Archive for May, 2005

Next Generation Console Support Strong

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

(First published in the May 23, 2005 issue of Jon Peddie’s TechWatch)

With the announcement of next generation consoles in triplicate during E3 last week, we hit the show floor to see what software publishers had to say, mostly with their actions, about their support for the boxes.

Universally, publishers indicated that they would certainly be support one or more of the next generation consoles at some point. But details were short in many cases. A number of publishers indicated that they would announce specific titles in development at some point after E3 as they did not want to distract their audience from current generation console titles they were working on or releasing. Others indicated that they were still in negotiations with the console makers.

It’s perhaps not well understood, but game console makers have enormous influence in the development of new titles for their consoles. Such influence includes required approval for the creative concept, on-going evaluation of the title during the development process, usability testing, conformance testing, and more. So in addition to facing internal resource allocation issues and deadlines for development, publishers need to also make sure the console makers stay appeased. One European publisher we spoke to complained that a title they had ready late last year and had announced for shipment in time for the Christmas game buying season, didn’t make it out until E3 because the console maker’s European and American offices kept ping ponging the product and its approval between each other, and telling the publisher it was the other’s responsibility. And without the console maker’s approval, they could not ship.

With respect to our man on the street (or on the show floor, in this case) survey, those who were willing to share specific titles were typically vague about release dates, as well as support for anything beyond the soonest to ship console, namely the Xbox 360. With one exception, no company was willing to publicly commit to support for the Nintendo Revolution. That should come as no surprise with Nintendo keeping details about the Revolution very close to the vest, however.

On the flip side, Electronic Arts announced quite publicly at the Xbox 360 media briefing six specific titles they intended to release at or near launch. They also showed yet another title in development at the Sony PS3 briefing earlier that day, and as if that weren’t enough, issued a press release stating that they actually had 25 games in development for next generation consoles. That means 18 more titles they will be telling us about in the coming months.

And Microsoft announced that more than 160 titles were in development for the Xbox 360, and that of those 25-40 would be available at or near the launch date later this year.

While the original intent of our research was to create a chart to show which games will be available on which combination of consoles, we found virtually no overlap in titles between the Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation 3, the stated reason being that the Playstation 3 launch date is approximately a half year after the anticipated launch date of the Xbox 360, and as stated before, publishers are taking a “first things first” attitude.


Titles Announced for the Microsoft Xbox 360:

Publisher
(Developer)

Title

2K Games (3DRealms)

Prey

2K Games (Bethesda Softworks)

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

2K Sports

Amped 3

2K Sports

NBA 2K6

2K Sports

NHL 2K6

2K Sports

Top Spin 2

Activision

Call of Duty 2**

Activision

Quake IV

Activision

Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland

Activision (Neversoft)

GUN

Atari

Test Drive Unleashed

EIDOS

Tomb Raider Legend

Electronic Arts

FIFA 06

Electronic Arts

Madden NFL 06

Electronic Arts

NBA Live 06

Electronic Arts

Need For Speed Most Wanted

Electronic Arts

The Godfather: The Game

Electronic Arts

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06

Majesco

Darkness*

Majesco

Demonic**

Microsoft Studios (Bizarre Creations)

Gotham Racing
3

Microsoft Studios (Epic Games)

Gears of War**

Microsoft Studios (Mistwalker)

Blue Dragon

Microsoft Studios (Mistwalker)

Lost Odyssey

Microsoft Studios (Rare)

Kameo: Elements
of Power

Microsoft Studios (Rare)

Perfect Dark: Zero

Midway

Stranglehold***

NAMCO

City
Killers

Sega of America

Condemned: Criminal Origins

Sega of America

Full Auto

Square Enix

Final Fantasy XI

Tecmo

Dead or Alive 4

THQ

Saint’s Row

THQ

The Outfit

Ubisoft

Ghost Recon 3

Vivendi Universal
Games

Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction

Vivendi Universal
Games

Scarface

* = Announced for both Xbox 360 and PS3

** = Exclusive to the Xbox 360

*** = Midway says Stranglehold will be available for all three next generation
consoles


Sony PS3 Games:

Publisher
(Developer)

Title

Bandai

Gundam

Capcom

Devil May Cry 4

Electronic Arts

Fight Night 06

Evolution Studio

MotorStorm

Guerrilla

KillZone 2

Incognito

WarHawk

Insomniac

I-8

Koei

Ni-oH

Konami

Metal Gear Solid 4

LiverPool Studio

Formula 1

Majesco

Darkness*

Midway

Stranglehold***

Namco

Tekken

Ninja Theory

Heavenly Sword

Polyphony Digital Inc

Vision GT

Rockstar

Untitled**

Sega

Fifth Phantom Saga

Sony Computer
Entertainment of Japan

Eyedentify

Square Enix

Final Fantasy VII

Square Enix

Final Fantasy XII

Soho

Getaway Screen Test

Ubisoft

Killing Day

* = Announced for both Xbox 360 and PS3

** = This may be a sequel to Rockstar’s Red Dead
Revolver – we only saw a Western gunslinger sort of clip at the Sony PS3 briefing
from Rockstar.

*** = Midway says Stranglehold will be available for all three next generation
consoles


Nintendo Revolution

Publisher
(Developer)

Title

Midway

Stranglehold*

Nintendo

Metroid Prime
3

Nintento

Legend of Zelda**

* = Midway says Stranglehold will be available for all three next generation
consoles

** = A commitment was made to a new Zelda product on the Revolution, but
the exact title was not revealed.

And Then There Were Ten…

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

(This article first appeared in the May 23, 2005 issue of Jon Peddie’s TechWatch)

This past week in E3, three new game-capable entertainment devices were added to the existing roster of such devices. Seven, you ask? Well, let’s enumerate them:

1) PSOne

2) Playstation 2

3) Xbox

4) GameCube

5) Gameboy (all flavors)

6) Nintendo DS

7) PSP

And that doesn’t even include the dozens of 1980s-era retro games being reintroduced in smaller packages from Jakks Pacific and the reborn Intellivision Corporation – products which are selling in the millions of units.

Why I am lumping hand held, old generation and current generation devices in my count anyway?

Because these devices all compete, more or less, for the same entertainment dollars. Excluding our own well-equipped homes – I have every one of the seven devices above, and in most cases, more than one of them, plus two older generation consoles in my home – that’s extreme, no doubt.

It could be argued that a more average person who owns a Gameboy may well own a GameCube or other console as well, or may just own multiple types of consoles. I would propose that such people are in the minority. However, even for these people, it likely often comes down to spending money on a game for the Gameboy or other portable, or for the console.

The seven aforementioned devices appeal to people for various reasons – price, portability, additional features, and breadth of software support high among those. Why else would Sony still be selling the original Playstation in the same locations that it sells PS2s? Why would there still be hundreds of original Playstation titles being sold in your local Best Buy or Toys R’ Us?

I am hard pressed to believe that someone who owns a PS2 would still use a PSOne and be buying PSOne games – they will be buying PS2 games instead. That implies that there are still a fair number of people out there who own and still use PSOne systems.

Flash forward to mid-2006. The Xbox 360 has been out for a half year and is selling moderately well, even at its initial $349 price point. Dozens of new original Xbox titles have also been released (some of which won’t run on the Xbox 360 due to emulator problems), and new ones are still being released to take advantage of the millions of Xbox consoles in use. On-going Xbox game development is further spurred because the original Xbox’s price has been further slashed to $99, meaning people who had previously held off buying one have plunked down money for an Xbox.

The Sony scenario is pretty similar. The PS3 has just started shipping at a price of $399 (it’s technologically superior to the Xbox 360 in many ways), and many new PS2 titles have come out recently and more are on the way, and the PS2 is now selling for $99 (and Sony’s making money on it even at that price because of that great job they did miniaturizing the PS2 in the Fall of 2004).

The Nintendo Revolution still hasn’t been released, but will soon launch to much anticipation from die-hard-Nintendo-adoring fans. Again, GameCube games continue to be released and sell reasonably well. The GameCube price drops to $69 just to cost differentiate their console against the PS2 and Xbox.

However, the number of dollars available to be spent on game hardware and game software has not significantly increased from the year prior. So now the next generation consoles are competing for the same dollars that the now-old generation products are garnering. Sure, there’s a spike after release when the early adopters like us buy one of everything just to check it out, but the average gamer doesn’t have the gaming budget professionals like us have, so they have to be more selective.

To make matters worse, all these new consoles, and even the handheld devices to some extent, are multi-function, multi-media devices. They don’t just play games – they play movies too! And they require special media for optimal use – like Blu-Ray DVDs for the PS3 or UMDs for the PSP.

And they play music, which you can purchase on-line, spending more of your finite entertainment resources. And don’t forget the subscription fees and other extra fees to buy more levels for games, more gear for your characters, and everything else things like the Xbox Marketplace promise to offer.

And now that the identity of the game console has been morphed into being a general purpose multi-media hub in your living room, does game playing on the box actually lose significance? Will Xbox 360 owners be spending more time recording TV programs, mixing music, chatting on-line with friends instead of playing (and spending money on) the latest video games?

And meanwhile, older consoles will still have a healthy following among those who can’t afford the new consoles, and the HD TVs which really show off their capabilities.

This effort by Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo to take a specialized box like a video game console and make it a generic home appliance with many diverse multi-media functions is making video game industry members nervous because they are concerned that will dilute sales of video games. Doug Lowenstein of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), during his opening address at E3 last week, was very clear on the point that the game industry competes with the film industry (and by extension the television programming industry). Money spent on DVDs, HD-DVD, Blu-Ray DVDs, or UMD movies for that matter is money not spent on video games.

And it’s not going to help that next generation games will likely be even more expensive – EBGames.com has already been listing some next generation titles for a price of $60, and that may not even be enough because of the increased resource requirement to develop better and more compelling visuals to justify the use of HD output, and better AI and physics and gameplay to take advantage of the advanced processors in the new consoles. And let’s not forget the improved on-line game dynamics and multiplayer scenarios that will need to be part of most next generation console titles.

Microsoft in particular is in a hard place – they need to do whatever they can to not discourage developers from supporting the original Xbox, at least until such time as the Xbox 360 ships in volume, but they also cannot guarantee that all original Xbox games will play on the Xbox 360 because software emulation is rarely perfect, especially when it comes along as late in the game as it appears to have for Microsoft. Certainly current Xbox game developers will try and ensure their titles run on the Xbox 360, but I suspect it will be messy.

No doubt Sony and Nintendo are doing software emulation of older systems as well because their new architectures are (or will be) drastically different from the current generation, but there have been no indications that there will be significant compatibility issues running PS2 (or PSOne) titles on a PS3, and Nintendo has even taken the bold step of guaranteeing compatibility with all Nintendo content, ranging back to the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Such guarantees (or at least implications) of backward compatibility should give comfort developers of current PS2 and GameCube titles that they will not be abandoned, and in fact will have an even larger market to sell their titles into.

So, where does this leave the industry? With ten devices fighting for the revenue of seven devices, and worse yet, competing with earlier models of themselves.