Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 01.08.04

Hello, and welcome to Thank God It’s Thursday! I’m Bryan Berg, and this is the second one of these bad boys I’m doing this week. Hopefully, Tuesday’s was up to the standard you’ve all come to expect, because today’s definitely will be as well.

Extra special feature today in TGIT – a mailbag! Yes, a mailbag. Doesn’t happen too often, so tell your friends! But for now, let’s do some news!

The Phantom Unveiled… This Time, For Real
Everybody’s favorite whipping boy of 2003, the Phantom, has decided to come back for another year of relentless bashing from the gaming media. To kick off 2004, Infinium Labs announced that the Phantom will be unveiled to the public, starting TODAY, at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. Furthermore, a special “gaming session” will be available today. Says Timothy Roberts (CEO of Infinium), “This show gives us the unique opportunity to present the Phantom firsthand to both consumers and industry insiders.”

While the opportunity isn’t all that “unique”, it’s nice to see that after a year or so of teasing this system, it’s finally being made available to the eyes of the gamer. And after all the wait and all the hype, this had better be the greatest thing to happen to gaming since Super Mario. Odds are good that it won’t be. Still, it’s hard to judge now. The Phantom will actually be a featured product of the Microsoft Windows Embedded Device Showcase, which is in reference to one consistent criticism about the system – that it’s basically a glorified computer. Gamers and industry types in Las Vegas today will find out.

Holiday Sales Figures
In an announcement that is sure to shock the world, EB Games declared that its sales were up for the holiday season. You don’t say! What a revelation!

Sarcasm aside, EB posted a huge 24 percent gain over last year’s holiday numbers. What does that mean? For one, it means that the gaming industry is anything but on the decline, as some uninformed people like to claim. Instead, this is proof that the industry CAN support three giants, even when they’ve already been out for two (or three) years already. People are buying second and third systems, which is great to see. This makes the environment even more competitive.

On the topic of competitiveness, EB’s CEO and president, Jeremy Griffiths, said that gamers should be expecting widespread price cuts on systems as early as March or April. According to a article, Michael Pachter, a Wall Street analyst, is in agreement with Griffiths, and even goes as far as to state that Sony could be the first to cut price and that they might even do it in February. These are two very feasible options, and they have an equal possibitlity of hapening. But if you want my opinion…

Obviously, there’s going to be a dry period that’s going to encapsulate all the systems. A lot of big titles dropped around the holidays, leaving very little for the early part of 2004. The biggest exclusive releases out there will be FF:Crystal Chronicles and Ninja Gaiden, which are going to be exclusive to the GameCube and X-Box respectively. This might prompt Sony to act first in cutting price. Suppose for a second they did. Microsoft would follow suit, and they both cut their prices to $149. Nintendo would still have the best-priced system with its $99 GameCube, but you obviously couldn’t go any lower than that. So you’d have two systems that have totally taken away Nintendo’s momentum with the Cube, which could put everybody’s favorite small system back to Square One in terms of getting an audience for the product. Nintendo would have to come up with a fresh strategy, while Sony and Microsoft would only have to say “Hey, we cut our price! Come buy our system!”. This all COULD happen as early as February, which is when those two big exclusive titles will be released, but count on these cuts coming later, as the odds of Sony admitting they have no strategy are as great as the odds of the Beatles reforming today.

PSP Update
A recent interview featured on the Playstation website with the President of Sony Europe, Chris Deering, claims that a ballpark figure has been decided on for the PSP’s release – November 2004. Unlike past Sony releases, this will be a worldwide release, meaning that the PSP will drop in every location on the same day. Deering describes the PSP as “The Walkman of the 21st century” and claims that Sony is looking into the PSP’s potential connectivity with the PSX via Memory Stick, as well as GPRS/GPS connectivity.

This overall package does sound very impressive; the question is, can it steal Nintendo’s thunder? Odds are good that it can. Remember when the first Playstation came out? It dominated the Nintendo 64. It’s doing similarly well in competition with the GameCube. And Nintendo’s been a more reliable household name in the video game industry than Sony for much longer. This didn’t stop Sony from doing as well as it has. So why should it be any different in the handheld market?

Simply put, the Game Boy has BEEN handheld gaming for almost 15 years. It took out the Game Gear, the Lynx, or any other handheld device you’d like to name-check here. Nintendo has done a great job with this system, almost to the point where Nintendo will be remembered just as much for the Game Boy as for the NES. The real question is, can the handheld market support two handhelds? Don’t even count the N-Gage, because that was a terrible release that has not caught on and will not catch on with gamers. With Sony’s promotional touch, the PSP could be a real competitor to the GBA. Big GBA fans will eat it up, just because it’s a different handheld that they can play. Casual game fans will think it’s neat and give it a try. There’s going to be a war, people, between the GBA and the PSP, very similar to the one we saw over 10 years ago with Genesis vs. Super Nintendo. It’s going to be great to watch come November 2004.

Sony’s #1!!!
In the DVD Recorder market…. in Japan….

Thanks in large part to the PSX, Sony has taken a 35 percent share in the DVD recorder industry in Japan, which puts them atop the DVD recorder market share department. In spite of its ridiculously high price, 100,000 PSX’s were sold in the first week of sales, and Sony plans to ship 1 million PSX’s in 2004.

You’ve got to be impressed with the way Sony’s handled the PSX; after shipping the system’s initial run with a ton of stuff missing, Sony has managed to get consumer confidence back. Also, they’ve resisted the urge to market the PSX to Playstation fanboys, instead focusing on the DVD recorder market. And it’s worked really well. Kudos to Sony for making a potentially bad situation work for them.

My only concern with Sony’s recent innovations (re: PSX, PSP) is that their names are awful similar. This is going to confuse some parents (and uneducated gamers) when both systems are available in the same market. However, Sony’s marketing should make this a non-issue.

Alex Williams – Magic the Gathering: Battlegrounds. Another one of the X-Box Live Holiday Giveaway games has been reviewed on 411! Check it out!
The game has a very unique system to it that is original and fresh. However, the execution of this system is incredibly lacking and is only good if you intend to go Live with it.

Alex Lucard – Beyond Good and Evil. If only this review was up a few days earlier, we could give this one credit for the price cut!
It is an absolute mystery to me how many people love this game. I can’t fathom it. I can’t.

Lee Baxley – Mid-Week Mid-Boss News Report. Lee’s got an AWESOME piece in here about people’s love for their work shining through in the finished product. And he’s absolutely right about all of it.
I think that many game developers these days are not loving what they’re doing, and they’re just making games to stay in business, not because they enjoy the process of making a game. If they did, then maybe there would be more good games out there.

BTW: Lee, here’s a solution to the EA-Microsoft dilemma. Have Microsoft give a three-to-five percent cut of game revenues to companies on board with Live. This way, the amount paid out is directly related to how well the game sells. EA would definitely clean up here. Of course, Microsoft is never going to suddenly decide “Hey, let’s start giving money out!” unless there’s a serious protest from a significant number of companies, which might not happen because having Live enhances a game’s value and they don’t want to risk upsetting Microsoft. In short, we might not be seeing a Live-compatible Madden 2005 unless something drastic happens.

Bryan Berg – NBA Inside Drive 2004. This is my review, and I think it’s quite good. I really enjoyed playing this game – I think Inside Drive’s got a lot of potential and that it can give EA and Sega a run for their money next year.

The Mailbag will replace this week’s Commentary. This is a feature that is solely dependent on you guys, so if you want it back, keep sending in e-mails!

The first one’s from Coby Preimesberger of Flora Vista, NM…

Bryan you talk about NCAA Football 2004 and how they can make it better and the same can be said about Madden NFL Football which just seems to get better and better every year, this year with the Madden Cards adding Coach Cheat cards, as well as the Bio which keeps track of how you are doing with Madden NFL Football and other EA Sports games. I’ve always been a big fan of EA Sports games becuase they try and get every little intiricacy of the real game, such as with the Broncos at home games when a visiting team has an incomplete pass, the fans go incomplete and they do the same thing in Madden NFL football. I think one of the biggest improvements in the game is the involvement of the coaches and actually getting the actual playbooks of each coach involved and I think that starterd either with Madden 2k or 2001, and one good thing is I have seen the Madden series progress as I have the last 4 Madden games made, 2000 and 2002 for PS one, 2001 for N64 and Madden 2003 and 2004 for PS2. It’s amazing that the John Madden Football series is almost 15 years old and as I mentioned only gets better each season, I mean to think before this series didn’t have the blessing from the NFLPA and they could only use the #’s for the players and also they couldn’t use either the Super Bowl logo or trophy, and in it’s first season you could play in a tournament mode but not season, but now you have franchise and even owner mode if you so choose. I hope you had Merry Christmas Bryan and in the new year I wish you health and prosperity.

Thanks for the well-wishes, bro. Christmas was kinda weak this year, but it was still great fun. Anyway, I’m a huge fan of Madden, but I’d have to say that I enjoyed playing NCAA more this year. Perhaps this is because I only rented NCAA so I remember it being this awesome game. But it was definitely faster and I really liked some of the option moves in there. And the create-a-school mode was excellent. Then again, so was the Madden Owner Mode. Either way, you can’t go wrong. And Madden’s legacy cannot be touched, which is why the game’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Next up is from Paul Franzen of…

hey. you’re right about the gamecube bundle. i got it for christmas for just that reason.. though i haven’t yet managed to snag my free zelda game. looks like i hafta register several things before i can. ah well.

i read a few things in your article that confused me a bit, though..

“But providing gamers with a look at the past with a hint of the future (the one level of Wind Waker)…”

“Make sure Zelda comes out in the first half of 2004…”

okay.. the second quote there seems to indicate that there’s a new zelda game coming out soon. however.. the first quote, when added to the second quote.. seems to indicate that wind waker is this new game.

iduno, do you live somewhere that isn’t the united states? it came out here a whiiile ago.

or is there really a new zelda game coming out already?

I goofed this one. My bad. I intended to write about the NEW Zelda game that has been rumored to be released in the first half of 2004. At this rate, we probably won’t see it. But this was a mistake on my part, and I apologize for making it. And thanks to Paul for pointing it out!

This letter’s from Rafael Delarosa, inquiring about the new GTA game…

I was reading that they’re coming out with a new game and it should be released in Q4…so I’m assuming, if they’re smart, they’d get the game out just in time for business. Anyway, I’m interested in wondering what they should do next? Should they set it in 1920’s Chicago or? Thanks for reading.

With all of the hype about the unannounced Sin City, perhaps Rockstar should consider this proposition. Imagine how cool a GTA game would be in the Roaring 20’s? Your player could be this mobster with a pinstriped suit and a neat hat, and you’d drive around in Model T Fords, hooking up with “flappers”, and living the gangster life? Maybe even a black-and-white interface? This would be awesome! If GTA5 is Sin City, GTA 6 had better be ChiTown!

Kraig Horigan chimes in on Beyond Good and Evil…

it most likely has to do with the fact that they had 4 flag ship games in stores for xmas… what game are you going to get? that hurt their sales I would guess… also the PS2 version was projected to be the most popular so Circuit City may have ordered WAY too many. The PS2 version is known to suffer bad framerate, and hardcore gamers have more than one system… while the mass market avoided it for other titles like Prince of Persia and Rainbow six.

but DAMN that was fast for a price drop

As does David Williams…

Hey Bryan, You’ve probably already gotten quite a few emails about this, but I thought I’d chime in too.

Regarding the price slash of “Beyond Good & Evil”: I’m just wondering, before you started to immediately question the quality of the game, did you bother too look around the web and think about the history of video games? Simply check and you’ll see that this game got an 86% based on 17 reviews. That’s a REALLY good showing. The only complaint that I’ve seen in all the reviews that I’ve read is that I’ve read is that its too short (around 10 – 15 hours). Other than that every reviewer LOVED the game. What happened was a simple matter of overstocking and bad marketing. Beyond Good & Evil is not a known franchise, the cover is not exactly going to grab you and it wasn’t advertised to the public at large at all as far as I can tell. It probably had a couple ads in the gaming mags, but I haven’t seen a single TV or any internet ads for it. But, it did get good reviews and got released in December so the game/electronic stores figured they had a hit game just in time for Christmas and ordered a ton of copies. Only problem, if you’re going to buy someone a game for Christmas, you have to know it exists. Ubisoft made no attempt to reach the casual gamers, so they didn’t know to buy it and the parents didn’t know it was out there either. So now all of these stores are stuck sitting on tons of copies of this game that the public doesn’t know exists and they have to clear out room for whatever new games are coming so what do they do? Slash the price.

I shouldn’t even have to explain how price and sales do not equal quality. Many great games don’t sell well (Rez, Vagrant Story, ICO, Jet Grind Radio Future, Shenmue II) and plenty sell for $20 and under (Road Trip, Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution). And, on the flip side, plenty of terrible games sell well (see Tomb Raider franchise, Enter the Matrix, any 989 sports game) and sell at full price longer than they should (Backyard Wrestling for PS2 is still $44.99 and I can hardly imagine a game WORSE than that).

So to sum this long rambling email up quickly: Price/sales do not equal quality, the price drop is due to overstocking and poor sales brought about by poor promotion.

Ok, I’ll tackle both of these at the same time because they both deal with the same thing. My questioning of the price drop is because I vividly recall another recent release that was dropped in price almost immediately – the Nokia N-Gage. Only difference there is, everyone knew the system sucked. Here, the game got awesome reviews. I went by Alex Lucard’s review because I trust his judgment more than anyone else out there, and Alex gave it a less-than-stellar recommendation. Comparing this to the other high-marks reviews and seeing the drastic price cut, something wasn’t right.

I agree that Beyond Good and Evil is the product of bad marketing, that it was thrown out there with other excellent Ubisoft titles to compete with. That’s the problem of Ubisoft, and they dug their own grave here. Still, if the game was that great, don’t you think they would have pumped some advertising dollars behind it? That’s the piece that I don’t get. This is a game that won Story of the Year from Gamespot, which has to stand for something. How does this game get immediately sent to the bargain bin? I really can’t see overstock or bad marketing being the sole cause here. Might just be me being a cynic, but there’s GOT to be something more to this than a mere miscalculation of marketing or sales projections. We haven’t heard any kind of outrage from Ubisoft about this, or a reason why prices are being cut so severely, so we can’t really judge anything right now. Something tells me there’s going to be another part of this story released soon, and that’s when we’ll get our answer.

So that concludes a rare Mailbag! It was enjoyable to do this. Keep the mails coming in, and we can do this again!

So another TGIT is in the books. And what a TGIT it was! Much fun all around.

Thanks for reading me this week. Please do the same for our other guys, as they’re all outstanding and do great work. See you next Thursday!