Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Target gets into the pre-owned game

I see that Target is offering "Pre-Owned" electronics -- including game consoles.

Right now, they just have Nintendo GameCubes (which are out of stock), but this is a pretty interesting, un-trumpeted retail happening.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another reason to not like game journalists

(Caveat: I'm not a games journalist. I'm just some dude who likes games and is gifted on the snarky communication front.)

I get frustrated with video game journalists for a lot of reasons, not least of which is their jaded take on games. They'll downgrade the score of great little gems because they're not a fan of the franchise, or they've gotten so greedy with escalating feature sets they penalize a smaller developed title for not including the feature.

The other reason I riff on games journalists is their lack of any sense of history. If it's not related to a violation of their fanboy franchise, it's dead to them.

Take, for example, Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, which includes Xbox, making money this past quarter. Read a lot of the trade press coverage for this, and you'll have people downplaying the profitability because it's "only" due to Halo 3 sales.

OK, so let's review, jaded journalists:
  1. The Entertainment and Devices Division wasn't projected to be profitable until 2008.
  2. 2008 was a bump up from the original profitability projection of 2010.
  3. This is Microsoft's second profitable quarter for the Entertainment and Devices Division in a row.

So, the division is profitable for 2 years, and 203 quarters (depending on how you count) earlier than planned, and it has a track record, and (going into holiday sales), a likelihood to continue.

Never mind things like the Xbox was never expected to be a contender in the console war, and arguably bested Nintendo last generation and Sony this (so far). And the Entertainment and Devices Division also includes Zune, which is doing well, and also wasn't supposed to even be a contender in the MP3 / personal media devices front.

And, brass tacks, they're making money. Lots of money.

Honestly, I don't get the haters mentality (toward Microsoft, Apple, Electronic Arts, etc.) -- it just seems to be sour grapes from the have-nots and don't-want-to-work-for-its.

I'm fine with opinion pieces on things like the Microsoft numbers -- just call them "opinion", rather than "reporting". Or call them "second fiddle to Adam's snarky brilliance".

Let the hate mail begin...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Contradicting fall game sales predictions debunked

OK, it's not that I don't like the guy, but I when he does video gaming analysis, this guy at CNet falls flatter than me.

Below is a version of the comments I left on his blog. Last time I did this, he wrote a defensive response post, aimed at "people", and never referencing my comments. Let's see if we get a repeat infraction.

Like I said, I don't have an issue with him. He's got a good gig (more power to him). But folks like him (and I) need to recognize (and acknowledge) where we're stepping out of "analysis" and into "opinion".

Anyway, read his whole post for context, but he basically says this is his projection for each of the consoles this holiday:
  • Overall Xbox 360 outlook for the holiday season: mediocre.
  • Overall Nintendo Wii outlook for the holiday season: strong
  • Overall Sony Playstation 3 outlook: moderate to strong

And he says parents not able to find a $250 Wii will buy a $400 Ps3. Why they would do that rather than a $280 or $350 Xbox 360 feels a bit off to me. Maybe he's thinking parents will recognize the Sony brand over the Microsoft brand?

It's an interesting analysis, but it is lacking (and not accurate) in so many areas.

Many of the comments in response to his post point out the major misses in the article.

In addition, I'd say his analysis neglects basic market factors, and doesn't even address things like the recently released NPD numbers, which paint a very different picture than he does. And while every company is going to have their spin on these numbers, Sony's "forward-looking" take is pretty telling.

He's also inconsistent in pointing to bundles as being factors (or non-factors) in holiday sales, but doesn't mention things like the recently released Xbox 360 bundles (the Arcade bundle and the Forza 2 / Marvel Ultimate Alliance bundle).

On the PS3 side, you doesn't go into any detail about the brief history of (and differences between) the price-dropped 80GB, 20 GB, phased-out 60 GB, and recently-released (but feature reduced) 40 GB models.

And he says with Halo 3 out and Mass Effect the only exclusive this holiday, the 360 won't see enough of an upswing from those titles.

Seriously? Does he think the Halo 3 tailing occurred that fast?

I would argue that console exclusives (like Halo 3 or Gears of War) are console sellers, Mass Effect will likely do far better than for which he credits it (the Electronic Arts acquisition by itself is arguably indicative of this market confidence). And I don't think the "BioShock boost" is over yet, either.

And I would argue the non-exclusives are huge console draws (they are for me; I'm looking for a console's total gaming portfolio which is why Microsoft is first for me for its retail offerings; Nintendo is second because of its great Virtual Console offerings, and Sony is last).

For example, "Oh, I can also play Call of Duty 4 on Xbox 360, which is a better FPS platform? Oh, Madden '08 looks and plays ridiculously better on the 360 than the PS3? I don't need to buy a PS3 to get Devil May Cry 4? I can play Orange Box (definitely) and Assassin's Creed (probably) earlier on the 360 than the PS3? Etc.

Again, the guy has some interesting commentary, but it's super lightweight, and way behind (both in terms of time and depth) industry analyst professionals like Michael Pachter or Colin Sebastian.

He also trumpets a previous forward-looking post he did as pseudo credentials for his analysis. Avoiding a rebuttal to the idea of "Why 'Halo 3' will decide the Xbox 360's fate", I'm not sure I'd recommend trumpeting a September Halo 3 post written the day before the game was released -- when industry analysts like Pachter and Sebastian had posted deeper, more accurate predictions weeks (in some cases, months) before. And those guys, as storied as they are in their dedicated vertical market, are only "right" around 60% of the time (in a non-representative, but random, and repeated, an non-overlapping personal sampling).

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Looking at comments written in response to his post while I was writing this one, though, looks like I'm not alone in my grousing.

Hey, for those of you who have been writing to complain about me not having done a "Crotchety Gamer" post in a while ... you're welcome.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Free HD DVD Heroes with 360 player (UPDATED)

UPDATED: Yeppers -- It's for real.

If you haven't bought an Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on, Sunday could be your golden hour.

Not only has the price dropped from $200 to $180, but rumor has it Best Buy will give you "Heroes" Season 1 on HD DVD free if you buy from them.

So, here's my math representing the new cost of the HD DVD add-on:
$179.99 HD DVD player
- $99.99 Heroes Season 1 on HD DVD (free)
- $27.00 King Kong (HD DVD pack-in)
$53.00 Total

And, you also get to mail away for 5 free HD DVD titles.

So, depending on how you're selling this opportunity to your significant other, your either getting an HD DVD player for fifty-three bucks, or you're getting the player for free, and five HD DVD titles for a little over $10 a piece.

It's a shame the free titles are a little ... lackluster.

Like most purchasing decisions, you have options. You can go to Wal-Mart, and for $10 less on the MSE (depending on your Wal-Mart), you can get the HD DVD player and 300, rather than "Heroes" (and still get the five free movies).

Of course, rumor has it there's an HD DVD Xbox 360 in the works (which would also include a TV tuner). But that won't see the light of day until probably late next year.

Of course, you could just try to win Season 1 of "Heroes", and a "Heroes"-themed 360 and HD-DVD drive at Amazon.com.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

40GB PS3 for US

Following up on the 40GB PlayStation released in Europe (and lacking backwards computability), a similar model has finally been announced for release in the U.S.

According to Reuters.com:
"The new version of the PS3 will come with a 40-gigabyte hard drive, cost $400, and go on sale on November 2, said Jack Tretton, president of Sony Computer Entertainment America.

"The price of the 80-gigabyte version will be cut to $500 from $600."
But don't forget:
"For the new 40-gigabyte PS3, Sony has removed its ability to play games for the predecessor PlayStation 2, which is still selling strong despite its aging technology."
Me? If I were to buy a PS3 (I'm not), I'd try to find one of the discontinued 60GB models still in stores that does play PS2 games.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another place consoles are missing the boat

So, The Orange Box has flagged for me a couple of big missed opportunities for developers / publishers wanting to capitalize on things setting consoles apart from PCs.

The big one is multiplayer. I'm not talking about Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network -- I'm talking same-box, four-player mutliplayer.

I have FOUR freaking controllers! Not being able to play local Crackdown at all, only being able to do two-player local co-op for Gears of War, and having to go online to play any multiplayer Team Fortress 2 sucks. Why buy it for $60 for the Xbox 360 or PS3 (eventually?) when I can have the same same box experience (with an arguably better control set) for up to $25 less?

I can see a company mistakenly not wanting to implement local multiplayer, because of the mistaken perception they can sell more games if everybody has to buy them in order to play.

Ridiculous. I have so many friends and acquaintances who have bought games and systems because of my twice weekly open game nights. You limit the local play, you limit those sales.

I'm glad to see Halo 3 continues the 4-player same-box support, both offline and online (other than offline co-op campaign, which only supports 2, and which I maintain is likewise poor; but not as bad as all of the other games I mention).

I'd have more sympathy, but (A) I really think console multiplayer games need to support local multiplayer as a standard feature to compete in the current market, and (B) After pinging multiple game devs about this, they were pretty harsh about local multiplayer not being included because of "developer laziness" -- ouch! And those are their words, not mine).

So, get with it, kids. I would have bought The Orange Box day one if TF2 supported local 4-way play. As it is, I'll hold off until it hits a promo discount price, and if that doesn't happen well before or well after the holiday game glut, I may end up passing on the title altogether.

Oh, and Area #2 where consolers are falling short? User content. Halo 3 has the Forge level editing feature. Build from that (give us the level, map, and skin creation options we've had on the PC mod side for years).

(Oh, and don't get mad at me for mentioning Halo 3 so much. Though they do a lot of things right, their botched non-drop-in-drop-out online co-op sucks. Feel better?)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Outpost.com 360 bundle?

Outpost.com Email advertisement for an Xbox 360 bundle. Anybody else get this?

In my Email last night, I got my Weekly Frys.com / Outpost.com mailout.

Of particular interest to me is the Xbox 360 bundle that's highlighted (my doing).

It looks like it's the announced Holiday Bundle that comes with Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Forza Motorsport.

In addition to that, the bundle lists "Bioshock" [sic], Two Worlds. , and "Half-Life 2" (I assume this is the Orange Box edition).

The Outpost.com bundle lists for $399.99, so given the announced $350 MSE for the Holiday SKU, for fifty extra bucks you get two great games (and one debatably good game), which Fry's Electronics (at least in my neck of the woods) are selling for $50, $40, and $60, respectively.

Of course, clicking on the link was taking me to a "Page not Found", and is now redirecting me to the site's front page.

I'm trying to get a response from Customer Service, and I'll post an update here.

Updated: According to Outpost.com Customer Support, "Unfortunately we have sold out of that bundle."

Since I clicked on the bundle the instant it showed up in my inbox (got an SMS when the Email arrived), and didn't get a "Out of Stock" notice, I doubt this is true. But, what are you gonna do?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

EA buys BioWare and Pandemic


So, Electronic Arts just worked it out with Elevation Partners to buy VG Holding Corp, which owns BioWare and Pandemic.

From a business perspective, this is a great way for EA to add top-tier Intellectual Property (IP) and talent to their stable. And it's not all that surprising a move to me, since John Riccitiello is the CEO of Electronic Arts, but was the co-founder and Managing Director of Elevation Partners before that, and the President / COO of EA before that.

It does sadden me a bit, as BioWare / Pandemic were an interesting happening in the independent developer scene. And there's a local connection for me, since "It will enable [Electronic Arts] to further the careers of the passionate, creative and hard working teams at BioWare Edmonton and BioWare Austin." (The "Austin" part is the local connection, for those non-regular readers. And welcome!)

I'm curious as to whether there are other reasons EA did this. The cynical side of me worries this is akin to the EA purchase of Criterion, which I would argue wasn't so much for the RenderWare engine, as it was for the Burnout and BLACK IP.

Also, what does this mean for the Xbox 360 exclusive Mass Effect, published (currently) by Microsoft Game Studios? Sure, it probably won't impact the first iteration, but Mass Effect is a franchise, and was a planned trilogy of titles (at the least). Sure, there was no guarantee before that the game would stay an Xbox 360-exclusive, but given the "we'll finish it this hardware generation" mindset, it would be hard to envision it on other systems as well -- EA is arguably the king of multi-SKU titles (to be fair, so are other commercially successful big dogs like Activision and THQ).

And what about other deals? Like the BioWare / SEGA deal for the Sonic RPG?

Almost more importantly, will all of this impact EA's BLACK sequel on the 360? I'm kinda waiting for an update on that. It came out during an investment call update. Now, nothing.

But really, as long as the BioWare / Pandemic people are taken care of, the other stuff is pretty academic.

(As an aside, I don't really care about console exclusives, per se. I just want the games on the platforms I own to rock. Devil May Cry 4 and Orange Box for everyone? Suh-weet. Dead Rising and Lost Planet quality across multiple platforms? The more the merrier.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Halo 3 and BioShock Reviews

I've posted reviews of BioShock and Halo 3 on that side of my Website, and included links to those (hopefully balanced) reviews and balanced them with the ultimate in snarky reviewing -- the Zero Punctuation embedded video reviews from The Escapist.

Halo 3:

Adam's thoughts:
Zero Punctionation review of Halo 3:


Adam's thoughts:

Zero Punctionation review of BioShock:

Monday, October 08, 2007

New Xbox 360 bundles

Looks like there are a couple of new Xbox 360 holiday bundles, and since the price doesn't raise and they include ~$90 in games, I'd say it's a good deal.

The Xbox 360 "Pro" / "Premium" / "Main" SKU (or whatever they're now calling it) stays at $350, and comes with Forza Motorsport 2 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance, two fantastic games (the latter especially for me).

The Xbox 360 Elite stays at $450 and comes with the same two games.

The bundles should be available near the end of this month, and are called "Holiday Bundles", so they're probably limited run jobbies.

I also don't know if the Marvel Ultimate Alliance is the standard version, or the Gold version that includes the new downloadable content. That would be an extra nicety, but might be a bit greedy.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

PS3 drops backward compatibility

In case you haven't heard, there's a new 40GB SKU PlayStation3 coming from Sony Europe -- and it drops backward compatibility for PS2 games altogether.

I don't know yet if this is going to happen in the United States, and while it is irritating, I think there are some bigger things going on.

First, the irritating part. Parts.

Sony blasted Microsoft for Microsoft's multiple SKU approach -- a "Premium / Pro" (hard drive and wireless controller) and a "Core" (the stupid, hard drive-less configuration). This is all Microsoft had until this year, when they released the Elite. There are special editions of the console (Halo 3, Simpsons, etc.), but those don't count as mainstream retail SKUs to me. Oh, and the "Core" will probably be replaced by the "Arcade" version, which differs from the "Core" by switching to a wireless controller and including a memory card.

So, on the Xbox 360 side, you'll have three retail configurations, and two special editions.

And Sony, who criticised multiple SKUs from Microsoft as confusing consumers, has had a 20 GB model, a 60 GB model, and an 80 GB model. Then they phased out the 60GB model in the U.S., and it looks like they're about to do the same in their European territories (Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania). And they've introduced this new 40GB SKU there (and, shortly, in Aussie Land).

And it's not just a hard-drive change on the 40GB version. It'll still come with the SIXAXIS wireless controller, WiFi, and HDMI, but will have only two USB ports (not the four on the 60GB/80GB), and no multi-memory card port.

And it will not be backwards compatible with PS2 games.

Which leads to Irritation point #2: Dropping backwards compatibility. First, it's nice for gamers to have. Second, Sony was a bit uncharitable toward Microsoft as to Microsoft's not supporting backwards compatibility out of the box. Sony told GameDaily BIZ the feature drop is due to "both the reduced emphasis placed on this feature amongst later purchasers of PS3, as well as the availability of a more extensive line-up of PS3 specific titles".

Thankfully, Joystiq does a good job of refreshing folks' memory by quoting Sony's Phil Harrison as saying in 2006,
"[B]ackwards compatibility, as you know from PlayStation One and PlayStation 2, is a core value of what we believe we should offer. And access to the library of content people have created, bought for themselves, and accumulated over the years is necessary to create a format. PlayStation is a format meaning that it transcends many devices -- PSOne, PS2 and now PS3."
"Hello, Pot? Kettle's on line one."

Besides the embarrassment, what's with dropping the backwards-compatibility feature, when it's "a core value"?

I think there are at least a few options.

First, in the Sony versus Microsoft versus Nintendo race this round, I'd argue it's not the hardware -- it's the game library. Sony knew this in the PSOne and PS2 era, but they seemed to have forgotten it this round. This holiday, Sony will have 65 games for the PS3. Microsoft will have, what -- 250? 280? Halo 3, Blue Dragon, Mass Effect, Eternal Sonata, BioShock, and other console-selling Xbox 360 exclusives? Three hundred and eighty-five playable original Xbox games (and I've personally played at least 36 last-gen titles on my 360.)

By dropping PS2 support in the PS3, Sony forces PS3 owners to buy PS3 games. Games expensive to develop, and needing to recoup cost. Sony may be hoping money shifted from buying PS2-supported titles will go to PS3 game purchases.

Secondly, Sony could be hoping the move causes people to buy PS2 consoles to play PS2 games. Sony is taking a bath this console generation, coming in an arguably distant third. But the PS2 was selling well, and a recently (quietly) revamped version saw manufacturing cost efficiencies. Sony may be realizing the PS3 was cannibalizing PS2 sales more than expected, and they need to drive up their flagship sales. (As an aside, I've said multiple times only Nintendo seems to be able to avoid the self-cannibalization model.)

Or this could be as "simple" as a "right hand no knowing what the left hand is doing" situation. Could it be SCEA is shaking their heads at SCEE? (Probably. But for this? Dunno.)

Or it could be more complex. Think myriad factors, like does moving away from PS2 support in the PS3 reduce support costs? Is the software emulation unaccountably dropped from the new 40GB SKU actually somewhat hardware dependant, and does SCEE measurably reduce its loss-leader margin by taking out this component of the hardware?

And maybe, maybe this could be a good move. Maybe it introduces another SKU at enough of a reduced cost that meets enough of a new market segment that it will be profitable and non-cannibalizing.

Or maybe it's just Sony's turn at channel stuffing.

So why is it irritating?

Because Sony said one thing, lambasted the competition, then turned about and did the same thing -- in spades (at least Microsoft is releasing more feature-rich SKUs). Companies are getting a lot more scrutiny and less obfuscation in what they're doing -- why not come clean? Why not, "Market demands are currently not aggressive enough to justify manufacturing costs, so after serious study and consideration, we've decided to remove features that will least impact our core Sony PlayStation3 constituency."

Or maybe something's broken on the whole console retail model. I mean, does Sony have apologize each time they release a new DVD or music player? Do they have to go on the defensive every time they release a BetaMax, mini-CD, Sony Memory Stick, UMD, or equivalent?

Wait ...

Monday, October 01, 2007

Cooler Xbox 360 chips in the wild

Looks like the new Xbox 360 65nm "Falcon" CPUs are out in the wild, at least on the Halo 3 version of the console.

For those missing the significance, the 360 has an abnormally high failure rate. There are arguably multiple endemic problems, but part of the issue includes the original, larger /hotter 90nm chipset, and inefficient heatsinks. Some consoles returned from repair recently have included a secondary heat dissipation pipe added to the board.

But many in the industry have been waiting for these new chips. They're smaller, and they cost half as much to make (this may lead to further price cuts to the console this holiday to counter Sony's allegedly pending price reduction). Theoretically, the chips are also more economic with heat output. Consoles with the new chips also have simplified heatsinks.

How to tell if a console has the new chipset before buying it (and without the messiness of cracking it open and invalidating the warranty)?
"Check the barcode sticker on the side of the box. The 65nm chipped Halo 3 console was built August 24, 2007 from team "FDOU" and part of lot 734.