Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 07.22.04

Hey y’all, welcome to TGIT! Thanks for stopping by.

Guess what – there’s no news today! Sorry. However, there’s no shortage of strong opinion (did you really expect there to be one?). So with that, I close the door on what’s been a popular and controversial source of conversation in the recent months of this column… the marketing of the ESPN line by Sega and Take Two. Enjoy!



I really don’t browse a lot of gaming sites. I generally hit IGN for the news, 411 for reviews and to read the work of my friends, and maybe GameSpot for whatever else is missing. Yesterday, I was looking for ESPN NFL 2K5 reviews, just to see how people reacted to the game. Each of the three sites I mentioned had a review up. The GameSpot and IGN reviews were the usual fluff pieces, while Chris Pankonin’s 411 review actually contained opinion. Each gave the game a very high score, which was nice.

Why bring this up? The first sentence of each review began with mention of the ridiculously low price of NFL 2K5 – a price, by the way, that Sega plans on bringing to NHL 2K5 and NBA 2K5 as well. Now, a reviewer has to mention the price because it’s a major reason to buy the game. With the buzz around the game being so centered on the price rather than the quality, that mention would be near the top of any review of NFL 2K5. That three major sites opened up their reviews with price-related comments speaks volumes about the priorities of gamebuyers and the industry in general. And the message it sends is less than complimentary.

Sega’s Recent Past
Over the years, Sega’s football games have gained an almost cult-like following. That’s not an apt description because of the relatively low number of fans, but because of the intensity of these devotees. These people are die-hard Sega-lovers and Madden-haters, and they know quality when they see it. And, for a number of years, they’ve been playing the better game. At the same time, the Sega Sports basketball and hockey games have gained critical praise to the point where most proclaim the Sega titles as superior to their competitors.

Yet, despite having comparable, if not superior, quality; Sega’s games have never sold as well as EA’s sports titles. Sega has gained a reputation for notoriously bad marketing, and its sports games have been no exception to this rule. While Sega Sports titles carry the ESPN logo, the NFL Draft is full of Madden ads, the NBA Draft features NBA Live promos every commercial break, and the network runs a weekly show called the “EA Sports NFL Matchup”. Since ESPN’s only goal seems to be that its games serve as advertisements for its flagship shows, it’s been up to Sega to get the name out there. And it hasn’t done so.

Enter Take-Two Interactive. Sega and Take-Two recently agreed to do business together, and NFL 2K5 is the first example of the aggressive approach the duo plans to take in its marketing. We all know what’s happened since. First, the price gets cut by 60 percent. Then, the game’s release date gets pushed up three weeks. Almost without warning, we have a football game on our hands and training camps aren’t even open yet!

The Battle of 2002
Things have certainly changed in the gaming industry since August 2002, when Sega put all of its resources into the marketing of NFL 2K3. At the time, analysts saw Sega Sports as a more-than-viable threat to the Madden empire. Reviews hailed NFL 2K3 as better than Madden 2003. Both games were released at the same time and at the same price. The famous result – Madden outsold NFL 2K3 by the unbelievable margin of 8-to-1.

Obviously, Sega is apprehensive about taking on EA head-on due to the events of two years ago. In the meantime, Sega has innovated. Last year, ESPN dropped the 2K approach for a more bland title, ESPN NFL Football. But in came First Person Football and the Crib, pleasing longtime fans and creating a legion of new ones. This year, Sega wisely merged both worlds, titling the game ESPN NFL 2K5 and adding even more features, including the spectacular VIP. On the other hand, Madden’s hottest feature is the Hit Stick, something which we’ve already seen in NHL 2004. Sometimes, even Madden fans have to wonder if EA’s biggest task is finding big-name musicians for EA Trax over enhanced gameplay.

What’s More Important?
This is where the travesty lies. We should be talking about the ESPN presentation, the VIP, and all the goodness NFL 2K5 brings to the table. We should be wondering if the Hit Stick is enough to make Madden 2005 worth buying. Instead, all people want to talk about is price. In other words, it doesn’t seem to matter if NFL 2K5 actually regresses in quality, because people will buy it for $20! That’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard. This is a game that got a 9.4 from IGN, a 9.2 from GameSpot, and an 8.0 from 411, which is like a 9.5 from any other site. An instead of focusing on the gameplay, all we hear is what a great bang for the buck NFL 2K5 is.

AAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who’s to blame for this? The media is the easy answer, but the media only reports what the people want to hear. The casual gaming public is the group that refused to buy previous versions of NFL 2K when it clearly smoked that year’s Madden. And this is the same group that is going bonkers over the prospect of owning a new football game for just $20. This is the same group that Sega is, in a sense, selling out to.

If Sega plans on charging $50 for NFL 2K6, they’d better expect NOBODY to buy it. It could be the greatest football game of all time, and nobody will care. Sega has now trained the public to think in terms of price rather than on the basis of which game is superior. Sega does seem committed to lowering the prices on all their sports games, though, so next year’s a tough call. However, the difference is that people will expect it next year and will not react impulsively like they will this year.

Make no mistake about it – Sega will achieve the sales they are looking for. They’ll avoid the scenario of 2002, and they’ll do monster numbers out of the gate. There will definitely be people who buy NFL 2K5 and then decide to put off buying Madden 2005, and even more who never end up buying Madden 2005 at all. And if sales end up even, you’d still have to give EA a lot of credit. At least they sold a football game. Sega just sold a price tag.

Ask a football fan what they think about NFL 2K5. The first thing they say WILL have something to do with price. That’s what Sega wants. And that’s sad. Worse, this is going to be the scenario for every Sega-EA comparison in every sport this year. And what if it works too well? Does EA drop its titles down to $15 upon release just to one-up Sega?

Maybe we’d be better off. Some of the Kliq have argued that nobody should pay more than $20 for a new sports game since it’s an upgrade instead of a brand new game. There’s definitely some merit to that. Of course, we’re conditioned to paying $50 every year for the latest, so it’s no problem. Now, all of a sudden, there’s a price war going on. And there really shouldn’t be. If Sega somehow thinks that they’ve leveled the playing field by lowering their price, they’re very much mistaken. Instead, all they’ve done is cheapen their reputation and lessen the impact of this year’s improvements. They’re admitting they can’t beat Madden without these guerrila marketing techniques meant to grab headlines rather than deliver a better game to more people.

Business Over Gaming
This is a really glaring example of what happens when the business side of gaming overshadows the gaming side of gaming. Let me give you an example. The VIP feature of NFL 2K5 sounds like one of the most innovative aspects of a football game in years. I had no idea it even existed until I read a review of NFL 2K5. THAT’S how ridiculous the hype of the price has gotten. Sega is marketing to the least common denominator when it could instead show us why we’re better off with their game. We still have no proof of why NFL 2K5 is better than Madden 2005. We don’t even know if it is. Odds are good that Sega doesn’t even care if it is. They just want us to buy, and buy now.

Before I got carried away, my original point was going to be this – in five years, nobody is going to care how much these games cost at release. Instead, they’ll just be remembered as the 2004 editions of these franchises that may still be going strong at that point. They might be thought of as spectacular; they might be considered weak versions. The point is, Sega’s marketing stunt isn’t going to add anything to the game’s legacy. The sad part is, this doesn’t seem to bother Sega one bit.

We at the Kliq have come to value Sega for giving us great gaming experiences, even if they haven’t translated into big profits. Now, it’s looking like Sega has turned that corner into pandering to the casual gamer demographic. It’s real sad to see. While this move is definitely in the short-term interests of Sega, its long-term ramifications will harm both Sega and the gaming industry overall. We’re seeing the beginning of price being put ahead of gaming. And with the rising costs of game development, can the industry sustain such a paradigm shift?

I don’t think so. Could a major movie studio charge just $4 per admission and still please all the theaters and everybody else involved? No, especially if the movie flops. While it’s all but guaranteed that NFL 2K5 will achieve its sales goals, it’s also put Sega into a position where a profit is virtually impossible. And agan, if they plan on raising their prices next year, this year’s good vibes will be negated completely. Nobody can argue the value that gamers everywhere are getting from this year’s Sega/ESPN titles. I’m just saying that this won’t be of much benefit to Sega’s bottom line, if any at all.



Plugs
News Reports
A.J. Angeloni – The Friday Fill-In News Report. A.J.’s first news report came about when Alex Williams decided to go donate some money to the city of Las Vegas. And he did a very capable job.
I mean if you, for example, not let someone under 18 purchase a Grand Theft Auto title, then shouldn’t you (using that logic) also not allow them to purchase many DVD’s, books, etc?

Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. I have NO knowledge about anything Samba-related! I’m serious! I would never lie about such a thing… yeah, that’s the ticket…
Including the fans makes sense

No, it doesn’t.

Matt Yeager – The Casual Gamers News Report. Matt delivers the news, cheap games, and new releases. Matt’s looking forward to a cheap NHL 2K5, as am I. Especially since there won’t be any real hockey this year…
Hey, I’m all for women being into video games, as long as it’s after they’ve gotten into the kitchen and made me some food.

Columns
Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer. I don’t know if not releasing a NES anthology has or hasn’t cheapened the quality of these games. But because they’re more rare than, say, Pac-Man, people will pay more for them. It’s got less to do with prestige than it does with exposure, I think.
If anything, not releasing an anthology is “cheapening” many of these games, especially since they’ve released most of them at least three times (Super Mario Bros. is a prime example).

Reviews
Alex Lucard – Pokemon Box (GameCube). Final Score: 5.5

Michael O’Reilly – Spider-Man 2 (X-Box). Final Score: 8.5

Chris Pankonin – NFL 2K5 (X-Box). Final Score: 8.0

Previews
Bebito Jackson – Baten Kaitos (GameCube).



Well, you’ve already read this week’s Commentary! That’s what happens during a slow news week. Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of those recently. I apologize for that, even though it’s in no way my fault.

And that ends this week’s edition of Thank God It’s Thursday. Next week, maybe something that doesn’t have to do with football! Thanks for reading. See you next week!