Thursday, January 31, 2008

Third parties not invited to Mario party?

The debate

Who is invited to party with Mario? Since Japanese developer Suda51 ('Killer7') expressed disappointment about his latest title 'No More Heroes', a Wii exclusive, selling below expectations, it appears that the Mario party is a fairly exclusive event. "Only Nintendo titles are doing well," he said. Although he later mitigated his criticism, the question remains: how profitable is the Wii platform for third party publishers and particularly for exclusive content?

Nintendo has now answered to that criticism. And they agree: While the platform itself is continuing to outsell the competition, the bulk of the software sold is Nintendo's own.

'We believe the situation will change,' says Japanese giant
Nintendo (...), saying that it believes the situation is only temporary.

According to the company's third-quarter report meeting transcription, translated by Develop, the problem is simply one of the Wii still being a young system - and that, as such, Nintendo's internal teams currently have an significant advantage.

"When we develop new hardware at Nintendo, we do so as a collaboration between the hardware development teams and the software development teams. Our software sales percentage is currently high because our internal teams teams know the Wii's special characteristics best, and they started development quite a bit before the Wii's release. However, we believe that eventually that will change," said the firm.

"If you look at the data for our third quarter you'll see that, out of the 14 Wii titles that shipped over a million units, 11 of those were our titles. However, if you look at the 50 titles that shipped over a million units on DS, only 28 of those are ours.

"We identified the same thing in the DS' first period, and the situation continues to change little by little. For the Wii too, we believe that as time passes, the proportion of high-selling titles that come from our licensees will increase."

Riding the slipstream

Nintendo editors are talking about a ´disturbing trend´. But while the allegations need to be taken seriously, it is important to bear in mind that Nintendo simply has the best software portfolio of any first party publisher. If you are competing against Metroid, Mario, Zelda and Pokèmon you need to bring out bigger guns than would need to shoot down a Halo or Ratchet and Clank.

The third party publishers are obviously aware of this and, I am sure, this is where the real problem lies. Their response is all too often to churn out cheap Nintendo rip-offs - currently casual titles and mini-games - to comfortably ride in the first party slipstream.

Take the latest announcement from Eidos, for example:

Monster Lab is a new RPG franchise for the Wii and DS, inviting players to create monsters which are then sent into battle with other players.

The game was first talked about at the Leipzig Game Convention last year, during which time the developers called it 'Pokemon meets Tim Burton'.

You would think that the highly successful Pokèmon franchise and the less fortunate Spectrobes title would have exhausted that specific market. But Eidos, in this instance, seems keener on imitating success than on running the risks that come with a truly fresh intellectual property or even a completely new genre. Just that, though - a fresh start - also bears the greatest potential rewards in this industry. Pokèmon and its plethora of spin-offs, in this and other media, is the prime example here.

Of course, ´Monster Lab´ could turn out to become a fresh game. Too little is known about the franchise to be sure. But I am sceptical and justifiedly so.

Pointing the finger

True, Nintendo has had a shaky relationship with third party publishers in the past and this tarnishes their reputation still today. With 'Eternal Darkness', the company had one of the finest titles in gaming history exclusive to their Gamecube - but it chose not to market it to a mass audience. It remained a hidden gem and Denis Dyack, head of Canadian developer Silicon Knights, took his business elsewhere. But Nintendo has made quite clear that they learned from those mistakes.

Recently, I have spoken to a number of industry people who have expressed strong sentiment that the Wii simply was not the right platform for a 'Grand Theft Auto' or a 'Metal Gear Solid'. Why, then, is it the right platform for a 'Manhunt', a 'Godfather' and 'Scarface', a 'Red Steel' and two outstanding 'Resident Evil' games, all of which sell very well?

The current situation is mostly of the third parties' own making. It simply involves great risks to develop an original IP exclusive to any console, but especially one whose control scheme makes it that much harder to port to other platforms, should the title fail to sell as an exclusive. And rather than meet the challenge and reap potentially big rewards, the developers prefer to hedge their bets.

But why fret? Wii is the clear market leader in every territory now and its sales data suggests that it will stay on top for a long time. The platform also enjoys phenomenal software tie ratios, a fact which should allay any fears of Wii owners being largely casual gamers. Sure, you need to compete with the biggest franchises in gaming. But the tie ratio and experience with the DS suggests that Wii owners will buy good games, regardless. And there are plenty of great ideas still up for grabs, if developers were willing to go all-out on the platform. Most do not. But for them, it's all too easy to blame Nintendo for poor sales of a third party product, rather than to admit to their own lacklustre, half-arsed approach.

If Wii is not the platform to exclusively commit the bulk of your development resources to then I don't know what is. It is even easy to dream up the kind of Wii games that would sell like hotcakes. It is never easier to create truly original games than shortly after the introduction of new hardware that facilitates revolutionary new control schemes.

Where is that exclusive Star Wars game I was promised almost two years ago? Lightsaber action was every gamer's knee-jerk reaction to the Wii controller and, while 'Force Unleashed' will feature more exclusive content than expected on Nintendo's platform, it seems as if we still won't get that most obvious type of Star Wars gameplay. Why is LucasArts saying no to free money? I mean, which Wii owner wouldn't buy such game?

And where are the first-person sword-fighting games? Where is my virtual pooltable? Almost any game that maps Wiimote movement onto any three-dimensional object on-screen and in real-time would create a market of its own. And where are 3D puzzlers in the style of 'Blockout'? Where is a 'Guitar Hero' / 'Rock Band' type game that makes full use of the Wii's motion controls? It's not as if Nintendo's first party portfolio has got every sensible option covered. Far from it.

"Who dares wins"

"Who dares wins" is the motto of the Britsh crack military unit Special Air Service (SAS). But it could just as easily be the motto of more game developers when it comes to committing their resources to Wii.

Dear developers. You all are invited to the Mario party, contrary to what you may believe. You just need to bring a bottle. And don't bring that cheap stuff, hear?

EDIT There is some great further reading over at Infendo. In their article, entitled ´Why do elite development teams avoid Wii?´ they pose that very question. Derek also compiled some great quotes I have not come across yet. Go check it out.

Sources: CVG, Develop Magazine

This week in ´neues´: augmented reality demonstration

You remember that I quit my job with a general newsroom in October and became a full-time games and technology editor? As a reminder, I now work for 3sat neues, the German equivalent to the BBC´s Click, if you will.

This is the first of many shameless plugs of our weekly programme. But you will want to tune in, believe you me - even if you don´t speak German. We often examine current technological innovations that are making the rounds on the internet in detail and try them out ourselves. And a lot of them are directly or indirectly related to gaming or, specifically, Wii. Just remember my history of Super Mario in 4 minutes.

And this week, we will have another interesting demonstration for you. After we tried out Johnny Chung Lee´s now notorious 3D application for Wii in the first show this year, we have now invited the people behind Total Immersion´s D´Fusion technology into the studio, which stands for cutting edge augmented reality.

You are likely to remember the company from the DEMO events and various interviews. And you will remember augmented reality from the golden age of Wii mysteries and wild speculation. Here is a reminder from this blog:

Why 3D projection makes sense (February 2006)
The price of the future (June 2005)
Augmented reality is reality already (June 2005)
Not virtual, but augmented reality? (June 2005)

Watch 3sat neues

You can watch this week´s programme on television, as ever, anywhere in Europe at these times:

Sunday, 3rd of February, 4:30pm CET (3sat)
Monday, 4th of February, 7:00am CET (3sat)
Monday, 4th of February, 9:45am CET (3sat)
Tuesday, 5th of February, 1:50am CET (ZDF)
Thursday, 7th of February, 1:30pm CET (ZDF-Infokanal)

Better still, you can watch the entire programme and each individual item as a video stream (will go live Sunday evening) or download the entire programme and bonus content through our podcast page.

Source: 3sat neues

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sony to miss PS3 sales target by 27%, Reeves still bullish

Sony Computer Entertainment will miss its sales target of 11 million PlayStation3 units sold in the financial year ending in March, analysts agree. Instead, Sony is expected to sell 8 million, 27 percent below the original mark.

Even Sony executives appear to accept that the original target is no longer within their reach, as Bloomberg reports.

Price cuts and the introduction of a cheaper model helped Sony approach its goal of selling 11 million PlayStation 3s in the year ending March. Still, analysts at Nikko Citigroup Ltd. and Daiwa Institute of Research Ltd. predict the Tokyo-based company will miss the target after being outsold by the Wii and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360.

"It's an industry consensus that PS3 sales will fall short of the target," said Mitsuhiro Osawa, a Tokyo-based analyst at Mizuho Investors Securities Co. (...)

Sony is expected to sell 8 million PlayStation 3s in the year ending March 31, missing its annual target by 27 percent, Daiwa said in a Jan. 18 report. Nintendo will probably sell 19 million Wii machines and Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft will ship 9.1 million Xbox 360 consoles, according to Daiwa.

"We haven't made any conclusion whether we have to give it up," Hirai said, referring to this fiscal year's 11 million shipment target. "It depends on how aggressively dealers buy our PS3 inventory."

Chief Financial Officer Nobuyuki Oneda said on Oct. 25 that Sony may miss the goal.

Only last September, SCEI president Kaz Hirai believed to be on track to meet the ambitious sales goal.

While Japanese executives are now hesitant as far as the PS3´s performance is concerned, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe president David Reeves has thrown down a fresh gauntlet.

In an interview with UK gaming site MCV, Reeves promises that PS3 sales in his territory are set to overtake Xbox360 figures by summer.

In terms of installed base in some of our major markets, such as France, Spain, Germany, Italy, plus some distributor territories in smaller markets like Switzerland, our current cumulative installed base is now higher than that of Xbox 360.

It has not quite yet reached that in the UK. But the team here expect to overtake installed base of Xbox 360 across PAL territories in late summer. I would say before, but that is when we think we will overtake Xbox 360.

It’s worth mentioning that last week we outsold Xbox 360 in PAL territories by a ratio of 3:1.

EDIT Sony has slashed their sales forecast from 11 to 9,5 million units, Games Industry reports. From October through to December Sony sold 4,9 million PS3 units, Sony also claimed.

PSP sales targets have been raised from 10 to 13 million units, though, and the division has returned to profitability.

Source: Bloomberg, MCV

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Factor 5 developing for Wii

Factor 5, the Californian development studio (´Turrican´, ´Rogue Squadron´, ´Lair´) formerly based in Cologne, Germany, is developing at least one Wii game, IGN has learnt.

Company president Julian Eggebrecht confirmed that the studio is underway with at least one all-new Wii project -- and it's not a Virtual Console game. Beyond that confirmation, Eggebrecht was mum, but he did note that the new title would not simply re-use old Rogue Squadron tech; whatever it is, significantly updated or even completely new tech has been developed to help accommodate it. (...) Fans can rest assured that whatever the company's new Wii game is, it's a safe bet that it'll look good and push the hardware.

At one time, Factor 5 was pegged to develop a sequel to Pilot Wings for the then-codenamed Revolution. Nintendo even went so far as to list the San Rafael-based studio as a "partner" in its official E3 presentation. Since that time, though, the company has been busy with the PS3-exclusive Lair and thus, work on any Pilot Wings sequel is thought to have been halted or cancelled altogether. Incidentally, IGN believes Factor 5's Wii title is an altogether different beast.

This is good news indeed. Factor 5 is renowned for its emphasis on outstanding graphics and sound. The studio even had an input on the Gamecube´s hardware architecture.

But what could they be cooking up? Could it perhaps even be another ´Star Wars´ title?

EDIT According to Kombo, Factor 5 is developing a new ´Kid Icarus´ game.

Kombo has learned from a credible source that said Wii game is in fact a new installment in Nintendo's cherished Kid Icarus franchise. According to sources, Factor 5's Kid Icarus title is being developed ground-up for Wii. It will not use one of the developer's previous GameCube graphics engines.

In case you are wondering who Kombo is, they used to be called Advanced Media Network or Advanced MN.

Sources: IGN, Kombo
Thanks to: Joystiq, NeoGAF, Anonymous

Friday, January 04, 2008

´Metal Gear Solid 4´ no longer PS3 exclusive?, part VII and recap

Xbox site XboxFamily has recently 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.

In a Reuters article published in late November, the agency quotes the game´s assistant producer Ryan Payton about the publisher´s high expectations for the game, still officially a PS3 exclusive.

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.

This is the latest in a long series of rumours and pieces of concrete evidence that the game was really coming to other consoles, most likely Xbox360. Here is a comprehensive timeline of who said what and when.

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".

Look, it´s obviously coming to Xbox360 and that´s that. There will also be some Wii version of MGS, as has been mentioned many times. In both cases, it is simply a questin of when, not if.

Source: XboxFamily
Thanks to: 1UP