June 2007


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Covers of gaming magazines are riddled with stories proclaiming the supposed demise of the PlayStation 3. This past year, nearly every major publication (EGM, GamePro) and even the niche ones (Hardcore Gamer, Play) are surmising over the potentially self-destructive road Sony has taken with its newest console iteration. Whether the topic relates to the forced implementation of the Blu-ray format or the lack of new software, there certainly appears to be no end to the death knell conversation surrounding the PS3. To be fair, a due amount of the criticism is justified; Sony has — for better or worse — made this generation’s console more about its bid to win a format war than about producing new games. And, as is common with market leaders in this industry, it has turned an almost Nintendo-like stance on its third party developers — preferring to have its brand demand respect rather than reaching out and assisting in deciphering what some publishers are declaring the most complex programming system since the Sega Saturn.

But these types of follies are by no means anything new, and although the Nintendo Wii has trounced the PS3 in the first round of competition, it’s hard to say whether this trend will continue — in fact, I think more signs are beginning to point towards Sony retaking a substantial piece of the pie in the next twelve to eighteen months. What are some of these key signs? Read on, gamers:

Post-Halo Syndrome: No one doubts that Halo 3 will sell systems but whether the third outing by Master Chief will bring in hordes of new 360 players remains a BIG question mark. As sequels go, there are probably no safer bets than Halo 3 but with the sheer flood of FPS games and look-alikes on the market, sales for Bungie’s core title might not meet the bombshell expectations some analysts are projecting. Most consumers do equate XBOX with Halo, but will new consumers be willing to pay over $300 just to play it? Microsoft certainly needs them to. The 360, despite a steady stream of purchasers, is not particularly “hot” amongst gamers — and the release periods both before and after Halo look like a casual/moderate gamer’s nightmare: that is, a desert of nothing. While we’ll see what Microsoft has up its sleeve at mini-E3, thus far 360 fanboys have to be disappointed by the lack of capitalization by Microsoft on Sony’s missteps. And sadly, there isn’t much to get excited about, either. While a few third party games have defected to 360, games like ‘Beautiful Katamari’ probably isn’t going to save the console from the reaper in countries such as Japan.

Third Party Loyalty: Yes, Kutaragi is out, but that doesn’t mean Sony’s lost its allegiance with core Japanese developers. While I do think MGS4 will eventually hit the 360, I think we’ll see something similar to the delayed release of MGS2 Substance. There is no way Final Fantasy XIII will show up on the 360 — though if the franchise does defect, expect to see more sidebar titles pop up on the Wii/DS first. SquEnix is too tied to Sony’s castle to move this title to its direct competitor. This doesn’t mean SquEnix won’t release 360 games, however. I expect new titles such as The Last Remnant to be cross-platform releases; it’s a business, after all, and SquEnix needs all the help it can get to establish a name for itself outside FF and Dragon Quest. While I realize a lot of gamers get all up in arms about the PS3 losing exclusives, I think many are asking the wrong question. It’s not so much about losing 3rd party exclusivity as it is how well do the PS3 and 360 stack up when the 3rd parties are no longer an impact?

First/Second Parties Wrap Up: Sony’s core teams are FINALLY bringing out some of the games that will help define its system in the eyes of consumers. Two of the biggest games coming soon are HEAVENLY SWORD and insomniac’s UNCHARTED. Both not only look stellar, but also potentially different enough in style and direction to cast the PS3 as a console of choice. Sony’s knack for the cinematic should be lightyears ahead of Microsoft’s and I suspect we’ll get a nice view of that when these two gems ship. I admit though that while UNCHARTED will probably play like a dream, I still have some doubts over Ninja Theory’s gameplay design for HEAVENLY SWORD — though even it merely mimics God of War’s schema and innovates on nothing more than graphics, Sony still has a heart-stopper heroine it can flaunt in front of its core male demo.

Whether Sony’s first parties are better than 360’s is arguable — though I’d say PS3’s are probably better. Microsoft seems to be loaded with critical guns but not commerical ones. Lionhead and Silicon Knights are no Sucker Punch and Insomniac; and Rareware is nothing more than a shadow of its former self. Sure, 360 has Bungie but after Halo, Bungie might be a one-trick pony.

Price Gap Probably Gone: CEO Stringer made it clear that the PS3 needs a price refinement and CEOs don’t go around saying things like that unless they’re serious about doing it. Although sales of the PS3 are slow, a huge barrier to entry right now is the price tag. When PS3 can hit the $400 price mark, it’s likely to sell thousands more than the 360 per month. If the price difference becomes marginal — something I suspect will happen in the next two to four months, Microsoft might be surprised to find how quickly the ratio of 360 to PS3 units flip over. Will the PS3 be the market leader by the end of 2008 — probably not; I think the Wii will keep its lead for one more year. However, by the end of 2009, PS3 should have surpassed the Wii as the console of choice for gamers.

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…You’re missing one of the best rebirths in the telly’s history. For those of us who grew up watching the Doctor, the BBC’s relaunch in 2003 is nothing short of a small miracle. Writer Russell T. Davies and his merry, awfully talented band have (and continue to) bring depth and life to the Doctor, his companion and the amazing Who-verse. In the US, the series can be seen on the Sci-Fi channel; TV Guide *finally* placed Doctor Who on its hot, must-watch list — the third season, which is already nearing its end in the UK — is starting up on Sci-Fi this month.

For the few of us who don’t have cable (me! come on, it’s not like I have much time to watch TV anyways — what am I to do with hundreds of channels?), the DVD box sets are the next best thing. I picked up both season 1 and 2 from Buy.com and Amazon.com and have been having a blast. Admittedly, the sets are expensive ($70 online, expect to pay $20-$30 more at retail stores) but the BBC has done a fantastic job cramming a whole lot of extras on these discs. You can check out how the TARDIS was designed and conceived and even watch as the lovely Billie Piper takes you around the set camera in hand.

If you’re not familiar with Doctor Who, fear not. You do not need to know anything about the prior Who series — which goes all the way back to the 1963 — to understand the new ones, though I’m quite sure once you’ve consumed a few you’ll want to learn more. For new Who-fans, do check out the Outpost Gallifrey; it’s filled with facts and boards about the new and old Doctor Who shows. Of course, if you’re like me and can’t get ahold of season 3 until the boxed set comes out, steer clear of the spoiler boards.

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Rumors have been floating about that Sony intends to cut the pricetag of the PS3 some time this year. That would certainly be an unprecendented move, esp. when one considers the PS2 didn’t see a price change until several years into its lifespan. The revelation by CEO Howard Stringer last Friday that Sony is indeed investigating a potential price cut before the holiday season is a sure sign that we’ll see the PS3 lower than $599. The question now is not “if” but “when”, and there is reason to believe the cut might be coming a lot sooner than some analysts are predicting.

The most likely timeframe is probably early-mid Sept. Sony might announce the price cut then to slow down whatever momentum Microsoft has with its juggarnaut, Halo 3. On the other hand, the halo of popularity (sorry!) that floats above anything Master Chief might be too much for anything — even a PS3 price adjustment — to counter. Sony is probably well aware of this fact and rather than looking like a defeatist by lowering the price tag around MS’ release, it might just go ahead and blitz the 360 several months prior, potentially as early as the end of July. Packaging a price cut with the soon-to-be-released Heavenly Sword might be a surefire bet to win over a lot of people on the fence. That game, being handled by Ninja Theory, is probably one of if not the only killer-app Sony has this holiday season for North America.

Besides, odds are if Sony waited til after Halo 3 they could be in a far worse position. Think about what might happen. If Halo 3 does take off like the original Halo and its successor, the 360’s install base may take an extraordinary leap forward. Given the PS3’s poor sales thus far, that PR nightmare might lead even more gamers to change their minds during the busy shopping season. A poor 2007 holiday showing has the potential to knock out the PS3; if 360 and the Wii dominate, the plethora of exclusive 3rd party software on Sony (something that’s already shrinking on an almost weekly basis) is probably going to fallout entirelu. And even if Halo 3 doesn’t sell like hotcakes, Sony will probably look even more defeatist if they drop the price after than they do much sooner. Face it, a price drop in July/August in much easier to justify as an adjustment than one in Sept. or later — which will no doubt be seen as terribly defensive.

Whether such perception ultimately matters is up for debate but there’s no question the PS3’s lackluster sales numbers – in contrast to the Wii’s amazing figures – are starting to get some Sony execs nervous. Will we see a price cut soon? I think so.

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I’m honestly not sure whether initiatives like this work as well anymore but Microsoft intends to mimic what it did for Halo 2. You may recall the now well-known (and to some, infamous) “I Love Bees” campaign MS pulled for Master Chief’s second outing. In that instance, MS didn’t do a particularly great job of hiding what the URL was referencing; it appeared at the very end of a Halo 2 video trailer. It appears MS doesn’t care about being covert with the Halo 3 effort, either. The XBOX division sent out a “mysterious” email that linked to this website. There have also been sightings of people on street corners handing out fliers with the question, “Who are the Ancients?” Not that I’m saying these campaigns are ineffective — already hundreds of people are posting and speculating on the links and info hidden between the lines — but are they really doing anything for MS. And by that I mean are they moving the needle on more sales? Ultimately, the Halo 3 base that is most excited about the game are probably the only ones interacting with this tease so by that measure it’s probably not doing much. If MS is interested in generating new stories then it’s likely to have that effect. What makes MS’ viral efforts effective is that the company isn’t reluctant to hold back juicy, not-yet-revealed information from being discovered through these programs. Unlike some gaming companies that end up failing to deliver any exciting pay-off, Bungie/MS have given up some major details in the form of storylines and in some cases character shots and screenshots. Granted, this is the final game in the trilogy so there might be some diminishing level of interest, but this is still likely to help contribute to the crazy hype machine that is Halo.

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So the ESRB “slip” about an XBOX 360 title turns out to be true. Eidos UK officially announced that Tomb Raider Anniversary — already released on the PlayStation 2 and PC — will have an episodic release through the XBOX Live Marketplace before its retail release later in the year. For the 360, will mark the first time a retail game is sold via its online store. The game will be made available through four separate downloads, the first two are expected to be released in September with the latter two reaching gamers shortly thereafter. Minus the manor section (which will be available for free), the entire game will cost 2400 MS points, or roughly $30 which matches the MSRP of the current console releases. It’s possible (and probably likely) the retail version will be priced higher — though I don’t suspect by much.  The only bad part about this should-be historic gesture is that Eidos is only allowing those who have TR Legend to download Anniversary — does this make sense to anyone?   Why Eidos is doing this makes little sense, especially if you think about the fact that Anniversary is supposed to be a way to enter the world of Tomb Raider for those who may not yet be familiar with it.  Without a doubt, Eidos is  losing out on online sales by forcing consumers to buy Legend in order to access this option.

This news comes on the heel of Capcom’s announcement that it had signed an agreement with Valve’s online distribution system Stream. Capcom will bring Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, Onimusha 3, Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition and Supper Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (try saying that three times fast) to Stream — and future Capcom titles are also part of this deal. Capcom is the first Japanese developer to sign up with Valve and its move might be the first signal that we may be moving closer to the day when entire games will be purchased online. MS and Sony have repeatedly made mention of this idea — and that it is very likely in the next-gen that disc formats will be made defunct by broadband distribution. While I’d like to agree with them, I do think part of gaming is driven by material collection — it’s the same reason why many people (though not as many as before) still buy music CDs. CD sales in Europe and Japan for instance remain healthy — and that is because music publishers bring out CDs packed with exclusive content (music videos, interviews, not-for-online tracks). US publishers haven’t quite moved in that direction just yet but it’s one way to keep retail sales flowing. That might also explain why so many Japanese console games are released with limited editions and extra swag. We’re already starting to see such collectibility slip into US gaming culture with Halo 3 and multiple variations of Gears of War. As broadband penetration picks up, I’d suspect we’re going to get a lot more of these types of releases. The question is whether broadband will actually make up the majority of future game purchases. If the price difference is substantial then it just might — but something tells me it’s still unlikely — or at least a decade away.

BTW, for all of you staring at the photo, that’s Karima Adebibe — the model Eidos hired to represent Lara Croft for TR: Legend released last year. Eidos has always hired a new model to be Lara for each of its games dating all the way back to the decade old orginal Tomb Raider game (the one Anniversary is a remake of). Based on most gamers’ views, they think Karima is the closest to Lara there has ever been (well, perhaps excluding Angelina Jolie — though that’s debatable after the painfully awful “Cradle of Life”).

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Whatever your  opinions might be about Nintendo or the Wii, there is no questioning the system’s intuitive mechanics and its amazing ability to bring gaming to everyone.  Matt Clark, whose brother Stephen was born with Cerebral Palsy – disabling him from walking or talking, posted the heart-warming photo above to his Flickr Photostream.  You can see the sheer happiness Stephen is having as he plays a Wii game with his family.  A beautiful, touching moment.  You go, Stephen!

About time; you’d think Sony would have launched its own blog a while ago, especially given it’s avid fanbase online — but better late than never, right? Thus far, the blog only has two entries, but I’d expect it to become a daily dose of all things PlayStation straight from the mouths of developers, producers and even executives. As the editors admit, it will house some typical PR fluff but those articles should be balanced out with juicy, ‘insider’ content such as exclusive interviews and first-shots of previously unspoken about games. There is general consensus amongst gamers that when it comes to brand loyalty, Nintendo owns the most passionate lot. It’s debatable but IMO even Microsoft’s fanboys are louder and more motivated than Sony’s. This blog could be a solid step for PlayStation to build a tighter communications bridge to its core supporters. I say ‘could’ because unfortunately corporate blogs such as this one tend to get many things wrong about its presentation and content. Some of those problems include:

  • Lack of real-time communication: We understand people are busy at these companies, but if users clamor around a question and throw it at the blog’s editors, we expect some response. Even a ‘we’ll try’ followed by a ‘sorry, we just can’t get ahold of those people’ is better than dead silence for weeks on end.
  • Been there, read that: If the blog is an insider look (and this one claims it will be), it needs to deliver on it from time to time. Again, most of us are reasonable readers and don’t expect bombshells (i.e. megatons) every day or even every week, but if the PS blog starts reporting news I read in EGM 2 months ago or even GameSpot yesterday, then readers like us are going to assume that it’s either (a) poorly informed, meaning it has no pipeline to the internal divisions or (b) that it’s censored, meaning everything we’re reading is being funneled through legal departments and 800 sets of eyes before it gets to us. BTW, (b) usually ends up resulting in (a).
  • No consistency with updates: Alright, we know there isn’t much going on in the world of videogames right now. I feel like PSM has been previewing the same 5 games for the last 6 issues — Do I really need to see another picture of Heavenly Sword or Lair with two paragraphs telling me it looks good? But that doesn’t mean this blog can sit on its rear end for weeks with no posts. Like some GameCube sites that have since moved on, if you can’t post daily, then make it 1-2 a week on specific days (say, Mon. and Thurs.) and keep it going. Most of us don’t visit blogs on a regular basis anyways, so this should keep us satisfied. Start messing with this kind of schedule and you’ll lose a lot of us. Don’t post regularly and well, this thing will sputter and die pretty quickly.
  • Censoring for the Corp. Good: A lot of us own a 360, Wii, or other competitor system, and some of us like them more or as much as PS hardware, so we’re going to draw comparisons and some of us are going to vent our frustration about the state of the PS world (which I think many of us agree is hardly healthy right now). Editors can certainly edit for swearing and lack of gentleman-ship, but any censoring beyond that is going to create a stir. For instance, if someone posts under a Naughty Dog interview after playing “Uncharted” and says the game “is easily bested by 360’s <insert title>, blah, blah, blah”, I don’t expect anyone to touch that comment.

With mini-E3 fast approaching, what better way to establish some cred than to post some major news up here? May be the first gameplay glimpse into “Killzone 2”? Or may be even a preview of some yet unannounced title? Some of us readers have high expectations for this blog, and we’ll be keeping a close eye to make sure it does even better what ThreeSpeech has done for some time (Good to hear that this blog will be collaborating/working with them).