Tuesday, August 14, 2007
During his keynote speech at today's Edinburgh Interactive Festival, the outspoken chief said: "The market is booming and will grow by over 50 per cent over the next four years, with lots of new consumers coming,” he said. “But we have to plan now to ensure that we keep those consumers interested in games going forward.
"Our next challenge is to build on that growth and make sure that those guys coming into the market get the right software.”
Guillemot went on to say an upsurge in the games industry needs three key strategies: to offer triple A games to the hardcore players; provide family-friendly products and capitalise on opportunities the Internet provides in terms of community and user-generated content.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
According to a new usage report by consumer research group NPD, gamers are either unaware or apathetic to the non-gameplay features of next-gen consoles.
PS3 owners, the report says, are less likely than Xbox 360 owners to download demos and videos on their consoles due to unawareness. In addition, only 37 percent of PS3 owners are aware of backwards compatibility for PS1 and PS2 games. In contrast, a majority of PSP and DS owners are fully aware of what their handhelds are capable of.
The study also found that DS users are more likely to play games online than PSP users, and 360 users are more likely to play games online than PS3 and Wii users.
"This study verifies what many of us already know: features related to playing games are by far the most important to consumers of video game systems," said analyst Anita Frazier. "While systems' capabilities of providing owners with additional features may become more important in the future, currently the importance of these features and the awareness among consumers of these features is far from universal.
"To make headway in this next-gen race, manufacturers still need to be primarily concerned with the quality and entertainment value of the games themselves."
Ever since 1998's Speed Racer for the original PlayStation crashed and burned, the classic anime series has been absent from the North American gaming scene. That's going to change next year, as Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment today announced that it is developing Speed Racer games for the Wii, DS, and PlayStation 2, all based on Larry and Andy Wachowski's upcoming feature film based on the franchise.
As one might expect, the game will put players in the driver's seat of the film's garage of combat-ready rides and see how they fare in "car-fu style" action. The console editions of the game will be developed by New Zealand-based studio Sidhe Interactive. No stranger to the notion of cars with unusual abilities, Sidhe was the studio behind the racing/platforming/puzzle game GripShift for the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3.
The Wachowskis are providing assets and direction to the development team, and one of the film's visual effects supervisors is also working with the studio to ensure a faithful adaptation of the film. There's no word yet on whether the film's cast will be lending their likenesses and voices to the project. The star-studded ensemble includes Emile Hirsch (Alpha Dog) as Speed, as well as Matthew Fox (Lost), Christina Ricci (Black Snake Moan, The Addams Family), Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking, Rocky Horror Picture Show), John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Blues Brothers 2000), and Richard Roundtree (Shaft, Corky Romano).
The Wii and DS games will be available next year alongside the theatrical release of Speed Racer. The PlayStation 2 edition will follow and be timed to coincide with the DVD release of the film.
HDMI, the prevailing consumer standard for digital video and audio in HD, was already included on the Xbox 360 Elite console, a minor upgrade to the 360 which, aside from being a sleek black, also includes a larger hard drive.
Now the port will also appear on Premium consoles, thus allowing gamers to avoid having to tackle the awkward 360 video cable - and providing direct competition to the PS3.
HDMI is a proprietary standard, and Microsoft is having to pay a buck or so to the HDMI conglomerate which, ironically, includes Sony. Microsoft, along with Intel and other PC component makers, has been working on a copycat port dubbed Universal Display Port, which is basically exactly the same thing but made as a royalty-free standard.
It might be too late for consumer electronics, but PC players are still hoping to avoid paying too much to the CE companies on the back of HDMI's success.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Game worlds must not just look lifelike, he said, they must also react realistically.
Tools that let players create content were also becoming important, he said.
Entis warned against assuming that games that looked life-like automatically took on the characteristics of the real world.
I'm not much around the kitchen. Neither is my 12-year-old son, Austin, who'd be content with ham and cheese three times a day. But the other night, we whipped up an amazing spaghetti in squid sauce, a zesty shrimp paella and, for dessert, cream puffs from scratch.
And we didn't dirty a pan.
We "cooked" on a video game called Cooking Mama: Cook Off, recently released for the Nintendo Wii. Austin had checked it out from our local library - libraries aren't just for books anymore - although he admitted he did so because it was the only game left.
After playing it a few times, however, I concluded it should be required for any high school graduate about to move away from home. With so many video games aimed at eviscerating an opponent, a game whose outcome was based on how quickly one could prepare ratatouille - the tomato dish, not the movie - was refreshing.
Cooking Mama revolves around the title character, a kerchiefed woman drawn in Japanese anime-style with big eyes and an upturned crease of a smile - sort of Pokemon meets Iron Chef. Her thick accent must be meant to evoke a grandmother from the old country, although she looks to be about 16.That incoherence aside, the game
rich simulation of making food. Its designers in Japan consulted hundreds of recipes in making Cooking Mama, said Liz Buckley, marketing director for the video game's publisher, Majesco Entertainment.
A version of Cooking Mama for the Nintendo DS portable game system came out last fall. But the version that came out this past spring for the popular (though still scarce) Nintendo Wii machine, which incorporates movement by the players into the game, is more realistic.
Players chop, stir, pour, roll, even mimic cracking an egg in the Wii version. The graphics are sharp: Steam rises off the marbled beef as it simmers in a fry pan.
Although some gaming magazines and Web sites criticized the motion simulation in Cooking Mama as difficult and imprecise, as a learning tool it gives players a sense of how physical food preparation can be. Knives aren't a danger, though, because the game includes nothing sharper than the wireless game controller (so long as you don't fling it across the room). There's no flame either, although you may have to use the controller to fan the mock charcoal briquettes when making beef brochette.
Wired magazine last winter proclaimed the video game the best new one of the year. "The fun and realism here come not from fancy graphics, but from moving your body like you're really doing the activity," said another review on Nintendojo, a Nintendo fan Web site. A few other food-related video titles exist, including Cake Mania and Diner Dash, but they're more adventure-type, strategy games - not so instructive about cooking.
To see my son and his friends, whose food-preparation begins and ends at unearthing snack packs in the pantry, clustered around the game and laughing while "making" pizza from scratch was a treat in itself. The game features 250 kinds of foods that can be used to make dozens of dishes from around the world: from China, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain and the United States. You even earn points for food presentation, such as arranging the meatloaf just so with the parsley sprig and cherry tomatoes.
"Face Training" comes with a digital camera that fits into the dual-screen machine to show live video of the player's own face on the right screen while an animation of a woman's face illustrates exercises on the left screen. The game went on sale last week in Japan.
The 16 types of exercises called "facening," designed by beauty expert Fumiko Inudo, take about two to 10 minutes each to complete. Nintendo Co., the Kyoto-based maker of Pokemon and Super Mario games, recommends playing "Face Training" no longer than 15 minutes at a time to avoid overexerting face muscles or getting them "out of balance."
In addition to the animation that serves as a model for players, an electronic voice like an aerobics instructor guides you to twist your mouth, drop your jaw, wink, glare at the ceiling and do other moves to tighten flabby cheeks and develop that bright-eyed look.
"Open your mouth slightly, one, two, three, four," the machine will say in one exercise.
Quickly following the official announcement of the Xbox 360 price drops in the U.S., Microsoft is applying its slashing tool to the Canadian market. Beginning August 8 at Canadian retailers nationwide, the Xbox 360 console will sell for as much as $100 less than it did at launch.
The new price of the Xbox 360 Premium in Canada is $399.99, down from $499.99. Interestingly enough, the Xbox 360 Premium has seen the $399.99 Canadian price point during a short period of time late 2006. Many large electronics retailers sold the console for $399.99 as part of a Boxing Day sale during the last week of the year.
For the other Xbox 360 consoles, the Core also drops $100 to $299.99. The Xbox 360 Elite, on the other hand, gets half the price cut of its brethren and drops from $549.99 to $499.99.
In anticipation of this year's largest blockbuster game launch, the Xbox 360 Halo 3 Special Edition console will hit store shelves in September with at $449.99. Although the 20GB hard drive may make the machine appear to be just a re-colored Premium console, the Halo 3 Special Edition includes HDMI output.
"The fact that we have been able to keep our launch price longer than any other console while retaining our leadership position demonstrates that consumers believe in the value of Xbox 360," said Mitch Koch, corporate vice president, Global Retail Sales and Marketing Group, Entertainment and Devices Division at Microsoft. "On the eve of the best holiday games lineup ever and the launch of 'Madden NFL 08,' there has never been a better time to jump into Xbox 360."
U.S. gamers shouldn’t feel slighted by their market’s $50 price drop as compared to Canada’s $100 cut. Even with the double-sized price cut, Canadians will have to pay a U.S. dollar equivalent of almost $380 for the Premium, $285 for the Core and $475 for the Elite.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Today we can confirm that the new color scheme is indeed a reality, as Nintendo has officially announced the package.
Hitting stores in both the US and Canada on August 21, the bundle will cost $149.99 and include the new glossy crimson and matte black DS lite and a copy of Brain Age 2. The new DS edition will be the first new color in almost a year. Nintendo fashionista should be stoked.
Sony's Playstation with the big new hard drive starts to fill in the high end, just as Microsoft cuts prices.
So, now it seems as though the price cut on the 60GB model was simply a way of phasing out the system, as buyers who want the highest-end model will still be paying $600 for a PS3. Ironically, the new 80GB PS3 lacks onboard hardware for backwards compatibility with PS1 and PS2 titles. Like the UK version of the PS3, the new 80GB version relies on software emulation, and though we haven't seen side-by-side comparisons, we're betting that hardware compatibility is better than software.
For comparison's sake, an Xbox 360 Elite, with the HD-DVD player, now costs $630 total, and for a time Microsoft is offering some free movies with the player. A Playstation 3, on the other hand, costs $600, and comes with a free game. If you need it, the PS3 also packs wireless internet, while an adapter for the Xbox 360 is more than $50. At this point, though, we still think the price differences are negligible. The console games war is won by the games, and for the near future, Microsoft has maintained their early advantage for this round.
The decision to cut the price of the Xbox 360 reflects slowing momentum for a product that plays a key role in the company’s broader consumer strategy, according to analysts.
It is also expected to turn the console back into a loss-making product for Microsoft, although the company should still be on track to hit its target of finally breaking through into profitability in the games business in its current fiscal year, they added.
Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it would cut $50 from the price of the most popular model of the console, to $349. Two other configurations of the Xbox 360 will be cut by $20 and $30.
The timing of the cut, before the busy autumn season, was earlier than expected, analysts said, and pointed to competition in part of the market from the cheaper Wii console from Nintendo.
Last month, Sony sliced $100 from the $599 price tag of its basic PS3 console.
Average monthly sales of the Xbox 360 dropped to 200,000 in the first six months of this year, from about 700,000 in the first 14 months the machine was on the market, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. “It’s the cornerstone of Microsoft’s home entertainment strategy,” he added, making it vital for the company to ship the machine in higher volumes.
Microsoft said that the price cut had been timed to coincide with the release next week of Madden NFL 08, the latest in a popular series of big-selling football games from Electronic Arts.
According to the company, the lack of any earlier price cut since the launch of the console in November 2005 makes it the longest period a new machine has been able to hold its original sale price. But the fact that the Xbox was launched nearly a year before rival consoles from Sony and Nintendo meant that it was under no pressure for much of that time to consider any competitive action, said Van Baker, analyst at Gartner.
While Microsoft had reached break-even on the Xbox 360, “it will probably go negative again” with the price cut, said Charles di Bona, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein. The launch of the latest version of the big-selling Halo game in late September, however, should lift the company’s games business to its first quarterly profit for the first time since the previous version of Halo, as well as its first ever full-year of profits, he added.
A broader trend in the games business, where growth is coming increasingly from casual and “social” games, could have contributed to the slowing momentum for sales of consoles aimed at the traditional “hard core” market of young males, some analysts said.