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04/15/2007 - 04/21/2007

PlanetFargo: Where the Wiis Are

April 20, 2007


Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. The ongoing shortage of the Nintendo Wii console is no secret. I've blogged about it before. And now even the guys from Freakonomics are chiming in with some theories as to how the shortage is effecting the market. Nintendo, meanwhile, is being curiously silent about where the Wiis are.

But I think it's time to be honest with my readers. It's time to tell the truth.

I Have All the Wiis.

After I scored the first six or seven, it became a habit. I just couldn't get enough. Wiis are easy to stack: Once they're out of the box, fifty, sixty of them can be piled up into a nice tidy column. I have them set to blink blue when I get a system message, so it's like a disco in here whenever there's a big update.

Yeah, sorry about that. Taking all the Wiis.

Are you also having trouble buying extra Wiimotes? Sorry, that's my fault too. I've got hundreds, and tens of thousands more waiting to be unpacked. I like to strap one Wiimote to each finger, playing two games of doubles tennis simultaneously on two TVs on opposite sites of the room all by myself. I don't do this out of greed but because I can. I have Wiis out the wazoo, and more coming in every day.

To date I only have 20,000 nunchuk controllers, which means that some of my friends will be out of luck if more than a stadium-full show up to play Raving Rabbids.

Did you know: A giant stack of Wii-motes is perfect for playing "Jenga?" Absolutely true.

The tough part is when the orphans come knocking on my door, seeking toys for needy children. I stroke my chin thoughtfully, then turn around to look at the Wiis piled up in my dining room and spilling out into the hallway. I turn slowly back to the children, peering into their needy, glistening eyes. Dozens of Wiimotes dangle from my neck and arms like tribal jewelry.

"Yeah, I'll see what I can do," I tell them, closing the door.

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 10:44 AM PDT
Edited on: April 20, 2007 11:00 AM PDT
Permalink

Investment Analyst Takes a Hard Look at Microsoft Games

April 19, 2007


Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. Here at GameSpy/IGN, we spend a lot of time talking about game consoles. We look at the games, we look at how powerful the hardware is, and we try to convince people that Cooking Mama is actually kinda fun. I spent like an hour last weekend trying to cook the perfect bowl of rice. Shut up.
Shut up!


But sometimes it's fun to look at the dollars and cents of putting out a game console. Because hella huge heaps of cash are involved, and it's a dangerous business. This brings us to Roger Ehrenberg -- he's an investment analyst who regularly blogs (in great detail) about Internet and technology investments. Read what Ehrenberg has to say about Microsoft and the Xbox 360.

If you accept his numbers and conclusions it ain't pretty. He's not looking at how great the hardware is or how awesome the games are, just at the money. He asserts that Microsoft won't have a successful system without big Japanese numbers. And he questions the whole strategy:

"Sure, the Xbox 360 can be righteous and cool with hard-core gamers, but this is not a sufficiently large user base to recoup the magnitude of investment Microsoft has made in its gaming platform. So if this is the strategy, they've got a problem. And if their strategy is really more mass-market, then they've got some serious re-positioning to do relative to the Wii, which is both cheaper and more accessible to Ma and Pa and Timmy and Tammy gamer. In short, I am at a loss. Correct that: Microsoft is at a loss. $5.4 billion and counting." -Roger Ehrenberg

Nobody knows specifically how the Xbox 360 is doing for Microsoft, so Ehrenberg is looking at the numbers for the entire "Home and Entertainment" division at MS. It's grim -- the division has lost a billion dollars a year nearly every year since 2002. But that division also includes consumer software, hardware, and IPTV. Presumably products like Zune are handled in that group as well. Despite this, Ehrenberg concludes that the 360 is "Financially disastrous" for Microsoft.

Is He Right?

Ehrenberg is harsh -- it's his job to scrutinize companies -- but I think he's wrong about the 360. First: Japan. Japan is an important market but not having a smash hit console there doesn't mean that developers will not support the system, especially if it's a hit in the U.S. and Europe. Furthermore, of the two high-end game systems on the market right now, the Xbox 360 is many times easier to develop for. Microsoft is already having a lot of success wooing big support from development partners. Besides, Microsoft might be finally making some in-roads across the Pacific; the release of Blue Dragon jumpstarted sales (as reported in my 12/18 newsletter).

Then there's the online component. Xbox Live has been very successful, and likely has a lot of subscribers among the over six million users. On top of that revenue, there's the Xbox Live Arcade marketplace -- that's got to be generating some cash, if the amount of cash myself and my friends have spent on classic games there is any indication.

Finally, there's the cost of the hardware. Microsoft's manufacturing process, with multiple vendors and lots of off-the-shelf hardware, means that the cost of building the system has dropped and prices are going to keep coming down in the years to come. Sony's Cell processor is super powerful, but it sure ain't cheap, and because it's so specialized that's not likely to change in the near future. There's a 10-billion-dollar-a-year market for high-end gaming that either Sony or Microsoft will claim the lion's share of, and right now Microsoft looks to have all the advantages.

So I don't think the numbers for Microsoft's entire H&E division tell the whole story. The Xbox 360 is still in a risky place, but future prospects are looking pretty good.

More importantly, creating Halo 3 is as culturally significant as building the Sistine Chapel or Taj Mahal, so it's worth every penny invested. Am I right? Who's with me on this one?

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 10:51 AM PDT
Edited on: April 19, 2007 10:52 AM PDT
Permalink

Making Games that Make History

April 18, 2007


Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. This morning Wired reported that Famed Historian and Commentator Niall Ferguson is Going to Make Games. Serious games, that is. He's teaming up with developer Muzzy Lane to create a series of games analyzing "the defining conflicts of the 21st century." You might not recognize Ferguson's name but you've probably seen the impact of his work -- Time Magazine named him one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2004, he's got a weekly column in the Los Angeles Times, and he's written eight books on history and politics.

If you're going to make serious, thought-provoking games... he's the kind of guy you want in your corner.

Muzzy Lane recently released Making History: The Calm & the Storm, a simulation game with an educational bent meant to be used as a tool for learning about World War II. Download the Making History Demo on FilePlanet! Personally, I found Making History to be a little too bogged down in minutiae and micromanagement, making the gameplay a little too slow to really use it as a tool for playing out "what-if" scenarios. Especially if you want to encourage non-gamers to play around with it. That said, the game is enjoying some success in educational circles, which is a good thing -- Muzzy Lane can continue to refine their gameplay ideas in the years to come. We need more companies like Muzzy Lane taking a hard look at what games can do and building titles that live up to that potential.

Download the Making History Demo and see what you think. Future games from Muzzy Lane and Ferguson will tackle issues like global terrorism to borderless economies. That's good, because so far what I've learned from videogames is that major social issues are best solved by a single stealth operative -- working alone and outside the system -- armed with nothing but a silenced pistol for the first two levels.

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 10:36 AM PDT
Edited on: April 18, 2007 10:38 AM PDT
Permalink

Time to Pick Up a Hobbit Habit

April 17, 2007


Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. Start growing your foot hair! After many long years of development, including a publisher and name switch, The Lord of the Rings Online is finally poised to release! Graphically, the game brings to life Tolkien's prose, allowing you to explore famous (or obscure) locations from the novels. Gameplay-wise, it may not be the most innovative MMO on the market, but the monster-play mode (read the GameSpy preview) offers a fun twist. Early buzz is pretty solid.

Want to try it for yourself? Join the Lord of the Rings Online North American Beta!

Turbine and Midway are kicking off the North American release of the game with a series of midnight launch parties across the country. Get the latest updates from the LotRO forums, or see if you live near one of the events:

  • Boston: GameStop #1317, Prudential Center, 800 Boylston Street, Boston, MA
  • Chicago: GameStop #4767, 920 Church Street, Evanston, IL
  • Los Angeles: GameStop #4619, Universal Citywalk, Universal City, CA
  • New York: GameStop #1363, Broadway and 33rd., New York, New York
  • Seattle: GameStop #1979, Bellevue Square, 475 100th Ave NE, Bellevue, WA
If you can't make it to any of the events, you can bond with your gaming fellowship over at the Lord of the Rings Online Vault.

Join the LotRO Beta!
It's open to all FilePlanet North American readers.

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 10:17 AM PDT
Edited on: April 17, 2007 11:02 AM PDT
Permalink

Just How Volatile is the Games Industry?

April 16, 2007


Wario's not the only one who's got smooth moves. It's not perched on the edge of a crash, as the games industry was in 1983 when everything suddenly went pear-shaped. But this BBC News story goes into detail about just how shaky things are getting with the latest generation of hardware. This year is a transition year, as gamers move toward the next-generation systems. Meanwhile, games are more expensive to make than ever -- and for the time being, returns will be small, because relatively few people have invested in the new hardware yet.

That means a couple things for big publishers. First, it helps to explain why companies like EA are so set on building up franchises and cranking out sequels and expansion packs year after year -- franchises are safe, and they can jump from one system to the next with ease. More importantly, it means that publishers have to scratch their heads and figure out other ways of making ends meet. Expect to hear more about in-game advertising or online sales. Especially in Asia, where piracy can be a problem, online subscription services are a great way to stay in the black.

But let's talk about this chart, shamelessly ganked from the original story:

Image courtesty of BBC. Click for full article.
[Image courtesy of BBC news. Click for full article.]

Here's the whole videogame cycle played out in glorious Technicolor. (That little purple wedge in the lower left corner represents the Dreamcast -- *sniff*). 2004 represents the peak of last generation -- developers had figured out how to get the most out of the hardware, and the games were solid. Remember? San Andreas? Halo 2? Ninja Gaiden? Good times. (Coincidentally it was also a great year for the PC. Half-Life 2 and World of Warcraft? Nice.) But then gamers held back as hype for the next-generation took off and resources shifted to the new consoles. The bottom of the trough was last year. Things should pick up here by the end of 2007, especially for well-established systems like the Xbox 360.

But analysts have the current generation peaking sometime in 2009, then tapering off. Here's my question for the day: Does it REALLY have to be that way? To be fair, it'll probably be 2010 before people even figure out how to get the most out of the immensely complex and overpowered PS3. And look at the Wii! I spent all weekend playing Wario Ware: Smooth Moves. None of the games I play on the Wii are even close to state-of-the-art when it comes to graphics, but I don't care. Why should my opinion change by 2009?

We're entering an era of diminishing graphical returns when it comes to hardware. My hope is that that translates into longer console lifecycles, which means that the industry can settle in and even start to take some risks. Let's keep the Xbox 360 around for a while before talking about the Xbox 720. Let's keep the PS3 around long enough for the price to drop below laughable. Is it possible for this generation to stick around, or will the hardware giants try to gain an advantage by rushing the next one? Only time will tell.

      -Fargo

Today's Geek Stuff:
Mod News:
Hardware Links Courtesy of Voodoo Extreme:

Posted by at 11:06 AM PDT
Edited on: April 16, 2007 11:14 AM PDT
Permalink

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