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Posts Tagged ‘Xbox Live’

Last week, LucasArts announced they’d blow the dust off their venerable adventure games catalog, offering an ongoing selection of hits via Steam.  Of course, gamers everywhere rejoiced, and the immediate questions were all positive: ‘what other platfroms will these be available on?’ and ‘what other classics will they release next?’

The announcement came on top of Major Nelson’s release of this summer’s Xbox LIVE Arcade schedule.  They’re mining some classics as well, with remakes of LucasArts’ own Secret of Monkey Island and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time as well as a re-release of Marvel vs. Capcom 2.

These announcements, and the fanfare surrounding them, show what a compelling revenue stream a publisher’s back catalog can make.  And it makes very good sense.  It takes a much smaller team and significantly less expense to prep an old, critically acclaimed gem for re-rerelease on a new system, even in the case of a full refresh like this week’s stellar Secret of Monkey Island remake.  Gamers that might just be discovering that IP through Telltale’s new episodic Tales of Monkey Island series can go back to the original and see what made these characters and the whole SCUMM system so endearing.  

Publishers don’t need to put any expense or energy into packaging these titles and bringing them to retail.  When the games are strong enough, as is the case with LucasArts’ catalog, they don’t even really need to market them very much.  The enthusiast community will do it for them.  Essentially, a rerelease of a true masterpiece is a pure profit play for a publisher that put in all the years of hard work building a great library.

As long as publishers don’t turn the valve too far and just start releasing every piece of crap title they’ve ever produced, I hope to see a lot more classics coming down the pipe.  In this still very sequel-heavy business, re-releasing the early gems from a series a few months ahead of a new installment could be a very wise marketing spend.  For instance, Ico  and Shadow of the Colossus should hit the PSN store a few weeks before The Last Guardian hits the shelves.

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In case you missed it, Sony announced their first official corporate partner in Home – and it’s none other than Red Bull.  For the uninitiated, Home is Sony’s oft-delayed avatar based virtual world that (theoretically) connects every PS3 owner, so they can meet up, chat, and play together.

It’s not the worst idea ever, but I’m not entirely sure all the infrastructure and planning will be worth it in the end.  I can’t imagine anyone buying a PS3 exclusively to get access to Home, and Second Life already showed us just how fickle tastes can be when it comes to virtual real estate.  Sony definitely needs a more cohesive, end-to-end online environment to even have a shot at Xbox Live.  No argument there.  But will the audience really want to commit so much time to non-gaming during their gaming sessions?

Red Bull’s no stranger to edgy marketing tactics, and I honestly hope this venture proves as worthwhile to them as Flugtag and their other experimental pursuits.  We’ll see…

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When the most beloved game designer of all time thinks your product is crap, you may have an issue on your hands.

I think it’s time for the ESA to hang it up on E3.  The fact is, our audience is too far ahead of the curve, in terms of media consumption, to be well-served by a show like this.  The big 3’s press conferences all fell flat this year, mostly because the hardcore fanbase has already heard everything they had to say.  According to ubiquitous super-analyst Michael Pachter, “E3 is headed for extinction, unless the publishers and console manufacturers wake up to the fact that nobody cares about the show anymore.”

I would argue that the extinction of E3 as we know it is not only a good thing, but the natural evolution of the industry.  We’ve enjoyed the attention of a fervent, die-hard fanbase for decades, and it’s only through their passionate attention following (and the rise of citizen journalism) that the old E3 format became so ridiculously expensive in the first place.  After all, it was hard to keep the numbers down on an “open to all press & industry” show once every fan got the power to become press (with nifty blogs just like this one).

In the short term, there will be much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the death of such a tentpole event.  But the industry is proving to be bulletproof in the face of a dwindling evonomy, and we should all rejoice in that.  We’re seeing a truly stable marketplace sustaining three home consoles for the second year of this generation.

Perhaps most importantly, the Wii, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 all feature direct media channels to reach out to gamers, and potential gamers by extension.  There’s still room for a small, no-frills show for retail buyers and analysts, but now that all three first-party companies (and presumably third-parties) can get an undiluted message to the audience via their consoles, they’re taken care of.

Bottom line, the kid’s alright.  The fact that we don’t need an annual show to circle the wagons is the symptom of a very healthy, growing industry.

And if you need more proof than that, plunk down some Xbox Live points for Castle Crashers in a few weeks. At one point I was playing it in front of two designers from a completely different company, a fellow marketer, and a respected games journalist.  We all loved it.  When was the last time the year’s top box office picture recieved glowing reviews AND the Best Picture Oscar?

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E3 is once again upon us (albeit in its retooled, min-E3 format).  I won’t cover every single announcement here – there are plenty of up-to-the-minute industry news sites on the blogroll at right, so set your RSS reader and fire away.  But a week like this always has a few thought-provoking surprises, and presents a good opportunity to take the industry’s pulse.  It’s like halftime, leading up to the holiday season endgame.

There’s a lot to be excited about in Capcom’s lineup this year, with Street Fighter IV promising a return to form in offense-geared, fast paced brawling along with a hot new 3D presentation.  It’s a big, big development for Street Fighter fans, but I’m actually more excited about the return of the true blue bomber in Mega Man 9 on the Virtual Console and PSN.

For this installment, Capcom went back to the series’ roots and opted for the graphics and sounds of a classic NES game.  In an industry that’s constantly pushing the hardware for higher frame rates and jaw-dropping visuals, it’s a breath of fresh air to see someone opt for the look and feel that just plain fits the character best.  Mega Man 7 (on the SNES) and 8 (on the original PlayStation) were both good games in their own right, but just didn’t have that classic Mega Man charm, as anyone that played through Mega Man 2 would attest.

The decision from a big studio to go lo-fi for the latest entry in their flagship franshise is a subtle, but important development.  It’s an artistic choice, to create a similar experience and evoke the same feelings as we had playing through the glory days of the series.

This is the second awesome videogame quilt picture I've run.  Please send more.

This is the second awesome videogame quilt picture I've run. Please send more.

I’d love to see future installments of classic franchises explore what made them great in the first place.  And while we’re at, why not breathe new life into the classics we’ve already played through a million times by adding more content?  Wouldn’t it be cool to pick up a Double Dragon game where part 3 left off?  Or play through the NES port of Maniac Mansion, with running commentary from the (reunited) original development team?

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I don’t have the time (or reflexes – zing!) to post every time Sony release a firmware update.  The latest update for the PlayStation 3, version 2.40, is actually a fairly big deal for Sony and the entire industry.

They might as well have called this update “the Xbox Live patch.”  It finally adds game-specific Trophies (mechanically the same as Live’s Achievements) so borderline OCD cases competitive gamers can scour their retail games and PSN downloads to truly complete every game, and compare Trophy collections.  The real innovation, however, is the ability to access the Sony Cross-Media Bar in-game.

In-game XMB means PS3 players can finally message their friends across the entire network, regardless of what game they’re playing.  So, a player who wants some live competition in MLB 08: The Show could pause the game and drop a line to challenge anyone on his friends list.  One of his friends playing Metal Gear Solid 4 could see the message, pop in MLB, and get a game of baseball going.  It seems arbitrary, but simple functionality like this made Xbox Live the gold standard in online console gaming. 

The PlayStation 3 has supported PSN friends list since launch day, but they’ve never really mattered until now.  Under the old method, you were more likely to find a randomly matched opponent on a particular game than you were to sign on and find one of your friends waiting for you.

In-game XMB also allows you to listen to your own music library while playing, but it’s tough for me to get too excited about it.  After all, haven’t we been doing this since the first time someone turned up the stereo while playing Tecmo Bowl in a dorm room in 1989?

The fact that the PlayStation Network is now a cohesive online community that operates across the entire PS3 games library significantly levels the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 playing field.  The question is, can Sony capitalize on it and bring hardware sales up to a more respectable level?

It would seem that Sony has two significant advantages over Microsoft.  First, PSN is completely free to use, while Xbox Live Gold accounts cost $50/year.  This could be a crucial point for Sony, provided they market it well (easier said than done) AND don’t screw it up with tiered service and pricing.  Qore, their online magazine with “subscriber benefits” like access to private beta tests, is off to a rocky start.   And who knows what Sony has planned with the introduction of their Home virtual world…

Second, Sony can leverage the PSP to expand the PlayStation Network and finally deliver the portability to PSN that Microsoft has been endlessly planning for Xbox Live.  It’s a big opportunity, as Microsoft has shown zero interest in producing a handheld of their own, and even allowing the Viva Pinata characters to appear in Nintendo DS games.  Also, the PSP looks to be on an upswing, with outstanding hardware sales in the fickle Japanese market, some critically successful games on the market and in the pipeline, and a winning hardware/software bundling strategy.

The all-but-confirmed Xbox 360 price drop can’t be far off, and Sony’s unlikely to follow suit.  They already are selling the cheapest Blu-Ray player out there, and have made no secret of just how much they need to recoup as much as possible from the PS3 development costs.  It should be interesting to see how they proceed, once the momentum of Metal Gear Solid 4 wears off.

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It’s a real rarity to see insider games industry coverage from our dailies here in NYC, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the all the attention that local think tank the Center for an Urban Future generated for their study, “Getting in the Game.”

You can grab the .PDF at their site (and it’s certainly worth a read), but the Cliffs Notes of the report boil down to a very logical conclusion – and a somewhat obvious one, if you follow the industry closely: “The fast-growing video game industry represents a promising opportunity for New York City’s economy, but the sector faces significant challenges and still lags well behind established gaming hubs like Seattle, Los Angeles and Montreal.” The coverage wound up in every reputable game blog (naturally), but more importantly, it made the cover of at least one of the dailies, and Sewell Chan posted on it in the excellent NY Times City Room blog.

I’ve always been a bit puzzled by the lack of a big game development scene in NYC, indie or otherwise. The creativity and talent is here, and the post-bust Silicon Alley community is keeping up with the west coast Joneses when it comes to attracting VC funding. We even have a few superb full-time games journalists residing in the 5 boroughs.

As the report shows, the handful of publishers that have set up some sort of base in the city (Take 2, Atari, and a few small developers) are mostly staffing marketing and C-level operations out of New York, and leaving the development to guys out west/across the pond/anywhere but here.

The fastest-growing entertainment industry can’t stay confined to the west coast forever, but a mass migration to NYC is no inevitability either. The same day that the Center for an Urban Future study went public, the office of Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue announced his state’s new incentives package for entertainment industry investment, with a ton of language specific to the games industry. Not to be outdone, Boston kicked off their inaugural conference focused on wooing more developers to the city last year, with a similar event in the works for 2008.

It’s great to see individual cities pushing for more developers in their locale, but what’s getting lost in the mix here is just how much the industry, as a whole, would benefit from moving a few creative eggs outside of the Bay Area basket. Just as Austin, TX filmmakers developed their own look and feel and the Atlanta Atlanta hip-hop artists pioneered their own sound.  What would their games play like?hip-hop scene became a powerful force in music, the infusion of local developers from all over the map could lead to the discovery of some hot, undiscovered talent.

Services like Steam, Xbox Live, WiiWare and PSN now eliminate the most expensive parts of distribution, so as long as the ideas are good enough (and the developers are savvy about interacting with passionate gamers), the sky’s the limit.

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Earlier this week, Nintendo’s long-awaited WiiWare indie game download service launched in the US, to surprisingly little mainstream media coverage. Perhaps it’s GTA4 hangover, or editors planning to cover WiiFit next week didn’t want to run two Wii-centric features in consecutive weeks, or maybe it just didn’t seem like big news in light of PSN and Xbox Live’s beating Nintendo to the punch by more than a year. Either way, it’s pretty big news for a number of reasons:

  • WiiWare is a decidedly “new Nintendo” move. Bite-sized, casual games from garage band developers are the very embodiment of the “blue ocean” strategy that Reggie Fils-Aime and the rest of the current Nintendo higher-ups operate under. The old guard at Nintendo (the ones that insisted on cartridges for N64 games over CD’s, and limiting the number of NES games they would allow any one publisher to make in a year) would have rather died than put games from indie microdevelopers on their precious system
  • While Nintendo already had the Virtual Console in operation, WiiWare’s debut means all three of this generation’s consoles (and both of the portable systems) have dedicated channels for instant delivery of retro games AND original downloadable content. Nintendo was the last holdout (and a significant one, considering how quickly their installed base is swelling). This could have serious ramifications for retailers, especially the ones that draw heavily from used game sales. How long before the new DLC reality spooks GameStop investors?
  • Thus far, a weak library of third party titles has been the most legitimate gripe consistently lobbed at the Wii – and rightfully so. The Little White Wonder’s seen way too many shoddy ports of last-gen games and minigame collections for its own good. WiiWare has the potential to reverse the trend. With quality titles available for a fraction of typical retail prices, how long can the market last for shovelware at retail prices?

As I write this, the questionable Summer Sports is $40 at GameStop, while $10 on WiiWare will get you Lost Winds, a gem of a game whose novel platforming and gentle, innocent storytelling reminded yours truly of the hauntingly beautiful Ico. Seriously. I rest my case.

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