Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 07.15.04

Welcome to TGIT! Bryan Berg here, and this is the one and only Thank God It’s Thursday News Report. Thanks for dropping by 411 Games on this fine Thursday.

In case you were wondering, I solved the spyware problem I alluded to last week. Turns out I had something called the Peper Trojan horse. It’s not quite spyware – it’s “adware”. Basically, it consists of a base program called wowex32.exe, which creates other programs with random names. The software sends pop-ups to your computer and (presumably) tracks your Internet surfing habits. The random names keep the Trojan horse from being detected by Ad-Aware, Spybot, and even ZoneAlarm, which detects only wowex32.exe and not the sub-files. There are removal tools on the Internet, which are essential as Norton can’t do it alone. There’s not a lot written about this one, so that’s why I’m putting it on the top. People might be getting pop-ups and not know where they’re coming from. If your Task Manager lists programs with totally random file names that you don’t recognize, then you might be infected with Peper. Hopefully, you get to the root of the problem before I could.

Anyway, on with business! And what a doozy we have to start with. We go!

Most sports gamers know that Take Two and Sega plan to market ESPN NFL 2K5 with a super-low price of $19.99. These same gamers are waiting in eager anticipation for the next game in the series that many say is better than Madden at this point. These gamers might not have to wait much longer.

ESPN Videogames has announced that NFL 2K5 is done and ready for release. So ready, in fact, that they’re releasing the game earlier than anticipated – by about three weeks. ESPN NFL 2K5 will now be available on July 20.

While many gamers exclaim “Cool!”, I ask “Why”?

It’s one thing to beat EA to the punch. It’s another thing to totally jump the gun and overexpose your hand. That’s what Sega has done here. In its joint effort with Take Two to aggressively market NFL 2K5, Sega may have bit off more than it can chew here.

One area where you can’t fault EA is in its marketing. More particularly, EA sets release dates in stone months before the games are scheduled to be released. This allows the proper time for anticipation to reach a fever pitch, and for gamers to whet their appetites for a new title. This has worked very well in the past for EA. The campaign for Madden began at the NFL Draft (which aired on ESPN, no less) and hasn’t let up yet, with gamers being constantly reminded that they will get the chance to own Madden 2005 on August 10. By the time August 10 rolls around, gamers are so eager to play the new game that they’re that much more likely to buy it.

Now, compare that to what Sega has done here. First, Sega and Take Two announce that they’re selling their game for $19.99. Fine; remember that this is the new version of the game that many thought was better than Madden 2004. The game was announced for mid-August, but after Madden’s slated release date. Apparently, Sega and Take Two feared that the Madden craze would kill all of Sega’s momentum, espeically after EA announced its Collector’s Edition of Madden 2005. In response, the ESPN team decided to bump up the release date to late July.

July is WAY too early to release a pro football game. Even if Sega’s goal was to take some of EA’s NCAA 2005 thunder away – which is likely part of the equation – Sega forgets the great lengths EA took to separate NCAA 2005 and Madden 2005. While football is obviously the common ground between the two, EA introduced so many new features to each game that the two games are mutually exclusive, meaning that sales won’t cut into each other. The point is, people won’t necessarily NOT buy Madden just because they already bought NCAA. The other piece is that training camps won’t even be broken by July 20, which means people might not even be ready to buy a pro football game yet – even if it’s only $19.99.

What Sega should have done is bump the release date of ESPN NFL 2K5 up to August 3. That’s a week before Madden’s date. This would give Sega and Take Two a good two weeks more to promote the new release date, the new price, and the new features. And this would give the game the proper time to get a buzz going for it. In this case, not only is it cheaper, but it’s coming sooner (the first pro football game on the market), it’s fresher in the people’s minds, and (hopefully) it’s better. Even hardcore Madden fans would be hard-pressed not to buy this game, just to see what it’s all about.

Instead, the game will be released July 20 – which is 5 days from now. How Sega plans to get this date out to every potential buyer is a mystery. Perhaps Sega feels that if the game is suddenly available in stores, impulse buyers will purchase it at the low price. But that’s a sort of disservice to loyal fans who have been with the franchise since 1999. Then again, Sega has made it clear that the fans it REALLY cares about are the ones that currently play Madden.

Speaking of Madden, the chances of Sega taking away EA’s sales become even lower with this announcement. College football buffs will still buy NCAA Football 2005, and Madden fans will still buy Madden. Again, the only difference the price cut made was forcing Madden fans to consider buying both games, not to abandon Madden completely. EA’s still offering the Collector’s Edition and the new X-Box Live playability. And they’re offering all of this far enough away from the release of ESPN NFL 2K5 that even if Sega cleans up here, Madden 2005 will still get enough first-week numbers to be the #1 game that week, which will do a lot to damage Sega’s reputation. After all, despite all the efforts Sega has made, Madden will still be top dog when it comes out.

I’ve been talking about competition a lot in these pages recently, and the football game race is usually as competitive as they come. This year, there’s NO competition. NFL 2K5 and Madden 2005 seem to be on completely different wavelengths at this point. People will buy NFL 2K5 because it’s available and it’s cheaper. People will buy Madden because it’s Madden and for the second disc. Gamers haven’t been forced to choose between the two yet. And it’s looking like they won’t be forced to, either. Not until next year, when both Sega and EA will claim to have the #1 football game for the 2004 NFL season. Then, we’ll see who really wins this year’s race.

The bottom line: $19.99 for ESPN NFL 2K5 on July 20 is too much, too soon for Sega and Take Two. Sega will see a short-term jump in sales, but the numbers won’t mean as much as if they took on Madden straight up. It’s as if Sega is scared of EA right now, and it’s showing. Sega’s marketing gimmicks are overshadowing the quality of the game, which should be the sole focus of the pre-release build-up. Instead, Sega seems to be simply going for high sales rather than making a statement through gaming, which is a sad commentary on the company that has given us such a great alternative to Madden over the years.

Quick Hits
Martin St. Louis On Cover of ESPN NHL 2K5. NHL MVP Martin St. Louis of the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning will be featured on the cover of Sega’s upcoming ESPN NHL 2K5. After the way St. Louis and the rest of the Lightning destroyed the Islanders, I’m not so sure I want to buy this one now. Though if it is $19.99 like its football counterpart, you never know…

Revolution Update. Nintendo promises to reveal more about its Revolution console at next year’s E3, presumably to steal the thunder of the PS3 unveiling. Guess Nintendo will be keeping quiet on the Revolution front until then. Good idea. It currently has to worry about selling GameCubes, Game Boy Advance SPs, the NES Classic GBA line, and the promotion and launch of the Nintendo DS, not to mention work on the True Successor. Looks like they’re busy enough as is!

News Reports
Alex Williams – 411MAX: News News Revolution. AW is getting ready for his Vegas trip… hope he doesn’t lose TOO much money over there, or else he might not be able to afford more crappy games to bash!
E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial is your game, Atari is your company, and the f*ck-up is one of the HUGEST of all time. I mean, on our scale of 1-10, where 1 is the absolute worst, this game resides at about a -487. It’s that bad.

Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. Happy Birthday, Cory! How’s the view from the top of the hill? As for Yao, I can’t help but wonder if his desire to improve will be stunted at all by the Shaq trade. After all, Yao is the default #1 center in the West now; he has nobody else to impress. Could be interesting, eh?
So maybe I should put that money I’ve been saving for my Vegas trip into the PS3 fund. Maybe a money market account. If I catch a couple of good surges in the market, I might be able to afford it at release.

Misha – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video Games. In this column, while plugging me, Misha wonders when I’ll write a substandard column. Funnily enough, I’d consider last week’s TGIT a substandard edition. But I’ll take the flattery when it’s offered! Misha’s commentary this week is great, by the way.
Perhaps the worst aspect of a mediocre game is that it forms the best candidate for over-hyping.

Matt Yeager – The Casual Gamer’s News Report. Matt returns from his absence with a “moving” news report (HA!), where he takes the time to bash us all for not worrying enough about the political maneuvers that have left us without the simple right to privacy. He’s right, you know.
How can so many people care about what the next friends episode is about, when the next Madden game is coming out, or who will be fighting on Raw more than we care about how our rights get trampled on?

Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer. LC calls out Nintendo for skipping the “Hits Collection” route in favor of charging full price for individual games that have been out for years and years. Well-said stuff, and totally appropriate.
Sadly, many casual gamers and Nintendo fanboys will be happy enough to keep throwing down ridiculous amounts of money for the same games they bought 15 years ago, so in the interim, we’re screwed.

A.J. Angeloni – Dragon Ball Z: Super Sonic Warriors (GBA). Final Score: 6.0

411 Games Staff – BloodRayne 2 (PS2/X-Box).

Chris Pankonin – Shark Tale (All).

Commentary of the Week
Here’s one for you…

This is a sort of exercise in thinking abstractly. Over the past 20 or so years, we’ve seen video games go from crappy-looking diversions to lush mini-worlds that millions of people get rich off of. In this time, new generations of consoles have been launched every five or so years. Which sounds like a pretty short period of time, in a sense.

In another sense, it’s a heck of a long time. If you were in 9th grade when a new system came out, and you bought it right away, you’d be playing it until you were a college student. That’s a lot of changing that you’re doing while the console remains the same. Odd, eh?

Now, compare advances in video game technology to advances in other essential appliances…

Television. Odds are good that your TV will last you for a good period of time. Odds are also good that if your TV is five or so years old, you can get a better TV than the one that you have now for under $300. For some reason, people don’t tend to upgrade their television sets as frequently. Perhaps this is because people put a higher priority on what show is on the TV than its actual quality. Still, the fact is that people don’t feel the need to upgrade, especially when they’re not being forced to.

DVD/Home Video. DVD players are so new that most people haven’t even had their DVD player for more than five years. However, most people are still on their first DVD player. Most of these players tend to be pretty durable with features that stand the test of time. Of course, the newer ones are nicer, but with so many cheap-looking options and models that disappear weekly, it’s tough to know which ones to trust. This results in people sticking with their original purchases.

Wireless Technology. Cell phones have only hit it big over the past five years. I challenge you to find someone who uses the same cell phone today that they used in 1999. The phones that are out today are so far ahead of what was out even 12 months ago. Today, people go through one new phone a year, which is totally absurd, but also totally necessary. Why? Because people have a need to have a phone with the latest features on it. Plus, the short contract periods ensure that people are always eager to switch providers, which yields the purchase of a new phone.

Computers. Guess what – the computer you just purchased two months ago is already becoming obsolete. Anybody who goes top-of-the-line will have an average computer in one short year. Those buying on a budget now will hate their systems in two years. The bottom line is that you can always get a better system at a later date, simply because the technology moves so fast. When you go to a friend’s house or the local library and use their new, souped-up computers, you’ll want one, too. So you might plop down $1,000-$2,000 every five years just to have the latest and greatest. And with computers becoming such a focal point of work and leisure time, it’s hard to argue with that logic.

Portable Music Media. I bought a Discman in 1999 that was pretty high-end. Now, the cheapest Discman at Walgreens is far superior to the one I had. Portable CD media is almost obsolete just years after hitting its peak with the advent of recordable compact discs. Now, the hot thing is MP3 technology, where anybody who bought a small 128 MB player is now scurrying to indulge in a 40 GB iPod. I have it on good authority that the MP3 battle will get even uglier than the most ferocious technology battles we’ve seen, so expect this technology to explode; that is, we’ll see 100 GB players within 18 months, and maybe even 500 GB players two years later.

What’s the point of all this? There really isn’t any. It’s just fun to compare apples and oranges sometimes. Then, you see that it’s tough to complain about shelling $300 for a new system every cycle when you’re already laying out 2 G’s for a new computer and maybe $150 a pop for three cell phones during that same time period. Us gamers don’t have it SO bad, do we?

That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend, and check back for Cory Laflin on Monday! Thanks for reading!