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HOW SONY AND MICROSOFT CAN CUT THEIR OWN THROATS

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To put this in the simplest of terms, the way the title of this article can happen is if either or both of these hardware manufacturers do one thing, charge the gaming public to activate used games. The news releases of EA ending their online pass program is just the first reason why trying to extort extra money just for buying a game that’s already been played will not work. For those of you that have not yet read about EA ending a much maligned policy of theirs their reasoning is as follows “Many players didn’t respond to the format. We’ve listened to the feedback and decided to do away with it moving forward.” This translates from business speak to layman’s English as ‘We were not making a profit.’

Take heed Sony and/or Microsoft. If the 2nd largest 3rd party publisher has already tried and abandoned the tactics that you may well be on the cusp of unveiling to the public then your system is doomed from the start. It is one thing to have individual games lock content up behind a pay wall, but an entire system? The incredible poostorm that has surrounded EA and other companies using online passes to access their multiplayer components after a copy has moved from the ‘new’ to ‘used’ bin will be incredibly miniscule compared to having a paywall thrown up blocking me and other gamers from playing a single player game, let alone multiplayer.

200px-CMOT_Dibbler
Please be smarter than the Discworld Dibblers.

I know I’m only one person and this is anecdotal evidence but I spend almost 90% of my purchasing power on used games and almost never buy a game at launch. When I do it is something I have eagerly been waiting for months to come out and hone in on my targets with the precision of a falcon. I do not pre-order something if I have any shred of doubt that the game might not be good, hence I tend to stick with only a few series which see sporadic releases. Most of the used games I buy are in the $5-10 region and I’m perfectly fine waiting 1 or 2 years for the price to get there. So if either Sony or MS want to charge me an extra $5 to activate a used game and essentially double my investment, they will lose 100% of my business.

No hardware, no pre-orders, no software, no collector’s editions, no used games, nothing, nada, zilch.

I will say this once, do not forget it. Your customers are your backbone, defy them and you lose them. Your publishers are greedy snobs, listen to them and you defy your consumers. If these rumors end up being confirmed I will happily go out and buy a brand new Wii U and 4-5 brand new games just to support more level headed and less obvious cash grabby, greedy business tactics. I don’t care how weak the hardware is compared to the PS4 or possible NextBox specs, and I know Nintendo is far from perfect. That said, they will have 100% of my gaming budget if Sony and/or Microsoft is really this stupid.

ready asshole

Now here’s another scenario, only one of the two unlaunched systems will have a used game activation fee and ‘feature’. Given how close the sales are between 360 and PS3, this is just asking to get completely reamed in the backside through marketing techniques. What was once a close race turns into a landslide victory. I can see it now, “No fees just to play,” “We don’t charge a disc insertion fee,” etc. etc. Millions of potential system sales are at stake here, and those millions of systems can support hundreds of millions of software sales. We’re talking billions and billions of dollars at stake here, trillions of yen, you will not Cut-Your-Own-Throat will you?

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21st Century Video Game Crash?

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Is the home video game industry charging headfirst into another market crash?

I ask myself this question because there are so many signs pointing towards another crash when I look back on the previous ones. We are on the cusp of the 8th console generation really getting ready to begin, only Nintendo having dived head first into these potentially treacherous waters. Unlike the 7th Generation, where the current Big 3 stepped in to tango against each other largely without disturbance, they will have competition from fan favorite Valve, as well as some more unknown companies. So let’s take a look at some of these and extrapolate the events and lessons learned to the modern era.

In 1977 there was a major crash of the video game market that is largely ignored by the public and even by gamers that were around at this time. The major problems that lead to this crash were centered around the insane popularity of Pong through the early to mid 70’s. This game was so popular in the arcades that every company wanted to make a standalone Pong system for home consumers. Even the beloved and mighty Nintendo is guilty of this. By 1977 the market was flooded with so many Pong and dedicated systems that consumers had no idea which ones were good, which were bad, or which one was made by the original creators of the game.

Nintendo’s Color TV Game. Exclusive to Japan.

However, one piece of the video game market continued to grow through 1977, the handheld market. If you’re a bit younger like me you’ll probably remember the Tiger handhelds with crappy LCD screens and primitive beeps for sound. These standalone handhelds are a relic of this growth in the late 70’s, and they kept going strong through the 80’s with some still being released today. Nintendo had their hit Game & Watch brand of handhelds while they moved into the arcade market and dipped their toe into the home console market with some VCS ports.

But SirPsycho, you may be asking, didn’t Atari release their VCS/2600 in 1977? They did, and they managed to survive this crash on the strength of their brands and high quality products they put out in the arcade, which was untouched by this ‘crash’. The Atari VCS did not really take off until 1980 when the company secured the rights to port Taito’s enormous arcade hit Space Invaders to their system.

So what lessons does this archaic crash have for today’s incredibly diverse market? Too many systems on the market at one time is a bad thing for the game consuming public, and all of these systems did roughly the same thing, they all played Pong with fancy names like table tennis, raquetball, handball, they were all the same game at heart though. None of these machines offered interchangable cartridges, the machines that did are not considered Pong consoles even if they had a Pong clone cart.

Even if some upcoming tangential systems secure a foothold in the market, like the Ouya from Boxer8, it is essentially a modernized Pong console if all of their promises and features will deliver. The Steam Box from Valve is roughly the same idea, all digital distribution, firmware updates, and streaming. You push a button or flip a switch to change modes. Valve has a massive leg up on Boxer8 however, a huge, hardcore, and loyal fanbase. There’s also the GameStick on Kickstarter right now, which just looks like its an Atari Flashback in USB form.

The Ouya from Boxer8.

The North American Crash of 1983 is highly publicized so I will not write about it much here, but the lessons from it are primarily software related. The crash of 1977 left Atari and Magnavox competing against each other in the late 70’s, Magnavox and its Odyssey^2 could not keep up and they bowed out. By the time the ’83 crash happened Atari’s renamed 2600 was holding a gigantic lead over Mattel, Coleco, and its own 5200 before the ground crumbled beneath them as a result of their own leadership, knocking their two competitors out at the same time.

Low quality software from Atari themselves left fans feeling betrayed so they left the system and company behind. A lot of Atari’s veteran talent left as a result of their barbaric employee treatment. A handful of talented developers founded Activision before the crash, and Atari lost a court case against the fledgling 3rd party that lead to a huge growth of 3rd party developers and publishers. There were many new and inexperienced 3rd parties that did not help Atari’s case either.

One case of a third party bad Atari game.

What markets thrived during the down years between the 1983 crash and the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System outside of Japan? The arcade market entered what could be considered a Silver Age. Long time arcade developers released new, cutting edge machines that kept the fans that built and crushed Atari happy. The PC market really hit its first major stride and many of the initial 3rd parties that began as console developers and publishers for Atari’s 2600 and lacked any arcade experience, made a swift move to the home computing market to survive.

There was another swell of parties that entered the console market in the early to mid 1990’s seeing Sega’s success against Nintendo as a call to action. Philips and 3DO tried and failed. Atari’s last gasp with its agile Jaguar fell flat on its face. SNK’s high priced Neo Geo could not penetrate the larger market and remained a small, insignificant niche, their steamlined Neo Geo CD not doing much to expand their audience either. Apple and Bandai’s partnership led to one of the worst selling systems of all time, the Pippin. Sega themselves proved that console add ons do more to alienate a fanbase than to reinvigorate it.

The Neo Geo CD isn’t a bad looking system either.

Now let’s take a look at today’s market. Facebook has risen to become a powerful social and casual gaming hub, and fallen quite quickly as well, perhaps needing to learn the lessons of the 1983 Crash the hard way. Smartphones have been hyped to threaten Nintendo and its handheld dominance while the 3DS started slowly. Now Nintendo’s system is really starting to fly off the shelf, crushing every other system in Japan on a weekly basis. With Pokemon X and Y releasing this year the global market can be expected to fight over incoming shipments of 3DS consoles, perhaps leading to a temporary shortage and more money printing for Nintendo.

News of Sony’s patent filing that would essentially eliminate the used game and rental market, as well as social borrowing and trading, is hitting the community hard. Many gamers are already pulling out their pitchforks, even longtime Sony faithful fans. If this is implemented I can see Sony going the way of Sega, maybe not until the 2020’s if they try and save themselves and bow out with honor. This patent, if implemented in the PS4, would be the beginning of the end. Sony’s recent add ons, the Eye Toy for PS2/PS3, and the Move which uses the Eye Toy sold decently well, but again failed to be a gaming reimagination that they wanted their fans to experience.

Microsoft has been quiet about its 360 successor, already having lost the major advantage it had in the Seventh generation, launching first, to Nintendo’s WiiU. But, sales are still strong, especially after the holidays. Their Kinect for 360 has become nothing more than a dance simulator with a few iOS and Android ports that make decent use of the technology. Most real AAA efforts have released to critical failure. Still, I believe Microsoft would be foolish to not show their new console off at a major convention this year. What would be even more idiotic would be if MS released another console that is as sloppily designed and prone to failure as the fat 360s are. Gamers handled it for one generation, they will not deal with it for two in a row.

My one true nemesis!

If handled well, and the home console market survives, this could be the time where Valve steps up and knocks one of the current 3 major players out, letting it have an effective stranglehold on PC gaming with Steam, and at least have a slice of pie on the home console front with Steam Box. Of course it would have help from the company in question, Sony and Microsoft look the most vulnerable at the time of this article’s writing. If there’s one lesson to learn by looking at the entirety of the home gaming, arcade, and handheld market, it is to never bet against Nintendo. There has never once been a worldwide video game crash, for every one that has happened gamers quite quickly moved onto other ways to play, like handhelds, the arcade, or PC gaming.

Random Plays: Reign of Fire

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Random plays is a small change up of the Let’s Play format. Instead of pushing out part after part of an entire game I’ll just post up one smaller, easy to digest video where I go into a game and give a first impression, describe the game and mechanics and how much fun it is.

Reign of Fire is a movie licensed game that was released for the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube. I am playing the Gamecube version for this video.

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Psychotic Reviews: Nier

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There’s something about the RPGs of the 7th Generation of home consoles that really does not sit well with me. Considering all three of the major systems I can name the RPGs I’ve seen as truly breathtaking and majestic recreations of the wonder and amazement I felt as a child on one hand.

One hand.

Now keep in mind that I still have yet to play quite a few of the RPGs released in this generation as it comes to a close. Out of the ones I have played so far only three of them have really stood out above the rest as not only great games, but telling a great story on top of it; Valkyria Chronicles, Xenoblade, and The Last Story. The list gets longer if I’m counting games I played on PC, and I’m not.

One of my favorite wallpapers.

I’ve been a bit jaded yes, I admit it. Anyway, I’ve finally decided to sit down and play some of the games that I currently own but have yet to play, and I started with Nier. I feel like I’ve been missing out by not playing this game sooner.

Call it timing if you will, when I first started playing Nier and I got past the introduction and really started to play the game it just felt like everything I wanted in a modern RPG. The protagonist is not some naive, asexual, teenage, pretty boy swordsman. Nier is a middle aged father taking care of his daughter who has been sticken by a fatal illness with no known cure.

So right from the start Nier has swerved to avoid the overdone and burnt to a crisp coming of age tale, but it does not completely avoid cliches, just downplays them and does not make them the focus of the story, at least at first. The voice acting and direction is highly competent, Jamieson Price providing the English voice of Nier, and Liam O’Brien starring as Grimoire Weiss. The two make for quite a dynamic duo.

Grimoire Weiss unlocks magical abilities, which will be key!

The story is progressed through various events, sometimes you just have to talk to somebody. Each arc of the story is finished up by clearing a dungeon and defeating the boss. Nier really has a lot of gameplay systems, the combat is in real time and huge combos can be made as long as the player avoids taking damage and being knocked down. The companion AI is pretty dumb as well, its executed well in combat, but your allies don’t even run as fast as Nier so they’re always teleporting next to you and not moving until they teleport again.

Outside of the main story Nier has a lot of extras to dive deeply into, the first one the player is introduced to being the Quests that random villagers will want you to do for them. The quests are not overwhelming like they can be in Xenoblade, and a lot of them involve farming items, fetching, delivering, or finding somebody or something. But there are enough that involve humanity, its nature, and errors that just makes for great entertainment at times, and invokes empathy at others.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaass.

Interlaced with questing is fishing, which can be leveled up through a quest chain through an old man on the pier, and then done purely for profit. Fishing feels a bit awkward at first and took me some getting used to, but it really is simple. You watch your rod, ignore the nibbles, hit it on the big bite, and pull back and from side to side to reel it in. Nier has a terrible cast though, you end up catching huge sharks with the fishing line two feet off the pier.

At home Nier has more than just his little daughter to visit, after a couple early quests you will have a garden to tend to. Seeds are cheap to buy and even early yields can net Nier over 20,000 gold while only spending ~1,000 for seeds. All you have to do is water them at each stage of growth, even the fertilizer the game offers is totally optional.

One other way to spend your money in Nier is to level up your weapons at the little shack in the Junk Heap. You unlock this option after beating the second dungeon, and even get your first upgrade for free! There really aren’t many weapons in the game so you will have to upgrade them at some point, and spend time farming the materials for it as well.

You can upgrade your spells and weapons even further with magic words that you find in random boxes you break and from enemies you kill. The effects of these can be combined for a mix and match of effects. But, you can only have two words on any spell or weapon and there are only a few that are really useful in all situations.

Did you forget that Kaine has an ass?

Nier has its technical problems and those keep it just shy out of that Holy Trinity I mentioned at the top. The story is polished and different enough to keep me intrigued through a playthrough. The narrative flows in a competent manner with nice pacing. The voice acting is done by highly trained professionals with a long list of works. All in all, I would say that Square Enix did good publishing this game, if only they had actually marketed it or bribed some reviewers to get the aggregate scores fluffed up it may have sold well enough to localize Nier Replicant.

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