Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 07.01.04

Howdy! Welcome to the newest edition of Thank God It’s Thursday yet! Bryan Berg here, representing 411 Games – the site that refuses to sell out! Thanks for coming by today.

It’s funny – you’d think that with Matt unable to file a report yesterday due to computer problems, there would be plenty of news to pick from. After all, it’s been two days since Misha’s report on Tuesday. However, you’d be wrong. There’s NOTHING out there. When the big story for the day is the new additions to the Madden 2005 announcing team (Jill Arrington and Tony Bruno), you know it’s a slow news day.

Any slower and it’d be like a Nintendo system delay (rimshot).

So, with that in mind, there must be a greater purpose to this report. Hell if I know what it is. But let’s explore one popular notion in the gaming industry and see just how relevant it is…



Competition
In an effort to supplant Apple’s iPod as the preeminent digital media device, Dell is offering $100 to those who choose to trade in their iPods in favor of Dell’s Digital Jukebox. With 15 GB Digital Jukeboxes selling for just $99, an iPod owner could trade in their current apparatus and obtain a Digital Jukebox for just $99. Obviously, Dell feels that the Digital Jukebox is a far better piece of technology than the iPod – or does it? After all, we’re comparing devices that play the same exact media.

When it comes to video game consoles, there’s some similarity. But not what you might think. In the video game world, you rarely – if ever – see attacks of this nature on the competition. So where’s the common ground? The answer lies in the games we play on these systems. More specifically, more games are coming out for every system than ever before, and with very comparable quality between the different versions.

Of course, comparing MP3 technology and video game consoles is like comparing apples and oranges. Still, it seems like the so-called “Console War” is a bunch of media hype.

Want proof? Last year’s Top Ten games included two versions of the same game (Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire), two Nintendo exclusives (Mario Kart: Double Dash, The Wind Waker), one game that ended up on another system (Vice City), and FIVE games that were available on more than one system from launch – Madden NFL 2004, Need For Speed: Underground, Tony Hawk’s Underground, Enter the Matrix, and Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. That the top-selling versions of these five games were for Playstation 2 is really of no consequence. The point is, they were readily available to anyone who wanted to play them, regardless of system.

And while it’s true that nobody would buy the GameCube version of a multi-platform game if they have an X-Box, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to games, inter-console competition is obsolete. Gamers know that exclusivity is a decaying form of marketing – why would a company confine itself to one section of the market when it could target EVERYBODY instead, and make more money for doing so?

Today, it really doesn’t matter what system you buy. A casual gamer will get his or her kicks on any system. Those with a little more interest might break the systems down into first-party games and exclusives, but that’s about it. In today’s economy, nobody’s buying a system for ONE game. Especially when you know that game stands a good chance on being on the system you already have a year later.

Last summer, we here at 411 Games urged you to buy a GameCube for a number of reasons. One of them was Viewtiful Joe. At the time, it was a GameCube-exclusive title, one of the rare third-party exclusives Nintendo had left. We should have known better. Viewtiful Joe is being readied for a release on Playstation 2 later this year. Can anybody really be surprised by this?

Look at sports games. All the first-party games are gone. Now, all that’s left are Sega and EA, both of which are available for Playstation 2 and X-Box. EA games are on the Cube as well. Controller issues notwithstanding, the versions are all pretty similar – with the exception of this year’s Madden game. X-Box owners get X-Box Live access, but PS2 owners get the Collector’s Edition, which is compensation for the loss of exclusive online play via PS2. As a gamer, which do you go with? As a console producer, how do you handle this?

Many gamers hearken back to the glory days of 16-bit gaming. In that day, you knew that Genesis was THE sports system. And Sega flaunted this fact. Just like Nintendo made sure everyone knew that the Super Nintendo did everything else better. That was a fun rivalry! Many playground arguments ensued due to this legitimate “Console War”. Remember “Genesis does what Nintendon’t”? When was the last time you saw Nintendo take a shot at Microsoft like that?

So when it comes to Madden 2005, you can be assured that there won’t be any similar competition. First off, it’s too late in the console cycle to sell one system over another. At this point, the best you can do is sell YOUR system as best you can. Secondly, EA is counting on each of these games doing well. High sales benefit everybody, and low sales hurt everybody. And if you don’t believe that, look for a GameCube copy of GTA or NFL 2K5.

It’s as if these video game executives are so strident upon creating a straitlaced society where political correctness, not gaming, is the focus. That’s sad. When you were the first kid on the block to pop a copy of Super Mario World into your Super Nintendo, you were more than the coolest kid on the block for one day. You were a trailblazer. You were the one to show Genesis loyalists that there was more to life than Sonic the Hedgehog. Now, you get an X-Box, and half the games are already out on PS2. Where’s the fun in that?

For an industry predicated on having fun, games have certainly lost their fun. Gaming has become such an economic boom that it’s now run like any other business. Carefully. Conservative. Calculated. Fun? Go buy an MP3 player.

Then again, there’s always the handhelds. As awful as it sounds, I hope that Sony and Nintendo sling mud like it’s Woodstock. I hope that Nintendo bashes Sony for putting out a crappy portable PS2, and I hope Sony takes Nintendo to task for not having a clear vision of its handheld future. I hope it gets ugly. Real ugly. And I hope that when the systems are released, they are two separate entities with two separate identities, just like Super Nintendo and Genesis were. I hope that if Sony puts out a GTA game, Nintendo doesn’t get to put out a better GTA game until six months later. I hope that Nintendo has games that Sony doesn’t have, and I hope Sony has games that Nintendo doesn’t have. I hope it’s an all-out war between these two systems.

May the best man win.

In the mean time, enjoy Catwoman for PS2, X-Box, GameCube, PC, and Game Boy Advance.



Plugs
(Sorry about last week’s plugs. I blame Microsoft Word for everything.)

News Reports
Alex Williams – 411MAX: News News Revolution. Alex feels the lack of news surging through the gaming industry! And he’s another among the Kliq who is loving the Mega Man Anniversary Collection!
Mega Man Anniversary Collection reminded me how much Mega Man 1 ruled and how much Mega Man 8 kinda stunk within a 15-minute period. THAT, my friend, is an awesome collection.

Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. Cory’s through with Major League Baseball. And who can blame him? It’s crazy to think that this Royals firesale is coming just one season after almost winning the division. So sad. Yet so typical of baseball. Argh.
I’m only wondering if Allard got a flaming bag of dog s*** on his front porch out of the deal.

Misha – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video Games. Misha shows up late for his OWN report! Is that a Brit thing? Or just fatigue, drunkenness, or both?
Hmmm. A Microsoft machine using Mac-based technology…

Columns
Alex Lucard – Retrograding Mailbag. Alex gets so much mail that… er…. his mailbox fills quite often… uh… just read it!
If the people hawking the games are dunderheads, how do we expect the average gamer to make wiser game purchases?

Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer. An interesting article about how Americans get the shaft when it comes to cell phone gaming. Yes, we are behind the Japanese in EVERYTHING. Except maybe baseball.
I come dangerously close to snapping when those f*cks start talking louder into their phones if their signal starts to crap out…like yelling is going to make any goddamn difference!

Reviews
Liquidcross – Mega Man Anniversary Collection (Playstation 2). Final Score: 9.5

Michael O’Reilly – Full Spectrum Warrior (X-Box). Final Score: 7.0

Alex Lucard – Ribbit King (GameCube). Final Score: 7.5



Mailbag
Bet you expected a Commentary this week! Well, you already read it! HA!

Turns out that my last two columns have generated a great response and I wanted to do a Mailbag to highlight the replies I got. So, as I take on the Lucardian mojo, we delve into the Mailbag….

Let’s travel all the way back to two weeks ago – June 17, 2004. That one dealt with the bonding power of video games, as well as my theory that a 2007 release for the PS3 might benefit Sony.

The first letter is from Brandon Ratliff, who is actually replying to my reply to his initial e-mail from the previous column…

Just finished reading the TGIT…the thing about the video game dad was…touching. My dad is dead (and has been since 1993, when I was 7) and obviously can’t play games with me, but I spent a good portion of my teenage years (14-18) living with my older sister and borther-in-law, and I got them playing. I still remember getting my first NES when I was like 5, and yanking the controller up in the air and yelling “jump!” at the TV while playing Super Mario Bros. 3. Those were the good ol’ days.

Anyways, I think the thing about the PS3 is a mistake. I say this because while it could give them time to get better hardware…will they? Look at the PS2 compared to the Xbox. The Xbox has a processor 2 1/2 times faster than the PS2…and it was released a year later. What I am saying is that I think Sony could have put more into the PS2, and the only reason I think MS hasn’t detsroyed them (yet) in the market share is because of the Sony name. I don’t know how many times people have called the Xbox a computer, and those comparisons probably won’t ever go away either. I still think MS will pump the next Xbox so ful;l of technology that even with a two year later release, Sony won’t be able to do much better. And by the time, there will probably be as many Next Xboxes in homes as there are PS2s now if for nothing else than the fact that it is the current best thing out there.

I really think video games are the next great way for people to spend time together. Of course, the “online revolution” could screw all of this up before we even know it. Hopefully, people will realize that quality time together is better than quality time halfway across the country.

As for Sony, I’m convinced they’ll half-ass anything and everything they put out until it’s proven that they have serious competition. Microsoft could very well be that competition. From a technological standpoint, Microsoft could have them licked. Of course, Sony will have the good old “third-mover advantage”, not to mention experience in DVD recording and the other technologies they plan to stuff into the PS3. But PS3 won’t be the walk in the park that PS2 was. If the PSP fails, it might serve as a wake-up call to Sony. That is, if Sony even bothers to pay attention.

I think the X-Box has come a long way from its “computer” branding and can now be seen as a legitimate system in its own right. X-Box Next will go a long way in determining the future of Microsoft in the gaming industry, moreso than PS3 will.

By the way, Brandon likes the name “Xenon” for X-Box next. Works for me!

Next e-mail is from Nintendo guru Myles McNutt…

Hey, Bryan.

I can understand your point on the inability for Nintendo to pull a PSOne; I don’t think it has the same base on which to build that Sony so very nicely put together. However, if Nintendo does want the system to remain viable, it has a few options that aren’t so simple.

1. Go Nuts with Peripherals

Yep, it’s an awesome answer to any question. If you pump a system with enough peripherals and games to use them, by golly it keeps the youngin’s entertained. Much like the GBA:SP and DS are going to attempt to co-exist, I expect a similar thing to happen with the GCN and the Revolution. By this, I mean that I expect both the GBA and GCN to work on creating ingenious game designs, and throw themselves further towards the younger set. The GBA is there already, but I think they can take the GCN in the same direction.

Release Revolution as their big new entry into the market, with all the bells and whistles and awesome graphics, and then take the GameCube and use peripherals, Pokemon Titles, New Colors, etc. to build a base for the system. It’s a risky move, yes, but I think they can do it. I think they can release low cost, Wario Ware style software, bundle it with new peripherals (Mario Party 6 is already releasing with a new controller peripheral this December) and voila…new system, almost.

Should be interesting, eh?

Myles McNutt

OK, my main thing with the peripherals is that peripherals basically serve to correct some flaw within the initial composition of the system. In other words, something they should have built into the system already, but didn’t – or something the company felt people would pay money for down the line. This is why Nintendo doesn’t package the WaveBird with new GameCubes.

If we’re talking about “restoring” an old system with peripherals, it’s not quite as easy. When people are playing retro games, they generally want things to be simple. That’s why PSOne worked so well – all you needed was the $50 system, a $5 game, and a $15 memory card. If you make the GameCube so dependent on peripherals just to have the bare minimum to experience gaming, you risk alienating casual fans who would be interested if not for all the added work of adding to their investment.

One big question mark is in the area of backwards compatibility. We know that the DS will be able to play GBA games; will the Revolution support GameCube software? That’s something we don’t know right now. It’s tough to say which would be better for a coexisting environment. And if not, does the GameCube have enough legitimate classics to carve out a niche as a quality retro system?

Either way, Nintendo should do what it can with the Cube. Whether or not it’ll work is anyone’s guess. After all, it being a console, Nintendo’s prone to screw it up. We’ll see, though.

OK, we move on to last week – June 24, 2004. This was a really fun column to write – I took a bunch of subjects and responded to them, some good and some bad. At the end, I posed a bunch of questions I couldn’t answer. Some tried. Some didn’t. Either way, it was fun.

First one’s from Shane Mauck, who actually responded to one of my reviews way back in the Hurtado era…

I’ve got a marketing question for you.

Coca-Cola, the number one recognized brand on the planet, thinks “Gee, we need a new cola to really boost sales.” They notice the low-carb trend in America (globally? I’m not sure) and decide to go with a new not-diet-but-still-diet Coke and use aspartame. Then they ignore the fact that Pepsi tried this 5 years ago with Pepsi One and gave up in less than 3 years. And they even have this great new name — C2.

I can just hear the meeting taking place:
“Anybody got any name ideas?”
“Well, Pepsi tried Pepsi One and it flopped, but ours will be twice as as good as theirs, so let’s go with Coke Two.”
“Oh no, it’ll be even cooler if we just call it C2 and not spell it out.”
“Great idea! Any objections? Good, C2 it is. It can’t miss!”

Okay, so it wasn’t a question, but you seem like the kind of person that would also question the marketing sensibility of the “number 1 brand in the world.” Maybe they’ll prove me wrong, but I doubt it.

Shane

So there IS still aspartame in C2? Blargh.

To answer your question, Coke did this so that they could join the apocalyptic “Low-Carb Revolution” and thereby reinforce Coke’s image as a trend-setting brand. Even if it fails, they still have Coke Classic and all the rest on the market. Coke has nothing to lose by venturing into the low-carb field. Even if the product is totally worthless and pretty much everyone can see through its thinly-veiled effort at fooling the public.

Pepsi One failed because the market wasn’t ready for it. At the time, nobody was counting carbs or buying Atkins bars by the box. So the average Pepsi drinker passed over Pepsi One because it was so close to Diet Pepsi that nobody even bothered to taste the difference. Of course, now that everybody’s suddenly so carb-conscious, we’re treated to Pepsi Edge.

Of course, if anybody really cared about being healty, they wouldn’t drink soda in the first place. But that’s just nit-picking…

The C2 name comes from the same lineage as the first sequel to The Mighty Ducks – D2. Sounds like T2 (Terminator 2), catchy, short, and has the trendy letter-number combination that everyone seems to love (Blink-182, Sum 41, Maroon 5, you get the idea). Totally insipid and thoughtless, but you won’t forget it.

I wouldn’t question Coke’s marketing sensibility so much as I’d question the sanity of America for demanding this product. Instead of cutting serving sizes in half, they force Coke to take half the sugar out instead. Idiots. No wonder everyone hates us.

By the way, I had the pleasure of having C2 this weekend. Evidently, my girlfriend loves the stuff. It doesn’t taste totally bad – it’s closer to Coke than it is to Diet Coke. But it’s still a ridiculous exercise in pandering to the lowest common denominator – something Coke does very well.

Now we have one from Lee Baxley, who remains Kliq until the end…

Great column as always. Just thought I’d try to answer some of those questions you asked.

-President: I haven’t seen a single politician that wasn’t an idiot. In my mind, they’re all old and out of touch with the world. It’s just picking the lesser idiot. Considering Bush has f*cked America up the ass like the Statue took it from Voltron, I’d say I’m gonna vote for Kerry. He may be an asshat, but we don’t know how he is as prez. We KNOW Bush sucks as prez.

-Bad Santa: They wanted to get it out on DVD while it’s still fresh in people’s minds. Very few movies can make it a year between movie-DVD release. I’m actually surprised they waited a whole 6 months before releasing the DVD.

-Gift with Battery: I’m weird, so this may be different for everyone, but I’d think it’d be better to leave everything unopened because I have this thing about people opening gifts before they give them to be. Like when I was a kid, and a friend got me a gift for my birthday, and he opened it and played with it a little before they wrapped it up!! Whatsupwitdat?

OK, in order…
– I once called the President “the biggest PR man in the world” because I really don’t see the Prez doing all that much decision making on his own. Still, I’d rather not have Bush in there. Not that I particularly want Kerry in there, given that I know NOTHING about the man except that he’s not Bush. Maybe I’ll vote for Nader again… but isn’t that how we got into this mess to begin with?

– It seems like the average turnaround is 3 months nowadays for movies. Miracle came out 3 months after it was released in theaters, and same for a few others. So I say, why wait 6? Why not just put it out 3 months afterward, or wait the year and put it out next Christmas? Still, I’m glad it came out now. The humor definitely stands up, no matter what time of year.

– In case nobody could figure it out, I bought a NES Classic GBA SP for my girlfriend as an anniversary gift. I couldn’t figure out whether to charge it before I gave it to her or not. I ended up following Lee’s advice and giving it to her unopened. We plugged it into the charger at the hotel, and when we came back, it was ready to play. Worked out quite well, actually.

Game Crazy Christian says…

I was reading your take on the possible price point from the Wall Street Firm (can’t remember their name). They were projecting that from the massive hardware standpoint.

I think I read it in the Offical Playstation Magazine, but there was an interview with a VP at Sony, and from my understanding, there would be a stripped down version of the PS3 (strictly gaming) and then a PSX style version which would be a media centre unit.

Xbox seems to be going the same way with the testing of both a strict game machine and a Media PC version. That’s definitely the smart way to go for both of them. Some people who have been thinking about getting a media centre (more affulent tech families), might be interested in the Media Centre version of the system. Meanwhile, gamers who just want to play PS3 games could get the Gaming Version for less (probably have to buy memory cards, Memory Sticks if Sony is smart), maybe around $350.

For a game machine, I believe $350 is reasonable off the start, and drop to $300-$275 within a year of the release.

Once again, this is if Sony is smart. We’ll have to wait and see…

I hate all of this “different versions” crap. This just serves to confuse the consumer even more. Imagine being a parent who knows nothing about video games in a year or two. Do you buy an SP or a DS? Do you buy the “Media Centre” PS3 or the standard version? Same for X-Box. So confusing!

I still think that a Media Center is useless because we’ll all have this stuff on our computers in a few years anyway. Game systems should be judged on how they present the gaming experience, not on how well they record DVDs or play back media. This extra stuff is unnecessary and just moves us further from the days when gaming was gaming, not a media spectacle.

$350 for a stand-alone PS3 is a lot. But it’s probably the going rate for a system circa 2006-2007. If they’re charging $250 for a high-powered PSP, you know they’ll jack that price up for a cutting-edge console. This price won’t include Memory Sticks or anything else, of course – this IS Sony we’re talking about. I think Microsoft can put out their package for $300, but it might come at the cost of crucial technology that will keep X-Box Next competitive with PS3, whenever it comes out. Then, it’s a question of how much more people will be willing to pay for this technology. That will go a long way in determining the price of the PS3.

Lastly, we have Brett Shea. His reponses to my original questions are in bold.

– How on Earth do movies like “White Chicks” get conceived? From there, how does someone convince themselves that it’s actually not a stupid idea for long enough to write the movie? Then, why does a studio actually devote tens of millions of dollars to see it to fruition? THEN, why do people actually pay to see crap movies like “White Chicks”?
Because when a studio or writer sees something such as Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle or Soul Plane they begin to think anything is marketable (even though those movies usually lose money). Now that I think of those two movies, White Chicks seems very marketable. Why people se these movies? Stupid and/or ignorant people hear someone like Jay Leno say “go see White Chicks, It’s a very funny movie”, The stupid and/or ignorant people go and see it.

Let’s get one thing straight – Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle is going to be AMAZING. If only because it involves White Castle. Anyway, White Chicks somehow cleaned up at the box office. Nobody I know will admit to seeing it, nor will they admit to even wanting to see it. It’s weird. And I’m convinced people are so stupid and ignorant that they’ll do anything TV tells them to.

– Why do women always complain about how they want to see the “real” side of men when their hair is dyed and they’re wearing colored contacts, makeup, push-up bras, press-on nails, and perfume? And why doesn’t anybody question this?
1. Because women want to try and impress men and men want to impress women. Women ask the question because they hide their flaws better than men and/or men want to beleive the women they are chasing are close to perfect and women also feel like they are being let out of how you really are when you are with the “guys”. To answer your second question, Obviously women don’t question their own question and guys want to get down their pants.

Women definitely hide their flaws better than men do. Women are bred to do this, while men are simply too stupid to be anything but honest. And they’ll overlook all of this just to get a piece. Women seem to actually care about the people they’re with. As long as they have money and a nice haircut.

– Here’s one I stole from Bill Simmons – how is it that a collegiate athlete can have three mediocre years (because you know nobody stays around for a fourth mediocre year) and yet be a lottery pick because his stock rose at the pre-draft workouts? That’s like when Zach Morris underachieved throughout high school, then got a 1520 on his SAT and set off to attend Harvard. Why are GMs this stupid? It’s sports, Since when has brains had any signifigance.(yes that is a poor attempt at a joke)
Sports and brains go hand in hand. Some of the smartest people I know are in a Fantasy Football league with yours truly, and brains really do matter there. I’ve been fleeced on many a bad trade, so I should know.

– How is it that in a country of 270 million people, America is destined to hate their next President? Would you rather vote for Bush and have an idiot in office for four more years, or would you rather vote Kerry just because he’s not Bush and have a different idiot in office for four years? Either way, do you really benefit? That is what happens when your country turns into a two party system instead of anybody having the chance to win like it should, No way anyone is gonna benefit from this.
Well said. Like George Washington said at his Farewell Address, avoid political parties. Guess some people should have paid attention to that, eh? And the whole two-party system is crap to begin with. Clinton’s impeachment was a party maneuver, as well as the reason why George W. Bush is President to begin with.

– Why did they put “Bad Santa” out on DVD in the middle of June? Why wouldn’t they go for November or December, when people actually want to see Christmas movies? As unbelievably hilarious as “Bad Santa” was, wouldn’t it do better if it were released later in the year? Because the studio is trying to capitilize on the movie quickly. What I don’t get is why not release Bad Santa now and realease Badder Santa during the holiday season. Realeasing two DvD’s of the same movie at the same time seems like a bad business move.
They really should have done this. When Elf comes out on DVD in November or so, Bad Santa will have been long forgotten by DVD buyers. Besides, as Lord of the Rings has proven, people will buy the same movie again and again for just a few extras.

– Why is it okay for people to piss away $15 on a movie ticket, popcorn, and soda; yet, when I lose $15 at the OTB, people say I have a gambling problem? And why is it that if I win $12 while I’m on the phone with my girlfriend at the time my horse wins, I’m obligated to use that $12 to buy her something? It is okay for them to buy a movie ticket, popcorn, and soda because they are getting something in return fot their money, Unfortunately the only thing you recieve for your $15 is disapointment. To answer your second question, Because you were stupid enough to let her know you just won money.
I actually must correct these numbers. I saw Fahrenheit 9-11 on Tuesday and between ticket, movie, and popcorn, I paid $18.50. Which is totally asinine. Anyway, I’d rather have the chance to win something substantial than waste money on a movie. Especially when I can buy that very movie for $15 when the DVD comes out. And yes, I am an idiot for opening my big mouth. I guess I thought she was good luck. Then again, when she was in Atlantic City for the weekend, I won $90 and she lost $10, so her luck can’t be THAT good…

– Here’s a practical one – if you buy someone a gift with a rechargeable battery, and you open up the gift to charge the battery so that it’s ready to go when you present the gift, is that against the rules of society? Because aren’t you really kinda screwing the other person if you give them the gift and they have to charge it afterward, thereby limiting their immediate enjoyment of the gift? It goes against the rules of society because what if you did something to the gift besides just recharging the battery, not to mention it now looks used which in my opinion means ” I didn’t like this, maybe you will”, And if you can’t wait for something to charge then you don’t deserve the gift.
The consensus for the gift was that it’d look bad if it were opened for the reasons stated above, so there you go. It wasn’t a matter of her deserving the gift – we were going away for a pretty decent drive and I wanted to make sure she could play the GBA in the car if she got bored. I would have regretted opening it up, so it worked out okay.

That’s all for the Mailbag! Keep sending those e-mails in!!!



That’s all for today. Thanks a lot for reading. Enjoy your Fourth, and see you next week!