Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 01.01.04

Happy New Year! It’s a new year, which means one thing and one thing only – you need to buy a new calendar. While the date may change (and place your bets now on how long you’ll write 2003 on documents instead of 2004), nothing’s changed here at 411 Games. You’ll still get the same great reviews, great columns, and great writers. And unfortunately, this is NOT the first Games column of 2004. That honor goes to Lucard’s mailbag. Could be worse, eh?

To Anybody Who Wrote To Me This Week: There’s a famous saying – if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. Ever heard that one? Well, here’s my deal right now. School’s over and I haven’t been getting a lot of hours at ShopRite (both a blessing and a curse), so all I’ve been doing is playing X-Box and working on my room. With all of this free time, I tend to put off the things that actually matter. In other words, I’m lazy. Forgive me. And expect a reply soon.

And sorry this is late. New Year’s sucks and it’s a girlfriend day. I’m actually finishing this up at 11:19 PM Thursday night. Usually this is in by 4 PM WEDNESDAY. It’s been tough to find the time to write this, but I felt the need to write something on this day. Something important, something that would make reading it worthwhile. And it took a while to do. Hopefully, this fits the bill.

Anyway, there’s a total lack of news out there, mostly because all the games sites (besides 411, of course) have taken the holidays off. So it’s difficult for a news reporter to find material during such a dry period. Last week, you saw one cliched column in the year-end ballot. This week, you’ll see another cliche idea in my own New Year’s Resolutions. This is a little different from the usual fluff you see elsewhere, though. Other sites, you’ll see vain attempts to be funny and projections with tongue firmly in cheek. Not so here at TGIT. Quite honestly, there’s a lot that could (and should) change in the gaming industry. There are a lot of things that companies are doing that are good that they should keep doing, and there are a lot of people who are shooting themselves in the foot right now. There’s a chance that these groups will make the right decisions in 2004… sadly, that chance is as big as the Jets’ Super Bowl chances this year.

So here are some New Year’s Resolutions for the industry and its major players, TGIT style. Maybe they’ll even come true… we’ll find out in 2004!

For the Industry
Set release dates and stick by them. This is an easy one. There are actually two parts to this, and both are not only feasible, but their omission is inexcusable.

First, the phrase “Game Ships XX/XX” should be banned from the lexicon of gamers everywhere. This is one of the most ridiculous and antiquated aspects of gaming. It wouldn’t be hard to set and promote a release date for a game. Hell, it happens with CDs and DVDs all the time. Even systems get this kind of promotion. Why not with games? Most gamers identify 9.9.99 with the Dreamcast’s release, and many people remember Mortal Kombat Friday, when MK2 was released to the home consoles.

Setting specific dates would do so much for the games, the companies trying to sell them, and the stores that distribute the games to customers. First, it would transform the game into something that’s “coming soon” into a viable commodity that will be released unto the world on a set date. Second, the company would be creating a level of trust with the gamer that could be built on with future releases. Third, game stores wouldn’t be flooded with phone calls that are answered with “We haven’t gotten the game yet and we’re not sure when it’ll be coming in. Maybe tomorrow.” These are little things that should be taken care of, and it’s crazy that nobody’s solved this yet.

The second part of release dates is that they are actually feasible. In other words, they aren’t pushed back ten times before the game comes out. Nintendo is one company that’s notorious for this, which could explain why they have struggled so much since the days of the Super Nintendo. The constant delays that games face so much is one reason why consumer confidence is on the decline. And there’s no reason for a delay. Companies have put so much pressure on themselves to please customers by putting out product in the quickest manner possible that the result is always one of two things – a rushed, buggy product; or a delay. Most gamers would tell you that they’d rather have a game out later than have it rushed, but they’d also tell you that delays bother them.

How to avoid this? If a much-anticipated game is on the horizon, advertise it, but don’t include a release date. If the game is worth waiting for, people will. But if it’s dangled in front of them with tons of “Coming Soon” ads and the game comes two years later, odds are good that the public will have soured on it by then.

I’ve long been a critic of the way that the game industry blatantly bites the hand that feeds it, and this is a big reason why. Such a simple concept that is not followed at all by just about anybody, and it shows. If gaming ever wants to really make it to the mainstream, it has to abide by the rules of the mainstream. That is, set a release date and stick by it.

Keep the controversial content coming. By “controversial content”, I don’t mean crap like BMX XXX, which you can now find for $2.99 new at your local GameStop. I’m referring to specific real-life situations that could really happen, that are displayed in a realistic manner. For example, the GTA games have taken a lot of heat for showing off a side of the world that most people didn’t care to have recreated in a video game – violence, crime, theft, and a distinct lack of respect for human life. Guess what? That’s life. And life needs to be depicted in the arts. We see it all the time in movies and television. Gaming should NOT be an exception to this.

The only way to ensure that gaming is included with the other forms of art is by the constant pushing of the envelope. But it’s got to be the right pushing of the envelope. For every game like Manhunt, there’s a Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. And that’s got to stop. Gratuitous violence or scantily clad women are fine, as long as there’s a point to their appearance. The more games that feature these type of things in a setting where it’s got to be there, the better off all games will be.

Even though Night Trap was a somewhat limited game, it paved the way for gaming to take the direction it has. GTA is in the same boat right now, without the limitations. This resolution is directed more at Rockstar/Take-Two than anyone else. Keep it up. The GTA games have done so much for gaming, because they’ve taken down the existing infrastructure and created a no-rules approach to game development. Even if there’s not another GTA game, it’s important that Rockstar and Take-Two keep their non-apologist approach to the games they’ve created. Their stance means that other companies can keep pushing the envelope.

Include games that people actually want with systems. Many people bought new systems this holiday season. No system moved more units on Black Friday than the GameCube. Was it because it’s only $99 as opposed to $179? Maybe. Was it because Nintendo has more desirable titles out there than any other system? It’s a good possibility. Was it because you could get four classic Zelda titles for FREE with the system? Perhaps, but add this one with the other two and that’s a package nobody could pass up.

If you were shopping around for systems and you said “Man, I really want that Tetris Worlds game, so I’m going with X-Box” or “The PS2 Network Adapter is the greatest thing since sliced bread”, you didn’t do your homework very well. If you bought an X-Box, you bought it for Live. If you bought a PS2, you bought it because, well, it’s a PS2. A Cube? It’s not so clear.

But notice how all 10 months of bad publicity for Nintendo has completely vanished with their recent bundling. Forget the low price for a second. Is there any other pack-in that’s as intriguing as the Zelda collection? Not really.

This is something that the other competitors out there need to figure out. Today’s system market is the most competitive it’s ever been. That three systems can even exist out there is testament to this fact. Now, giving two average games instead of one great one isn’t going to sell any X-Boxes. Giving away a network adapter when most games don’t even utilize it won’t help Sony out any. But providing gamers with a look at the past with a hint of the future (the one level of Wind Waker) is everything someone needs to be convinced that the Cube is the system they want.

It won’t have as big an impact because the holidays are over, but if Microsoft was smart, it would include an X-Box Live game of the consumer’s choice with the system. If Sony was smart, it’d include a prominent, relatively new PS2 exclusive game like Jak II. Nintendo IS smart, and that’s why they’re letting the Zelda $99 bundle do its talking. The typical system bundle should show off the best aspects of the system (and the company promoting it), and that’s what the current Cube set-up does. Microsoft and Sony need to work on theirs.

More system-exclusive games. It’s nice to have games come out on all three systems so that gamers can access the games, and also to create a more intense competition between the three systems. But it’s hard to say which one is the best when they all have the same games. Giving systems more exclusive games would serve to make the individual systems stronger, which means they’ll be around for longer, which means the games can only get better.

For the Industry Competitors
Rockstar Games/Take-Two Interactive
Release GTA5 in time for the 2004 holidays. Make it full the things that made GTA3 and Vice City hits, only even more over-the-top. Get the media going crazy with rage and the gamers going crazy with glee. Cement the GTA legacy one last time before it jumps the shark.

Electronic Arts
CHANGE THE DAMN BOX ART!!! Every EA Sports game since 2001 has looked EXACTLY the same. Same logo, same everything, just a different player on the cover. Innovate a little more. Look at NHL 2004’s success for proof of this. At the same time, promote the Big line as an alternative to the sim-like EA Sports games. With this strategy, EA can own sports for as long as it wants.

Make a game that doesn’t blow. Seriously. Forget about being the raunchiest or anything else. Get back to basics, and it could work.

Finally pull out all the stops and make the wrestling game to end all wrestling games. The past few have been pretty much all the same, and there’s always something for the hardcore wrestling fans to complain about. Listen to the people, and get it done.

Re-release Final Fantasy IV on a disc that can actually be played on PS2. Or GBA. That’s all.

Keep promoting X-Box Live as the future. It’s working. And it’s making Nintendo and Sony sweat a little. Keep it up.

Stop pretending you own the video game marketplace. Put out a bundle that actually entices gamers to purchase the system. Cut the price if you have to. Just don’t assume yours is the best system, because it’s not.

The Cube has the best package of any system out there, and the best price to boot. Don’t change a thing. Make sure Zelda comes out in the first half of 2004 and maybe even another Mario-related title this year. Keep getting third-party exclusives and promote them as such. And thank heavens for the GBA SP for keeping the company afloat during troubled times.

And that’s all for the New Year’s Resolutions. If they don’t come true, we can at least hope that some people have learned from their 2003 mistakes. As Bebito remarked to the staff while making his year-end picks, 2003 was a weak year for gaming. With gaming becoming a very important form of media, 2004 needs to be a great gaming year. And it should happen, as long as the industry continues to move forward and bad games like BMX XXX stay on the cutting room floor.

Happy New Year! Thanks for reading. See you next week!