Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 12.18.03

Hello! And welcome to this week’s Thank God It’s Thursday News Report! Thanks for checking in here at 411 Games. I’m Bryan Berg and I’m all set to give you the latest happenings in the video game world.

What’s on tap for today? This should be a good one. Some news (unfortunately, not very much), then a few nice plugs, then a Commentary on how console producers have systematically screwed the customer over the years! Let’s get started!



XIII – Not So Unlucky a Number
If you’ve been a regular visitor to 411 over the past few weeks, you know Microsoft is heavily promoting its X-Box, particularly its online capabilities with X-Box Live. Its most recent effort involves giving away 50 copies of XIII for free as part of a “13 Days Until Christmas” promotion. This is an easy one – just spend 13 (clever) hours on X-Box Live between now and the end of Christmas Day and you’re automatically entered into the contest.

What’s the catch? Good thing you asked. First, you must have a good X-Box Live standing; that is, if you’ve been banned recently, odds are good you won’t be considered. Second, and most importantly, you must opt in to receive offers and communication from Microsoft and its partners. This is the one that’s going to be a problem for a lot of people, as they are already inundated with enough junk mail and telemarketing calls during dinner.

But, as we know, people will walk over hot coals for anything that’s free, so odds are good that this contest will have people staying up all hours of the night attempting to get their 13 hours in. This is a good way for Microsoft to get people thinking about owning XIII, which means that even if some people don’t win the contest, they may be intrigued enough to rent or buy the game anyway. XIII being a game that uses X-Box Live, it’s beneficial for Microsoft to involve the contest with its flagship service, and the contest will do what it’s intended to for Microsoft.

November Sales Figures
The numbers are in for the entire month of Nintendo, which saw Black Friday yield high numbers in terms of units sold. Who won and who lost? What caused these results? Let’s find out:

Sony: Remains the console sales leader with 850,000 PS2 units moved in November. This despite a less-than-exhilarating holiday bundle and high price point. With all the negative press about Sony recently, this has to be a good sign for them.
Nintendo: Sold 754,000 GameCubes in November, with big help from its low $99 price, which has proven to be a consistent draw to the system. The Cube’s performance was also aided by the release of Mario Kart: Double Dash, which sold 528,000 copies in the two weeks after its release. Double Dash was the highest-selling game on any system in November. The GBA was the overall leader in systems sold, with 1.3 million moving in November.
Microsoft: A solid third with just 490,000 X-Boxes sold, proving that bundling a system with two games that nobody really wants is just the same as bundling it without a game. It also proves that, with the same price, consumers prefer Playstation 2 to X-Box by a significant margin.

It’s clear that Nintendo’s price cutting did not provide mere temporary gains, as many predicted. Instead, it has propelled the system into PS2 range, with a good chance at taking the most sales in December. Remember, Mario Kart: Double Dash is going to be a big holiday item, bigger than anything released on Playstation 2. Sony needs to do something to suggest that it actually cares how many PS2’s it sells, as it seems like Sony believes that people will buy it no matter what. And Microsoft has been turning on the promotional heat recently, but it’s going to take more than Tetris Worlds and Star Wars: The Clone Wars to get its system going again. We’ll see how this whole Puff Daddy thing works out for them – not that anybody actually takes Puff Daddy seriously, but who knows?

PSX Selling Well, Sales Projections
Sony’s PSX system has been in the press recently, though not for reasons of praise. Instead, a buzz of negative feedback was created when Sony shipped the PSX without some of its most important features. Many, yours truly included, bashed Sony for even putting such a shorthanded system on the market.

Those in Japan would tend to disagree with these critics. The PSX is selling well overseas, and has even sold out in some stores. Thiis a surprise, given the situation Sony was in regarding the PSX’s release. Sony has handled the problem well, though, placing flyers next to the PSX displays indicating exactly what ‘s missing from the system. And, according to ign.com, Sony plans on making downloadable upgrades available that will fix a good deal of these issues.

In terms of future goals for the PSX, Sony would like to have one million shipped by the end of 2004. Also, with the help of the PSX and its other DVD recorders, Sony’s goal is to have 30 percent of the DVD recorder market share by that time. Remember, Sony is marketing the PSX more as a DVD recorder as opposed to a video game system, so these goals might be possible in spite of the high price of the PSX.

It would seem that Sony has turned a potential PR nightmare into a salvageable situation, and they deserve credit for confronting the problem, being honest with consumers, and trying to make it right. Of course, they never should have released it to begin with if it had all these problems, but that’s a moot point. We’re seeing how Sony responds to adversity for one of the first times in its video game dealings, and their reaction is a positive sign for them.



Plugs
My BlackLog. I’m not sure how much I’ll be using this, but it seems like it might be a good time. Check it out if you’d like.

Alex Williams – Encore Extra Stage News Report. Alex is back to one news report a week – he had a fine run pulling double duty, though. Even the best need a break!
As for the “no reason to criticize comment”…we have plenty of reasons to do that anyway.

Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer. Fresh off his excellent Mega Man retrospective, LC engages in a 411 pastime – bashing Square.
People say “stick to what you’re good at,” but Square’s not good at RPGs, nor have they been for quite some time.

Misha – We Want Our Tea Back! “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” is coming out in the UK. Gotta love those Brits, eh?
Laflin has finally done his presentation, and celebrated in true student fashion”¦ With alcohol.

Alex Lucard – Retrograding. Alex takes a stand against the other websites that aren’t as good as we are! And there are evidently quite a few.
And that’s because the Kliq is uncorrupted by intercompany politics and ass kissing to ensure previews and debugs. Except Pankonin. He’s a corporate tool. ;-)

Alex Lucard – Retrograding Mailbag. I love Alex’s mailbags. Probably because he gets the most mail out of all of us and it’s nice to know our work is appreciated. And probably because he rules.
BUY A GOD DAMN SEGA SATURN. BUY IT NOW.

Alex Lucard – Retrograding. It’s just like last year at 411 Games, with Lucard posting 500 columns a week! And one of them just happens to be a look back at the last year. Really well done. If I still did the medals, this would win Gold. It’s pieces like these that keep you movitated to do your best as a writer.
I tried to correct the errors and point out why the mistakes were made. And got flamed. Mainly because the person assumed I wasn’t THE Alexander Lucard, but someone using the name in a fanboy type tribute to him.

Frederick Badlissi – The Gamer’s Consicence. Fred has bought SEVEN games in the past month or two, and has played NONE of them? Sounds about right.
I must say this: outside of biological vices both chemical and bi-partite, there is no greater feeling of relief than to be done with finals.
Note to Fred: Yeah, but there’s one thing even greater – being done with finals and knowing you’re graduating and will NEVER TAKE ANOTHER FINAL EVER AGAIN!! (sorry)

Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. The Royals got Benito Santiago? Surely an upgrade over Brent Mayne. Still not as good as trading Manny “Irrevocable Waivers” Ramirez for A-Rod, then turning around and dealing Nomar for Magglio Ordonez! Epstein is God.
Is there anything more pathetic in American politics right now than Al Gore? He’s gone from coming within a few morons in Florida from becoming President (I quote comedian Tim Wilson, “Gore was so worried about Florida, he should have been worried about Tennessee. What’s it say when your own folks won’t vote for your ass?”) to being Al Sharpton’s bitch.

RON YIP – SimColumn. Ron’s back! A welcome return to one of the very important people in 411 Games history.
Either way I like to complain a lot and people seem to enjoy it when I go off on a rant so be sure to watch out for that.

Chuck Platt – Clap Hands, It’s News Happiness Time! Leave it to Chuck Platt to come up with the most insane name for a column possible. He’s very gifted, you know.
With the help of EW and his head apostle, Alex Williams, I too have ascended to News column status. So, yay me.

Lee Baxley – Hump Day Otaku News Report. Lee’s first anime-free report includes an interesting piece on game bashing. Lee, I think the problem might be that you see games from a reviewer’s perspective now, as opposed to a fan’s perspective. And I’m not sure how to go about correcting that.
I remember back to the earliest days of my gaming “career” when I LOVED playing games. I would wake up early just to be able to play Zelda or Metroid. When at school, I would swap stories with my buddies about how far I was in Super Mario Bros. 3. So what happened? Did I grow up? Or did I just become an asshole?

Alex Williams – Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. The unofficial sequel to the SNES classic Super Mario RPG, and this one’s for the GBA. Sounds like a keeper!
I still don’t know how Nintendo comes up with brand new stuff for their mascots to do while incorporating the classical things that make them endearing to the fans. And yet they keep doing it nearly every single time.

Ron Yip – ESPN NBA Basketball. Funny, the other day I was thinking about how we haven’t reviewed any of the Sega Sports games this year. Then this review shows up! Ironic.
I mean, in terms of basketball itself it does a great job recreating the whole “NBA experience”, trying to translate what you see on tv to your PS2. It’s everything you want in a basketball game or any other game for that matter.

Cory Laflin – SSX 3. Cory presents to us an intangible in this review – the wife. This should be a staple of EVERY review – how non-hardcore female gameplayers react to the game. Seriously.
This isn’t just an update to Tricky, SSX3 is it’s own game, and it’s a good game. Single-player, it’s an absolutely fantastic game. You’ll lose so much sleep playing this game it won’t be funny.



Commentary of the Week
It’s been almost twenty years since the Nintendo Entertainment System launched. In the period between 1985 and today, we have seen a revolution in gaming. And no, the revolution is not graphical. It doesn’t include FMV or CD-quality sound. It has nothing to do with online play, voice recognition, or any of the buzz words we hear so often today.

This revolution has to do with screwing the customer.

Over the years, we have seen many systems launch over four generations of gaming – the 8-bit generation, the 16-bit generation, the 32/64-bit generation, and the so-called “Next Generation”. Each of these have given to gamers in a big way, but each has taken a little bit away from its predecesor. They haven’t taken anything away in terms of the system’s capabilities, but they have taken away from the total package available at launch. This disturbing trend is one that gamers seem to have accepted, which is quite disturbing in itself.

We’ll go through the different generations and see what’s changed, ultimately comparing today’s product to what Nintendo made available in 1985 at launch.

8-Bit Generation
The Nintendo Entertainment System was a huge risk for Nintendo, launching at a time when the home gaming industry was in serious decline. Nintendo played it smart by making the system available only in the largest American media markets. Once the NES proved successful in these areas, Nintendo went national with its product.

What Nintendo Offered
– NES Console
– Two controllers
– Zapper (light gun)
– ROB (Robotic Operating Buddy)
– Gyromite and Duck Hunt Game Paks
– Price: $249

Nintendo later scrapped this bundle in favor of the Action Set, which saw the addition of Super Mario Bros. and the removal of ROB and Gyromite, all for $199. But Nintendo’s original bundle served to show what the system can do. It allowed gamers to test out the light gun with Duck Hunt as well as ROB with Gyromite, and it included two controllers so friends could play as well. In spite of the overall crappiness of ROB, you couldn’t go wrong with this launch bundle, and Nintendo perfected it with its Action Set.

16-Bit Generation
Sega began the 16-bit generation with the launch of the Genesis in 1989. Like the NES, this was launched in larger markets first, then unveiled to the rest of the nation later in 1989. The inclusion of the Super Nintendo into the 16-bit generation created a memorable ad war, not to mention perhaps the finest generation of games ever seen.

What Genesis Offered
– Genesis Console
– Two controllers
– Altered Beast game
– Price: $189

What Nintendo Offered
– Super Nintendo Console
– Two controllers
– Super Mario World game
– Price: $199

The area where Sega and Nintendo came up short at launch was in peripherals, as neither included any in their launch packages, even though the Power Base Converter was available at the Genesis’ launch. This is the first area where more modern systems left out aspects of prior systems. However, the packages are not bad at all. Altered Beast was able to depict how close the Genesis came to an arcade game by including an arcade port, and Nintendo included Super Mario World due to the popularity of the Mario franchise. Also, they were feeling the heat from Sega by this time because of Sonic the Hedgehog’s success and Mario needed to remind gamers that Mario was alive and well.

It is interesting to note that these systems were launched nearly two years apart, yet the Super Nintendo’s price was marginally higher. This may have given other console makers the idea that price wasn’t a huge factor in launching a new system – the games were key.

32/64-Bit Generation
Sega was again the first mover into this new generation of gaming, both with the 32X (which failed miserably) and Saturn (which simply failed). Sony followed up with its Playstation, Sony’s first effort in console gaming, and Nintendo chimed in with the Nintendo 64. Sony’s product was instrumental in pioneering the “Screw the Customer” model of gaming, while its competitors nearly followed suit.

What Sega Offered
– Saturn Console
– One controller
– Virtua Fighter game
– Price: $399

What Sony Offered
– Playstation Console
– One controller
– Price: $299

What Nintendo Offered
– Nintendo 64 Console
– One controller
– Price: $199

Sega bungled its launch of the Saturn big-time by hyping a September 1995 release date, only to release the system months earlier to no fanfare. Its incredibly high price didn’t help matters, either. The Saturn remains important in that it was the last console system to be released with a pack-in game. Sony’s Playstation sold like wildfire upon launch, in spite of its lack of a pack-in game, second controller, and memory card, which had to be purchased by users if they wanted to save any games. Nintendo followed suit with a similar requirement – a Memory Pak – when its system was released a year later. It was priced down in an effort to cach up to Playstation’s sales, and it was launched with (but not packed in) Super Mario 64, a huge hit. However, history will show that Sony had already effectively killed off the Saturn by the time the N64 was released and, as a result, was an unstoppable force in the gaming world.

The Next Generation
Sega reached out to the most current generation of gamers with its Dreamcast, which was rejected in favor of the promised Playstation 2. Microsoft entered the gaming world with its X-Box console, which was quickly followed up by the GameCube.

What Sega Offered
– Dreamcast Console
– One controller
– Price: $199

What Sony Offered
– Playstation 2 Console
– One controller
– Price: $299

What Microsoft Offered
– X-Box Console
– One controller
– Price: $299

What Nintendo Offered
– GameCube Console
– One controller
– Price: $199

Notice a trend? This is an era where hardware is expected to sell itself up on launch, and the past four consoles to come out have reflected this. The Dreamcast was launched with a killer lineup, no competition, and a quirky release date (9-9-99). Unfortunately, rumors of the PS2 damaged the Dreamcast beyond repair, even though Sony’s second effort was mired by launch problems, including not producing enough PS2’s. X-Box and GameCube came out within a week of each other in 2001, and each was faced with a dilemma – Microsoft was unproven as a console creator, and Nintendo had a weak launch lineup. After killing off the Dreamcast, PS2 has jumped to the forefront, with the Cube and X-Box closing in.

Conclusions
Taking a look at the launch packages over the years, it’s clear how much is missing from the new systems that gamers invest so much money in. Is it that they’re getting less for their money? That’s hard to say, given that it costs a lot more to produce a system today than it did in 1985. And the obvious answer would be that this is why systems cost more now than they did in the Genesis era.

But to say that is to miss the point of all of this. The point I’m trying to make is that each time a new generation of systems launches, something is missing. Whether it be including only one controller or removing a pack-in game, the companies behind the consoles hurt the consumer each time something is taken away. Furthermore, they hurt themselves. The point of having ROB and the Zapper included with the NES was to show what the system could do beyond the traditional button-mashing of Super Mario Bros. Sega’s inclusions of Altered Beast and Virtua Fighter in their system bundles were done so that gamers could see that they were now able to have an arcade experience at home. And what of this lack of ability on the part of the systems themselves not to be able to save games? This is the most blatant way of hurting the consumer. Giving one controller is shortchanging everybody involved (lack of interaction among gamers), but making a customer pay $20 just to save their game is outright robbery.

The industry is beyond the point where companies need to bundle games with new hardware just to sell it. But it’d be nice to see a next-generation Gran Turismo game included with the PS3, or Halo 3 to come with X-Box 2. Will it happen? Of course not. Because we’ve become so conditioned to receiving the system and one controller, we don’t even question why games aren’t included anymore. You know what? Maybe we should. What’s the good of buying a system for the relatively low launch price of $200 if you have to pay $100 more just to get the accessories to make it merely playable? At some point, this has to stop.

We’re seeing the newest way to get the customer on the hook with online play. Yes, you can play online. But if you want to play your PS2 or GameCube online, you need to purchase a separate adaptor. And if you want to go online with your X-Box, you need to not only purchase an X-Box Live subscription, but purchase a new modem or some sort of routing system for your home. Add up all of these hidden costs, and long for the days when you could get two controllers, a game, and peripherals for the cost of the system.



That about wraps up this edition of Thank God It’s Thursday. Thanks again for reading, and be sure to read the other excellent writers we have here at 411 Games. Have a great weekend!