Rapid Fire 09.02.04

Holla at your boy! And Happy Thursday! Your reward for getting through the week is a new edition of Rapid Fire, found here at the finest up-and-coming game site out there, Inside Pulse. Thanks for coming by to check us out today. We hope you’ll continue to do so in the future.

So here’s what we’ve got for today – last week, I promised something this week on a notion I’ve come up with called the DVD Effect. Unfortunately, Acclaim decided to go bankrupt and Nintendo decided to lower the price on its GBA SP. Rather than bore you with three ridiculously long pieces in one week, I’m holding off the DVD Effect stuff until next week and giving you the Rapid Fire take on these two big-time news developments today.

Besides, I think you’re going to like what’s here. Before we get to the news, though, it’s time for…

AAAlex continues his ridiculously hot streak with a piece about how time-consuming gaming has become. I agree with Alex totally; however, it’s interesting to note that just about all of today’s games have a Save feature, which is something we never had back in the day. When we wanted to play Mario 3, we played it from the very beginning. And we were totally fine with this, because the game still never took longer than it had to. Yet today, completing a game takes WAY too long, even with a Save feature. Go figure.

Jason Mis writes in with a different view than the one I presented last week…

I’ve been a diehard gamer since Pong when I was four. Playstation One was my first CD player, PS2 my first DVD player (albeit not a very good one). They broke me into technology I otherwise would have passed on in favor of buying more games. I’m a Sony customer for the same reason I used to support Nintendo: I want the system with the best games, and the most of them. If competition gets us all these extras, then something is going right.

Jason’s letter also stated that he plans to buy a PS3 regardless of whether or not it includes a DVD recorder. He also says that you can’t blame developers for choosing the technology route when so many games appear on all the consoles. And you know what? He’s right. About everything.

It’s not the fault of the companies that the inter-system competition has taken this route. The tastes of the gaming public have changed to the point where gamers need something besides the game to get them to buy. This means that, as competition is wont to do, the best possible product will be the end result. That’s what we’re seeing here.

While it’s very unfortunate that we’re forced to focus on everything besides gaming when it comes to the hype, it’s the nature of the beast at this point in time. Besides, like I said last week, nobody’s really mad about their system until they see something better come along. At this point, all 3 sound like the greatest thing ever to gamers, and the only thing that differentiates them is the potential for non-gaming technology within the systems. Time, and time only, will weed out the winners and the losers.
Ben, the newest addition to IP Games, writes a nice piece about the 2D vs. 3D conflict. One thing Ben didn’t mention was nostalgia, which I think definitely factors into the way older gamers look at today’s games. I agree that 3D games can be gimmicky at best sometimes, which is a major problem. And, as the GBA has proven, 2D gaming can still sell today; however, the majority of gamers – or at least the majority of gamers that companies want to market to – prefer 3D. So it’s 3D whenever possible, and we’re stuck with it. Ugh.

A.J. talks about the loss of arcades and the void that’s left in their wake. This is precisely why online gaming can never replace true head-to-head competition. As A.J. notes, Mortal Kombat II was the big game of our generation. And as anybody who was into MKII can tell you, every locale had a sort of top dog that everybody would take on in the hopes of making a name for him/herself. The spirit of trying to prove something to the entire gaming community, in person no less, was something very special. Unfortunately, it’s a spirit that we’ll probably never see again, which is a total shame.

McNutt notices what area I didn’t mention last week…

On that note, this perception of technology is going to apply first to the PSP. They’ve created something that, according to Itakagi (Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden) of Team Ninja, he wants to own himself, but not create games for. He wants to be able to have a Music/Movie/Game Player, but isn’t exactly excited about the game developing process on the handheld. This is obviously a developer’s perspective. For game developers, they don’t give a crap about the DVD Recorders, DVD Players and everything else; instead they’re worried about what the system can do game wise. For this reason, it should be very interesting to see how the first true gaming system attempting to not only provide multiple functions, but market itself as such, does. As much as the console wars will be the first true test between all three companies, the handheld wars will give us a bit of a sneak preview.

And there’s Sony’s biggest problem. It’s like Sony is just using the Playstation name to sell gamers on the concept of an all-in-one unit which doesn’t focus on games except as part of the overall package. Hence, the laziness in getting out development kits, the delays, and the lack of original titles for the PSP. Sony believes that since it’s Sony, nobody’s going to notice; after all, the PSP will have MP3 capabilities!

It’s been well-noted that Sony’s focus isn’t just to create a handheld gaming system with the PSP, and that’s never been more clear than it is now. Sony seems to forget that gaming is what put the company in position to make such a product, and gaming is what the PSP will ultimately be judged by. Remember when gamers everywhere shunned the N-Gage despite its ability to perform non-gaming functions? The PSP could be on a similar path.

There’s also a good point here about game developers and how THEY see the technology situation. They don’t care. And because Sony doesn’t care about the gaming part of the PSP, it’s impossible for developers to come up with quality games. Therefore, you have a system that’s equally likely to fail as it is to succeed.

I could give you the real reason why Lee is leaving, but it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that it’s legit, and we’re all sorry to see him go. Lee’s been at this almost as long as I have, and if there was an Inside Pulse Lifetime Achievement Award, he’d deserve it. Whoever’s doing Wednesdays from now on has some big shoes to fill.

Acclaim Files For Bankruptcy
If you’re surprised by this, you shouldn’t be. While the nostalgic side of older gamers prefers to remember Acclaim’s console hits like Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam, what else has Acclaim really done to give the image of it being a relevant, top-quality company? Aside from the All-Star Baseball series, Acclaim hasn’t done a whole lot of note in recent years. Unless you consider the definition of “note” to include ridiculous attempts to incorporate profanity and nudity in their games.

Acclaim has been known by gamers since the days of the NES, but the publisher hit its peak in the early-to-mid 1990’s. This was during the “Golden Age” of gaming, where arcades were relevant and challenged consoles for the overall gaming market share. Acclaim took advantage of this situation by bringing the very popular Midway arcade titles to home consoles. To this day, gamers remember when they first played Mortal Kombat II for Super Nintendo, marveling at how closely the home version matched the game they played in arcades every day. Remember, 16-bit consoles weren’t the most technologically sound, and yet Acclaim delivered the goods in a major way. Acclaim was also responsible for the console versions of the NBA Jam series, as well as various WWF-licensed wrestling games.

However, once the arcades dried up, Acclaim found itself in a sticky situation. The company had made a name for itself with its top-notch arcade ports, and with gamers spending more time at home with their next-generation systems, that avenue was no longer possible. And once the WWF abandoned Acclaim in favor of THQ, the company was in need of a new direction.

For most of the 21st century, Acclaim has branded itself as the “extreme” video game publisher. Its games seemed to exist solely to push the envelope of the norms of acceptability in gaming. Acclaim tried to promote its games through controversial means, attempting a sort of “shock-and-awe” strategy which failed miserably. BMX XXX, Acclaim’s prototype for merging the gaming world with adult humor and “extreme” society, was widely criticized for its intense focus on lewd content at the expense of quality gameplay. This trend continued as Acclaim’s stock continued to plummet; earlier this year, a share of Acclaim went for less than a dollar.

Acclaim’s bankruptcy has been rumored for some time, so it’s not the kind of thing to wax poetic on. But the nostalgia factor looms large for older gamers who remember Acclaim at the height of the company’s popularity. Most of those gamers are glad to see Acclaim get put out of its misery. These are the gamers that know about Acclaim’s dubious business practices over the years, and they realize that bankruptcy isn’t an overnight thing. This has been a long time coming, and many would say that they deserve it.

Just how bad did it get at Acclaim? I asked a friend of mine, who just happens to be a former Acclaim employee, to send in her thoughts on her time at Acclaim for the purpose of this column. Here is her response in its entirety…

I worked for Acclaim for about a year and a half (March 99′ through July 00′). From an employee’s position, you couldn’t get a better working environment. It was “fun” to go to work everyday and although my actual “job” sort of lacked challenge (I was responsible for processing P.O.’s, shipments, vendor relationships, etc.), it was by far the best working experience I’ve ever had. I loved my bosses, my co-workers and my working space. The environment was friendly, casual, upbeat. They did alot of internal programs to keep everyone happy, like had the performers/entertainers from the games go around and meet everyone (Mary Kate and Ashley, the WWF and WWE performers, Jeremy McGrath, etc.). They were forever having some sort of celebration in the Motion Capture Studio (mock wrestling tournaments, parties, presentations, title kick off pep rallies, you name it). Where else could you work where it was okay to be caught playing a game at any given time of the day??? I worked in Operations and got first dibs on alot of great Acclaim merchandise (T-Shirts, toys, games, promotional giveaways). The money was excellent and we had 100% full paid benefits. Life was good. Around May 00′, things started getting bad financially over there. Acclaim routinely has had periods of poor finances (due to their over-agressive efforts in poor selling platforms, over-production of bad/lackluster titles) and I heard horror stories going into my job about rounds of layoffs years prior. It didn’t phase me initially. But when I started to see them happend during my employment, it scared me to death. I survived the first of two layoffs but I began to look for something more secure, since I just got married and had gone into contract on a house. The stocks plummeted those last few months there, and it became a daily joke in my department how low they’d really go (someone would post the number on the board in the conference room daily). We heard rumors of mutiny at the shareholder’s meetings. It was really, really bad. Morale was at an all time low and even though everyone tried to remain optimistic and cheery when a new title was released, the news of the lower than expected sales of those titles brought us down further. About a week before I heard that ADP was interested in me working for them, we were instructed that on Friday everyone was supposed to go to the lunchroom to eat (lunch was provided by Acclaim every Friday), then return to your desk and wait. Don’t get up, don’t walk around, don’t be on the phone. Everyone joked at lunch that it was the last supper and I felt sick as I tried to choke down my food. One of the game testers I was friendly with asked me if I had any insider news because he heard rumors that the testers were going to be hit hard. I really didn’t know (although I worked directly for the VP of Operations, nothing was leaked). When I got back to my desk, I discovered the exit interviews would be held in Operations conference room – right in front of my desk. Exactly at 1:00 p.m., one by one employees were ushered in. I thought I’d puke when I saw two of my friends walk in; one I had just had lunch with and the other, the game tester who asked me if I knew anything at lunch. By 3:30, it was all over and again I had survived. The VP of Operations walked over to me, patted me on the shoulder and told me it was okay. I broke down and sobbed at my desk. It was really horrendous. Later that day, I got the news that I was offered the position I’m currently in at ADP. It was a no-brainer. It broke my heart to have to offer up my resignation letter a week later to my boss and the VP of Operations. I felt like I was literally abandoning ship, since so many other people were doing the exact same thing in light of the circumstances over there. Things were not moving in a upward trend, there was no real optimistic forecast in terms of strong future titles, etc. The VP of Operations was sad but he understood my reasons. He did however, through another internal manager within Operations offer me a 11th hour incentive to make me stay, but I had to turn it down. The money was much better at ADP and the job security was a no-brainer. I hated, hated, hated saying no, but I had to. I was closing on my house a few weeks later. Can you imagine just getting the house and then having to scramble for a mortgage payment? I made the right decision because everyone (with the exception of the manager) was cleared out of Operations by April 01′. The department had downsized to maybe 1/3 of what it was originally. People were laid off that were essential to the growth potential over there, they just couldn’t find the resources to hold onto them. They have been struggling with their current loan situation since I left. I don’t believe they have paid much against the original figure. I still was in shock when I heard the news. Although I haven’t heard from anyone over there directly of what went down on Friday (I left a message for one of my friends over there but she hasn’t called back – probably doesn’t want to talk about it just yet), I imagine it was incredibly hard for them. Yeah, I heard about the fact that they were just cut off at the knees. It doesn’t suprise me. The upper, upper management had no regard for the employees that worked for them. They would allot themselves hefty bonuses in the throws of layoffs. Totally unjustified and the shareholders knew it, that’s one of the reasons I think the stocks and interest in the company never rallied.. That was money out of their pockets and their mouths. H.R. was the one who would push for the employee programs, etc. If they knew they weren’t going to pay their people for the last two weeks, they should have been given the option of going instead of wasting their time. I imagine alot of those folks live paycheck to paycheck the way I do – I don’t know what they are going to do now. They weren’t even offered packages, nothing. Just pack what you can and get out. Their methods, though cold and almost criminal (how can you not pay these people for the last two weeks?!?) are very, very predictable.

After reading this, you sort of have to wonder how Acclaim became as big as it did. The company became a directionless entity that saw no use in planning ahead. It seems as if the company’s only constant was offensiveness in its games. As a result, the company’s releases became raunchier as the business side became shadier. Acclaim became a company that acted like it was a huge corporation when, in reality, its biggest hits were the product of other people’s labor.

Yet, despite all of this, the employees didn’t want to leave. For many employees, Acclaim was a sort of “dream job” where they could not only work on games, but work on games that starred some very famous people whom they looked up to. That’s why so many stayed on, or were just forced to leave against their will. To have that loyalty repaid by such icy hearts is disgraceful. It wasn’t the idea of these employees to throw out practical strategy and try to use bare breasts alone to sell video games. And yet, here these very employees are the ones paying the price for the errors of the fools on the top floor.

As the video game industry attempts to legitimatize itself, scams like Acclaim’s don’t go unnoticed. Instead, they just reinforce the notion that the industry isn’t as free-market as some would have us believe. Of course, most people in the know were that Acclaim’s days have been numbered for some time. You’d like to think the higher-ups at Acclaim would have realized this, too. Maybe then they could have prepared some sort of severance packages for its loyal-to-a-fault employees.

Only time will tell what Acclaim’s legacy will end up being, but most gamers will prefer to remember the Mortal Kombat era over this more recent period of fiscal irresponsibility. Nevertheless, this is a sad epitaph for a company whose name was once synonymous with great gaming. As you think about how the employees of Acclaim were treated as the company struggled, realize that this is the same way Acclaim treated the gaming public. Acclaim thought they knew, when they really had no idea. That’s why they’re headed for bankruptcy court.

So long, Acclaim. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Game Boy Advance For $79.99
You read it here on Inside Pulse first! As our own Bebito Jackson reported, Nintendo has slashed the price of the GBA SP by $20 so that it now retails for the price of $79.99. Pretty cool, right?

Wrong. When I read the news, my initial reaction was “Why bother?”. In my mind, it was a waste for Nintendo to lower the price on this system when it’s got to worry about marketing a new system over the next few months. Then, I thought about it, and a few points came to mind…

Nobody’s this dumb. Nintendo has insulted the intelligence of gamers everywhere by lowering the price of a system that will be obsolete in three months. Any gamer worth his or her salt either already has an SP or is waiting to buy a DS. Or both. Does Nintendo really expect to convert anybody by announcing this? Especially when you consider the fact that…

There’s no competition. Guess Nintendo didn’t get that memo saying that the PSP isn’t out yet. Usually, you drop your price to fend off competition, not when your system is selling like hotcakes and has become the best-selling system in video game history at its current price. Unless Nintendo thinks that it can hook people on Nintendo handhelds by selling SPs on the cheap, which is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

Is it worth it? Does the increase in units sold make up for the $20 Nintendo’s NOT getting from each sale? Nintendo has nothing to prove here; the SP has already done a killing and will only be slowed down by competition from itself. People have shown that they’re willing to shell out $99 for the system despite their knowledge of the imminent arrival of the DS. So will enough people be sold on the $20 price break to make it worth Nintendo’s while?

For further comment on the issue, we turn to Mr. George Harrison, who has got his mind set on brainwashing the entire world with his spin work. His quotes are in italics.

This new price point makes Game Boy Advance SP affordable for the vast majority of the mass market.
Not really. It was always affordable. $99 and $79 aren’t that much different. That’s like an hour of overtime for most people. I guess “vast majority of the mass market” means people on Welfare or something.

(The new price)… gives people a ‘gotta-have’ gift to automatically put at the top of their holiday gift lists.
Again, no. The “gotta-have gift” is the DS. What would YOU rather have, price notwithstanding: the new DS or the old SP? It’s not as if people (re: kids) consider price when they create their holiday gift lists. Kids will “automatically” want what’s new; namely, the very DS that Nintendo is putting out to compete with its own SP.

Nintendo has always owned the portable video game market, and this further strengthens our leadership position.
While it’s true that Nintendo has always had the handheld market in its back pocket, you can’t really say that a price cut strengthens anything, especially when it’s not leading anybody else. Nintendo is obviously trying to implant their superiority in people’s minds before the handheld war begins, which is a good idea. That said, there are better ways to do it than by cutting 20 percent off the price of its most successful system.

Nintendo would be better served focusing its resources on making the DS look as revolutionary and innovative as possible. There should be an entire ad campaign behind this to not only showcase the new system, but to emphasize Nintendo’s 15 years as the dominant force in handheld gaming. This would reach far more gamers than the amount that would benefit from a price cut on a system most people already have.

It’s coming next week. But since I feel bad about not including it here (trust me, it would be information overload if I did), here’s a little preview of what’s in store…

Over the last five years, DVDs have made quite a transition in terms of their value. They were once simply movies that allowed you to skip scenes and saved you the trouble of rewinding. Now, DVDs are virtually required to include deleted scenes, commentaries, alternate endings, and all sorts of extras. When we shop for DVDs, these are the things we look for.

How does this affect gaming? Are gamers becoming slaves for all of these eye-catching goodies, or is gameplay still the be-all and end-all? How do game developers perceive the DVD Effect, and what are the pros and cons of riding the wave of this phenomenon?

Next week, you’ll find the answers to these questions, and a whole lot more. Thanks for reading. See you next week!