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Posts Tagged ‘Rock Band’

a_christmas_storyWith today’s The Beatles: Rock Band launch, I can’t help but wonder if all the cards are already on the table for what could be a very interesting Christmas’ “console war.”

Sony’s slim hardware redesign was a non-starter for me, until they blinked first and threw in a matching slimmer price point.  Microsoft followed suit almost immediately, discontinuing the Pro SKU and making the Elite model their $300 go-to.  Both good decisions.  While the Wii’s still got them both on price*, it’s a much slimmer gap now that’s more than bridged by the feature sets.

A lot of major third party releases have been pushed back into early 2010, and the ones that are still on the calendar are mostly multiplatform – The Beatles: Rock Band chief among them.  Microsoft will get another Halo title in ODST this holiday, as Playstation fans finally get their hands on Gran Turismo 5.  So we’ll have (at least) one more year where these two boxes duke it out on a fairly even playing field.

Xbox still has a more cohesive online experience, but the Playstation 3’s installed base is finally at the point where you can jump into a well-populated game at any time of day.  While I’m sure the price adjustment was a tough pill to swallow for Sony brass, they’re now offering the best value-for-dollar in gaming hardware (PS3 buyers get a Blu-Ray player while new Xbox 360 owners still need to cough up another $100 to make the thing wireless).

I’m looking forward to a well played, late generation holiday throwdown that will really put the consumers in the driver seat and rely heavily on Sony and Microsoft’s multichannel marketing effort, and maybe some cool pack-in deals.  Game.  On.

*NOTE: I know both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have limited-feature SKUs that fall below the Wii’s $250 price point, but let’s talk about the systems gamers actually want to buy here.

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While I didn’t get out to last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E³), I was really glad to see the show return to the more recognizable “under the big top” format.  At a time when just about everyone is forced to cut costs wherever possible, it was nice to see some of the industry’s big hitters pull out all the stops once again.  At the very least, it gave us all a lot more to watch than the very weird “editorial speed dating in office parks” feel of the last two years.

This year’s show was poised for success from the start – we’re far enough into this console generation that most developers understand how to get the most out of the hardware, but we’re not quite to the point where everyone expects to see new all-new consoles unveiled.  E³ 2005 was the most boring show I’ve been to, with the big reveal of the PS3 and all the tech demos and non-games that came with it.  This year was mostly focused on the games.  Be sure to check out the big honkin’ E³ coverage summaries over at Kotaku and Joystiq, just in case you missed anything.  Read on for my highlights (and a few not-so-highlights) from the big keynotes of the show.

MICROSOFT

beatles RB sullivanThe Good: M-soft came out strong right out of the gate with The Beatles: Rock Band.  They managed to have Paul McCartney and Ringo Star onstage, turning an otherwise ho-hum demo into a newsworthy event for even non-game press.  Perhaps most importantly, they created the most newsworthy event of the show for non-enthusiast press, and managed to have the surviving Beatles on stage with all sorts of Xbox branding behind them.  It’s a multiplatform title – in fact, the first Rock Band to ship day and date on the Wii as well as the PS3 and 360.  But Microsoft has managed to “own” this game in the minds of exactly the type of casual gamers that will eat up The Beatles: Rock Band — and a system to play it on.

The Bad: Microsoft managed to grab headlines with their project Natal camera system.  Essentially, at-home, real-time motion capture for gesture controls in games.  It looks like it works pretty well, and is much easier to set up than Microsoft’s earlier efforts with the Live Vision camera.  But I still can’t get excited about applying that technology to games.  I guess time will tell, as no release date or even a price point are in sight yet.

The Rest: All in all, Microsoft had a strong showing with those two reveals, and then a lot of smaller, fan service announcements.  The first ever Final Fantasy game on Xbox, a Metal Gear Solid multiplatform title, and a ton of sequels to familiar Xbox franchises rounded out their hour.

NINTENDO

The Good: Last year, the enthusiast press felt abondoned by Nintendo, with their keynote centered around Wii Motion Plus and the pack-in game, Wii Sports Resort.  This year, they made sure to take care of the hardcore set, with ample stage time given to a new Metroid game by Tecmo’s Team Ninja, The return of Mario Galaxy, and the very classic feeling New Super Mario Bros. finally brought to the big screen as a fun coop game for up to 4 players.  Charming, timeless IP goes a long way toward keeping the Big N in good graces with their loyal fans, and they delivered quite a bit of love for them this year.

wii_vitality_1The Bad: The Wii Vitality Sensor is… puzzling at best.  I’m an unabashed Nintendo fan, and I stand by the notion that failures along the way like the Virtual Boy are essential for a company to foster the free thinking brand of R&D that could deliver the Wii unto us.  But the idea of a peripheral that pinches you on the finger so it can get a read on your pulse… I just can’t see the application here into anything that would make a fun game.  I’ve been wrong before and I really hope I am in this case, but Nintendo certainly didn’t help its cause by not even really demoing this at the show.

The Rest: I was honestly hoping for a little more of a preview of what’s coming down the pipe for DSiWare and WiiWare.  They’re both underutilized networks on the best-selling pieces of hardware out there.  Beyond that, 6 new exercises and 15 minigames added to Wii Fit Plus doesn’t sound like very much new content to me.  I’d prefer to see them deliver more exercises throughout the year as DLC.

SONY

The Good: Team Ico revealed The Last Guardian, the sequel to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. True to form, this one will be a PS3 exclusive, and looks to be hauntingly beautiful.  I will probably buy it on launch day, and cry at least once by the time I beat it.  So will you, if you happen to have a soul and a PS3.

The Bad: Sony’s gesture control (was this a requirement to present his year!?) just seems way too early to show to the public, and I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t have if Microsoft hadn’t made such a big splash with Natal.

The Rest: I’m intrigued by the PSP Go.  That tiny form factor looks to solve a lot of the issues the original design (and subsequent iterations) had to deal with, but not all.  The screen’s still not protected in your pocket, which is a much bigger deal to me than the fact that there’s only one analog nub.  Sorry, FPS fans.

It’s puzzling to me that the PSP, which has had such a hard time reaching any audience other than teenage boys is the first to market with a download-only portable system.  Not to mention, one with a $250 price tag at launch.  If they don’t market the Go hardware the right way, they could be left with a diminishing audience that feels burned about all the useless UMD’s they bought to go with their original hardware.

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1Up's mockup of the new PSP design

1Up's mockup of the new PSP design

1Up .com has become the first legitimate outlet to publish the news of a new PSP hardware iteration that, among other significant design changes, ditches the UMD drive in favor of a download-only format that uses an internal flash drive and (of course) Sony MemorySticks for storage.  If you’re scoring at home, UMD (Universal Media Disc) is a proprietary Sony disc format created for the PSP.

The 1Up piece comes on the heels of an apparent slip-up in either editing or scheduled posting for the @1Up podcast that let the cat out of the bag.  Sony’s refused to comment, but they’re allegedly announcing the whole shebang at E3.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read the “PSP without UMD” rumor over the years, but it really seemed to gain steam in recent months.  When David Perry swore very publicly and vehemently in late February that we would see it soon, it was finally very easy to see why it might be for real this time.  We’ve had Sony telling us that PSP would see an earnest commitment to development, with big franchises like Rock Band and Little Big Planet on the way.  And once Loco Roco 2 was announced as download only, it seemed like the final nail in UMD’s coffin.

Looks like I’d better find an eager buyer for my UMD copy of Jerry Maguire, stat!

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nintendo-ds-lite

I’ve been traveling a ton lately, so I’ve been neglecting the blog (lame, I know) and playing a LOT of games on the DS and PSP.  And I’ve been having a blast.

There’s just something very lo-fi and fun about whipping out a handheld when you have a few extra minutes – no need to log in to Live or see what the guys on your friends list are playing.  It really takes me back to the days of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dr. Mario on the original GameBoy, in the backseat of my parents’ car.tmnt

This generation of handhelds is nearing its fifth year on the market, and I honestly don’t see them being phased out anytime soon – especially considering the current economic climate.  They’ve each been refreshed with newer hardware iterations over the last few years, and Nintendo’s upping the ante yet again with the DSi.  They’ve both had their time in the Rising Sun, with every new Pokemon and Monster Hunter Portable title somehow enticing millions of new hardware purchases upon release.

The PSP certainly had a hot launch year in the ‘States, but a series of odd hardware bundles and some barren years in the games department have put the very slick, sexy piece of hardware in a compromising position.

The DS has proven to be quite the cash cow for Nintendo on both sides of the Pacific.  A raft of too-cute kids’ games and shovelware may be a bit of a turnoff for hardcore gamers, but they’ve been duelly served with loving ports of SNES hits and great exclusives like the Pheonix Wright series – not to mention Nintendo’s own stable of tremendous IP.

Personally, I’ve always hoped for the best for the PSP.  It’s a really great piece of hardware, and the more recent versions have improved upon the battery life and tweaked some of the screen issues.  Playing through God of War: Chains of Olympus and GTA: Liberty City Stories shows what this system is capable of, and I feel more like a disappointed T-ball coach than an angry gamer when I see another lackluster season for the PSP come and go.

A flurry of good news for PSP owners broke late last week, with Sony’s John Koller revealing the (better late than never) PSP arrival of Little Big Planet, Assasin’s Creed, and the Rock Band franchise.

jerry_maguire-1In a seperate interview, Koller (friends call him “the faucet” ’cause he dispenses cool) confirmed that they’re pursuing developer Ready at Dawn for more PSP games.  That would be awesome because RaD’s Daxter and GoW: Chains of Olympus are two of the system’s shining stars.  Koller finished up his whirlwind media day with a pinky-swear to the entire community that Sony’s not bailing on the UMD format. That’s really awesome for me.  I have a UMD copy of Jerry Maguire and NEED Sony to stay with that format, or I may be forced to buy my 6th copy of that movie.

complete

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Earlier this week, EA held it’s quarterly call for investors, where they recap the previous quarter’s results and share their short- and long-term outlook for the future.

booorrriinngThese calls tend to be packed with juicy details on release dates, new IP,  and what platforms the developers are focusing on for the future.  They are also booorrrrinng.  You’ll likely never hear a developer come onto an investor call.  Sadly, that’s not the type of background investors are interested in.  They’re usually led by an investor relations director, with short presentations from the CEO, CFO and a few others.  Occasionally they take questions at the end, but even those are limited to investors, analysts, and press.

Just take a look at this doozy from this week’s EA call ” …starting with its fiscal 2009 results, the company began to apply a fixed, long-term projected tax rate of 28% to determine its non-GAAP results. Prior to fiscal 2009, the company’s non-GAAP financial results were determined by excluding the specific income tax effects associated with the non-GAAP items and the impact of certain one-time income tax adjustments.” Sexy!!!

irBut there is hope.  Rather than dialing in, I followed along with some of my favorite games journos, who were kind enough to Twitter throughout the entire call, hitting up the highlights in real time.  N’gai Croal, Leigh Alexander, Libe Goad and Stephen Totilo all added context and some much needed character to the preceedings.  While I can’t imagine legal and IR departments ever warming up to the idea, it’d be neat to see a company incorporate a side-by-side Twitter conversation into earnings calls in some official way.

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In case you missed it, this month’s issue of Forbes features none other than Activision CEO Bobby Kotick on the cover.  It’s a weird, weird feeling to see a guy like Kotick on the cover of such a popular mainstream business mag.  On the one hand, it’s a validation of how important the industry is to the entire entertainment landscape.  Especially in these times, when you see how healthy it is.

Friend or foe?  Depends who you ask.

On the other hand, it’s Bobby Kotick.  You’d really hope that one of this industry’s brightest stars, like a Miyamoto or Wright, would answer the call for a mainstream, upper crust book like Forbes. It’d even be great to see an up-and-coming developer like Jonathon Blow or the guys from 2D Boy.  But  Kotick’s the opposite of those veteran auters and bright-eyed talent.

Kotick freely admits that he doesn’t play games, and is very public about not wanting to do so.  He demands annual sequels of every one of Activision’s franchises, and as the CEO of the #1 publisher right now, really doesn’t seem too interested in moving the industry forward.  He’s an eye-on-the-bottom-line, coffee-is-for-closers guy in an industry that lives and dies by its creative output.  And that’s why the Forbes crowd loves him.

The fact is, this big Forbes spread is written for them.  Not us.  And it’s only natural for it to rub a guy like me the wrong way, especially with lines like: “EA also teamed with MTV to sell Rock Band, a shameless knockoff of Guitar Hero that added drums, bass and a microphone to the world of make-believe rock stars. EA says it is returning to an “auteur model” of designing games, taking bigger chances on fewer ideas.” A shameless knockoff?!  Really?  So what does that make Guitar Hero World Tour? For his part, author Peter Beller came back with a semi-backpedal a week later.

Around the same time the Forbes piece hit, Ars Technica published *their* Bobby Kotick profile.  A decidedly gamer-centric pub (especially copared to Forbes), even I think the their piece might’ve gone a little too far into smear territory, having never met the guy.

If nothing else, it’s really intersting to see two well-respected, well-read outlets put out such opposite profiles about the same man, when the company he oversees is top dog.

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Fellow marketer and WordPresser Doug Meacham tied together some stirring evidence to back up a thought I’ve been chewing on for quite a while: popularity of music games will lead to greater interested in playing actual musical instruments.  It makes perfect sense.  While there were a few sky-is-falling critics of the genre early on, Guitar Hero and Rock Band allow a whole new audience to interact with music in a very real way.

Beyond trading up for real instruments, the Guitar Hero audience has shown plenty of love to previously obscure bands from the game during a dark time for record sales.  And I’m willing to bet there are quite a few GH fans that “discovered” older bands (that totally play, like, their dad’s music) through the game, and really learned to appreciate them.

Rock music games give us a nice, tidy package to study the direct correlation between games and non-game merchandise sales.  The genre was created well after gaming moved from a niche hobby to mainstream entertainment, it consists of only 2 flagship series, and interest can be tracked through solid sales numbers on (mostly) tangible products that are tied to only this one genre: guitars, and records and downloads of  music from featured bands.  There’s no spillover data from other genres here, because no one rushes out to pick up a new guitar ’cause they had an awesome time playing Left 4 Dead.

It would be interesting to see what other games had similar effects, if only it were trackable.  I’m sure there are plenty of guys out there who learned the rules of football (and eventually an interest in the sport) from Madden.

Licensed NFL merchandise continues to move at a steady clip despite the young male audience move away from watching TV, but it’s a real leap to call an uptick in sales of footballs, helmets and jerseys “the Madden effect.”

So when I see a team like the Yankees loading up their luxury boxes with PS3s and copies of MLB 09: The Show, it’s clearly a deal designed to

benefit Sony.  But I think MLB might be pleasantly surprised with how much interest a wider reaching games initiative could generate in the sport.  At the very least, it would bring some of the cool factor they despereately need to make the very worthy RBI program a success.

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