Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking forward to 2009

This is part two of my two part post, looking at the past year and the one ahead. In the first part below, I noted that North American and European review scores showed a lack of quality titles on Wii, but that Japanese reviews saw the console ahead.

I also argued that a lot of Western gamers keen on traditional games wrongly saw the Wii as carving its own niche, not realising that they themselves had become the niche and Nintendo's 'Touch Generations' titles now formed the mainstream of videogames.

Finally, I predicted that the sheer numbers of Wii consoles sold would convince third parties to both increase their Wii budgets and widen their portfolio to include more traditional games.

The sheer numbers

Starting our outlook with those numbers, the Thanksgiving weekend in the USA saw unprecedented sales of the hardware with 800.000 Wii consoles sold. In the entire month of November, more than two million units were sold.

Software sales were just as solid, as can be seen in the following statistics provided by Gamasutra. Up until October, four out of the five top-selling videogames in 2008 were Wii titles, all of them first party exclusives (not adding the Xbox360 and PS3 versions of 'Grand Theft Auto 4').

Top-selling videogames in 2008 (by unit sales, January through October)

1. 'Super Smash Bros. Brawl' (Wii): 3,5 million (estimated)
2. 'Mario Kart' (Wii): 3,4 million
3. 'Grand Theft Auto 4' (Xbox360): 3,2 million (estimated)
4. 'Wii Play' (Wii): 3,0 million
5. 'Wii Fit' (Wii): 2,8 million

In 2007, only two Wii titles made that list. The highest ranking one was 'Wii Play', making both lists. Also take into account that 'Wii Fit' is a premium title, bundled with hardware, and makes for significantly more revenue than games sold at a normal price.

Everybody's darling

It almost seems that Wii still is everybody's darling, with the possible exception of some Western gamers keen on traditional titles. Back in late 2006, Wii convinced the mainstream press right from the start. At the same time, a majority of developers randomly selected by Gamasutra personally preferred Wii over the PlayStation3. And this trend is continuing. TIME magazine voted ´Wii Fit´ one of their Top Ten Gadgets of 2008 while Forbes is feeling almost "sorry for Microsoft and Sony".

Nintendo's Christmas present to journalists in 2008: a Nintendo tree

Lastly, most industry analysts believe the Wii will continue to lead. NPD's industry analyst Anita Frazier believes that the console "really has incredible momentum heading into 2009" and especially notes the success of third party games like 'Guitar Hero World Tour'.

Many more Wii games will be announced soon, Michael Pachter, analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities, told Reuters (via Yahoo News).

To me, the big story is what happens on the Wii because it's the dominant platform, and it will be interesting to see how the publishers approach the Wii audience. (...)

There must be dozens of Wii games planned for holiday 2009 that we don't know about yet, and I think that many games will be designed to use the Wii Fit balance board that we haven't conceived of yet.

Big titles in 2009

But, of course, we know of many big titles slated for 2009 already. NeoGAF user BDGAME compiled a comprehensive list, too long to reprint here. Browsing through it, you will find a wealth of RPGs and survival horror games. So will those Western gamers keen on traditional titles I have been citing so much finally make their peace with Wii? Will Wii finally become the next great gamer's console?

I would not be surprised if one of the two games Hideo Kojima has in store was a Wii exclusive. After all, he said back in May 2006 that he would like to develop for the console.

As a game designer, I'm very interested in creating something for the Wii. I'd like to run away from MGS 4 creation and create something for the Wii but unfortunately, I don't have anything that I can announce at the moment. I have lots of ideas for Wii but I have a heavy schedule with MGS 4 and Metal Gear Online (...) If I created something for Wii, I would like to create something entirely different to a normal FPS. I don't mind using the MGS world as a theme but currently I'm not thinking about that. I'd like to give Wii users a new experience - I think the Wii controller can be used in more innovative and fun ways.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi ('Space Channel 5', 'Rez') is developing a Wii game. The announcement of 'Dragon Quest X' as a Wii exclusive is another huge step in that direction, as is, perhaps most of all, 'Monster Hunter 3'.

Originally announced as a PlayStation3 exclusive, the title was switched to Wii "due to high development cost of titles for PS3". British gaming magazine EDGE believes that this title will mark a turning point for the Nintendo console.

Many are hoping that Monster Hunter‭ ‬3‭ ‬will be a turning point for Wii in Japan.‭ ‬Not in terms of sales,‭ ‬but in terms of perceptions among Japanese consumers,‭ ‬who still look on PS2‭ ‬as the last great‭ ‘‬gamer’s console‭’‬.‭ ‬The huge popularity of the title during TGS,‭ ‬and the very favourable feedback Capcom has had from fans and the press,‭ ‬suggests it may just have a chance.

To me, titles like 'House of the Dead: Overkill', 'The Conduit' and 'MadWorld' will mark that turning point, certainly in the Western world (where such a shift is much more needed). Either way, I strongly believe that in 2009, we will see a significant shift in both the public's as well as publishers' perception of the Wii.

Naturally, this year will also see some of the strongest games released on the other two systems with 'Resident Evil 5', 'Alan Wake', 'Killzone II' and 'God of War III'. But I nevertheless believe that 2009 will become the year in which the Nintendo console rightfully takes on the legacy of the previous great gamer's consoles, such as the NES and the PlayStation2.

Sources: Games Industry, GameDaily, Gamasutra, Gamasutra, TIME, Forbes, GameDaily, Reuters (via Yahoo News), BDGAME, 1UP, CVG, TechRadar, Game|Life, Forbes, EDGE

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Looking back at 2008

As another year is coming to a close, it is time to look back at 2008 and to look forward to 2009. With regards to the Wii and its competitors, what developments have there been over the past year? And what are we likely to witness over the next twelve months? I will explore this topic in a two part post. Let us start with the question whether 2008 was a good year for Wii owners.

Low Metacritic scores

When looking back at 2008 and comparing Metacritic scores, the Wii is clearly lagging behind the competition. In case you are unfamiliar with the site, Metacritic accumulates review scores from mostly North American and some European media outlets and calculates an average score out of 100.

Looking at all current-gen titles released this year which scored above 85 percent, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 boast 17 each, while Wii has a mere 8 to show for itself. And this is no statistical flaw. Even counting games ranked above 80 percent, the Sony and Microsoft consoles have 43 titles each, while Nintendo's little box has only 22. When considering the year's top ten games, Wii titles only made it to the number seven and eight spots (´Super Smash Bros. Brawl´ and ´World of Goo´, respectively).

Is this perhaps simply indicative of the shovelware the market leader gets, I asked myself? Unfortunately, no. In 2002, the PlayStation2 had 21 titles above 85 percent, the Xbox had 19 and the GameCube 17. In 2003, PS2 had 26, Xbox 24 and GameCube, again, 17.

Looking at 2007, though, the field is more stretched out. Xbox 360 leads that year with 14 titles above 85 percent. PS3 has 10 and the Wii 6. Nintendo also has the year's highest rated title, ´Super Mario Galaxy´, albeit it being the only top ten entry for the console.

High Famitsu rankings

But there are other statistics to consider, other measures of quality titles. In 2008, Japan's reputable weekly gaming magazine Famitsu awarded only three perfect scores, two of which to Wii exclusives. The magazine is published by Enterbrain who also track and publish sales figures.

The first perfect Wii game of 2008 was, quite obviously, ´Super Smash Bros. Brawl´. Unexpectedly, the second was a graphic novel called ´428: Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de´ developed by SEGA. Here is a trailer.

Let us have a look at all the perfect scores awarded by Famitsu over the last ten years. Out of the nine games who received the top rating, five were exclusive to Nintendo consoles and only one of those was a portable game. With the exception of SEGA's graphic novel, though, all were first party titles.

´The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time´ (N64, 1998)
´Soul Calibur´ (Dreamcast, 1999)
´Vagrant Story´ (PlayStation, 2000)
´The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker´ (GameCube, 2003)
´Nintendogs´ (DS, 2005)
´Final Fantasy XII´ (PS2, 2006)
´Super Smash Bros. Brawl´ (Wii, 2008)
´Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots´ (PS3, 2008)
´428: Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de´ (Wii, 2008)

Looking at Famitsu's highest ranked games of 2008, each current-gen console has three entries with Wii leading the pack.

Wii redefining the mainstream

So, North American and European review scores betray a distinct lack of quality Wii titles compared to the competition, while Japan's most reputable reviewers see no such gap at all. Why do these indicators differ so greatly? I assume that Famitsu is more ready to accept Wii as a platform for new kinds of gaming. Just consider a more unusual DS game like ´Another Code´ aka ´Trace Memory´. Its Metacritic score is a measly 70 percent while Famitsu scored it a 35 out of 40, translating to a percentage of 88. I believe that Japanese gamers are simply more open to new ideas.

The Wii's tremendous and overwhelming success is often misinterpreted by traditional gamers in Europe and North America. Often you hear them talk about how Wii has found its niche, not realising that they themselves are the niche now. Wii has redefined what must be considered mainstream gaming. Christening something as mainstream is not a question of content or interpretation, it is all about numbers. And they are as clear as anything.


So, all in all, it would be wrong to say that games for Nintendo's newest console lack in quality. After all, ´Wii Sports´ is one of the most immersive and addictive videogames in decades. It was TIME Magazine's game of the year 2006 whose editor noted that "it might be the greatest videogame ever made" for precisely those reasons.

It is true, however, that the Wii lacks high quality traditional games. There are solid titles to be found in every genre, but far less than on the other two consoles. Why is that? Mainly, Nintendo has the weakest third party relations of the big three. This, in turn, is owed to the fact that no other hardware manufacturer is as successful a publisher as Nintendo.

But will this remain the status quo in 2009? No, I believe. The sheer numbers of Wii consoles sold will convince third parties to both increase their Wii budgets and widen their portfolio to include more than the ´Touch Generations´ type games. This will be the topic of the second part of the post.

Thanks to: MaxConsole, Go Nintendo, Joystiq

Saturday, December 20, 2008

3D after all?, part III

There are rumours that the PlayStation3 will be the next console to offer stereoscopic three-dimensional visuals. Apparently, Sony "fully intends" to support 3D output, both for gaming and Blu-ray playback as of 2009.

The rumours originate from a website called Meant to be seen, a self-proclaimed "stereoscopic 3D Certification and Advocacy group" financed by some 3D hardware manufacturers. The website has published an article which claims:

I have received confirmation from Blitz Games Studios that Sony "fully intends" to support stereoscopic 3D gaming and Blu-ray 3D on the Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) in 2009. Blitz will of course be helping back this technology with their Blitz Tech engine.

The best part is console support will only need a bios upgrade to work, and we are told that the ability to add this capability via bios may be unique to Sony PS3 versus the other console solutions.

Blitz Games Studios has developed the ´King Games´ for Burger King, ´Fuzion Frenzy´ and ´Zapper´, as well as the questionable ´Reservoir Dogs´ and ´Bad Boys II´. The company also licenses middleware technology called BlitzTech, which they claim has "powered over 25 titles, totalling over 70 releases covering 8 platforms". It would appear, though, as if the studio has been unable to sell their technology to other developers.

Nevertheless, the BlitzTech features make an impressive read. The paragraph about 3DTV is accompanied by the following mock-up - bearing a PlayStation3 controller.

BlitzTech is at the forefront of rising interest in 3D displays for the home with exciting possibilities for presenting content with higher realism and sense of player immersion in breathtaking 3D. In a complex market with competing technologies the key to increasing adoption is to ensure compatibility with the widest possible range of displays to unlock the potential of amazing 3D display hardware out there. The engine provides a highly flexible stock solution that supports all current suitable formats including active and passive glasses as well as newer auto-stereoscopic displays not only on PC but uniquely also on high-definition console - an industry first.

While there have always been third party solutions for converting standard video signals into stereoscopic 3D images by means of shutter glasses, this would be only the second time ever that a console manufacturer fully endorses the technology, after Nintendo's failed Virtual Boy.

I am a little suspicious of this rumour. Auto-stereoscopic displays still are too expensive to reach a mass market. Of course, videogame companies have been toying with this technology for years. But, currently, headgear is the only possible means to bring 3D visuals to a large audience. And what normal person wants to sit on a couch wearing glasses?

Ubisoft is developing a 3D game, which apparently will use shutter glasses. But in a trailer from 2007, the publisher made it quite clear that they want to do away with those glasses, if possible.

I am sure that there is some truth to this rumour. If Sony is being mentioned, they must have been in talks with the studio. However, I can only cynically assume that both the studio and the so-called advocacy group blew Sony's positive feedback totally out of proportion. After all, building hype is just what these two companies want.

Having said that, I would absolutely love it if this rumour was true and I could watch my EyePet run circles around me next year. That would no doubt become the system seller which Sony so badly needs.

Sources: Meant to be seen, Blitz Games Studios
Thanks to: Raphael, Joystiq

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Analyst calls PS3 a "sinking ship"

PS3 "flopping so badly"

An analyst with Silicon Alley Insider has called the PlayStation3 a "sinking ship" which is "flopping so badly". The site is run and written by reputable industry analysts.

Sony's PS3 is dying on the shelves. (...) There's really only one option left for Sony to remain in the game: deep price cuts, and not just for people with good credit. Tell yourself the PS3 has superior graphics if it makes you feel better, but a $400 console with a mediocre game library simply cannot compete against an Xbox 360 priced at $200 in this economy.

The same analyst later wrote a similar article about the PlayStation Portable, noting it was in just as much trouble.

What's wrong? The problems with the PSP are surprisingly similar to the problems with the PS3. It's overpriced ($170 to $130 for the DS Lite), has superior graphics no one cares about, and a mediocre game library. And because PSP console sales stink, game publishers are unlikely to devote resources to making more quality PSP titles.

Sony rules out PSP2 for now

These are harsh words to say the least, if not exaggerated. Of course, the discussion whether the PSP is a dead platform is an admissible one. SCEE president David Reeves told MCV UK in unusually blunt words that the PSP was struggling and that a successor was not yet being planned - at least not to his knowledge.

There are currently no plans for a PSP2. I go to Tokyo quite a lot and no one has referred to it – I think they have their hands full at the moment. (...) We just launched the PSP-3000 so we are still focused on this generation of the platform. (...)

The PSP is as successful in numbers as PS2 – it tracks its numbers in a cumulative basis. (...) Its weakness, however, is its software. And that’s because developers, when it comes to placing their bets, have to choose PS3 and 360, then Wii, then DS, maybe even PS2 before PSP. It’s the same at our internal studios, where the focus has been on PS3. They’ve also focused a lot on PS2 as well because we have to get the SingStars out for that format. So PSP games will come – they just take a while longer.

EDIT A PSP2 is in the works, after all, Eurogamer has learned from anonymous "publishing sources". Apparently, yet another PSP revision is due to launch in 2009. A proper successor to the handheld will follow later. Publishers have already started developing games for the new system, the article claims.

Third round of Sony lay-offs

One worrying sign are another round of lay-offs at the corporation. A three year restructuring program called ´Transformation 60´announced in October 2003 already cut the workforce by 20.000 employees.

In 2007, around a hundred people were fired from the US PlayStation division, Sony Computer Entertainment America. The division's then head of PR, Dave Karraker, attempted to reassure everyone that these renewed redundancies are "not wholly related to any one product in our portfolio."

Now, Sony is firing another 8.000 employees from the "electronics business". This means that SCE will again be affected.

EDIT Apparently, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe will not be affected by those job cuts. Dutch television station RTL Nederland broadcast a 15-minute interview with SCEE president David Reeves today (interview in English). Reeves talks at length about Sony's hardware and software sales in the face of the worldwide economic crisis. About a PlayStation4, similarly to what he said above about a PSP2, Reeves notes that he has no knowledge of it and is "not even sure it is being planned."

Sony platforms in last place

Remember the analyst who said two years ago that there will never be a PlayStation4? The same analyst now said in a Reuters article that the race for supremacy in this console generation is over. Yuta Sakurai from Nomura Securities believes that the Wii will remain at the top.

The competition stage is over. (...) The spread on shipment volumes is so large that it's not even worth talking about it. They aren't rivals.

The sales figures are indeed quite clear. Reuters compiled a nice chart comparing the three home consoles, as well as both portables. Take a look for yourself, but bear in mind that Forbes painted a more grim picture with their PS3 lifetime sales totalling a mere 13 million units.

The Reuters figures source the manufacturers and Sony only ever publishes sell-in data, i.e. the amount of consoles sold to stores. If the Forbes figures are a true reflection of consoles sold to consumers, then the PS3 is indeed dying on the shelves - millions of units, that is.

So, here we have another harsh analyst's statement. Should we care? Of course, we need to cut the populist rhetoric (particularly the swear words). What remains, is still a substantial problem. Both Sony consoles have been caught in the downward spiral of dwindling sales causing third parties to devote their money to other platforms, which in turn makes for even worse sales figures.

As noted above, the PSP may be seen as a dead platform, (although some key publishers have recently told me about renewed interest). The PS3, it may be argued, will stay in third place. I strongly believe so and in this, I agree with the articles above.

But there is a key difference between PSP and PS3. The former introduced a storage medium which failed. The latter introduced a storage medium that is set to become the new industry standard. Of course, winning against HD-DVD was no final victory. Blu-ray still has to win against the regular DVD - and before physical storage media become obsolete. But continued adoption of the Blu-ray format may make for a push significant enough to keep the PS3 afloat. It may end up in the same situation Nintendo was in when their Gamecube came in a close third.

I myself am sceptical whether Sony president Howard Stringer really can rally up shareholder support for another multi-billion investment called PlayStation4. Perhaps he himself has no such intentions. But also bear in mind that the PlayStation brand remains one of the strongest brand names in consumer electronics and even Stringer will try his utmost to reap at least some rewards from it.

Incidentally, this is the very reason why Microsoft will not pull out of this market. For all their investments into both Xbox projects, Microsoft has losses of around six billion dollars to show to the shareholders. But after establishing a strong brand, as well as making and solidifying third party relations, they would be fools to pull out now. Of course, Microsoft has the money, if they only want to. With Sony, money may end up too tight to play the home console roulette for a fourth time.

EDIT The people over at Ars Technica have more interesting graphics to illustrate the console race in November in the US. And Chart Get! has calculated that Nintendo platforms took more than 65 percent of the total console market in that time, promising more charts to break down the numbers in detail soon.

EDIT The above article has now appeared over on CNN Money.

EDIT A number of other media outlets have picked up on the Silicon Alley / CNN story. Here are their key points below, in the familiar style of guest commentary.

A little hard to swallow

It's hard to argue with their conclusion that the PS3 needs a price cut soon, and a substantive one at that. Ten year lifespan or not, it stands on the brink of falling behind the Xbox 360 by an insurmountable margin. (...)

Acknowledging the price issue, the other two [key reasons given] fall into a much more gray area. Blu-Ray shows more signs of life with each month that passes since it won the HD format war. (...) Admittedly, the question of whether the PS3 has a library of must-have titles is more subjective. But dismissing Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBIGPlanet, Resistance 1 and 2, and Uncharted alone is a little hard to swallow.

PC Magazine (via Yahoo News)

What were the Sony execs thinking?

The Nintendo Wii remains the most popular system in the land, and, at $250, isn't necessarily a budget buster. XBox 360 has made serious inroads by dropping the price of its core system to $199. So how did Sony respond?

By releasing a new version of the PS3 ... that's $100 more expensive. Yes, it comes with a game, and yes, it has more hard-drive space, to which I respond: Who cares? Was the marketplace clamoring for more memory from the PS3? Is that why its market penetration is so low compared to its predecessors and competition? What were the Sony execs thinking? (...)

Market penetration remains low, and every month people don't buy a Blu-ray player is a month they get closer to downloadable HD movies and the death of the format as a whole. Sony would be wise to step it up and do a better job at getting Blu-ray players into people's homes.

Washington Times

Sony has actually been playing catchup

Sony rightly points out that the PS3 has seen hardware sales grow 60% year-to-date. I realize the PS3 wasn't selling well in 2007, so that figure's less impressive than it sounds, but growth is growth, any way you slice it. What's more, look at PS3 and Xbox 360 units sold in total worldwide, and Sony pretty much throughout 2008 has actually been playing catchup. (...)

On the other hand, CNN's whacking the nail on the head when it raises the problem of the PlayStation 3's price. The recession's been on well and long enough for Sony to have reacted by now, and yet it's stubbornly clung to that $400 entry point.

Washington Post

Sony has put on a brave face

Sony has put a brave face on its Christmas failure. It said that over the last year sales have been picking up on the console. The figure it claims is about 60 per cent.

Now given the fact that sales during 2007 were even worse than 2008 that is not something you want to crow too much about. However Sony seems to think that means that 2009 will be even better.

The Inquirer

How far should Sony go?

The question is, how much of the PS3's sluggish sales are due to pricing? And if they do cut prices, how far should Sony go? $300? $200?

Firing Squad

Blu-ray awesome, exclusives are there

Blu-ray is catching on big time, and I think the first-day sales numbers of The Dark Knight and Iron Man will back me up on that one. As for the third point, LittleBigPlanet, Valkyria Chronicles, and Resistance 2 say “Hi.” Heck, even IGN declared the PS3 the place to go for exclusives in 2008.

It’s obvious that a price cut would help the PS3’s competitive position, but it seems silly at this point to brand the black beauty a sinking ship. After all, Blu-ray is awesome, the exclusives are there (with more on the way), and we haven’t even begun to review emergency procedures (it’s men and old people first, right?).

TVG blog

Sales will need to improve significantly, and soon

Sony is still trying to make the PlayStation 3 business profitable and start paying off the costs of developing the hardware. Its software sales are strong, despite weaker hardware sales, but both will need to improve significantly, and soon. Given Sony's ironclad devotion to profitability in the near term, the quickest route to higher PS3 sales -- a price drop -- simply is not feasible.

As an alternative, Sony could publish a must-have software title that attracts more consumers willing to pay the price for its hardware. Short of Metal Gear Solid 4 in June 2008, it would appear that no exclusive software has really driven hardware sales. Even Sony's flagship holiday title, LittleBigPlanet, only managed 141,000 units during November.


A formidable presence in this industry

We're still seeing the PS3 business ramp up and that the story is going to take a little longer to unfold this generation than in previous cycles. Sony is a formidable presence in this industry and year-to-date has achieved a pretty significant increase over last year. I think we're just going to have to wait and see how 2009 unfolds.

NPD analyst Anita Frazier (via GameDaily)

Slow to react to the current crisis

We believe fundamental changes to its business structure are necessary. (...) Compared to its peers both at home and overseas, Sony has been slow to react to the current crisis. [These comments were made after Sony announced worldwide job cuts of 8.000.]

Credit Suisse analyst Koya Tabata (via Bloomberg)

Too overpriced to penetrate the market

If you’re worried about your job, are you going to buy a $400 PS3? (...) Christmas is not going to have the same glow. (...) The PS3 is too overpriced to penetrate the market we are in today.

Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey (via Bloomberg)

Between a rock and a hard place

Sony should be worried. (...) The value proposition for the PS3/Xbox 360 is now out of whack in favor of the Xbox 360. I think there will be some very hard decisions to make after the New Year. They might not be able to afford a price cut, but on the other hand they might not be able to afford their current price. They are between a rock and a hard place. Like I said, my biggest concern for the PS3 is if they let the Xbox 360 gain big momentum in Europe.

DFC Intelligence analyst David Cole (via GameDaily)

Plenty of time left to catch up

With both the PS3 and the PSP being the highest priced platforms in their segment, it is no surprise that both were the only next-gen platforms to post a year-over-year decline. (...)

In terms of cutting prices, currently, it wouldn't be financially responsible or beneficial for them to cut the PS3's price point; manufacturing costs are just too high. That being said, I do expect the PS3 to receive a price cut in early 2009. This is when Sony should reach a point of manufacturing efficiency that would financially warrant a price cut. (...)

We are not even at the half-way point for this generation, there is still plenty of time left for Sony to catch up and I believe in the long-term, Sony will gain a significant amount of ground on the Xbox 360. It just might take longer than what Sony expected; except in the handheld market – I think we can all agree there is no hope for the PSP in North America at this point.

EEDAR analyst Jesse Divnich (via GameDaily)

A greater victim of the recession

I think Sony is a greater victim of the recession, more because they are a consumer electronics company than a video game company; people aren't buying HDTVs and that's why Best Buy has been talking about their same store sales being down 5-15%. It's really hard to get people to come in and spend on the super big ticket items. I think Sony is feeling the pain of that and I had expected that there would be a high attach rate this holiday of PS3s to HDTVs because Best Buy was pushing it... and that's not happening.

So that's the first problem. Secondly, you can't buy a PS3 for less than $399, and the average of all Xbox 360 SKUs in November was $270. So the Xbox 360 average price is $129 less than the PS3, and that's hurting [Sony]. The other factor is that the Wii is ridiculously cheaper. So Sony has all these things working against it, and then at the end of the day, their game lineup, which is very good, is still not sufficiently differentiated to induce people to say "I've just got to buy a PS3."

Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter (via GameDaily)

The cash-haemorraghing disaster that has been PS3

So, they've decided to release HOME as a public Beta. That's HOME, the amazing virtual world that had game journalists and PS3 fanboys proclaiming the greatness of Sony and how it would be the best thing EVER! Except, it's not. Two years on, it turns out to be a half empty, badly thought out mess (queuing to play a game of Pool?!) and clearly nothing more than a cynical attempt to actually make some money out of the cash-haemorraghing disaster that has been PS3. And with nothing on the horizon, save GT5, surely the 'nail in the coffin'. Even ThreeSpeech can't be arsed to Big It Up like they did with Little Big Planet (already being sold for £19.99)


Should the price be cut? No.

Yes the PS3 is in last place in sales in November. But once you look at the year over all and add in one other geographic sales area, Japan, suddenly the PS3 is in second place for yearly sales to date. Logic can be frustrating to those with a plan based on a house of lies. I am sure that if the truth were to escape, there are 360 fans that would be hurling themselves off the roof. I would not care for that but I would really like to see Eric Krangel and the staff of Kotaku take a header. The gaming community would be better for their absence.

With the combined sales of the US and Japan putting the PS3 in second place by just over 30,000 consoles, should the price be cut? Again, no. The main persons crowing for a price cut are the uninformered, the cheap, and those interested in Sony losing money. But what about Europe you say? Other than some spurts in the UK, the PS3 is soundly winning in Europe. The only place sweating that territory is Microsoft.

Playstation Army

Sources: Silicon Alley Insider, Silicon Alley Insider, Reuters, MCV UK, EDGE, Eurogamer
Thanks to: Joystiq, Joystiq, Kotaku, Games Industry

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Project cancelled at Wii developer Factor 5?

There are rumours about a cancelled project and lay-offs at Californian developer Factor 5 (´Star Wars: Rogue Squadron´, ´Turrican´, ´Lair´) in the wake of publisher Brash Entertainment going out of business, as Variety reported.

Factor 5 announced that they were working on at least one Wii game in January and recently specified that they were developing "several projects, both multi-platform as well as single-platform titles for the Wii". This suggests that Factor 5 is actually developing more than one Wii game.

Brash had signed a publishing deal with Factor 5 earlier this year regarding "an unnamed title releasing in 2010 to be announced around the E3 Expo in July."

Now, Factor 5 animation artist Sam Baker (Google cache, now offline) published some details about the financial state of the studio on his blog.

No one at Factor 5 had been paid in a month.... and we weren't going to any time soon. (...) Regardless of the financial issues of the company (which I won't elaborate on), we all stayed and continued to work. If we left, there would have been no hope in F5 staying afloat. We had faith in the projects and the company, so there was no reason to bail just yet. At this time it didn't seem like much more than bad timing and bad luck.

Then we lost health care. Ok, who needs it? If we're going to eventually be paid, some sacrifices would be worth it. I had my own on the side, so I wasn't sweating it. Then things turned bad...

Without proper funding on the project I was working on, the company was forced to stop production. Unfortunately I was finally having a ton of fun working on it and we had made such insane progress that this was a total kick to the chest. It was basically like saying "the work you've been doing for the last 8 months has been all for none, but thanks anyway." After that news, moral was definitely not the greatest. We figured it wasn't a problem, however, because there were other projects that needed us, and we still had work to do. So then...

The president of the company basically told us that if we didn't receive funding in 1 week, all of us should move on and look elsewhere for another job. I had no idea how bad this economy was getting until something like this affected me personally, and yea, it sucks. I have 1 more week left at Factor 5.

Soonafter, the entire blog was deleted and the following rebuttal was posted, presumably by another person (since Sam Baker's Blogger profile went offline).

A writer for 1up came across my blog and read some information that was then misinterpreted. I'd like to clarify what exactly is going on.

Steve Watts of 1UP wrote that I said Factor 5 cut one of their main projects, a comic book superhero game, and that's incorrect. It was a big story in the news that we recently lost a publisher, Brash Entertainment, when they went out of business. This does not mean that we've stopped production on that game, or that it was ever even in trouble. The other projects currently under way at Factor 5 are doing great. We hadn't received payment because of the situation with Brash, which is why I said I needed to look elsewhere for work. I removed my blog because it contained information that easy to misinterpret.

In an interview with MTV's Stephen Totilo since Brash's demise (but before Baker's comments), Eggebrecht addresses fears about their projects, stopping short of confirming one title as a new iteration in the ´Superman´ universe.

One of our large-scale multi-platform projects was started with Brash because it is a dream property for us, hasn’t been given its dues in gaming since the Atari 2600, and has a huge universe to draw from. It also is a long-term project because we were not wiling to compromise quality at all from the start and make this into what we as fans, and hopefully every fan of the property - movies old or new, comic-book, or TV - wants to play. If we have delivered the ultimate fantasy fulfillment in a galaxy far, far away, this one certainly is intended to do the same for a completely different universe.

With that said, things are obviously in flux and we hope that the game proves to be as indestructible as our hero.

So just what is the status of the games Factor 5 is developing? What perspective is there for the employees? We know for sure from Sam Baker's resume and his comments that he will be no longer with Factor 5 next year. And a colleague of his has updated his website with a new showreel only days ago.

I sincerely hope that no games are in danger of being cancelled. Ever since Factor 5 president Julian Eggebrecht claimed that their graphics engine for the Wii "does everything that the PS3 did and then some", I am dying to see the game. And, of course, I wish all Factor 5 employees well. I have met Julian Eggebrecht on a number of occasions and I am sure that he will do anything to prevent lay-offs, if there really is any danger of that.

EDIT The rumours of lay-offs at Factor 5 are true, according to EDGE magazine and an anonymous source. Apparently, half of the workforce has been fired.

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said 37 people were laid off from the San Rafael, Calif. studio on Friday afternoon. Around 38 people remain, he said. (...)

Our source said, "The thing that bothers me the most about it all is they could have avoided all of this ages ago. It wasn't really the Brash deal going south that was the big problem, but it didn't help much either."

Sources: Sam Baker's blog (Google cache, now offline), Variety, MTV, EDGE
Thanks to: 1UP, Joystiq, Silwer, Kotaku

Friday, December 05, 2008

´Metal Gear Solid 4´ no longer PS3 exclusive?, part VIII

Hideo Kojima is hinting at a new installment in the ´Metal Gear´ series, possibly on Xbox360, via this teaser site. It contains a flash animation that apparently features the Xbox360's ring of light, pictured below the screengrab for comparison:

Alternatively, the small caps letter ´i´ could hint at a whole number of other platforms: the iPhone, the DSi and the Wii. The exclamation mark is part of the ´Metal Gear Acid´ logo, but could also reference the MGS series symbol for being discovered by the enemy. A reference to ´Metal Gear Acid´ is unlikely since the directory the teaser animation is in reads ´MGST´. This strongly suggests a ´Metal Gear Solid´ title, perhaps with a subtitle beginning with the letter ´T´.

Only in mid-October, a Konami spokesperson confirmed: "We're actively looking into a [Metal Gear Solid 4] release for the Xbox 360" in a Japanese magazine. Shortly afterwards, the journal removed the quote from the article.

Speaking to Eurogamer in late August, the series' creator Hideo Kojima tried to dispel the rumours about an Xbox360 version and wished people would stop asking.

Because MGS4 was optimised for the PS3 it is probably not possible. But, you know, what kind of disturbs me sometimes, because a lot of people ask me about this PS3/360 question, is that it's not about the hardware - I want people to look at the game itself. Sometimes I even feel like it should be on a PC so that people don't ask me about hardware and platforms.

Still, Kojima himself hinted at an Xbox360 version. Many industry experts, myself included, have taken the non-exclusivity for granted. The PlayStation3's poor hardware sales and the game's staggering budget simply do not make an unlimited exclusivity a viable option from an economic point of view. And there were plenty of indicators that an Xbox360 version was already in the works. Here is another updated rundown of all the other hints and rumours regarding this debate from day one.

Part I, October 2006

Electronic Gaming Monthly tease readers with the headline ´Metal Gear Solid 4 on Xbox 360?´ on the magazine´s cover.

However, on the NeoGAF forums, former EGM editor Che Chou seeks to squash the rumours.

It's simply a rumor that Konami higher-ups are pressuring Kojima Productions to consider making MGS4 a multiplatform game because production costs on the game are unsurprisingly high and only getting higher. With PS3 install base numbers not looking all that rosy due to console cost and manufacturing problems, Konami is scared they can't recoup their investment on only 1 platform alone.

Part II, December 2006

On his blog, industry insider Daniel Boutros claims that an Xbox360 version of MGS4 has been confirmed behind closed doors.

It's coming a few months later than the PS3 game, but it's happening folks.

This is said to be because publishers - including Konami - don't believe there'll be enough PS3s out there by the time the game hits because of the blu ray diode failure issues. (...)

Part III, January 2007

Speaking to GamePro, Hideo Kojima himself says that ´MGS4 is actually for the PS3 only,´ adding a significant ´so far´.

If I say too much, Mr. Kutaragi might get really upset. I think that the PS3 is difficult to work with, but so was the PS2. (...)

I do have strong interest in creating something for the Xbox 360. In the US and Europe, it is selling, and I think it will sell a lot this year as well. I'm a fan of Gears of War as well, it's very interesting.

Frankly speaking, I want to create something on the PC. It's a multi-platform [format]. I've been regularly studying work on the PC anyways, and I want to provide something as a world-wide platform because of the consequences with timing on the PlayStation platforms, MGS4 is actually for the PS3 only so far.

Part IV, April 2007

The VG Resource Center claims to have received a statement by an anonymous source within Konami.

Yes, in fact, we are working on putting Metal Gear Solid 4 on the Xbox 360 and PC, which should both come out roughly 6 months after the PS3 release. However, we've been working with Microsoft so the 360 and PC versions will both take advantage of Xbox Live and Games for Windows Live, with such features as achievements and the ability for 360 and PC owners to play against each other in multiplayer.

Part V, May 2007

An alleged Microsoft employee writing for Destructoid confirms that the game will be released on Xbox360 no more than one year after the PlayStation3 version. The article reads:

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots will not be a PS3 exclusive after all. It has been confirmed that it will make its way to the Xbox 360 in 2008.

There is no true date set for the release at this point, but November of 2008 has been mentioned. This is not set in stone as Konami is working with Microsoft to bring the date forward as much as possible. (...) The announcement hasn't been officially made yet, but the source works for Konami, and I know for a fact that MS has been negotiating this for months.

The article has since been subjected to a ´Cease and Desist´ order.

Part VI, July 2007

A Reuters article cites Kazumi Kitaue, head of Konami's North American and European operations speaking about a multi-platform MGS4.

Kitaue said Konami may need to expand the target hardware for its blockbuster fighting game Metal Gear Solid, which has so far been developed for Sony's PlayStation machines, to other consoles in the future to recoup development costs.

"Since Metal Gear Solid was born for the PlayStation, we would like to keep it a PlayStation game. But we might have to take some steps," Kitaue said. (...)

Only days later, the Official Xbox Magazine claims a "bankable source" confirmed that the game would be coming to Xbox360 "a few months" after the PS3 version.

Soon after, music and videogame retailer HMV lists a PS3 and an Xbox360 version on its website, detailing 2008 release dates of April 18 and September 26, respectively, later claiming an "admin error".

Part VII, January 2008

Xbox site XboxFamily claimed to have been told about an Xbox360 version of ´Metal Gear Solid 4´ being in the works, citing an inside source with the game´s publisher.

Speaking to a Konami rep at an undisclosed distribution meeting, I was told, after a lot of nagging, that yes indeed MGS was in development for the 360. The rep stated that Metal Gear Solid will be released for the Xbox 360 between 12 to 14 months after the PS3 version hits shelves. This is not a rumor.

Only some months before, in a Reuters article published in late November, the game´s assistant producer Ryan Payton said the following about the publisher´s high expectations for the game.

Payton said the new "Metal Gear Solid" needs to sell over a million copies on the first day it goes on sale due to its costly production, but that may be a tough mark to hit given sluggish PS3 sales.

EDIT Here are some interesting theories by other media outlets, starting with the brand new Offworld, Boing Boing's gaming site.

Back in July, as many may have forgot, a French games blog suggested a rumor that Kojima Productions might have a December Surprise up its sleeve. December 12th, they said, six months after the release of the game (that length of time, players will note, fitting in nicely with the fiction of ´Metal Gear Solid 4´) might trigger an in-game event.

PC World (via Yahoo News) also has some interesting comments on this:

Since the colors are electric green on black, and since the symbol to the right looks an awful lot like the symbol in the middle of the power button on the face of the 360, it's not hard to see why.

On the other hand, it's actually just the universal power symbol, also known as IEC 5009 (which refers to "power" but alternatively to "standby" or both "power/standby") as well as IEEE 1621, where it refers explicitly to the "power control user interface." It's also on Apple laptops, Windows-based laptops, desktops, various other electronic devices, and if you look at the touch button on your PS3 -- yep, it's there too. That it's green may have some significance...or it may be a red herring. Hard to say.

EDIT Here is another interesting theory, courtesy of TVG, focussing on the inverted exclamation mark.

TVG has its own theory: MGS4 was released globally on the 12th of June (12/06). Invert that date like the exclamation point, and you get '06/12' – which is tomorrow.

So, is Konami finally confirming tomorrow that MGS4 will be heading to Microsoft as the last great third-party PlayStation exclusive to go multi-platform?

Sources: Konami, Joystiq, Joystiq, Eurogamer, Offworld, PC World (via Yahoo News)
Thanks to: Kolt, Kotaku, Kotaku

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Forbes publishes Wii lifetime sales

Financial publication Forbes has published the lifetime sales of all three current-gen consoles. The current tally is as follows:

Wii: 35 million units
Xbox360: 23 million units
PS3: 13 million units

The article goes on to quote David Gibson, an analyst with Macquarie Securities about profits and losses made per hardware unit sold.

Sony loses money on each Playstation sold. Microsoft (...) might just break even. But every Wii brings in $6 of operating profit for Nintendo.

However, this bit of information appears to contradict earlier research data. Back in November 2006, a market research company estimated that only the PS3 was a lossmaker. Of course, there is a difference between pure revenue and operating profit, which might explain the contradiction. But despite its reputation, the Forbes article is already wrong on at least one count, noting that Nintendo "brought out the Wii gaming console three years ago".

At any rate, despite those phenomenal sales figures, some media outlets suggest that the Wii demand is cooling off in Japan.

During its first year on store shelves, the console sold an average of 386,000 units a month. In its second year since release, that figure is down 24% to 292,000 a month. With the holiday season upon us, the Wii would have to sell 2 million total units over the season to bring its average back up to where it used to be.

Of course, the curse of such phenomenal sales figures as the Wii experienced so far is that they are difficult to sustain. A boom, in economic terms, is a volatile situation and everything but stable.

The Forbes article details, however, that the Wii is expected to sell more units in 2008 than the best-selling console to date, the PS2, sold in its strongest year, 2003.

And in the portable space, Nintendo clearly reigns supreme. With the new iteration of the Nintendo DS the handheld sold half a million units in one month in Japan.

All in all it would appear as if 2008 is wrapping up as another winner for Nintendo, on both console fronts. Let's see what 2009 has in store for us and the big three.

Sources: Forbes, Nintendo Wii Fanboy
Thanks to: Joystiq, Nintendo Wii Fanboy, Chart Get!