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:

Xbox Live Arcade updates -- Contra here Wednesday

Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade has been an (arguably) unprecedented success.

Contra, one of old-school favorites, will be dowloadable Wednesday, Midway's Defender will be out by Christmas, and and Atari just announced a slew of titles available between now and "early 2007":
  • Centipede/Millipede (I pumped quarters into an upright arcade at a local Pizza Hut in the 80s)
  • Battlezone
  • Asteroids/Asteroids Deluxe (Most time I ever spent with a game up until Kings Quest 3)
  • Missile Command
  • Tempest
  • Warlords

In addition, Xbox Live Arcade has been a big hit with independent and studio developers, with a number of original titles that "will be releasing by this holiday":

  • Small Arms (Gastronaut Studios)
  • Novadrome (Buena Vista Games)
  • Assault Heroes (Wanako/Vivendi Games)
  • Heavy Weapon (PopCap Games)

Check out the TeamXbox story for more details on each game.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance

I've been playing a lot of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.

Check out my posts over on my "I'm Playing" blog. These are just initial impressions, and though it may sound like I'm a bit down on the game, I'm not.

It's a good game, nice treatment of the license, and scratches my comic fan boy itch.

Besides, as a gamer, usability guy, and software development manager, I feel comfortable harping on stuff that could be better. :-P

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No "Halo" movie, but 3 versions of "Halo 3"

OK, so the Halo film is indefinitely tabled, after Fox and Universal pulled out in the face of Microsoft/WingNut Films not being willing to lower the project budget (oversimplification, but it's my post, so deal).

Representation for Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh announced (in concert with Microsoft) the project is indefinitely postponed, though they're all allegedly still keen on the film, Neill Blomkamp, and the whole Halo movie idea.

On a more positive note, GameStop has "Just Announced" that Halo 3 will be available in 3 versions. Each version has a release date of 11.01.2007, but that's likely a placeholder (though November(ish) makes sense). Note this posting is waay more official than previous GameStop release postings.

Regular:
  • $59.99 / $5 deposit
  • The game
Collector's:
  • $69.99 / $10 deposit
  • The game
  • "Collector's Edition details are unavailable at this time. Once details are available they will be posted here. "
Legendary:
  • $99.99 / $25 deposit
  • The game
  • Halo Spartan Mjolnir Mark VI Helmet replica
  • 3 bonus discs (HD-DVD, maybe?)
  • Behind-the-scenes at Bungie Studios with new insights into the Halo Universe and the making of Halo 3
  • A special hi-res collection of all cinematics from Halo 1 and Halo 2 with director commentary from the Bungie Team bonus
  • Community content from Red vs. Blue, This Spartan Life and Exclusive Gamer Tiles & a Theme
  • Each unit will be serialized for added individuality and collectability
"Legendary" better be in a life-size, non-sucky Spartan helmet -- not a Battlestar Galactica-like Cylon Centurion head. It does say "replica" after all. And for a hundred bucks it better be able to say, "Thank you sir, may I have another!"