Sunday, September 30, 2007

September surprise delayed?

After having promised a surprise for "the end of September", Nintendo is leaving its delivery rather late.

Just to recap, the relevant quote is taken from a post-E3 interview between Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime and Spike´s Gamehead. Here is the video again, the quote is 2:20 minutes into the interview.

And here is a verbatim transcript of the relevant passage:

Gamehead: Let´s talk about some of the gamers who have been waiting politely for, you know, some more, you know, channels on the Wii. You know: WiiConnect24 - when you guys first started talking about that. All this excitement: this blue light was gonna come on, there was gonna be a surprise on your birthday...

-Possible cut-

Fils-Aime: They´re still coming. We announced at E3 a new channel, right? The ´Check Mii Out´ channel. And we still have plans.

-Possible cut-

Gamehead: By the end of the summer?

Fils-Aime: But the surprise is coming.

Gamehead: End of the summer?

Fils-Aime: The surprise is coming.

Gamehead: This year?

Fils-Aime:: By the end of September.

Gamehead: Alright, we'll wait and see. Is it gonna be a good surprise?

Fils-Aime: I think you'll like the surprise.

Since Reggie´s cryptic comments, his colleague Perrin Kaplan hinted at more channels a month ago by announcing "a few more surprises like the Metroid Prime 3 Preview."

For a comprehensive summary of all the hints regarding a ´last secret´, please read the commentary to this post.

So where is this surprise then? At the time of posting, Nintendo of America has only about nine hours left to deliver a surprise in September. For Europe, the last hour of the month has almost begun and my living room is not yet filled with a pulsating, ambient blue light. Japan has already slipped into October hours ago.

And what could it possibly be? In the post below, I have speculated that the surprise might tie in with Nintendo closing its forums in North America and Europe. It seems likely that it could be a Wii channel which would render official forums obsolete. In detail, it could be some kind of internet community like ´PlayStation Home´, possibly even in the form of ´Animal Crossing Wii´. The game was announced ages ago, but we have not seen a single screenshot of it.

Either way, with Reggie making the most concrete promise yet of a ´last secret´ or surprise, it is impossible that nothing will materialize. They have clearly announced that something is in the pipeline and it may just be delayed. The September surprise seems to have been pushed back to October.

Lastly, I can exclusively reveal that this has nothing to do with the surprise G4´s ´Attack of the Show´ had announced for this week and postponed.

Source: Spike´s Gamehead
Thanks to: Linkario5

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nintendo of Europe lying about forum closure?

Nintendo of Europe has just released a statement regarding the closure of their forums. This comes only days after Nintendo of America closed the NSider forums for good. In the statement, Nintendo of Europe now rationalizes their decision, rather than citing security problems.

Today we bring you news about certain changes to the Nintendo website. After we experienced some security issues in the past, the community forums have now been closed for good. (...)

When the forums launched we felt they were an essential service for our many loyal site visitors, and the response to them suggested you felt the same way. Since then, however, a number of other online Nintendo communities have surfaced. Dedicated solely to providing a place for Nintendo fans to meet and chat together, these forums are looked after by people who are able to focus all their resources in one area.

Given the growth of all these other online communities, we think visitors to our website would be best served if we focused all our energies on putting together a new that will offer Club Nintendo members a number of new features for an expanded experience with our products. (...)

We hope you will enjoy all the exciting new features on the horizon.

I find the whole story very odd indeed. Nintendo had no good reason to ditch their online community in the US and Europe. The maintenance of such forums is neither difficult nor costly, while providing the company with plenty of benefits.

In the latter territory, the security problems originally given as a reason seem to have been a pretext. The chances of technical issues which necessitated the closure of the site coinciding with a general decision to abandon the forums are practically zero. It appears to me that they are lying in order to conceal their real motivation behind this move.

So, in line with some comments on this blog, I can only presume that Nintendo is preparing some kind of replacement community in the form of a Wii channel. This would tie in with the last secret Nintendo has been touting for at least a year.

Source: Nintendo of Europe
Thanks to: Βορέας

Monday, September 24, 2007

NSider forums reincarnated

Only days after Nintendo of America announced they were to close their NSider forums, the forums have been reincarnated as NSider2. The privately run site aims to pick things up where the official NSider forums left them. The site already boasts an impressive count of 1.500 members.

If you send a message to a moderator after registering your old NSider username and include an image or the link to the Google cache of your old NSider profile, they will reinstate your post count and rank, as their FAQ thread describes. Simply search for the keyword ´NSider´ and your username and you can retrieve the site´s Google cache. Once that option expires you are left with the Internet Archive´s Wayback Machine.

If you are still missing NSider, give NSider2 a try. You will find that it feels eerily familiar, trolls and idiots included. But you will also meet a number of friendly people, no doubt.

Source: NSider2
Thanks to: DarkWish

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Star Wars lightsaber action coming to Wii, as predicted

LucasArts have announced a Wii version of ´Star Wars: The Force Unleashed´ which will offer "owners the unique chance to live out their Jedi fantasies by wielding the Wii Remote™ as a lightsaber while using the Nunchuk™ controller to torment foes with their Force™ powers."

The Wii version, in development by Krome Studios, will also add an exclusive duel mode in which players can compete head-to-head with their friends to determine the ultimate Jedi Master.

"The Wii is a great platform for The Force Unleashed, because the console's motion-oriented controllers really bring the game to life," said Jim Ward, President of LucasArts. "We've worked hard to make the Wii version of the game unique in order to truly let you unleash the Force." (...)

LucasArts and developer Krome Studios are creating an equally enthralling version of The Force Unleashed on the Wii, PlayStation®2 computer entertainment system and PSP® (PlayStation®Portable) system, and n-Space, Inc., is developing a version for the Nintendo DS™. All will feature the same storyline, with opportunities to unleash the Force in devastating new ways.

Australian developer Krome Studios is responsible for the ´TY the Tasmanian Tiger™´ series and are currently busy with ´The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night´ for Wii and ´Viva Pinata: Party Animals´ for Xbox360.

Finally, we have confirmation of the game I exclusively revealed, way back in May 2006. I was only wrong about the timing, believing Nintendo would show a teaser trailer there and then. That was my interpretation, though. The information I got from my source was entirely accurate.

EDIT I realise that there is some discussion whether my exclusive information really matches ´The Force Unleashed´. I admit that I never knew a great deal of detail about the game. So, to make sure, here is a chronology of what I said and when:

"There will be a star wars exclusive for wii, i just learned, light sabers and all. it will be revealed tuesday." 8th of May 2006

"My informant regarding the star wars game is a very senior industry insider that is not affiliated with a specific developer or publisher. he believed that nintendo will steal the show." 8th of May 2006

"I am a bit disappointed that lucasarts were unable to show their exclusive star wars game for wii at the show, featuring hot lightsaber action. apparently, you will have to wait until e3 2007 for that one. nothing has been officially announced, but remeber where you heard it first. but even without it, i am very confident that the wii launch will be one of the most spectacular launches in console history." 13th of May 2006

"Noone has ever denied the game. At E3, I have had a frank (and off-the-record) discussion with a very senior executive at LucasArts and he told me that they will show the game at E3 2007. Don´t forget: my original informer is a very senior figure in the industry. It´s a shame the title wasn´t shown this year. But my information is 100% accurate. Remember where you heard it first, people." 25th of May 2006

"I only received exclusive and confidential information that this game was in development (that was in May). It was my own assumption that it would be shown (with everyone associating the Wiimote with Star Wars). (...)

I know this: There is a Star Wars game in development for Wii that focusses on lightsaber action. I have no idea when it will be shown or when it will be ready."
5th of August 2006

"I have spoken to a reliable source about the Wii-exclusive Star Wars game I learnt about last year. This source has seriously questioned whether LucasArts would consider exclusives at all with their current titles being strictly multi-platform. The person I spoke to also questioned my original source. To me, though, such a game would make perfect sense, business-wise, since pretty much every Wii owner would gobble it up." 25th of August 2007

Also, bear in mind that while I may have been lucky enough to be the first journalist to know about the game (certainly the first to make it public), other media outlets soon followed suit. IGN confirmed that LucasArts was ´looking into it´ only days after I revealed the game and, finally, in May this year, French news agency AFP removed the last doubts anyone of you may have had.

"During a technical demonstration for an unnamed Xbox 360 and PS3 Star Wars title, LucasArts made note to announce high interest in creating a Wii title in the Star Wars universe, with lightsaber battles in mind." IGN, 11th of May 2006

"The head of the LucasArts, the game division for "Star Wars" series creator George Lucas, told AFP a Wii game that lets players wield virtual light sabers is on the horizon." AFP, 27th of May 2007

So, there you have it. I readily admit that I never knew much. But I knew that a ´Star Wars´ game featuring hot lightsaber action was either in pre-production or development by early May 2006. And it seems obvious that this game was ´Star Wars: The Force Unleashed´.

I was wrong about the entire game being a proper exclusive. But, again, there are almost no straight ports to Wii and this one features ´an exclusive duel mode´.

Source: LucasArts
Thanks to: Product_Number_18, CVG

Monday, September 17, 2007

NSider forums closed

Nintendo of America has closed its official forums, NSider. In a statement on the site, the move is described as an ´indefinite´ closure:

Nintendo is working on a major overhaul to to support the continued success of Nintendo DS and Wii. As we prepare for this huge site update, Nintendo must unfortunately close the Nintendo NSider Forums message boards indefinitely beginning Sept. 17, 2007. (...)

While their future remains uncertain, (...) remember also that the unique features available with Nintendo DS and Wii give Nintendo the opportunity to communicate directly with fans, while also enabling fans and friends around the world to communicate with each other. (...)

Starting Sept. 17, existing NSider Forums will be available in Read Only format for one week. Private Messages will be disabled. On Monday, Sept. 24, the forums will be removed from public view.

In a mail sent to all NSider members with at least Sage status, which I received in July 2006, Nintendo of America added:

The Nintendo NSider Forums have been indefinitely closed. (...) We know that this may come as disappointing news to you, but we want you to know that we sincerely appreciate the contribution you've made to the community. The Nintendo NSider Forums would not have been the same without great contributions from Sages like you. Even though the forums have closed, we still value your opinion and care about what you think.

We have created an online survey exclusively for Sages to get your feedback on the Nintendo NSider Forums.

In the survey, I wrote the following commentary:

The NSider forums were always maintained in a spirit of ´laissez faire´ and I welcomed that. While reasonable but critical posts (mine included) are regularly deleted over at the Sony PlayStation forums, NSider allowed a high degree of criticism, even obvious trolling and flaming. Overall, I believe that the forums were self-regulating, with so many reasonable posters, Sages and Knights of Hyrule keeping stupidity and ulterior motives at bay.

I would have wanted a system like NeoGAF, though, where thread-posting rights are a hard-earned luxury and are often and easily revoked. I am shocked to see NSider closing shop and can only hope that this great community is only closed temporarily. With Nintendo´s tremendous success, gamers need a free and open platform like this one.

EDIT In fact, the Nintendo of Europe forums are also down. There is only talk of a ´temporary´ downtime, however, and technical difficulties are given as a reason.

We have temporarily suspended the community forums as we're resolving a security issue. We apologise for any inconvenience this has caused. Thank you for your patience in this matter.

Source: NSider
Thanks to: TSA, Fatnickc

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Official: Wii outsells Xbox360, becomes market leader

Wii has outsold the Xbox360 in all territories making Nintendo overall market leader in the current-generation console market, the Financial Times reports. Numbers may be slightly distorted, however, since the Japanese figures include an additional month.

According to data to the end of July (the end of August in Japan), people have bought 9m Wiis, 8.9m Xbox units and 3.7m PS3s.

The data is based on sales figures from Enterbrain in Japan, NPD Group of the US and GfK of Germany, which tracks European sales.

Predictions turn out true

In early August I predicted that Wii was only days away from the number one spot. Two weeks later, Nintendo officially won Germany.

Then, only days ago, the above figures started to appear on various forums, linking to a Nikkei report in Japanese. I was unable to verify the story beyond a reasonable doubt. But now we have confirmation.

No console above 10 million

What is interesting is that these sell-through figures differ greatly from both the predictions of Videogame Charts and NexGen Wars, who both put Wii and Xbox360 at well above ten million units.

Figures distorted?

It should also be said that only including the month of August for Japan distorts the figures to the point where Wii´s lead becomes questionable. Let us turn to Videogame Charts for weekly sales estimates.

Each week, Nintendo sells just less than 38.000 Wii consoles in Japan, making for roughly 150.000 units each month. Meanwhile, Xbox360 sold 1.700 consoles last week, making for slightly more than 6.700 units per month. If you deduct those estimates from the above figures, Xbox360 still has a very slim lead.

No significant distortion

I recommend disregarding this aspect, however, because the difference would be less than 50.000 units (which must be within the statistical error margin) and it is only a matter of weeks before the Wii will have established a clear lead.

Source: Financial Times
Thanks to: NeoGAF, Nikkei (Japanese)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Warner Bros. considering HD-DVD exclusivity

The hollywood studio Warner Bros. is considering bringing their portfolio exclusively to HD-DVD by withdrawing their Blu-ray support, the L.A. Times has learnt.

The rumour comes only weeks after Paramount and Dreamworks went HD-DVD exclusive - a move, which the article claims, was secured by the format´s main manufacturer Toshiba paying the studios 150 million dollars.

Warner Bros. is being courted by both camps and believed to be mulling over a lucrative offer that could bring such popular titles as "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" into the HD DVD camp, according to Hollywood insiders who requested anonymity because the talks were confidential. (...)

Blu-ray is the leader, with seven of the summer's 15 biggest box-office performers headed for exclusive release in its format, including "Spider-Man 3," "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," "Ratatouille," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," "The Simpsons Movie" and "Superbad."

Warner Bros., however, could change the balance of power. The last major studio backing both formats, Warner has the leading market share in high-definition disc sales, giving it clout with retail chains.

The HD-DVD Wikipedia entry notes that quite a number of Warner movies are at this time exclusive to the format, among them ´Batman Begins´, ´V for Vendetta´, ´Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines´ and ´The Matrix Trilogy´. The studio´s latest blockbuster title to be announced for home video release, ´Ocean´s Thirteen´, is set to appear on both high-definition formats, though.

First of all, apologies for the recent lack of updates. I am preparing some articles that require a high degree of research. Also, I am very busy with securing a new job in or around Frankfurt. Nothing definite yet, but stay tuned. You may yet be surprised. At any rate, I hope to be able to post more regularly in a few week´s time. Now back to the topic at hand.

If Warner would side with HD-DVD, then the format is gathering strength at a remarkable pace. The studio withdrawing Blu-ray support would be another huge blow, and most likely the fatal one, to Sony and the PlayStation3.

With Warner selling the most high-definition discs, retailers are sure to side with the studio and follow their decision. Then it would only be a matter of time before Fox and Disney jump ship and Blu-ray, as a home video format, can be pronounced dead. The future of the format is in Warner´s hands.

EDIT The Digital Bits claims that the article is based on old information and Warner already decided to turn down the offer.

[The article] was based on information that's a couple weeks out of date. This "offer" from Toshiba that the piece speaks about was apparently the one made the week Paramount and DreamWorks went HD-DVD exclusive. Our sources are telling us that Warner rejected that offer, preferring to stay format neutral. This offer thing being reported today is apparently old news.

Sources: L.A. Times, The Digital Bits
Thanks to: TVPredictions, MaxConsole, chubigans, captscience

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

SCEA's Karraker leaves, Sony to float $3 billion worth of shares

Just how bad is the PlayStation3 doing and just how desperate is Sony as a result? This is a question many people are asking on a regular basis, myself included. And both recent news headlines, SCEA's head of PR leaving and Sony selling billions worth of additional shares to resolve their cash-flow crisis, are compelling incentives to ask those questions again now.

Of course, I have already gone on record saying that PlayStation3 will stay in third place (kind of ironic when you remember that was a marketing slogan for the PS2) and you will have to agree that Sony is in a bit of a pickle. Obviously, the high price is the primary barrier to success and, given SCEI's financial situation, there was little the company could do about it up until now. Introducing a slightly upgraded model, outphasing the bottom-end one and then lowering prices meant that the status quo in terms of price remained - with a slight hardware upgrade thrown in. A disastrous move, no doubt.

The recent starter pack bundle managed to move units and put the PS3 ahead of the Xbox360 in terms of monthly sales in Europe (and the US, I believe). But still, Sony has not even managed to sell half of the units Microsoft has sold. And no developer or publisher is going to make any allowances for the Xbox360's headstart. The only figures that matter are installed hardware base and tie ratio.

In fact, Sony has been losing exclusive third party support at an alarming rate and this trend is set to continue. Many companies (like Electronic Arts) have openly admitted to betting on the wrong horse and announced an adjustment of resources towards Nintendo and away from Sony. And these decisions will not really show until early 2008, which is when a lot of people expect the PlayStation3 to finally start selling. But what games, apart from 'MGS4' (which is all but certain to be released on the Xbox360), are going to move the hardware?

Test yourself and write down all the outstanding exclusives you can think of for each console - and depending on your preferences either Xbox360 or Wii will come out tops. But I seriously doubt that any gamer will be able to list more than a few such titles for the PS3.

At last, Sony is taking measures to get that price down.
Sony Financial Holdings will float $3 billion worth of shares, which is expected to benefit SCEI to a large extent. Some analysts predict that this measure is intended to reduce the PS3's price tag. Is that a good thing? Sure Will it help? Probably not. Even with such a significant cash injection, a $100 price drop (a real one, this time: reducing the top SKU to $499) is all they can stomach. This would still leave the Xbox360 more than $100 cheaper with an undoubtedly better and more plentiful selection of games. And with Blu-ray's recent major setback, consumers are unlikely to consider this feature as a worthwhile bonus.

Dave Karraker's departure from Sony is not the first one, although it is the most high-profile person leaving voluntarily (which can hardly be said about Ken Kutaragi). Moreover, Karraker's tenure with Sony was more of a stint. And this is the main reason why his departure must be seen in this context, as an indicator of Sony's continuing up-hill struggle. While a few commentators are wondering why Karraker left when the PS3 is firmly on the road to recovery, I am asking: is it?

EDIT In an interview with 1UP, Karraker discusses his departure from Sony and his new job with a vodka merchant and remarks: "Still waiting for that pithy pun headline." Just for the record: I was considering the headline ´Sony PR director turns to alcohol´.

EDIT Square Enix president Yoichi Wada has criticized Sony for not marketing the PlayStation3 consistently. Speaking to Reuters, he told the company to "straighten up" their marketing strategy for the console.

Sony first unveiled the PS3 as a mighty home electronics product. Then, after some badgering from game companies, it shifted the position of the console closer to a game machine. (...) [The future of the PS3] would be tough if its marketing strategy is not straightened up.

This is not the first time a third-party executive has given Sony some unwarranted advice. Back in May, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said: "They have to decrease the price quite significantly."

Sources: Joystiq, Bloomberg, Reuters
Thanks to: Joystiq