Rapid Fire 08.12.04

Hello everybody, Happy Thursday, and welcome to Inside Pulse. I’m Bryan Berg, and this is Rapid Fire, my debut on the new site. Thanks for stopping by.

Those of you who have read me on 411 know me pretty well, but for any newcomers, here’s the deal. Like I said, my name is Bryan Berg. I’m a 22-year old male from New York who bleeds Jets green. For the last year and a half, I’ve authored the Thank God It’s Thursday News Report for 411 Games. TGIT, as some of you may remember, focused heavily on the business side of the gaming industry. Not so much systems and release dates, but the politics and rationale behind the decisions that bring – or don’t bring – the games to store shelves. The 18 months of TGIT’s existence brought about a number of changes in the industry, a fair dose of controversy, and a consistent barrage of honest journalism that has become the calling card of the Kliq.

I’m joined by my fellow Kliq members at Inside Pulse, which decided to leave traditional news reports behind at 411. While some of the guys are keeping their formats and names, I’ve decided against this. Why? Simply put, Thank God It’s Thursday was a stupid name and since we’re not required to do “news reports”, it’s time to change things up a little.

So out with the old, and in with the new. This new column, Rapid Fire, will bring you all the hard-hitting industry analysis news TGIT did. But instead of being confined to a formula, it’ll be much more free-form, which benefits the reader. So that means that if a big story breaks and it warrants the entire column, then there you go. I figure everyone else can break the news and then I can just devour it here.

It’ll be a while before the format is solidified, so feel free to suggest things that I should be doing, critique things that I’m doing incorrectly, or bolster my ego by telling me how great I am. Especially the last one. But remember that EVERYTHING is subject to change here. Bear with me during the expansion process so that you might get maximum enjoyment out of this column.

Here’s how I see it going down for the time being. It’ll start out, as always, with the latest developments in the industry. In the past, that meant everything. Now, it means those stories where I can make some real insights. Then, if it’s necessary, a little trip though the news wire to tie up loose ends and bash/praise people. This week, there isn’t really enough news to support this, but for some weeks, there might be. Lastly – and this will last as long as it needs to – I’ll discuss a part of the industry that warrants mentioning because it needs work, it’s awesome, or it’s just something that would make for interesting discussion. These are all things that will take some time to gel together. Again, hang in there, and together we’ll create the kind of column you like to read.

And away we go with the first edition of Rapid Fire!

The Eidos Takeover
Served up on a plate by Misha is my first assignment – make some sense of the Eidos situation. Here goes.

After the miserable failure of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness last year, Eidos has found itself in dire straits financially. As a result, the company is very much for sale. Many names have been floating around as possible buyers of Eidos, which has actually worked to the disadvantage of those interested.

As you read Tuesday in Misha’s column, the current going rate for Eidos has been artificially inflated by the great deal of interest in the company. Ubisoft’s most recent offer of $215 million is considered to be far more than the company is actually worth, and Ubisoft stockholders have responded accordingly by selling their shares before Ubisoft enters into this deal.

What these stockholders don’t seem to realize is that this is the kind of thing that ALWAYS happens when there are multiple suitors with plenty of cash on hand. How many times have you seen a marginal baseball player get traded at the trade deadline for a whole lot more than that player would have commanded in April? This is a situation that repeats itself over and over again, and will continue to do so in any free market system.

You see, Ubisoft isn’t trying to just buy Eidos. Ubisoft is also trying to outbid EA, Codemasters, and any other company out there who wants a piece of Eidos. To do that, Ubisoft must pony up some serious cash – namely, more cash than any other competitor is willing to put up. The other competitors, not wanting to look bad, do the same. Before you know it, the price tag is higher than it has any right to be.

Still, we can’t forget that Eidos is a company that was valued as high as $325 million just three months ago. Not that $215 million is a bad price, it’s just that many feel that Eidos is worth far less at this point in time. And the price will only go up once more prospective buyers get their bids in.

So what will happen? This writer thinks it’ll come down to Ubisoft and EA, with EA taking the company in the end. EA simply has the resources to win a bidding war, not to mention that it possesses a more proven track record of successful games. But EA might pay upwards of $250 million for Eidos because of the “artificial inflation”. Then again, the Mets gave up their entire future for Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano because of pressure from other teams and a ridiculous notion that they were just two starters away from greatness. That’s the nature of the competitive beast, and that’s what the winners will have to put up with to get what they want.

More Proof That Sony Is Run By Idiots
Everybody’s favorite soulless corporation has done it again. Sony’s latest blunder deals with its version of Gran Turismo 4 for its upcoming handheld, the PSP.

First, Sony announced that it’d be a straight port of the PS2 title. Which completely contradicts Sony’s previous announcement that it wouldn’t be producing ports from other systems. Now, Sony has a big launch title that just happens to be a port! I guess Sony figures we’d forget about what they said – after all, a corporation as big and greedy as Sony reserves the right to change its mind.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Sony also claims that the game might not even be complete for the PSP’s Japanese launch! Could you imagine?

OK, so pretend you’re Sony. You’ve announced this uber-handheld that’s so powerful it’ll have a 2-hour battery life and run consumers $299. Then you announce that your system will have all original titles so as not to get the stigma of being a “port system”, which is how some people see the GBA. Now, you come out and say that your big launch title, which is a PORT, won’t be out when the system launches! And you wonder why the entire Kliq can’t wait to see your system flop worse than the N-Gage when it comes out in America.

This is the kind of thing that a lot of casual gamers won’t notice, but it tells you everything about the way Sony operates. Sony doesn’t care about you at all. It cares about the bottom line. And the bottom line says that it’s cheaper to make a port than to develop a new game. The people will eat it up, they figure – after all, the game’s a million-seller on PS2 already, and it shows off the best features of the PS2. Unfortunately, the upcoming port also shows off the worst features of Sony’s heartless approach towards game fans.

Sony has just sent a clear message to the gaming public, one that appears to be indicative of Sony’s approach to the PSP. Sony can’t be bothered to innovate OR put out games when the public wants them. And if you think this is a problem now, wait till you see how much Sony cares once you plunk down $299 for their crap system.

Bebito recently stated that he’s rooting for the DS. After reading this, how can you not? Do you really want this Sony conglomerate to succeed? Wouldn’t you rather have a new gaming experience instead of a portable PS2? At least Nintendo’s taking a chance with their DS. The PSP is almost guaranteed to be a success because of the Sony name and its association with Playstation. But from these early indicators, it doesn’t deserve to be.

The Industry – Release Dates
If you’ve read me on 411, you may know that I’m not a big fan of the way games are released. Not because it’s done particularly poorly, but because I think the industry can do better. And if you’ve ever reserved a game and had NO idea when you were going to be able to buy it, you know where I’m coming from.

For some reason, game companies feel the need to charge a fortune for their titles while simultaneously making it as hard as possible for the public to obtain their product. What do I mean? Here’s how the average gaming transaction works.

– You go into GameStop to buy something else.
– Pushy GameStop employee convinces you to put down $5 to reserve some upcoming game.
– Said GameStop employee gives you a release date.
– You find out from various sources that the release date has been modified.
– You read online that the game has been finished and will be available shortly.
– GameStop lists a date in the store for when the game will be available.
– You go into the store on that date to find out that the game isn’t there yet.
– You call GameStop the next day. GameStop tells you that the game will arrive today or tomorrow.
– The next day, you go into GameStop to pick up the game. You pay your $45, turn down their offer for a strategy guide, and you’re on your way.

That’s a LOT of work. Compare that to the average transaction you endure when purchasing your favorite CD.

– Find out when the CD is coming out.
– Go to Best Buy, grab one off the shelf, pay for it, and pop it into your car CD player.

Surely you must be wondering why it can’t be that easy to buy the latest game releases. Stop wondering. It CAN be that easy, and it should be that easy. Alas, it’s a headache and a half when it shouldn’t even be a difficult process.

The unfortunate reality is that game companies – and some would say game retailers – lack what’s called a “customer orientation”. What that means is that these companies exist to create games, not market them. Do you think Tecmo really cared that fans were upset when Ninja Gaiden was delayed until 2004? No, they were upset because they couldn’t get paid until three months afterward.

And that’s part of the problem – getting paid. You pay $14 for a CD when it comes out; $20 for a new DVD. Gamers pay $50 for new games. The least companies could do is make it easy for these people who struggle to get through the week just so they could buy THEIR game.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to release dates. Entertainment geeks know that Tuesday is the big day, because that’s when new CDs and DVDs are released. Nobody knows when games come out because half the time, game companies don’t even know when their own games are coming out! How often do you see games moved up, pushed back, or cancelled right before their “scheduled” release? That’s not fair to gamers. You’d NEVER see a studio push back a major movie release two weeks because it’s “not ready yet”. Yet we see this with video games all the time, and nobody complains.

One thing about the other forms of media – when they set a date, they almost always stick to it. Delays are announced and dealt with months in advance. And when you go to the store on that date, they’ve got what you want. This isn’t so with video games. Instead of a concrete release date, what we get is a “ship date”. In other words, don’t expect to get the game until two-to-three days after that date. Some hardcore gamers don’t mind because they know what to expect. But to the uninitiated, that’s grossly unfair. And the fact that it’s “two-to-three days” is ridiculous. It shouldn’t be a guessing game. Game companies owe it to gamers, the people who pay the company’s bills, to let them know when they can expect to find games in stores.

So how can we avoid this dilemma in the future? That’s a tough question. It would require the cooperation of every major player in the industry, which is about as likely as the NHLPA and the NHL owners agreeing on anything. What these players need to do is learn to sit on their games to set up a nice release. Do the companies really benefit at all by shipping out games two days after they’re completed? Instead, they might do better to wait things out and advertise a release date, whereby people are guaranteed to be able to find the game on that date. If they can get that far, they’d also benefit by setting aside a day as a sort of unofficial “game release day”. Just like you’d expect to find your latest summer blockbuster in theaters on a Friday, you could count on games being released on, say, Thursday. All of this, of course, is a highly idealized notion which expresses the way in which things should be, but never will be, done.

Some companies are trying to improve on their release date management. EA has always been known for setting dates far in advance, not unlike a record label. Their track record has been very good. Often, they’ll even put the games out a day or two before the advertised date. This accomplishes two things. First, it gets some revenue for the company before the game’s even supposed to be released. Secondly, it builds goodwill between the company and its loyal fans. These fans feel like they’re getting a treat by being able to get their game earlier than they expected, and that translates into some extra sales.

If you go into your local Best Buy, you’ll see reserve tickets for the upcoming EA Sports titles. Madden’s is dated August 12, and NHL 2005 has a date for August 26. The Madden date has proven accurate, as should the date for NHL 2005. This is just another reason why nobody can touch the marketing juggernaut that is EA.

And it’s just another reason to be disgusted with the gaming industry. EA sets their dates and delivers on those dates, and their games sell like crazy. Have any other companies even noticed this? Have any of them thought that maybe they could get the same kind of goodwill and loyalty from their fans by just being prompt and honest? Seriously, how hard is it to set a date and stand by it?

Somehow, these companies don’t get it. They’re utterly bush-league in everything they do when it comes to dealing with the people that keep them alive. And they wonder why nobody takes gaming seriously.

Wrapping Up
I hope you enjoyed the first edition of Rapid Fire. If you’re a fan of the old format, I hope you found this to be a good departure from what you’re used to. If not, then by all means let me know. Newcomers, hopefully you got something out of this. If you enjoyed this perspective of the industry, you’ll want to come back each Thursday for more of the same.

Till next time, I’m Bryan Berg. Have a great weekend, and see you guys next week!