I'm encouraged that I'm able to do this, so if it falls through, I can apply the idea to some other efforts and IP.

Understand, I do biz dev as part of my software/service/program management for BigHugeCorp, and the target dollars are waaaay larger. But this is a new vertical for me, exciting and challenging, and I am encouraged at how quickly I was able to pull together a truthful High Concept, ROI numbers, and the like, which builds an even more solid business case for the whole effort.

I can't say much more about the project, because it's using licensed IP that needs permission from the license holders. There's also this typical chicken-n-egg thing where I'm trying to get things solidified in the pipeline for the comfort of IP holders, but need the IP commitment to get the pipeline folks comfortable, etc. Not a big deal, and not unique to the game industry (though I'm finding they like to think everything is unique to them ;-) .

Right now, I've got my technical lead and some industry folks generously reviewing the doc, and then it'll be off to the IP folks for consideration.

This is a project I particularly hope comes to fruition. Neat, rewarding, challenging stuff...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas 2006 shopping for gamers

OK, I'm getting this out late, but with Christmas falling on next Monday, you've still got this week and weekend to make the little gamer in your life happy. A lot of the things on this list are things I have or would want (*cough*).

And, yes, this is Christmas list. It's a holiday in this country. Deal with it.

CONSOLES:

PlayStation 3 ($500-$600) -- Good luck finding one, but Sony's behemoth has got hardware moxy -- and built in Blu-ray, if you want to spend $500-600 to get a game console and a Blu-ray player, rather than $1,000 for just a Blu-ray player. Realize, though, the PS3 Blue-ray is not going to be the same caliber of player as the $1,000 unit. And, there's a dearth of PS3 games (especially non-sucky ones), and all them are pretty much $60 a pop. But, you can play many PS2 titles on your PS3. I'd recommend the $600 SKU (what's an extra $100 at Christmas?).

Nintendo Wii ($250) -- Almost as hard to get as the PS3, but a bit better. Plus, it's got Nintendo innovation (in the form of the wireless "nunchuck" controller), a decent bevy of launch games, and a great back catalog (of Nintendo, Hudson, and Sega titles), largely via its Virtual Console ("VC") implementation. Also plays GameCube games. Check out my first impressions of the Wii here.

Xbox 360 ($300-$400) -- Here's a now-gen console you can actually buy (imagine!), and Microsoft has a great catalog of games, over 300 playable orginal Xbox titles, a proven, robust online service, and recently added movie and television purchase and downloads -- many in hi-def. Plus, you can get online even with the free version of the service, and download around 40 playable game demos, to whet your gaming whistle. Oh, and get the $400 "Pro" or "Premium" SKU -- don't waste your time with the $300 version Microsoft won't acknowledge was a bad idea.

Previous-Gen Consoles ($79-$149) -- You can save yourself a chunk of change on consoles and games by going with a last-gen system (Sony PS2, Nintendo GameCube, or Microsoft Xbox). Not only are the consoles cheaper, but most of the games run from $10 on up new (as opposed to $60 for now-gen titles), and there's a huge selection of cheap titles on the used market (GameStop/EB Games) as well. Check out used/refurbished consoles and used games from that chain for the biggest bang for the buck, and guaranteed product.

GAMES:

It's not the console or the brand that defines a winner, per se -- it's the content (which, I hear, is king). I'm going to focus on the Xbox titles, because I know those best.

Fighting ($10-$60) -- For the Xbox 360, go with Dead or Alive 4 -- especially if you're a Halo fan (unlocking a playable Xbox 360 Spartan is pretty wicked cool). But you can also get Soul Caliber II, a gorgeous original Xbox fighter, with Spawn as the Xbox-exclusive character. And, Soul Caliber II is now playable on the Xbox 360, too.

Shooter ($30-$70) -- Halo and Halo 2 are playable both on Xbox and the 360. I don't think you're allowed to own either Xbox without owning both games. Gears of War is the new Xbox 360 hotness, and is so incredibly well worth it it's not even funny. No, it's not perfection on a disc, but it's damn close. Both Halos and Gears have great online components. Also, BLACK is a loud, destructive, single-player guilty pleasure.

RPG ($20-$60) -- This is a diverse field. Keeping it simple, I recommend Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the Xbox 360 and Fable for Xbox (and playable on the 360) for the single player experience, and Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes on the original Xbox (one of the most fun, gorgeous and under-rated games on the big black 'box; with better water than Gears of War).

Actioner -- This is kind of vague, overlapish category, but my recommendations are Hunter:The Reckoning (original Xbox), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (playable on both), Ninja Gaiden/Black (playable on both), Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel without a Pulse (both), Max Payne/2 (both), and Chromehounds (360).

Comic Book -- Good stuff for comic fanboys here. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance has Xbox and 360 versions, and is arguably the best comic book game out there, with single player and online/offline multiplayer. X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse on the original Xbox are fantastic, and Ultimate Spider-Man (an Xbox game now playable on the 360) and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (ditto), are under-rated, fun romps. And there's some cool stuff on this front coming out in 2007 ...

Platformer -- Just original Xbox games, but both are playable on the Xbox 360: Psychonauts and Metal Arms: Glitch in the System. And Maybe Kameo: Elements of Power (Xbox 360). But I would play those first two, first.

Racing -- Project Gotham 3 (360), Project Gotham 2 (Xbox), or Forza Motorsport (Xbox, but playable on 360).

Sports -- Um, go outside and play them for real. But if you must play on a console, I'd recommend Fight Night: Round 3 on the Xbox 360 or PS3, or the Wii Sports title packaged with the Nintenod Wii (at least you're getting a workout with that one).

TELEVISIONS:

Honestly, I don't think I'd buy a TV right now. If this article is any indication, Hi-Def TVs are going to drop 40% in price in 2007 (and sooner than later). The article doesn't go into detail, but big reasons for the drops include Wal-Mart-instigated price wars (where they dropped ~$500 per HDTV), new technologies competing with LCD and Plasma, innovations in DLP technology, the availability of 1080p droping 720p- and 1080i-"only" displays, and the general availability of cheap consumer projectors.

PROJECTORS:

($200-$10,000) --Speaking of projectors, if you've got the space, projectors have become really affordable. Gaming at 107" in Gears of War or Dead Rising (at 1080i) is a sight to behold. You can get deals on SVGA projectors sometimes for as low as $400 (Fry's, Best Buy, Circuit City and CompUSA). I recommend at least an SVGA (800x600), that scales to more, and at least supports 720p, if not 1080i (I don't think 1080p on a projector is cost efficient yet). I'd also recommend at least 1000 lumesn for light output, a contrast ration of 2000:1 (on DLP proejctors), and flexibility to do standard (4:3) or widescreen (16:9) projection. ProjectorCentral.com does a far better job of comparing technologies and projectors than I can do here, so check that out.

An interesting option is Hasbro's Zoombox, an ultra-low end DVD/projector combo, that you can get on sale for under $200. It works OK at night or super controlled low-light rooms. Given the price, easy 8-foot throw for a 60" image, built-in speakers, RCA video/audio ports, and a DVD player, it's not a bad option. Given Wal-Mart's generous return policies, I'm demoing a unit now to see if it's usable or not. More later.

AUDIO:

Surround sound systems -- Seriously, if you're gaming without one, your missing out. Dead Rising has one of the best (and often missed) surround sound mixes out there, and if you're playing Halo without surround sound, you're missing out.

Like projectors, do your research, because there are a lot of options. I'm a fan of the Spherex Xbox 5.1 Surround Sound System (the one I use), because the omnipolar design is way less picky than other setups, the built-in amplifier rocks, the subwoofer thumbs decently and is robust enough to double as a second seat, and it has a ton of input and tuning options for its price. And you should hear BLACK on this thing ...

Headphones -- The set I wish I had is the Tritton Audio Xtreme 360 Headphones. These give you true 5.1 surround sound, and built-in Xbox Live microphone capability. These things list for $130, so I'm bummed I didn't take advantage of the accidental Fry's one-day sale of $70. Live and learn.

FURNITURE:

OK, I don't have these, but stuff from Pyramat is pretty nifty, and I'd like a couple. They've now got two wireless offerings -- the S2500w ($149.99) and the PM440w ($199.99). But get this: You can get these two items at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club (respectively) for the same price -- $130. Obviously, the PM440w is a better deal, but I sat in both, and the PM440w is markedly more comfy. Plus you can daisy chain up to 4 of these things. And they fold in half to make a nice ottoman. Which I also need. "Need".

GEAR/ACCESSORIES:

Wireless goodies ($40-$150) -- The Xbox 360 makes for a wireless world. At the least, you should have wireless controllers, but there's a bunch of other stuff you should get. Like the wireless Xbox Live headset ($50) (though beware, they're having issues with up to half the product. I haven't had any problems, and the thing is suh-weet). The wireless network adapter ($100) -- cut that Cat-5/6. Or the new, wireless, force feedback enabled racing wheel ($150) (with a specially enabled copy of PGR3).

But the biggest in this category is probably the reasonably priced Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver ($19.99), which lets you use your wireless controllers, headsets, and racing wheel -- on your PC. Snazzy, thought these things are hard to find.

Xbox Live Vision Camera ($40) -- Yeah, now you can video chat over live. Better? Take pict of your face and get it mapped to your guy in Rainbow Six: Vegas. And hopefully more inovation is coming. And I don't have this. Yet.

Xbox 360 HD DVD Player ($200) -- The Format Wars (HD DVD versus Blu-ray) are far from over, but Microsoft is backing HD DVD, and in smart way -- with an add-on for the Xbox 360. Thanks to a dashboard update, it supports 1080p, comes with an HD DVD version of Peter Jackson's King Kong, and a full media remote. I really want this. And if Blu-ray wins out later, you won't have to throw away your 360.

Quick Charge Kit ($30) -- This has become my favorite accessory. Keep charged batteries on hand at all times, and don't worry about flaky alkalines, rechargables, or that rediculously tempermental Play & Charge Kit. I have one, but could use another; I have 4 controllers.

Logitech Harmony Advanced Universal Remote for Xbox 360 ($130) -- This is number one on my "I-don't-have-it" accessory list. I have 6 separate remotes for my gaming setup. This programmable from the Web jobby works with all 6 of my components -- including my projector. Somebody buy this for me. Oh, and it's $130 with a $30 mail-in rebate, but you can find it at Circuit City and other places discounted to $100, because that stock has an expire coupon on it.

That's it for now. I'll add items if I think about them, but this'll give you a bunch to start on for the gaming addict in your circle or giftage.

Monday, December 18, 2006

XBox 360 Backwards Compatibility Update

I meant to post this a few days ago, but Microsoft has released an update to the list of original Xbox games playable on the Xbox 360 (shouldn't this be a "Forward Compatibility List"? Whatever).

It's quite a Christmas present for the "Emulation Ninjas" to release 37 additional titles (and one update) to the list, and many of them you can get new for $10-$20.

Here are my particular favorites from the new list:
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The original Xbox-exclusive title lacks multiplayer, but is far superior to the multiplatform sequel)
  • Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy
  • Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
  • Psychonauts (go buy this game! Buy it now!)
  • Soul Calibur 2 (Best. Fighting Game. Ever.)
  • Ultimate Spider-Man

This brings it up to more than 300 games, so what's still missing?

Um, TimeSplitters 2, which I would think would net them that title, AND TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, AND Second Sight. Oh, and Hunter: The Reckoning, and Hunter: the Reckoning -- Wayward. And both X-Men Legends games.

Here's the full list of recent updates, and you can get the complete list at XBox.com:

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Burnout 3: Takedown UPDATED
  • Conker: Live and Reloaded
  • Dead Or Alive Ultimate
  • Destroy All Humans!
  • Dynasty Warriors 4 / Shin Sangokumuso3
  • Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick
  • Ex Chaser (Japan Only)
  • Family Guy
  • Far Cry: Instincts
  • Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy
  • I-Ninja
  • Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude
  • Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
  • MotoGP
  • Incredibles/ Mr. Incredible (J)
  • Muzzle Flash (Japan Only)
  • MX Unleashed
  • Open Season
  • Pariah
  • Plus Plumb 2 (Japan Only)
  • Psychonauts
  • Psyvariar2 Extend Edition (Japan Only)
  • Rainbow Six: Lockdown
  • Rapala Pro Fishing
  • Rent-A-Hero No. 1
  • (Japan Only)
  • Scarface
  • Shark Tale
  • Shenmue II
  • Soul Calibur 2 North America only
  • Splinter Cell: Double Agent
  • Tenerezza (Japan Only)
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
  • Ultimate Spider-Man
  • Wakeboarding Unleashed: Featuring Sean Murray
  • Whacked!
  • Winback 2: Project Poseidon
  • Xiaolin Showdown

Friday, December 15, 2006

Gearbox to develop "Alien" FPS

Here's a follow-up to two these two posts:

SEGA has picked Gearbox to develop the FPS based on the ALIEN franchise.

The Gearbox folks earned their stripes successfully porting top-license games (like Halo and Half-Life), and is the creator of the amazing Brothers in Arms franchise.

I'm pretty excited to see what these top-tier folks can do with the license (and the bar's set pretty high, considering the critical and popular success of the Aliens vs. Predator games).

Here's the press release.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

New game companies in Austin

I'm pretty excited that Max Hoberman has returned to Austin to found a new game studio, Certain Affinity. Max was at Bungie for 10 years, and "was the multiplayer, user interface, and online lead for Halo 2 and Halo 3, responsible for maps, gameplay, and the entire online system, including features like the party system, matchmaking, and much more."

Given I'd argue Halo 2 has the best integrated online (outside of co-op) experience out there (on now-gen or last-gen systems), this is a big deal.

It looks like Certain Affinity has kept a good relationship with Bungie, and they'll actually be the ones creating the new multiplayer maps for Halo 2 announced as being released this spring.

And they'll be working on new Xbox 360 stuff, to be announced later.

On the rumor front, I've now heard from a number of places Electronic Arts is looking to open an Austin studio. A large Austin studio. That would be cool, and they'd certainly have access to a large pool of technical, managerial, and artistic folks.

And people like me, who are an amazingly freakish mix of all three.

Interesting, since EA bought -- then shuttered -- Origin in Austin.

Anyway, good for Austin ...

It's "Now-Gen" ...

OK, so now that the Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and Sony PlayStation 3 have all launched, let's dispense with the "next-gen" moniker.

I mean, Nintendo isn't even trying to be "next-gen", being all cutesy by throwing around "new-gen".

But given the systems are all here, and there's no "next" on the horizon, I'm going with "now-gen" to collectively describe the three new consoles, and I'll stick with "last-gen" for the previous generation's consoles (or equivalents, like "Big Black Behemoth" for the old Xbox, and "I think I lost it on my bookshelf" for the slimline PS2).

So, for the Xbox 360, Wii, and PS3, it's "Now-gen".

"Now-gen" and all variations (c) & tm & (R) 2006 Adam Creighton.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Easing of SEC rules helps game companies

I wasn't expecting this to happen this fast. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox had said Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) was too onerous, but I didn't think things would happen this fast.

The SEC just proposed a rules relaxation -- primarily of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley law.

This basically gives corporate managers of small companies flexibility in assessing the strength of their internal financial controls. Before, this was a time suck, sucked cycles from development and management resources that could be doing other stuff, and just generally sucked.

In addition, there were a bunch of publically traded game companies on notice for Section 404 -- so it's good to see the insanity relaxed. The SEC changes basically let small companies "to scale and tailor" their procedures for assessing their internal controls.

Bob Greifeld (prez and CEO of the Nasdaq Stock Market) said the revisions "will allow companies to focus on the most important aspects of internal controls and financial reporting, while removing unnecessary expense."

Of course, this doesn't help me at BigHugeCorp, but it will hopefully help small, publically traded game companies in that other vertical market I know and love.

Obsidian to develop "Aliens" RPG

That was quick.

Yesterday, among the recent game licensing activities, I called out the SEGA/20th Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising deal to bring the Aliens franchise to next-gen consoles, including an RPG treatment.

Today, SEGA announced Obsidian Entertainment (Neverwinter Nights 2; Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II) will develop the role-playing game.

Very cool, and let's hope as a RPG license treatment, it's more KotOR, and less Justice League Heroes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Game licensing deals of note ...

There are so many great unmined Intellectual Properties out there that could be leveraged for games.

My excitement about license treatments is tempered by the inarguable fact that most license treatments suck (Traveller's Tales, please reverse the curse of the Batman).

But for shortcomings like Aquaman, at least there are things like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance -- proving the rule doesn't have to be sucky license treatments.

I'm curious to see how Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment's Stargate Worlds turns out, and it's good that Funcom's Age of Conan has just been greenlighted for Xbox 360.

And now SEGA, who is producing some top-notch software lately, has announced they'll be giving the Fox Aliens franchise the silicon screen treatment. "[T]itles, including a first-person shooter and a role playing game, are currently in pre-production" -- though I'm a little bummed that (1) the first title won't be be released until 2009, and (2) the licensing doesn't include the Aliens versus Predator (or just Predator) licenses.

20th Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising has been busy, and I'm probably most excited about Joss Whedon's cult classic Firefly (canceled before its time) moving beyond the feature film and comic books into gaming. The Multiverse Network announced it's attained the rights to develop an MMO game based on Firefly, and is targeting a 2008 release, pending a developer being named.

Multiverse is a little different in that they create MMO middleware, which they then license to developers who use the technology to make games. Multiverse makes money off of revenue sharing with the developers. They've got about 15 games claiming development, and when I saw their stuff at the 2006 Austin Game Conference, I was impressed by how polished stuff built on the middleware can look.

No word yet on a Transformers MMO, unfortunately.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

BioWare's "Mass Effect" demo walkthrough

This week, BioWare made available a video walkthrough of the demo for Mass Effect they had at X06:

This game still looks (graphics, gameplay, fluidity) to be amazing, and I'm struck by how hard it must be to time the release of something like this video.

Arguably, the game was delayed from the end of this year to the first part of next year. And there's been nary a peep since X06.

But think about it.

First, Mass Effect shouldn't go up against Gears of War, because that would hurt both games.

Second, if your release date gets pushed out, you need to dribble out assets in a spaced-out manner (no pun intended) to keep interest up (Bungie does this for Halo to a maddening degree).

Third, if you're innovating in big ways in a game, or setting new bars in a genre, writing, dialog, interface, or mechanics, you don't want to show stuff too far in advance of your game's release, or someone may scalp what you did. Sure, it may be obvious to many that they took your idea, but if they're first to market, they get recognized for the feature first -- especially in the mass market.

So, check out the game, enjoy the walkthrough description. Gasp in amazement at the still-slick dialogue tree. Shake your head in pleasant puzzlement at the robustified yet simplified Star Wars Republic Commando / Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (esque) squad interface. Be dazzled by the customization options for your weapons and buildout, for you and your squadmates.

Good stuff, and I'm even more stoked for this game next year.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Halo 3 trailer

TeamXbox.com has the hi-def version of the Halo 3 teaser that played during this week's Monday night football.

It's live action and CGI, so don't get excited that this is what the game is going to look like.

But it is a cool presentation of the Halo mythos, humanizes our favorite cyborg, and introduces some new Covenant baddies.

Check out this pict -- it's like Master Chief landing in the middle of a scene from Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings; coincidental, considering Jackson's recent deal with Microsoft?

Still picture from Monday Night Football Halo 3 teaser advertisement
I so hope the forcefield grenade is in Halo 3 multiplayer.

And you'll notice if you download the clip from Xbox Live Marketplace, it's labeled something like "Halo 3 1st football ad".

"First" football ad?

Nice.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I've got Wii on my hands!

Seriously, did Nintendo not realize the outflow of naming their unit a "Wii" would be the stick to beat for bloggers everywhere?

(OK, that line is comedy gold, kids.)

Anyway, regular reader and new Xbox 360 convert Headcrab brought his Nintendo Wii into the office this week, and with 3 extra remotes (yeah, he's an addict, too), we had a four-way Wii-fest.

Tennis, that is. A la the Wii Sports pack-in title. There was also some boxing.

I gotta say, the Wii is a pretty compelling little console. Seeing it in person (and it's immensely portable), made me realize it's small, slick, easy to set up, the avatar function is really cool (I jope a ton of games and chatting utilize it), and the sensor bar is much smaller than I thought it would be.

It still won't work with my projector set up, but I'm hearing some people are in my same boat, and working on workarounds. Should be a no brainer, since the motion sensing is relative (not absolute), and only has infrared LEDs (and sends no signal between the Wii and the bar). And, at least according to IGN.com:

If you'd rather not make due with a homemade solution, though, you won't have to wait long for something more official. Now that the cat is out of the bag, third party hardware makers will soon have what for many is the sensor bar equivalent of the holy grail: a wireless, battery-powered device that emits larger IR fields than Nintendo's bar.

The "larger IR fields" is important, because currently the range gets dodgy after 9 feet -- way to short of a distance. But Nintendo needs to step up and pack-in their own wireless sensor bar. I don't need to pay $250 for a secondary console, and not have 100% of it usable.

I'm not rushing out to get a Wii, but I've gone from mildly interested (and grateful for Nintendo's innovative boldness) to mildly considerate.

But that depends on the Wii-exclusive games in the next few months. Right now, Zelda is the only interesting title for me, with Wii Sports being a good diversion. And I need to see more traction on the Virtual Console front. And that classic controller needs to be wireless. I am so done with wires.

And Nintendo should be acknowledged for releasing a portable console that's so family accessible. One guy told me he took it while traveling for Thanksgiving, and had a "somewhat unsettling" boxing match with his mom. That'd be a poster video for the new console.

(Oh, and I'm not going to apologize for any Wii puns; they're all on Nintendo's head, as far as I'm concerned.)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

Join the Shadowrun beta!

TeamXbox.com just posted the press release for beta signup for the Microsoft Game Studios /FASA Studio "Live Anywhere" title, Shadowrun.

The beta will "begin early to mid December 2006 and run through March 2007", and they're currently gathering "potential participants" to participate in the beta.
  • Either an Xbox 360 with a hard drive or a high end PC running Windows Vista. We will be publishing the minimum spec for the PC shortly [initial participation is just on the Xbox 360].
  • An Xbox Live Gold account.
  • Broadband access.
  • Enough time to play from home on a regular basis.
  • A willingness to communicate on the beta forums.
  • [To finish your application you need to Join the Forums -- this isn't very obvious during the sign up process.]
Encouragingly, they do say, "If you’re not selected into the initial group of beta participants, don’t lose heart. We expect to be accepting new participants periodically throughout the beta cycle, so watch your email."

Here's the full list of instructions:
  1. Visit our Web site at http://connect.microsoft.com.
  2. Click on "Invitations" on the left-side menu.
  3. You will need to sign in using a valid Windows Live ID before you can continue to the "Invitations" page. (If you have already registered for the Connect site, skip to Step 5.)
  4. Please read and accept the Terms of Use Agreement then follow the instructions to register for the Connect site.
  5. Enter your Invitation ID in the blank field. Your invitation ID is: SHBS-6YMT-YKHC
  6. Click "Go."
  7. Complete and submit the short questionnaire. Please enter 105 for the beta code when asked at the beginning of the questionnaire.
  8. If you are not redirected immediately to the “Shadowrun” Beta Selection homepage after completing the questionnaire, click the My Participations link on the left hand navigation bar then click the “Shadowrun” program link. This will redirect you to the “Shadowrun” Beta Selection Homepage.
  9. Once you are on the “Shadowrun” Beta Selection Homepage, you will need to complete the rest of the registration process by signing up for the forums by clicking the Join the Forums button then click the Welcome to the Official “Shadowrun” Community Forum Sign In button.
  10. Wait patiently for us to contact you with further instructions. Check back at http://connect.microsoft.com for further beta announcements.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Beware the bundle: Part 2

I've written before about being cautious when you buy video game console bundles, but I saw one that was so deceitful I needed to post about it.

Don't buy bundles at Tweeter.com. They're advertising things like this bundle, advertised as:

Original Price: $699.99
You Save: -$150.00
You Pay: $549.99
The bundle comes with an Xbox 360 Premium console ($399.99), an extra wireless controller ($49.99), a Play and Charge kit ($19.99), and the Project Gotham Racing 3 game ($29.99).

This puts the grand total if bought separately at $499.96 -- Fifty dollars under the "sale" price, and two hundred dollars under the "original price".

Oh, and their circular for Day After Thanksgiving shopping added a $40 Xbox 360 Sling Bag -- and tacked fifty bucks more to the bundle price.


Bad Xbox 360 deal advertised at Tweeters.com

UPDATE: Here's the response from Tweeter.com's customer service department:

Thank you for contacting Customer Support at www.tweeter.com.

We make every effort to keep abreast the latest pricing trends and we offer unique promotions that add value to your order. We apologize if our pricing does not meet your criteria.

Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you, and thank you again for contacting Customer Support at www.tweeter.com.

Now if you want a good bundle, look at Wal-Mart.com.

They've got things like a bundle for $449.65, which would cost $529.96 if purchase separately, and includes the Xbox 360 Premium SKU ($399.99), extra wireless controller ($49.99), Burnout Revenge game ($29.99), and an Xbox 360 messenger bag ($49.99). But realize that's a good deal just if you want the free messenger bag, since (at least right now), you can get a $50 Wal-Mart gift card when you buy an Xbox 360 Premium SKU in stores, and the Premium SKU with a Burnout Revenge pack-in qualifies.

Less of a good deal is their $569.29 "Customer's Choice Bundle", which has the console, an extra wireless controller, a faceplate, and your choice of two games (in addition to the Burnout Revenge pack-in). You only save $20 over buying those things separately, so you might as well buy the Premium console with the Burnout Revenge pack-in, and get the $50 gift card, and go nuts. And, faceplates? I mean, really ...

Other bundles and options are out there, so check your Sunday circular. A few places are giving you a free game of your choice (excluding Limited Editions) with the Premium SKU, bundling a couple of games and knocking off $50, etc.

And you're welcome ...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

$50 off Xbox 360s at Wal-Mart

UPDATED: Yeah, this is a national thing.

At some Tennessee Wal-Marts at least, they're offering $50 gift cards if you buy an Xbox 360 premium SKU.

Since Wal-Mart's a national chain, I suspect this is a national deal.

I mean, you're going to need to buy a game, extra controller, or something.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The economy and its effects on gaming ...

Or, "It's the economy, stupid!"

This thing I do is me being an "armchair video game analyst". I don't pretend to be formally schooled in market or economic assessment, but I am fairly critical and adept at pulling together the bigger picture of vertical markets, opportunites, and challenges. And I've had some great training.

And I do this because I like this vertical market, and I think it's important to pop culture, entertainment, and the world economy.

I've been irrated for a while that games industry analysts sometimes seem to be tunnel visioned on the game market, and miss contributing factors like domestic and world economy impacts, and more irritated that the "really good analysts" are, by my reckoning, right a little over 50% of the time. And they get paid to do what I do for free.

So, I'm thinking there needs to be more focus on other factors contributing to video game sales and market growth (positive and negative), and in particular, recursive economic factors.

Another pet peeve: I noticed this year has seen a lot of "video games analysts" for financial groups popping out of the woodwork. To be frank, many of them suck.

And while "I don't pretend to be formally schooled in market or economic assessment", I am responsible for economic stuff on a worldwide scale, and by nature of how I leverage my job with BigHugeCorp, I have huge insight into the domestic and world economy and consumer spend, and have written internal whitepapers as to the affect of and opportunity for gaming.

So, as an example, let's talk about Jason Kraft and Chris Kwak of the Susquehanna Financial Group. I don't know if they really suck, but I'm not crazy about their recent negative assessment of the Xbox 360's "alarmingly high" attach rate (the humber of games on average each console owner owns).

Kraft and Kwak argue that the Xbox 360's attach rate of 5 games per console (as opposed to its predecessor's 4) "is a sign of an increasingly unhealthy console growth rate, and should be worrisome to publishers and investors."

They say the Xbox 360s were likely purchased by "hard-core" gamers who purchase a disproportionate number of games. If the hardware installed base stayed unchanged for the next 18 months, the software attach rate would still to climb. They argue this would provide a false perception of a "healthy consumer trend", while "its growth will be capped fairly quickly without an ever-expanding hardware installed base."

They say in conclusion, "If the Xbox 360 sports an attach rate of ten by holiday 2007, it will probably be because it has failed to gather critical momentum. What does it benefit publishers and investors if ten games are being purchased by a total audience of 10 million 360 owners? It doesn’t take effort to see that a console with an attach rate of 8 and an installed base of 50 million is superior to a console with an attach rate of 12 with an installed base of 20 mln."

This is such a weak premise and argument, I'm embarrassed. You think the Xbox 360 install base is really going to stay static for 18 months, let alone this holiday season? I have been in so many retail outlets in so many states the last few days observing console sales, and I see one thing -- people buying more consoles than I have ever seen. And they're buying Xbox 360s, because they can't get the Nintendo Wii or ill-planned shipments of PS3s. I was at one GameStop alone the Saturday after the PS3 launch, and there were 6 people in line with Xbox 360 premium SKUs, which I have never seen at that GameStop (and I spend too much time there). Sure, this isn't a representative sampling, but multiply that by 3 states and 5 different retail chains (including a 6x sampling of Wal-Mart), and this trend may mean something. Add to this Microsoft's stated goal to ship 10 million units through this holiday, and Sony and Nintendo helping those units sell by their own short supply (and by bricking consoles with faulty auto updates, a la the Wii), and the above assessment seems even more faulty.

I honestly feel Kraft and Kwak are trying to create a video games forecast unique to them, and I don't think it holds much merit. And, guys? The reason a high attach rate is "normally seen as a healthy thing", is because it normally is a healthy thing.

Along those lines, let me beat up on the December issue of Game Informer Magazine, a publication I really like, but which includes a couple of unfortunate assessments of its own in the recent issue.

First, the new Pro/Con item that's been implemented in the mag has had a rough start, and this month's topic ("Does the Xbox 360 Lead Matter?") Con is weak, and looks to be all about trying to get to clever closing metaphorical statement. And it hinges on Microsoft not being in the 10 million unit range. See above.

The second problemmatic item in the magazine is "The Calm Before the Storm: Is the Xbox 360 Slumping?"

Which showcases how print mag lead times really take their content out of the applicability running against an online world. For example, it admits its contention may be moot in the face of holiday numbers and Gears of War -- both of which happened (or at least started) before the magazine shipped.

But here's the bigger issue that these three analyses (and many others) aren't addressing: Things like applicable domestic and world economic issues.

Ignore the shortages for Nintendo and Sony product. Focus on the price ($250 and $500/$600, respectively).

Then focus on factors that affect consumer spend. Like gas prices. Did you know consumer spend significantly decreases nine to eleven months after gas prices start to become "burdensome"? Did you know gas prices started to become "burdensome" in February, which would make their Consumer Spend impact hit October through December?

Did you know another indicator of Consumer Spend is the speculative housing market, which started to see a decline in August through October of this year in such over-priced markets as San Jose, Stockton, etc.?

And look at the console pricing in the context of tighter holiday dollars, and what it does for consumer spending choice.

Nintendo made an arguably smart choice in setting the Wii console at $250, because they are the only manufacturers allegedly making money on their next-gen offering. However, the downside is they have probably priced themselves $50 over being the "Mii-too" console -- Where Xbox 360 owners are less likely to purchase a Wii. This may be by design, but it could cause 360 owners to spend $50 less on the newly released Xbox 360 HD DVD drive, rather than a Wii.

Of course, Nintendo could end up OK in overall revenue if consumers wanting to save $50-$120 buy different Nintendo product -- like a DS Lite. Sony may likewise end up with some lift from their PSP, but those things aren't moving as well, and nobody's figured out the self-cannibalization maket like Nintendo.

Which is all to say there are bigger factors affecting holiday and general gaming spend than I've seen out there.

I actually wanted to do a much longer and move coherent treatment of the recursive domestic and world economic impacts on the gaming economy, but I've been wanting to do it since July, and I just needed to get something out.

Why am I making excuses? I seriously doubt many will read down this far.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Xbox Live Video Marketplace

UPDATE: Sounds like it was a rough launch, but the kinks are getting worked out. It may be a good thing I'm in the boondocks for the holidays and missing the early adoption. Read the comments on majornelson.com -- interesting stuff from a bunch of folks who I'm guessing don't know know large-scale service deployments (I do, so I'm all about grace on this one).

The Xbox Live Video Marketplace has launched, with a decent bevy of content, and acceptible pricing.

Prices range from $2-6, and though I would prefer to see some of the older half hour standatd definition TV shows for a buck, this pricing still seems reasonable.

Purchased content is owned into perpetuity, and if you buy the hi-def version, you get the standard def version for free (which is nice).

Microsoft is implementing there version of DRM for rentals, which makes me nervous, but maybe they'll get it right this time (as opposed to the Windows Media Player 11 beta).

More info at Gamasutra.com:

http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index_plain.php?story=11817

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More Wii, PS3 press ugliness

OK, the Time Magazine article was just the tip of the iceberg. The New York Times has a much more scathing PS3 review (free registration required).

I've also heard Sony is going to "push" 200,000 additional PS3 units out between now and Christmas; which makes me really nervous on the quality control front.

Not that Nintendo's Wii is all grins and giggles, either. While the majority of functional reviews have been positive, Slashdot is running an article about the WiiConnect update rendering Wii's inoperable -- and needing to be replaced by Nintendo. The short version is make sure you run your startup disc, first.

And there are some stories about the Wii's motion controller tether strap not being made for grown-up strength -- breaking and sending controllers hurtling through expensive televisions ...

All launches have their detractors, so the next few weeks -- especially this weekend -- are going to be telling.

Sequels for "Gears of War", "Blue Dragon", and "DOA"

There's been some exciting news on the sequel front for Xbox 360 gamers over the last few days.

Dead or Alive 5:

First, Tecmo's "Team Ninja" head and Dead or Alive fighting game creator Tomonobu Itagaki said work is underway for Dead or Alive 5 (DOA5):

"I've already started writing the basics for DOA5. I cannot talk about it but the opening scene has already been determined in my head."

Please please please don't make Dead or Alive Extreme 2's jiggle physics part of the next entry.

Blue Dragon Sequel:

Then, Mistwalker game studio president Hironobu Sakaguchi said work is already underway for a Blue Dragon sequel. That game isn't scheduled to release in Japan until next month and in the U.S. in "2007". This (along with Lost Odyssey) is one of the most anticipated games in the Japanese market, and Blue Dragon is credited with selling roughly 100,000 Xbox 360s in Japan by itself (which is good, because while the U.S. sees about 50,000 Xbox 360s sold per week, Xbox Japan's busiest week of the Tokyo Game Show saw 997 consoles moving; no, not 997 thousand, just 997). As an aside, Blue Dragon will be the first multi-game-disc title, with three discs and between 40 and 50 hours of gameplay (which includes the side quests). Huh, looks like there is a contender for games on the HD DVD format.

Gears of War Trilogy:

But the biggest news is Microsoft/Epic Games newly released franchise, Gears of War, looks to have two sequels planned. Despite game designer CliffyB standing firm that a good way to tank a series is to aim for a trilogy out of the gate, Microsoft's Corporate VP of Global Marketing for their Interactive Entertainment Business unit seems to have confirmed the franchise is planned as a trilogy.

In an interview with GameDaily, and talking about the "Mad World" TV add for Gears, Jeff Bell said,
"The goal of this ad is to establish Marcus Fenix as the hero of the Gears of War trilogy."
That's not a surprise (hey, there are even action figures in the works), but I'm struck by how the timing is really smart portfolio management on Microsoft's part.

Halo 3 will ship next year, and finish that trilogy (and the freaking unfinished Halo 2 game), and Microsoft (publishing both series) is overlapping the last of one trilogy with the first of another. Plus, the Halo universe will then spin off into other games (the Halo Wars RTS and Peter Jackson's "thing" -- probably an MMOish entry), and other license-ables (comic books starting in January, and I'm still waiting for "Master Chief CrappaGrenade" breakfast cereal).

Smart move, M$. Smart move. And a great game, to boot.

Monday, November 20, 2006

PlayStation 3, Wii and the Xbox 360

Last week saw the launch of Sony's PS3, and yesterday, Nintendo launched their Wii console.

The PS3 is definitely sold out, and the Wii seems to be mostly sold out as well.

Yesterday's Sunday ads, unlike last week, were dominated by Nintendo, sometimes squeezing out Microsoft altogether. Sony wasn't to be found at all, which makes sense given the lack of new consoles, but is a killer on the mass market front.

I'm one of those shoppers that tends to look at the negative reviews from consumers, to see if they're griping about things I can't live with.

PS3:

More than consumers, Lev Grossman over at Time Magazine is running an article saying "Sony's Playstation 3 is Not Worth the Hype". Ouch.

  • "The Playstation 3 goes on sale in the U.S. today, but I wouldn't recommend buying one, not even for the regular price ..."
  • "... the PS3 simply doesn't deliver it."
  • "And Sony's launch line-up just isn't that interesting." (Not sure how valid this is, because the Xbox 360 launch was weak sauce; the difference this year is the titles on the PS3 are also on the Wii)
  • "Playstation 3 doesn't have a battle-tested, feature-rich online service the way the Xbox does."

He does say things may get better, and, "Next holiday season, it just might be worth it", but his conclusion is harsh:

"... unless you spent last night camped out in front of a Gamestop, buying a Playstation3 is not an option. Congratulations: you made the right call. And you smell better for it, too."

Wii:

I'm frustrated that I can't find the links, but there were a few postings over the weekend about the Wii that matter to me -- mainly, things about their motion sensing implementation, and their choice to be "New Gen" rather than "Next Gen".

By eschewing hi-definition (as opposed to Sony and Microsoft), it sounds like Nintendo may have missed some basic usability options. For example, evidently the console doesn't adjust its output for the display (like at least the Xbox 360 does, and I'm assuming the PS3 does as well), stretching (in particular) virtual console games when played on a widescreen display, making you adjust the display.

And I can't find anything about the Wii implementation with a projector screen. I don't like the whole physical sensor bar thing, anyway, but it doesn't make sense in a projection setup, where the consoles, A/V switch, and projector are at the back of the room, but the sensor bar has to be up front. Have they included 20-plus feet of cabling with the Wii? More, at least one reviewer who was taking video of his setup and play experience mentioned he had to offset his camera "because it messed with the Wii's sensor bar." What, I've got to keep the space between me and the sensor bar totally clear? Other electronics in the room will screw with the setup? I don't think so.

Of course, all of this is speculative at best -- I need to have some sit-downs with some Wii owners and see what's really up.

I'll look for these links, and post updates if I find them.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

"Gears of War" tops Xbox Live

I saw on Major Nelson's weekly Xbox Live activity posting that Gears of War is tops on Xbox Live.

This is huge, because it marks the first time in a long time (maybe since the launch of the Xbox 360, and possibly even since shortly after the launch of Halo 2), that that title hasn't been tops on Xbox Live.

Friday, November 17, 2006

PlayStation 3 launch happenings and ugliness

Last night was a big night for gamers, with the launch of Sony's third console, and their entry into the next-gen war.

The kickoff at the Metreon in San Francisco sounds pretty cheesy, but at least it had glitz. And other kickoffs went well.

Like last year's Xbox 360 launch, there was theft ugliness going on. Seriously, if these consoles go online, these crooks are screwed. Can't wait.

Here are links to a few of the launch articles. I'll post more when official numbers come in.

Oh, and the story about a "PlayStation 3 shopper shot outside Wal-Mart" on CNN is irresponsible. The crooks were trying to mug people for cash, and the PS3 line was an opportunity.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Halo 3 open beta and new Halo 2 content this spring

(Crap -- I posted this at 6 a.m., but for whatever reason it didn't show on my blog site, so I'm now reposting.)

Xbox 360 gamers will be able to participate in an open (public!) beta of the Halo 3 multiplayer action this spring:

'REDMOND, Wash. — Nov. 15, 2006 — On the fifth anniversary of the release of the landmark Xbox video game “Halo,” Microsoft Game Studios and Bungie Studios today celebrated the milestone by announcing an exclusive hands-on experience with “Halo 3,” one of the industry’s most anticipated sequels. The Xbox Live multiplayer public beta, which is a pre-release version of the multiplayer experience of “Halo 3,” is scheduled for availability in spring 2007 exclusively on the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system.'

And this spring will also see new multiplayer content for Halo 2:
'In addition, gamers who have jumped in to Xbox 360 will be able to join legions of Xbox fans next spring in all-new multiplayer maps for “Halo 2” available for download through Xbox Live Marketplace. The exclusive “Halo 2” content will bring new experiences and excitement to the seminal sequel that made entertainment retail history in its first 24 hours — with $125 million in sales — and that boasts more than four billion online matches since its release in November 2004.'
And as far as whetting the mass appetite, there'll be a 60-second teaser for Halo 3 as part of ESPN's Monday Night Football:
'In addition, Microsoft and Bungie confirmed today that consumers will be able to experience the “Halo” universe this holiday season through a one-time airing of a stirring, 60-second “Halo 3” teaser ad.'
Those are big announcements. And the combination of them probably also more points to a November release for Halo 3.

More info over at TeamXbox.com.

Yes, they're timing this announcement intentionally before tomorrow's Sony PS3 launch ...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Want $100 off an Xbox 360?

This is interesting -- over at GameSpot.com, they're running an article about $100 rebates on Xbox 360s (both SKUs) purchased from small retailers Micro Center between Nov. 12 and December 3.

You can download the rebates here. They don't seem to be selling the consoles online.

Also, check out their store locator to see if there's a store close to you:

Xbox 360 vs Sony PS3 vs Nintendo Wii

Since Sony launches their Playstation 3 and Nintendo launches their Wii (*snicker*) this week, tech and game sites have started releasing head-to-head comparisons of those two consolese, and a couple of sites have gone back and updated their Xbox 360 reviews to reference things like the 2nd generation of games (like Gears of War), and the release of the HD DVD peripheral.

Interestingly, some of the sites aren't doing a good job of comparing the separate PS3 and Xbox 360 SKUs, and some aren't taking into account the recent Xbox 360 dashboard, or even the downloadable movies and TVs that will be available for that console starting next week. In addition, a lot of the reviews don't have details on the PS3's online capabilities -- which will need to be put through its paces post launch.

Anyway, here are a few of the comparison articles so far:

Sony PS3 has PS2 backwards compatibility problems

According to IGN.com, the PS3 has approximately 200 of its PS2 games that won't play without issues on the PS3, with problems ranging from "from simple sound issues to more dramatic freezing issues."

Sony's response (via IGN.com)?
"Sony's PR department pointed out that it, from the start, expected backwards compatibility to be less than 100%. It was also good enough to point out that some people can put up with playing games that lack sound."
IGN.com rightly calls this an "arrogant response", but also rightly points out this will likely be fixed in a future update (a firmware update will already be required when you first get your PS3 online).

Because of the size of the PSOne/PS2 library, 200 deficient titles likely means Sony will still have far more previous gen titles to play than Microsoft does for the Xbox 360. However, Sony touted full backwards compatibility as a differentiator between it and Microsoft, and Microsoft's is arguably fan service (thank you, Emulation Ninjas!). I'd be curious as to what the percentage of titles per console life cycle turns out to be. I expect Sony to still be higher, but the gap to be smaller.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sony PS3 and Nintendo Wii pre-order updates

It's only a few days to the Sony PS3 launch, and under a week until Nintendo's Wii formally hits street, so here are a couple of updates on the pre-order front.

On the PS3 front, things aren't looking good at GameStop (who also owns EB Games). Preorders for the PlayStation 3 required $100 in advance downpayment, with around eight units per store expected for most stores. GameSpot.com says a GameStop (are you following?) rep said:
"We are beginning to notify our customers that our initial shipment of PS3 systems will not be what we expected. As this is not an ideal situation, we are asking employees to wait to purchase systems until the second shipment. We are anticipating having systems to cover reservations before Christmas."
If you preordered but don't get a PS3 on launch day, GameStop will give you a free used game or DVD (valued at $19.99 or less) -- whenever you actually purchase the system. Oh, and if you preordered, get your box before Saturday evening, or you may lose it.

On a less crappy note, Toys "R" Us says they will receive enough units to cover pre-sales of PS3s -- but no walk-in purchases.

On the Nintendo Wii front, the same Toys "R" Us representative said all of the company's stores will have some number of additional Wii consoles to sell to people who didn't preorder. Good news, but I really don't expect Wii supply to be an issue.

Countdown to the new consoles

Stateside, the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii next-gen consoles lunch this week -- so how does the landscape look?

Sony launches this Thursday (November 17), and Nintendo's picked an odd Sunday release (November 19).

A brief survey of reatailers and national Sunday newspaper advertisements shows some interesting stuff.

First off, Nintendo's Wii Sunday date may have caused issues for promotions. Some of the big guns don't even have a Wii presence in yesterday's ads, perhaps planning to wait for mid-week adverts (but with far lower circulation) or next Sunday's promotions (which may be too late).

Also, consider the entrenched competition. Microsoft's Xbox 360 has around 6 million units deployed, compared to Nintendo's 4 million unit projection and Sony's sub-million units (which to be fair, is the same as last year's Xbox 360 rollout, due to unforseen shortages and deployment issues).

As far as the big retail video game hardware movers, Sony has the biggest showing, with 3, 2, and 1 pages in the Best Buy, Circuit City, and Hastings Sunday adds (including covers). They also have a small showing in Target and Wal-Mart (who often doesn't do a Sunday showing at all). Oddly, they have no showing at Toys "r" us.

Nintendo, on the other hand, has a strong showing at Toys "r" us, and a decent presence in the Wal-Mart add. Strikingly, they don't show up at all in circulars from Best Buy, Circuit City, Target, or Hastings (though for Hastings, the Xbox 360 wasn't included, either).

Microsoft's not resting on its entrenched laurels, either. Starting on November 22 (and announced last week), you'll be able to download movies and TV episodes on your Xbox 360 (Sony says they'll do something similar). Last week, Microsoft shipped the Xbox 360 HD DVD peripheral, which has a strong showing so far in adverts and on the street. This further cements the Xbox 360 as an alternative to the PS3 and its Blu-ray hi-definition video functionality -- but with a much larger stable of games, and a proven games library. Microsoft also has the front page for Target, and their Toys "r" us promotional bundle includes Viva Pinata and Cars, making the package an attractive kiddie alternative to the Wii.

And don't miss this subtle bit of channel obfuscation genius from Microsoft -- the ZUNE. Their answer to Apple's video iPod, the $250 audio/video player will launch Tuesday (November 14th) and will cut into Apple's iPod and Sony's PSP markets in particular, but also takes consumer dollars away that could be spent on the PS3 and/or Wii. Don't tell me this is coincidental.

I do think Microsoft missed an opportunity this Sunday to hype the hell out of Gears of War again. The title is arguably a console seller, so they could have taken some steam out of competitor's launches this week by refreshing that marketing (hype for "Emergence Day" was tepid at best).

OK, so I've summed up the Sunday ads for you slackers -- so what?

Here's what -- Microsoft is going to have a good holiday, and I think Nintendo wiill, too. Sony's going to have a rough go of it.

Though Sony spent the marketing dollars for the launch, their presales are oversold and they'll likely run out of product; time will tell if this demand vibe will make it the "must-have" Christmas gadget into and beyond the holiday (it worked for the 360 last year). Nintendo will do fine, and may have the best balance of demand/supply of the 3. Microsoft, though labeled by detractors as "last year's tech", is still next-gen, and has a more robust (and proven, and expanding) product and service base, and though I don't expect supply to be a problem, I think they'll sell through handsomely this season.

To see how the PS3 launch went in Japan, check out this GameSpot article.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Emergence Day" content

Today is "Emergence Day", the all-day event, uh, geared towards Epic Games' / Microsoft Game Studios' newest flagship title, Gears of War.

Besides Gears-specific content on Xbox Live Marketplace (like raw game play footage and a message from game designer CliffyB), there are limited availablity items, like a "I played on Emergence Day" Gamer pict and dashboard theme).

There are also lots of contest going on today if you play online -- win a ton of free Marketplace points, a surround sound system, or a guitar.

Plus, you can "Game with Fame" today with the likes of CliffyB and metal rockers Megadeth.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Game Informer November issue rocks!

OK, this is going to make me sound like such a shill, but I am not associated with them, nor do I get anything from this. Besides, none of the individual editors I've mailed have ever responded, so there's that.

But November's issue of Game Informer Magazine has got more than the usual amount of goodness.

Sure, it's got Internet-dated "secret Wii details" and TGS follow-up info.

But it also has the following:
  • A pithy piece on the PS3 launch challenges
  • A feature on "The Top 10 Cult Classics of the 21st Century (which I mostly agree with, but I probably would swap Namco's Breakdown for Amplitude)
  • A piece on XNA Studio Express (which reminded me to get my butt in gear on that front)
  • A decent "Anatomy of a Game, with a mini-deconstruction of Gears of War by CliffyB (and a nice magazine layout)
  • Interviews with Charlie Wen (one of the artists on God of War II) and Kelly Flock (EVP of prolific and diverse games publisher THQ
  • A great blowout of Dark Sector (arguably the first revealed of the next-gen games, and looking waaaay different than back then)
  • A nice (for me) retrospective of Black Isle Studios

I've mentioned this before, but you can get a subscription to Game Informer Magazine by paying to get a GameStop card, which also gets you discounts and trade-in bonuses.

The card is also know as "duh-for-gamers".

Friday, November 10, 2006

Xbox 360 HD DVD drive hits the street

Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on available at Fry's Electronics.
Microsoft's Xbox Xbo x360 HD DVD peripheral has just hit the street, and at least my local Fry's Electronics has it well-stocked.

I didn't pick one up yet (I'm projecting onto a textured wall while I remodel an office, so the hi-def is kind of lost on me until I mount my screen), but I did check out the product.

The box is hefty -- I feel like the thing weighs as much as my console.

Besides the advertised include hi-def version of Peter Jackson's King Kong, the drive comes with the full Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote -- not that half-assed limited pack-in that came with the launch versions of the premium package (No channel numbers? No mute? No volume? No thanks.). Of course, people who paid $30 to get that remote may be a bit irritated that it comes with the drive.

More interesting to me are apparent features not being advertised as part of the peripheral.

For example, you connect the drive to your console via USB, into what looks like a USB mini connection. In addition to that connection, there are two additional USB ports on the drive. Also, there's a dock for the Xbox 360 wireless adapter, which is USB, and an ethernet port.

Check out this screen shot from the Microsoft product page.

I wonder if more is going to be done with this drive, later ...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Circuit City Gears of War "street date change"

I don't know how prevalent this problem is, but it's at least with the Austin area Circuit City stores.

I waited until today to buy one of my more anticipated games for the Xbox 360, Gears of War from Circuit City, even though the game's been available since Tuesday midnight (Monday night).

Why?

Because they weren't getting it until Wednesday at 5 p.m., and I have 15% coupon, and they were giving away Gears faceplates. I'm weak.

So I get there today, having not bought it for 2 days, and they haven't received it yet. I'd been told they had it, but weren't releasing it until Wednesday at 5 p.m. Turns out they don't have it, period.

But what has me fired up is they have signs posting the game is delayed "due to change in the game's street date" -- which is categorically untrue. And at least one Circuit City manager to whom I spoke knows this.

So your product is late - so what? Say so (it's happening to some GameStop/EB Games stores).

But don't freaking lie about it, putting the blame on Microsoft/Epic Games as "changing the street date".

So I left and bought it at Best Buy. Yeah, I could wait a day and save $10 and/or get a faceplate, but I don't want to support the lack of business integrity evidenced by the displays in Circuit City stores.

Y'know, a one-time manager asked me if I was "willing to incur personal expense to 'do the right thing'?" -- Yes. Absolutely.

Yes, this is smaller than that, but integrity is still integrity, right?

UPDATED: Sadly, some would challenge me on the above post, so I've attached the pict of the sign Austin area Circuit City stores had posted on the Gears of War stand ups. I've highlighted the offending line for ease of reading.

Circuit City incorrectly says Gears of War delay is due to change in street date.

Xbox 360 HD DVD Player musings

TeamXbox.com has a piece on why the HD DVD peripheral is the "real Xbox 360 Killing Application".

First, I think they meant "killer application", as opposed to "application that will be killing your Xbox 360". Really bad headline.

Though that is a concern of mine. This nugget from Microsoft software engineer Shaheen Gandhi, gave me pause:

"All 6 of Xbox 360's hardware threads are hard at work while playing back an HD DVD. At the moment, the player software pushes Xbox 360 harder than any other (save, perhaps, Gears of War during some particularly busy parts of the game)."
I'm a bit nervous about this. Why? Because it's been marathon gaming sessions that have, on occasion, killed my Xbox 360. Sometimes for a day or two.

So is this Xbox 360 Killing Application, utilizing "100% of the hardware resources, all the time" going to kill my Xbox, during the all-engrossing ice skating scene in Peter Jackson's King Kong? Say it isn't so!

That said, one thing I am curious about is whether the HD DVD peripheral can play games. If so, and if it's quieter, that would rock. It's the DVD drive that's freaking loud on the console, and if I could quiet that down while playing Gears of War, how great would that be?

Of course, that also depends on the seek speed (and seek optimization) of the HD DVD drive versus the built in DVD. That would be a version of the PS3 Blu-ray seek problem (but they get to count on a hard drive being there ... freaking Core SKU decision ...).

We shall see ...

Monday, November 06, 2006

"Download-to-own" TV and Movies on your Xbox

Wow, talk about the War for the Living Room heating up (I think somebody's already used "Begun, the War for the Living Room has"; if not, dibs).

Microsoft just announced a new service will be launching on November 22 for Xbox Live Silver and Gold members, with 1,000 hours (200 in HD) available by year end.

From the press release:
"Beginning Nov. 22, on its first anniversary, Xbox 360 will be the first gaming console in history to provide high-definition TV shows and movies directly to gamers in their living rooms."
Pricing hasn't been announced, but we'll get to buy and download clips -- in perpetuity (or close enough to count). Delete it? So what, download your paid-for content again.

For example, CBS will provide HD "download-to-own" shows including "CSI", "Jericho", "Numb3rs", and the original "Star Trek" (remastered for HD/Xbox 360).

Movies will work more like direct-rentals, where you need to watch the downloaded movie within 2 weeks, and once you start watching it, you've got to finish the whole thing in 24 hours.

OK, so Sony launches the PS3 Nov. 17. Less than a week later, Xbox 360 owners will be downloading high-def TV shows and movies. I wondered what Microsoft was going to do in response. And here's Nintendo, without even the ability to play DVDs -- and that may not matter enough to hurt them. Interesting.

Check out the additional info: