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Podcast title Intelligent Gaming
Website URL http://intelligentgaming.blogs...
Description A fresh take on the video game industry, its major players, its past, and its future.
Updated Sun, 15 Apr 2012 19:59:52 PDT
Category Arts & Entertainment

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Link to this podcast Intelligent Gaming


1. Forget About Japan
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Description: The modern videogame industry was born in Japan.  I know this.

Yet here, in the next generation, a point that became clear last generation becomes even more glaringly obvious.

Japan just doesn’t matter anymore.

I know this contravenes industry “wisdom.”  But like so much other purported wisdom out there, it just doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s consider the various ways in which Japan could matter.  The first, and most obvious, is as a consumer market.  Now, it’s clear that Japan is culturally more accepting of videogames than the United States.  This could, I suppose, lead to a higher percentage of the population purchasing videogames, although I wouldn’t be money on that.  The most important thing to consider here is very simple.  Population of Japan: 127,417,244.  Population of the United States: 297,700,000.  That’s some simple math.  More than twice the population yields a vastly bigger market, and overall sales figures reflect this.  Furthermore, the European game market is rapidly developing.  Population of the European Union: 459,500,000.  Simply put, the Japanese market is a drop in the pail compared to the US and EU markets.

But what of all the great games made by Japanese developers?  Another myth that has somehow gained great currency is that the Japanese developers make better games than developers from other countries.  If that’s the case, sales and review scores should bear that out, right?  Well, let’s think back to the biggest selling games of last year.  We’re looking at the American market here, since, as was just established, it’s bigger and more important than the Japanese market.  So, I give you the top ten best selling games of 2004:
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)
Halo 2
Madden NFL 2005 (PS2)
Need for Speed: Underground 2 (PS2)
Pokemon Fire Red
NBA Live 2005 (PS2)
Spider-Man: The Movie 2 (PS2)
ESPN NFL 2K5 (Xbox)

By my count, that’s one out of ten best selling games coming from a Japanese developer.  Pretty stunning.  But you want quality over quantity, you say?  Well, let’s take a look at the highest rated Gamecube games at IGN:

Resident Evil 4 (9.8)
Metroid Prime (9.8)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (9.6)
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (9.6)
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (9.6)
Super Smash Bros. Melee (9.6)
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (9.5)

Here, a pretty even split between Japanese and North American developers, but keep one thing in mind: two of those three Japanese games are Nintendo-developed games.  It’s pretty much the same story with PS2, and the Xbox is dominated by North American developed games.

Ah yes, the Xbox, one of the ultimate points in showing the decreasing importance of Japan in the video game market.  Xbox never took off in Japan.  That apparently is partly due to its great size, which I find slightly bewildering, but nevermind.  Yet the Xbox is almost universally acknowledged to be the second-place console this generation, and despite having almost no support from Japanese developers, turned in most of the best games this generation.  How important can Japan be when the console it spurned turned out to be the best of the bunch?

Possibly the most ridiculous argument is that consoles need Japanese RPGs.  While these games tend to be critically lauded, it’s mostly because the people who tend to write reviews of games tend to be among that fairly small group of people outside of Japan who like Japanese RPGs.  As I’ve gone over before, I think the Japanese RPG is one of the most overrated, stagnant genres in games.  The beloved series in the genre continue to lurch forward without changing in the slightest, sporting the same tired stories and uninteresting battle mechanics they’ve labored under for over a decade.  How is this vital to the success of a console?  The most well received RPGs this generation, most would agree, were Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, both from the same Canadian developer.  In fact, looking back at the last generation, I’d say that Canada, a nation of barely thirty million people, produced more great games than Japan (see the aforementioned RPGs, Ubisoft Montreal’s incredible Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell games, and EA Canada’s SSX games).

Given all this, I don’t understand why Sony is gearing up to launch in Japan substantially earlier than the rest of the world.  Microsoft and Nintendo have the right idea with more or less simultaneous global launches.  For Sony, every day that goes by with the Xbox 360 on the market and the PS3 waiting in the wings costs them sales.  They should have been gearing up to launch in the US as soon as possible, yet all signs point to another six-month head start in Japan.  I understand that Japanese companies tend to be fairly loyal to Japan, but Sony is a giant multinational corporation, their CEO is British, and even Nintendo is going with a global launch.

Let me be abundantly clear: the days of Japan being an important market force in the video game industry are over.  It is rapidly becoming a niche market, destined to receive endless renditions of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.  It’s odd that Sony hasn’t figured that out.

Comments to intelligentgaming@gmail.com

2. A Plea
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Description: Given the time of year, I’m in sort of an academic mood.

There are few things as perplexing or as irritating as the abominable grammar and spelling employed by the majority of internet users, be they simple twelve-year-olds without a clue or high-powered bloggers working for major media companies. Everywhere I go, mistakes leap from the screen, despite my best efforts not to care.

In the interest of preserving my own sanity, and in the interest of thinking I might be able to help, to educate, I’ve decided to give a brief lesson here. I charge you, loyal reader, with disseminating this information wherever you see fit. When somebody on Digg screws up something simple in a comment, link them here or quote wholesale. Little Billy on the forums making a ridiculous, fanboyish argument? Cut him to pieces with your superior communication skills. Just please, help get the word out.

I feel absolutely terrible for the poor apostrophe. No punctuation mark is as consistently and stupidly misused. The most glaring and appalling example I shall get out of the way first, and I implore you to tell everybody you know in the world this simple rule:
Honest to god, I think it’s gotten to the point where a full fifty percent of plural nouns I see on the internet have an apostrophe in them. To reiterate, using the apostrophe to pluralize a noun is always wrong. The apostrophe has two uses: to indicate possession and to indicate contraction. This still applies when using abbreviations such as DVD or CD. It’s quite remarkable how many possessions are attributed to DVDs these days.

Let me make that abundantly clear: the plural of DVD is DVDs. The plural of CD is CDs. When discussing a decade, it’s the 1990s. If you need to speak of something belonging to said decade, it’s the 1990s’. This is elementary school stuff.

Corollary: Why can’t anybody properly use its and it’s? People seem to have a pretty clear idea in their heads about which is used when; the problem is that they’re always wrong. Its is what we in the business like to call irregular. Since both forms of the word fall under the domain of the apostrophe, a decision had to be made, and somewhere along the line, before any of us walked this earth, it was decided that its is possessive and it’s is the contracted form of it is. I will tell you this very honestly: almost nothing makes you look stupider to somebody attuned to this sort of thing (for instance, myself) than misusing its and it’s.

Common but stupid mistakes

The things that make you look even stupider are misusing to and too, or there, their, and they’re. I’ll use each of them in a sentence; you should be good to go from there. If you can’t figure it out from that, then god help you. Here we go:

Their arrogance makes me wonder if they’re going to survive as a company; it seems as if there is no end to their relentless anti-consumer policies, which have already begun to go too far.

(I speak, of course, of Sony)

While I’m here, people also frequently misuse then and than. Then, to quote Merriam-Webster’s, means “at that time” or “soon after that.” Okay? Onward.

A couple of things it seems you’ve misheard

Among the most inexplicable mistakes I see are the phrases “could of” and “would of.” This is, of course, simply a mishearing and thus mistyping of “could’ve” and “would’ve,” but honestly, do people not think about anything they’re typing? “Could of” doesn’t make any sense. How does anybody write that?

In Summary

I think if we can cut back on these mistakes, my quality of life will be vastly improved. There are certainly many more issues with people’s writing on the internet (most prominently the utter lack of having anything interesting or constructive to say), but it would take me eons to cover them all. I would recommend a book or something to help you out, but honestly, the best way to improve your grammar and writing is actually read books. Many books. Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter.

So please, for the sake of the children, crack open a good novel (and I mean good, none of that John Grisham crap) and learn how to use the language.

From the correspondence I’ve received from you, loyal reader, I think you’ve got a good handle on these things. I need you to bring this knowledge to the heathens. Just copy-paste the hell out of this thing, or whatever sections are applicable. I beseech you.

Comments, as always, to intelligentgaming@gmail.com

There will be a gaming related update this Wednesday, and I’m terribly sorry for the inactivity. It’s busy times in the life of a college student, so please bear with me.

3. The End is the Beginning of the End
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Description: For years, people have predicted the death of the PC gaming industry.  Each new console, and each new decent console shooter, heralded a new round of articles bemoaning the sorry, difficult state of PC gaming.  And every time, PC gaming has risen again.  Brilliant games have risen out of the mire and pulled in tons of money.  The MMO juggernaut that started with Everquest six years ago (I’m speaking of the western gaming market, of course) is still going strong today with World of Warcraft.

PC gaming enthusiasts have touted several strengths of that platform over consoles, and rightly so.  Online gaming, massively multiplayer games, strategy games and shooters, and user-developed content are the ones I usually see mentioned.  Having a fair amount of experience with both PC and console gaming, I can tell you that these are very real benefits of the PC experience.

Today, I finally had some hands-on time with the PC gaming killer.  Yes, it’s truly on the horizon.  PC games (as we know them; allow me that one caveat) are on their way out, and the cause is called the Xbox 360.

Bear with me.  Until I actually got to try one out, just a simple in-store kiosk, I was skeptical.  And the demos available—Kameo, weak; King Kong, impressive to look at but unconvincing gameplay; and Call of Duty 2, impressive, but largely identical to the PC version—did little to inspire me to shell out several hundred dollars to upgrade.  But actually seeing it, seeing the GUI, using the controller, the possibilities all become very, very clear.

Let’s look at each one of the benefits I listed of PC gaming over console gaming, starting with online gaming.  In the last console generation, I truly feel that console online gaming caught up to PC online gaming.  Xbox Live was and is an incredible system that goes beyond PC gaming in a number of ways.  First, the out of the box voice support is incredible.  Back in the early days of VOIP in gaming, with Roger Wilco and all that, I was never convinced it was worth the effort.  Now, I see why people were doing it.  The beauty of the Xbox Live system is that, since almost everybody got onto Live with one of the starter kits, almost everybody had the headset.  Beyond the voice chat capabilities, the extremely simple process of getting into a game was a big draw, as were Gamertags (if only because it made it harder for people to have stupid, offensive nicknames).

Next, we have MMOs.  This generations consoles, for whatever reason, never proved capable of supporting a good MMO (the Xbox was certainly up to the challenge from a technical standpoint, but I’ll concede that the audience may not have been there yet).  With the 360 so heavily emphasizing Xbox Live, however, this generation, we will see console MMOs as good as those on PC.  There’s no reason we can’t have them: the system has the power, the audience will be there, and the network is robust enough to handle it.

Trickier for consoles to challenge are two of the kings of PC gaming, known only by their acronyms: RTS and FPS.  Simply put, the “superiority” of the keyboard and mouse setup was unchallenged by the “inferior” console controllers (keyboard and mouse are unquestionably superior for RTS games, but in an FPS, the mouse may take the cake for aim, but the joystick/button layouts are infinitely better for moving, jumping, etc).  No matter your preference, however, there’s no reason why the Xbox 360 can’t support a keyboard and mouse.  Even some PS2 games supported keyboard and mouse through that console’s USB ports; it’s a certainty that at least some games for the 360 will support them as well.

Perhaps the key area holding consoles pack (and, conversely, keeping PCs alive) was the lack of user-made content for any console.  Here and there you might find a game with a  map editor or something of that kind, but nothing nearly as sophisticated as you might find on a PC, nor with anywhere near the distribution capabilities of PCs and the internet.  The classic example here has to be Counter-Strike: started as a user mod, now a successful, professionally developed game with multi-platform releases.  FPS games seem to be the main locus of user mods, and the quantity and quality of these releases is often astounding, and the promise of readily available add-on content is a big selling point for me with PC games.  It gets a little sticky here, but with Xbox 360, we finally have the same possibilities for content creation and distribution that PCs have.  The worrying thing is that the distribution mechanism in place, the Xbox Live Marketplace, there’s been no real indication (that I remember, at least) that Microsoft will allow or support user-created content.  Obviously, developers have a lot of say here.  At the moment, all you can be sure of with the Xbox Live Marketplace is that it’ll be a way for developers to easily drip out a little more content for a game and pull in some extra money for it.  However, with Microsoft’s stated goal of bringing more gamers into the console fold, they can’t be ignoring the PC gamers, and having user content available is almost a necessity to bring in that crowd.  So, let’s hope for the best here, and assume that Microsoft will allow it.  On the content creation side, include a decent map editor with the game, hook up your keyboard and mouse, and off you go.  Or, with the 360 so easily connected to other devices, simply create your content on the PC and drop it into the game when you’re done.  Once it’s all created, the Marketplace is the distribution mechanism that console games have always lacked for user-created content.  Put in your game disc, have the 360 take you to the downloadable content available, and have yourself a time.  Simple.  If they decide to allow it.

With the Xbox 360 finally bringing some of the key features of PC gaming to the console world, I think this will see the end of PC gaming.  PC gaming is already a hugely more expensive hobby than console gaming, and with the 360 eroding many of the advantages of PC gaming, switching over becomes that much more attractive.  Furthermore, the 360, out of the box, has games as graphically attractive as anything you’ll see on PC (the Call of Duty 2 demo on 360 is at least the graphical equal of its PC counterpart), which is sure to corral the shallower gamers among us.  After all, the first generation games are always the ugliest.  Compare some of the early Xbox games (say, Amped, Halo, DOA3, and Wreckless) to some of the latest games (Halo 2, Jade Empire, Half-Life 2, and Forza Motorsport): the difference, as always with consoles, is incredible.  Now, consider that developing for the 360, with its three processors, is a far harder transition for developers than working on the simplistic PC that was the Xbox, and realize that the jump this generation will be even bigger.  The graphical differences between console and PC have been slimming, and this generation should see them close even further.

In summary, don’t invest $3000 in an Alienware just yet.

Comments to intelligentgaming@gmail.com

4. Goodnight, and Good Riddance
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Description: Enjoy your Sony products now, my friends, because the party is ending.

For at least the last thirty or so years, Sony has lived (CDs) and died (Betamax) with their obsessive need for proprietary formats.  So obsessed were they with proprietary formats that they went out and became one of the largest distributors of music and movies, ensuring a never-ending stream of content for their devices.  In the mid-90s, they moved into the videogame market, working towards their goal of controlling every bit of entertainment you ever see, hear, or experience.

Of course, Sony only wants you to see, hear, and experience their content on their devices.  So much so that they’ll step over consumer desires and, as seen recently, the law to prevent you from doing anything you might actually like to do with your content.

Obsession is unhealthy, and Sony’s obsession with DRM is going to be their downfall.  From the PS3 to the recently unearthed rootkits they’ve been installing on people’s computers, we can see Sony making decisions that sound great in the boardroom (I assume), but that are completely, utterly foolish in the real world.

Let’s start with the PS3.  The PS3 is using Sony’s vaunted Blu-Ray drive.  A drive which, if you listen to Sony, is easily the superior technology to the competing HD-DVD standard.  Of course, if you look at real world performance, right now, HD-DVD far outstrips the Blu-Ray standard in really every way but one.  That one critical area where Blu-Ray exceeds HD-DVD is in the area of preventing the consumer from actually using the media.  Blu-Ray is relentlessly restrictive, and going from what the Blu-Ray group says about its copy protection capabilities, I can only believe that if I put a Blu-Ray disc in a computer, the disc will leap out and bite me.  When Microsoft and Intel abandon your standard because they are concerned that it’s too restrictive, you know there’s trouble.

Then there’s the similarly vaunted Cell processor.  Untested, unproven, really nothing but a bunch of large numbers that Ken Kutaragi likes to throw around.  Which is fine, we all know by now not to listen to anything Sony’s marketing arms spew out.  But what of the recent story reporting that one of the Cell’s 8 DSPs is not used for actual processing, but rather solely as a DRM chip?  Typical ridiculous Sony.

Looking around Digg the other day, I saw a story reporting that Sony has filed for a patent on technology to tie a game, movie, or whatever else they distribute on Blu-Ray discs to a single machine, making it unusable on any other machine.  Really, a masterstroke.  Bravo, Sony, you’ve found a way to force people to pay for your content once for every single piece of hardware they own.  Consumers will love it.  I mean, say you bought a Sony Blu-Ray player, and played some movies on it, and then one of the parts in the player failed because, you know, sometimes this high tech stuff just breaks.  That’s what warranties are for.  But you know, because Sony’s machine crapped out on you, you’re going to have to buy that movie again.  Through no fault of your own.  Of course, that puts a serious crimp in the business of many, many companies.  Perhaps you’re Gamestop, or Netflix, or simply a local resale shop.  Thanks to Sony, there’s a whole lot of stuff you can’t sell anymore.  Sorry!

Sony’s ideal world, which they are desperately trying to make real, is a world that treats consumers like dirt.  Sony seems to expect consumers to buy their products, on their media, from their content distributors, and buy it again and again and again if they want to take it somewhere else, play it on another machine, watch it multiple times.  Fortunately, consumers will figure this out, and stop buying Sony’s crap.  Obviously, very bad for Sony.

Now, Sony is a very, very large company.  Such a large company, you may think, could not possibly ever go under.  They’re too diverse, too well connected, and just too damn big to ever fail.  But consider this: Sony has been in something of a backslide for a while now.  Losing money.  They’re getting into big trouble left and right with the law (busted for payola recently, the rootkit DRM, etc.), which is going to cost them not only in legal fees, settlements, and such direct costs, but also a lot of negative publicity.  On their content distribution side, they’re a week away from seeing their biggest profit center, the Playstation 2, be left even further behind in the dust of the competition’s offerings.  Their big move into the handheld gaming market has been, well, a bust.  They may be selling a decent number of PSPs, and a decent number of UMD movies, but the video iPod is going to make that market dry up as soon as they get the content lined up (and they will), and the PSP is just lousy for gaming.  Certainly, it has a number of excellent games, but it’s a small number.  Shooting for style over substance, they’ve produced a gaming machine that just isn’t that well suited for gaming.  Beautiful screen, powerful graphics, and big name franchises, it has; decent battery life, games that are enjoyable on the go, and convenient, easy to use multiplayer it does not.  On the movie side of things, box office is down again, and the coming format war is not going to help anybody with their sales.

So, to sum that up, Sony is rather badly positioned right now.  Their revenue streams are down, and they don’t have anything coming soon that will reverse that trend.

When they finally do launch the PS3, which at this point they have to be banking on to pull them out of their troubles, they’re going to be a year late with an expensive system that does its absolute best to piss off consumers.  They are crippling their products to prevent the massive piracy that they feel is cutting into their bottom line.

The real problem with DRM, of course, is that it doesn’t work.  It’s been said countless times by countless people: the pirates will always find a way around your copy protection, and the average citizen is not going to steal your content.  The net effect of DRM is to provide an interesting weekend project for DVD Jon, and a difficult, frustrating experience for the typical end user.  This is simply bad business.  Ease of use and powerful functionality are the hallmarks of any successful consumer device; Sony is trying to build a world where nothing is easy to use, and any features you want you have to pay through the nose for.

I think this is going to be the downfall of Sony.  Consumer anger at Sony is rapidly rising, and rather than admit what they’ve done wrong and back down, Sony insists that everything they’ve done is in the interest of providing a better user experience.  People may have bought that once, but Sony cannot continue to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.  All the ill will they are engendering in their customers is going to come back and bite them, and they’ll be left floundering to be snapped up by somebody who hasn’t fallen out of the public’s good graces.

When I started writing this, I loaded up iTunes and set it to random.  How fitting that it kicked off with “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

5. So tell me what you want, what you really really want
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Description: I’ll go ahead and admit it: I’m stuck for ideas right now.  I can think of a variety of topics which have been heavily covered by everybody else, but very little original at the moment, having spent the last several hours reading articles in scholarly journals about The Canterbury Tales (college does have its low points, unfortunately).  So I ask you, the reader, what you want from me this week.  I could give you something about handheld gaming (something I don’t currently engage in, but have recently become interested in, with my interest being solely connected to the imminent launch of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection); politics in games (why politicians get involved, why people listen to them, and why it matters); why PC games are really, actually, finally on their last legs; gamer culture; why Sony’s obsession with proprietary formats will doom them (I’ve touched on this a bit in the past, but there’s a lot to be said here, especially in light of recent events); why Japan will lose importance in the gaming industry; and, in a throwback to the podcast days, a list of the most overrated games ever made.

So, tell me what you want.  intelligentgaming@gmail.com

I’ll take a look at the emails, and write something up about the most popular topic tomorrow.

6. Sports Games, the Internet, and MMOs, Oh My!
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Description: Sports video games, much as I love them, are among the most stagnant, underdeveloped games in the market today.  Since the jump to three dimensions, innovation in the genre has been limited to graphical updates, AI tweaks, and features that make the games more “realistic,” but which can never possibly make up for the glaring unrealities inherent in every sports game ever made.

Developers are going in the wrong direction with sports games because they have forgotten what is at the core of sports: teams.  Nearly every feature added to sports games has focused on the single player, from the 2K sports series’ “Cribs” to EA’s Race for the Heisman and Superstar modes in the latest football releases.  But it’s team play that makes sports great, and that’s what gamers will respond to most when one of these developers finally gets around to properly including it.

Sports games, more than any genre, demand cooperative play.  It’s the only way to a reasonably realistic experience.  And most sports games will let you have two or three players on the same team, even when you go online.  That is, quite simply, worthless to me.

I want to load up NHL 2K7 next year and have the option to go 6-on-6 over Live.  I want to load up a lobby, select my preferred position (left wing, for those of you scoring at home), and get matched up with players to fill out the other five slots, pitted against a team of similar skill, and have at it.

Ever since the original Madden, it’s been real, licensed teams and players that have driven sales of games.  Being able to pick up a game and take your favorite team to the championship was a tremendous draw (especially for long-suffering fans of teams like the Cubs and Bills, as I am).  And it’s gotten to the point that, faced with the loss of the NFL and NFLPA licenses, 2K Sports dropped out of the football game market entirely, with no sign of a re-emergence.  What they should do, however, is take a cue from EA’s Superstar modes.

No, I haven’t just contradicted myself.  Over the last couple of years, we have seen EA introduce features to draw the gamer in by letting the gamer recreate themselves as players at the highest levels.  Deep down, a lot of people out there still dream of being sports superstars, and EA lets them play that out to a limited extent.

Let’s step back a moment and think on the concept of clans in shooting games, MMOs, and what have you.  Clans are a very popular aspect of a lot of online games, yet which have never really been ported into the sports game world, simply because the online multiplayer options of sports games have been so limited.

Put those last two ideas together, and we have something I find very exciting.  Imagine, if you will, booting up Football 2K7, or what have you, and immediately creating yourself as a player.  Pick your position, size, look, etc., and determine your skill set from a limited pool of attribute points (as it’s pretty much always been done).  Sure, we have all the standard fake teams and players to play with in a single player mode.  But we won’t be bothering with the single player mode.  We’ll be headed straight online, where we will join together with friends and start an actual, honest to god team.  Get matched up with other teams and form our own league.  All of a sudden, you’ve recreated the sporting experience for the gamer more realistically than ever.  You take one position on each side of the ball, and you stick with it.  You practice that position, and you practice with your team.  You go up against the other teams in your league on set days, or just scrimmage other teams whenever you like.  Have the AI fill out positions if you can’t get a full eleven together (or can’t find five people who want to play the offensive line, and who can blame them?)

I think there are two reasons that EA, 2K Sports, and all the rest haven’t done something like this already.  First, the online technology is just now getting to the point where such a game would be feasible.  But the other reason is probably far more important to them, and is the reason why I don’t think they’re ready to do this yet: they still believe they need the licenses.

There’s been a huge phenomenon growing over the last couple of years, however, that proves them wrong.  In fact, I’d bet many of you are participating in it right now.  After all, who hasn’t at least dabbled in fantasy sports by now?  Fantasy sports, where team allegiances are broken and players are reduced from heroes to numbers.  Fans still want their home teams to win, but they also want their fantasy players to do well.  As a spectator, people care about the real teams and the real players.  But when we take it into the realm of interactivity, they stop caring.  It doesn’t matter if somebody plays for a hated rival, it matters if they’ll get you the eight points you need at that position.

The point is this: in fantasy football, it’s not the players who matter, it’s the owners.  It’s about the fan getting to be a part of the game, and that’s what sports games need to do.  Sure, the license is nice, but if you let fans form their own teams with each other, and compete against other people like them, it becomes unnecessary.  They become invested in their team and its success, even if they aren’t involved in every play.

See, in sports games today, the gamer is always the one doing everything.  I think the developers expect the gamer to get bored if they aren’t involved in a play, and when that play is being carried out by the CPU, I think they’re right.  But think about a game of Halo CTF.  At least one person is (hopefully) staying back and guarding the flag.  And oftentimes in that situation, that person will spend a lot of time sitting and waiting with nothing to do.  And they won’t be bored.  Sitting and guarding as part of a team isn’t a boring experience, it’s doing what you need to do to help your team win while your teammates are out doing what they need to do to help the team win.  So if I’m playing a baseball video game, and I’ve created myself as a left fielder, and nobody hits the ball to me for half the game, I’m okay with that, because I’m there, ready, to do whatever needs to be done.  The goalie in a soccer game won’t have much to do while there’s a corner kick at the other end, but that gamer is going to be sitting there rooting for his team to get it done, and preparing to bail them out if the ball starts coming back the other way.

Every major console developer is placing major emphasis on the online gaming experience this generation.  Sports games sell tons of units, but don’t provide terribly compelling online experiences at this point.  Make them my way, and suddenly everybody buying Madden is online playing it just as rabidly as they read Baseball Prospectus to try to make a killer trade for their fantasy team.  And once you’ve got them there, think of all the things you could sell them.  Sponsored tournaments with prizes for the winners, for a minute entry fee per player?  Sold.  Advanced stat-tracking capabilities?  No question.  Uniform and stadium upgrades?  Give some of it away free, but keep a little bit of it premium.  Again, what’s five dollars to a team of five?  Nothing.  What is it to EA when thousands of teams pony up five dollars for something that costs them essentially nothing to provide?  Easy money.  I think it’s high time the MMO experience found its way into a sports game, and I fervently hope that this generation, we’ll see it happen.

7. Lies, Damned Lies, and...well, damned lies
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Description: I'm sure many of you listen to Diggnation. If not, feel free to skip this here entry. But if you do, you surely caught the many factual errors made concerning the Nintendo Revolution during the most recent (episode 18) Diggnation podcast. I'm not generally one to nitpick, but it is my self-appointed mission to shine the light of civilization into the shadowy realm of videogame reporting, and thus I feel compelled to do this.

The problems arise as they talk about the story concerning the alleged launch of the Revolution worldwide in June 2006. This is not their first error; they read the story just fine. But I'd like to take a moment here and refute that rumor. The worldwide launch is confirmed. But a launch date of June 2006 makes no sense, and I don't believe Nintendo will do it. Why not? First, I don't think they'll have the games ready. At TGS, they could only show very rough demos. You don't go from that to next-gen caliber games in less than a year, no matter how easy to develop for the system is. Nintendo themselves might have a few games ready by then, but they need third parties at launch, and they know it, and I don't think third parties can be ready for that in time. Second, and more convincingly, a launch in the middle of the summer is commercial suicide. Already there are almost no major game releases during the summer, and for very good reason: there's no market. Nobody is interested in buying videogames during the summer; they'd rather be outside while the weather is nice. People go on vacation. Good for handhelds, bad for consoles. As much as I might like to have the Revolution in June, I don't think it would make any kind of business sense to launch it in such a low-demand period of the year.

From there, Kevin and Alex start making mistakes. First, Kevin notes that June 2006 seems like "too little, too late." Too little remains to be seen, but too late? Despite Sony's half-hearted insistence that they'll launch next spring, I don't see any way that's happening, and I don't think most people believe the system will be out that early (perhaps in Japan, but that still puts an American release long after the summer).

Kevin goes on to (as he has many times) call Nintendo "the kid's console." Of course, he acknowledges the fact that he doesn't play console games, so perhaps he can be forgiven for not having played kiddy games like Killer 7, Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime, Eternal Darkness, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, and other games for the system that are hardly suitable for younger audiences. The claim that Nintendo is a kid's console seems mostly to be based on the plethora of bright, happy Mario games, but since when did happy mean childish? I've had far more fun playing Mario Power Tennis with a couple of buddies than churning away at meaninglessly gory crap like Manhunt. An M rating does not a game for adults make. Honestly, games like Leisure Suit Larry could only appeal to teenage boys or very lonely men, where a game like Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, criticized by many for having "childish" graphics, has far more depth, more compelling storytelling, and a more complete experience. If only kids get games with stories and fun, hand me my pacifier.

Alex criticizes the controller, stating that, perhaps because Nintendo is a "kids" market, they seem to have ignored the fact that people drink, and that drunken playing of games with the controller could result in injury to the player. Now, I don't doubt that that's true. But again, what's mature about getting so hammered that you hurt somebody with a videogame controller? That's high school behavior guys, come on.

Alex "looked at the schematics on it." From the very, very powerful specs he attributes to the system, I think what he looked at was the story that surfaced a few weeks ago that an employee of Factor 5 had leaked detailed tech specs on the Revolution onto the net and that they were leagues beyond the XBox 360 or the PS3. If you'll recall, Matt Cassamassina from IGN refuted that claim in the IGN Mailbag, and had this quote from the president of Factor 5: "Han Solo is a scoundrel, we all know that, but in this case he isn´t a very clever scoundrel. That so-called employee of ours posting on message boards under the Han Solo name certainly isn´t employed at Factor 5 or working in any way for us. He isn´t speaking for the company and he better change his story as to where he has his information from, or we will be forced to take legal action against him." Nintendo has said all along that they aren't competing with XBox 360 or PS3 and that in terms of sheer horsepower, the system will not keep up with those two systems. They have not "totally redesigned it" as Alex says. Wishful thinking cannot make it more powerful.

They were so close about the backwards compatability with all the systems. Until Alex said that you can play all those games "for free." Satoru Iwata has said that, while a pricing model is not yet established, there will be a price. Come on, this is the same company that charged twenty bucks a pop for GBA re-releases of NES games last year. They aren't going to give these things away.

I understand that our esteemed hosts probably don't spend that much time keeping up with this sort of thing, and that they're drunk. But there's enough misinformation out there. Maybe with all that venture capital Digg got they can hire a fact checker.

As always, comments to intelligentgaming@gmail.com

8. To Hell in a Handbasket
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Description: Going through the email everybody’s been sending me, I’ve noticed a common theme: a strong distaste for Electronic Arts. It seems that the general consensus is that EA games are too derivative, rushed, and license-dependent.

I’m not going to argue that those things aren’t true, nor am I going to excuse EA for some of the very real flaws in their business model, but I’m not going to accuse EA of being the evil empire the way many have.

Electronic Arts is the logical endpoint of the industry as it stands now. Profit is king, as in any business, but to more of an extent than at many developers or publishers. To that end, EA follows a rigid, predictable course with their games, one which I’m sure you’re all familiar: grab a license, make the game, follow with yearly sequels if it sells.

Does that model stifle creativity? Of course. Does it lead to bug-ridden, expansion-pack style sequels? Naturally. Does it force out original IP? Internally, yes. Does it lead to sub-par games? This is where I disagree with many of you.

Part of what makes EA so profitable is that they know what gamers want. They know that, unlike the movie industry, gamers will not flock to bad games just because of a pretty trailer. Quite sensibly, they put a lot of effort not only into getting their games out on a timely basis, but on making them enjoyable. When I see an EA game on the shelf, I know that it’s derivative, and probably has more than it’s share of bugs, but I also know for sure that it’s going to be a good game.

Think back over all the EA games you’ve played. A lot of them are forgettable, and most of the ones that stand out are games that were developed externally and bought out before release (most notably, Burnout), but nearly every one of them is a solid, perfectly enjoyable game.

EA is the safest game publisher out there. Everything they release is virtually guaranteed to be a decent game and sell very well. It’s also almost virtually guaranteed that there will be better games available in that same genre. I can’t blame EA for that. They give you a good game, and they take your money.

At the same time, the EA model represents the direction all games are heading. It’s become a sad reality that original IP tends not to do very well (the fact that the lackluster sales of Beyond Good and Evil, an utterly fantastic game, scuttled plans to make it a trilogy was crushing). Why not? Because licensing is a great way to bring in more customers.

The best example of the power of licensing is, of course, Madden. Certainly, the NFL was quite popular at the inception of the Madden franchise. But John Madden himself doesn’t mean anything to most gamers today. Yet despite being the weaker of the two major football entries ever since Sega Sports launched NFL 2K, Madden has consistently been the top-selling football game for years, and is always one of the best-selling games of the year. EA was able to build up a loyal base, and a lot of media attention, with their consistently good annual football release. Now, the release of a new Madden game is covered by ESPN and AP, with actual NFL players talking about how much they love the game. Obviously, professional football players are not the most credible game reviewers you could find, but you can’t get better marketing than that.

Then again, last year, the NFL 2K series finally starting catching up in sales, thanks to a superior product and aggressive price point. So EA used the license to kill it. Again, I can’t fault EA for making this move (although I won’t deny that I said a number of not very nice things about them the day the news broke that they’d gotten the exclusive license). And that simple act, wresting the license away from the competition, killed the best sports franchise going.

So everything is going well for EA now. But there’s a problem with this dependency on licensing IP from other forms of entertainment. EA’s success is forcing the competition to adopt a similar business model, and now games that would be perfectly fine as an IP get a famous name from another branch of the media tacked on to boost the sales. Take Splinter Cell. A great game series that needed a way to one-up Metal Gear Solid. Slap on the name of a bestselling author and you’ve got yourself a hit.

But what happens when every game is based on material from other realms? Suddenly, video games are no longer a form of entertainment all their own. They become an extension of movies, of TV, of comics. What, then, is the need for games? A video game is more expensive than a DVD, yet these days games barely last longer than a feature film. Books and comics offer more imaginative material at a fraction of the price of games, and without the need for thousands of dollars of high technology.

For any form of entertainment to succeed, it has to offer a different experience than anything else. With the way things are going, the day will arrive when games are little different from movies, and suddenly those two industries are in direct conflict. Problem is, games are dependent on Hollywood for licenses. And if Hollywood gets any inkling that games are cutting into their profits, at best, they’ll want a bigger cut from game sales, and it’s possible that they’d just cut off games entirely. Either could be devastating to the game industry, forcing development costs and thus retail prices ever higher, and losing the licenses they need to sell their games.

So the point here is, if, as Nintendo says, the video game industry is going to hell, EA seems to be driving the bus. Electronic Arts may be the biggest third party publisher in the gaming industry today, but I think a more forward-thinking business plan is a necessity.

On a more mundane topic, sorry for the delay with posting this. I just returned from a constitutional in Paris (not as luxurious as it sounds), during which I, get this, had no access to the internet. I don’t want to lock myself into only one posting a week, but look for at least one post, most likely every Wednesday. I may do more, I may not, but at least one a week from here on out.

Send comments to intelligentgaming@gmail.com.

9. What if?
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Description: Follow me into a land of speculation and magic, complete with fanciful unicorns!

So, the videogame industry is generating more than ten billion dollars in revenue annually.  Yet there are only three major console manufacturers, and two major handheld manufacturers (obviously the N-Gage doesn’t count).  This situation cannot last.  What other industry this size has so few major players?  None that I can think of.  So what if we see another company jump into the home console market?

I’m quite sure we will, and probably sooner rather than later.  What company might that be?  Well, I’m thinking of a company that’s currently rather like Sony was ten years ago when they launched the Playstation.  It’s a company that makes and markets pretty much any gadget you can think of.  They’re based in a country with a burgeoning gaming market.  Definitely a giant corporation with the deep pockets to bleed money establishing a console in the marketplace.  So why, then, hasn’t Samsung launched a home console yet?  If they haven’t seriously explored the possibility, I have to wonder about them.  Given how gaming-oriented some of their cell phones have been, it’s clear that they’re at least thinking along those lines.

Korea is a huge market for online gaming.  And we’ve yet to see a home console properly equipped for such a thing (although the Xbox 360 looks pretty strong in that regard, I’ll call it equipped when I see a functioning MMO go up).  Why not put together a solid little console, optimized for online gaming, and see how it goes?

In other news, I’ve decided to take Intelligent Gaming back to its roots (pretty young roots, but hey, who cares) and put the podcast to bed.  Generally, the podcast has consisted of me putting down a few notes about something I’d like to talk about, then kind of rambling for several minutes, and there you go.  Obviously, this lacks more than a little in the quality department.  So I thought, hey, why not actually write these things out beforehand, and then read them?  Commonplace idea, two problems: It takes a lot more time doing it that way, and I don’t think the way I write adapts very well to pure audio (it’s far too parenthetical, you see).  It’s not impossible that I’ll bring the podcast back one day, but for now it’s back to the written word.

On the bright side, this will probably result in more frequent updates, since it takes me far less time to write something out like this than to record, edit, wrangle with Ourmedia, and post a podcast.  Look forward to something at least once a week, and more if I’m in that mood.

It’s also nice to see that gaming media luminaries such as Matt Cassamassina (see IGN Cube’s 14 October mailbag) are espousing the same viewpoints regarding the coming generation of consoles that I first wrote up in the inaugural post here.  But I digress.

Keep sending your comments to intelligentgaming@gmail.com, and come by the site to see what’s happening.

10. Convergence
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Description: Or, why Nintendo might actually be right

I don't remember when people started slinging around the word "convergence" to describe where the home console experience was headed. It's been going on for a long time, I believe.

Supposedly, XBox 360 and PS3 are going to bring us to this magical place, replacing our stereos, DVD players, and maybe even TiVos. They will be able to do far more than just play videogames.

The assumption here is that people will want their consoles to do more than just play videogames. In Japan, that might actually be the case, with the desire for compact solutions firmly entrenched in the culture, to the point that PS2, I believe, is already the most common DVD player found in homes.

But given Japan's relatively small size, it is not where the console wars will be won and lost. America's vast market is the real battleground for Sony and Microsoft. And in America, nobody wants to have their console do everything.

The problem with putting all the functionality in one box is that it is more complicated than people will want to deal with. This is a country, after all, where practically nobody could figure out how to set the time on a VCR. Why are they expected to be able to easily use a console that looks for all the world like a grill to record TV shows, watch movies, store files from their computer, and god knows what else Kutaragi intends the PS3 to be used for?

Perhaps the tech-savvy of the nation would be able to do it, but why would they want to? Specialized devices are always superior to all-in-one solutions, and no self-respecting tech nut would forsake the best components for a ridiculous notion like efficiency or space-saving. I've never used my Xbox to play DVDs, I never used my PSX to listen to CDs, and I don't expect I'll be using an XBox 360 to display my digital pictures on a TV screen.

The fact is, convergence goes against the basic nature of the console experience. The biggest difference between console gaming and PC gaming is that console gaming is simple, easy, and convenient. If you buy a leading console, you know that you have what you need to play many of the best games for the next four or five years. Buy an expensive PC and you've just locked yourself into an endless cycle of hardware upgrades and driver updates and bizarre software problems that take forever to resolve. People buy consoles because they don't want to hassle with all of that garbage.

So what are Microsoft and Sony doing? Introducing complex functionality well beyond simple gaming to the console. Elaborate online community capabilities. USB inputs, and with them support for MP3 players, cameras, and probably a boatload of other things. File management. Removable hard drives. Video chats. And to get regular people to use all this functionality, there will have to be special input devices becaus people don't know what to do with those scary controllers, all covered in joysticks and buttons that don't say anything more useful than "Back."

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited about some of those things, mostly the expanded online functionality that promises to make it a bit more human, along with helping to identify jackasses who will just ruin things for everybody else. But the idea behind convergence, supposedly, is to get people who might not normally get a game system on board. And I've been on board since I was five years old, back on the original NES. Sony and Microsoft are preaching to the choir, because most of that stuff is not going to be of interest to the general public.

I think the reason that convergence is still basically mythical is that it doesn't work. Not many people want it. The people who will be interested in all this new stuff are the people who already play console games. Sony and Microsoft are not going to bring new people into the market with their new systems.

Nintendo will.

To gamers, most of Nintendo's announcements regarding the Revolution have sounded bizarre at best and suicidal at worst. A very small increase in power over Gamecube? No high definition support? How can they expect third parties to develop for it? Who will buy a cross-platform game on Revolution when it can't possibly be as good? About the only thing that people seem interested is the platform's ability to play all of Nintendo's great games from the past. This should have been a clue to people. So should the Nintendo DS. It is clear where Nintendo is going, and it may be simple denial that gamers aren't realizing it.

Nintendo is abandoning the hardcore. It doesn't want to slug it out with Sony and Microsoft for the same audience. Instead, they are really going after new customers. And unlike Sony and Microsoft, they are going to get them.

Look at their announcements regarding DS software like Nintendogs. It's been reported that the game is selling very well to a traditionally small market for games: girls. They want to develop software that will interest older customers.

Video games have always appealed generally to young men, the coveted 18-34 year old demographic. But so far there has been very little to appeal to people outside of that demographic, and it doesn't take a genius to see that that leaves out most potential customers.

These potential customers are, generally speaking, not the most proficient users of technology. That doesn't mean that they don't want to own it, just that they aren't terribly skilled at using it. Anybody who grew up in the 1990s is almost guaranteed to be better at working with computers than their parents are, yet their parents are the people who are going to see the PS3 on the store shelf and decide against having it because it's just too damn complicated to bother with, especially since there isn't much there that they want that they don't already have. There aren't many functions being talked about in the next generation consoles that aren't already in PCs, and given the choice between the two, most people are going to with a PC because there's a lot more in the way of useful, everyday functionality to be found there.

It's also possible that some of these people played a lot of the classic Nintendo games, and would relish the chance to play them again. For instance, my parents used to play a lot of Nintendo games, mostly Tetris and Mario. They stopped playing after the Super Nintendo because, at that point, the games became too complicated and involved for them to want to bother with. They didn't have the kind of free time that kids do to really dig into really complex games and learn how to handle them. And they didn't grow up playing the things, so they don't have that innate ability to figure out how games control, how things will work.

Also bear in mind that to a lot of older people, Nintendo is essentially synonymous with console gaming. When the industry was really taking off, Nintendo was easily the biggest console maker in the world, with a market share that makes Sony's current market share look pathetic. By the time Playstation has wrested control of the market from Nintendo, older people had tuned out completely.

Now, put a sub-$200 system in front of them with the promise of simple controls, the ability to play all of the classic games for a minimal fee, and great new games for far lower prices than for games on other systems, and you'll sell a lot of consoles. Plus, the ability to connect with Junior's DS (it would be silly for Nintendo not to include this functionality) means there's something for the whole family. Nintendo has always said it wants to produce games for the whole family. This has led to most people branding the company as kid-oriented. But there is little need to pander to kids; they'll play anything. Nintendo wants to get at the parents.

Most of the hardcore gamers out there have been predicting doom for Nintendo for a long time now, and have been spurred on by Nintendo's announcements regarding their next system. In doing so, they are revealing a remarkably limited view. The fact is, Nintendo is doing quite well. DS is selling very well, and GBA hasn't slowed down terribly. Gamecube isn't doing all that well, but on the other hand, Nintendo isn't losing as much money per system as Microsoft. With Revolution, I don't expect that they will lose any money on the console, or at least very little. With an emphasis on ease of development and simple games that anybody can pick and play, the games will not cost that much to develop and thus will not be very expensive for consumers.

The fact is, games are becoming a worse and worse value. The amount of entertainment you get from your fifty dollars is shrinking rapidly. Take even a great recent game, BioWare's Jade Empire. The game hooked me completely. Everything about it radiated quality and entertainment. I beat the main game in 18 hours. I started again with an eye toward going back and doing what few side quests I hadn't already done, but haven't gotten more than an hour into the second play through because there simply isn't much to draw me into it to play it again. The recent trend in games seems to have been creating a fairly short game with a morality system or other gimmick that promises a different experience the next time through. I haven't yet seen a game that does this effectively. What you get is some different NPC dialogue, a couple of different spells and weapons, and a different ending. The rest of the game remains the same. I don't want to play through the same area multiple times, each time as a slightly more badass main character. I want new locations, new quests, new challenges entirely. Fifty dollars for 18 hours is not a good deal, and if Jade Empire weren't such a spectacular game, I would have been very unhappy.

On the other hand, if I got 18 hours of entertainment out of a $20 game, I woud be thrilled. Katamari Damacy, for instance, is a very short game. But it cost next to nothing and was a ton of fun to play. I expect that a lot of Revolution's software will offer a similar experience: simple, fun, and inexpensive. To a casual gamer or a non-gamer, this is perfect.

And even the hardcore may be drawn in to the Revolution by the ability to play through Nintendo's back catalogue. With the sheer volume of games released for most systems, there are plenty of great games from the past that a lot of gamers never got a chance to play. Games that are still really rewarding to play, even if they are horribly dated. I think a lot of people would be willing to drop $150 on a Revolution for the chance to play all those old games that they missed out on the first time through, especially since they won't cost very much.

Finally, there is the actual "Revolution" in game control that Nintendo has been promising. We all have plenty of ideas as to what it might be, but we're all pretty much in the dark. But I know this: there are some genres that don't work that well on consoles but do on PCs (strategy games chief among them). This is why most PC gamers want nothing to do with consoles. But suppose that Nintendo's control system made those games function well on a console. With PC component costs spiraling ever higher, a lot of PC gamers might be willing to come over to the hugely cheaper alternative that could still give them the kind of games they love. I don't know if Nintendo's Revolution will do this, but if it could, they would pick up a lot of customers right there.

So basically, Nintendo has turned its back on the current gaming populace. They aren't trying to push them away, they just seem pretty much indifferent to that demographic. But far from business suicide, this is in fact going to open up a huge new market for their products. The fact is, nobody has ever brought out a game machine that appealed to women as much as it does to men, and to the old as much as it does to the young. Nintendo is going to do that, and they've been telling us as much all along. How many times has Iwata said that they won't really be competing with Sony and Microsoft next generation? And yet people insist on comparing speculative Revolution tech specs to those of XBox 360 and PS3, and judging Nintendo the loser. That is just silly. The fact is, while Sony and Microsoft fight a war for the money of twenty-something men, Nintendo is going to be going after every other demographic, with no real competition. If they do it right, and I think they will, they will come out of the next generation as the king of interactive entertainment, as they have stated they wish to be. Will they be making the games that the hardcore want to play? Probably not. But just because they aren't catering to us anymore doesn't mean they're going out of business.

11. To Reiterate
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Description: There is this absurd notion still prevailing that Nintendo has resigned itself to being a niche player in the videogame industry. Despite the fact that they have repeatedly said they want to be on top.

This is not a difficult issue. To distill what I said in the previous post in a more concise, easy to digest bulleted list, since honestly most people probably won't have the attention span to wade through all that:

All three major players have said that they want to bring new gamers into the fold with their new consoles.Sony and Microsoft are planning to do it by offering exactly the same kind of games that most people already aren't interested in and high-end multimedia functionality that most people won't be able to figure out how to use.Nintendo intends to bring people in by making games simple, cheap, fun, and quick.One of these strategies seems far more likely to actually bring in a new crop of gamers.Nintendo doesn't really care particularly about the hardcore market because the hardcore market clearly represents less than most of the people in the world.How about a nice, easy analogy? To say that Nintendo is moving into a niche role would be like calling Walmart a niche player in the retail industry: rather than cater to a subset of rabid consumers, they are attempting to bring a simple, low-cost solution to everybody.If you still think Nintendo are aiming for third, you're an idiot. Simple as that. Obviously I have no idea if Nintendo will be successful in this pursuit. Will I buy a Revolution? Yes, given that it will most likely not cost very much. I suspect it will not be my preferred console of the next generation, since I am something of a hardcore gamer and I like big, sprawling, complex, pretty games. But that doesn't mean that Nintendo isn't trying to be and will not be successful. Will I buy a PS3? Not until it's a whole lot cheaper than I expect it to be, or I suddenly become a whole lot richer. Will I buy an Xbox 360? Quite possibly, given that it is poised to retail cheaper than PS3 and has a lot of talented developers behind it. But it's not a sure thing. In fact, I only regard one of these consoles as a sure purchase, even though I don't expect to like it the most. I think a lot of gamers will go that way, and all of a sudden, Nintendo is doing quite well for themselves even with hardcore gamers.

12. The Big Winner
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Description: I think the common consensus is that Sony won the current generation of console gaming with the Playstation 2. I think this is wrong.

Yes, I know it is way ahead of the competition in number of units sold, software sales, and all the rest. But to take those facts and decide that Sony wins is remarkably short sighted.

In fact, I believe that Microsoft won this generation, and won it handily.

Microsoft went from uncool corporate giant, hated by many gamers, to the company behind the #2 console with many of the generation's best games and the most important development of this generation of consoles, XBox Live. In less than four years, they crashed their way into a huge market in which they have previously been completely uninvolved. They have their key franchises and developers established. And they will be first to launch with their new console, poised to dominate the holiday season. Going into the next generation, they are in very good shape.

This is especially due to XBox Live, the impact of which has been vastly underrated by the general game media, I think. Previously, internet gaming was the sole province of PC games, and a lot of console-only gamers probably didn't even realize what they were missing out on. I myself always felt that playing against people right there in the room with you was an experience that could never be matched. Having now played my share of 30 plus player games, I know that I was wrong (well, not precisely. It would still be better to have these kind of games at a massive lan party, but this is simply not practical. I can't turn on my XBox and have 31 other people magically pop up with systems and TVs.) With Live, it was made clear that console gamers want to play online, and they don't mind paying a premium to do it.

Having an established online backbone is a huge advantage to Microsoft going into next generation. Nobody knows what Sony is going to do, perhaps not even Sony themselves. But whatever they do, it's going to be untested and unproven in the eyes of gamers, and it's going to be a big problem for Sony if they can't get something as in-depth and cool as XBox Live is shaping up to be.

So Microsoft have established themselves as a force in the console industry in less than four years, and set themselves up in the pole position for next generation. How does this qualify as a win for Sony, again?