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January 2012

Nintendo's Profits Are In Another Castle

LuigiFor the past, oh, thirty years or so, Nintendo has enjoyed turning an annual profit.  Even in the waning days of the GameCube, the company managed to eke out a little income.  With Wii sales not as energetic as they used to be and the 3DS limping along out of the gate for a while, it stands to reason that Nintendo's annual financial numbers wouldn't be all that great.  Now that the company has announced its revised financial forecast for the year, we can see just how bad things are going to get.  Reuters tells it like it is:

Nintendo now expects an annual operating loss of 45 billion yen ($575 million), dwarfing expectations of a 4.2 billion yen loss, based on the average of 21 analyst forecasts.

Nintendo cut its forecast for annual sales of its ageing Wii console to 10 million devices from 12 million, and for the 3DS handheld games device to 14 million from 16 million.

"We had higher expectations for the year-end season, but failed to meet them," President Satoru Iwata told reporters in Osaka.

Kotaku brings some additional figures and history into the story:

Hardware sales are not meeting expectations—though, things could be worse. Back in Oct. 27, 2011, Nintendo forecasted hardware sales at 6 million DS units shipped for 2012, but as of Jan. 26, 2012, changed that number to 5.5 million DS units. For DS software, the forecast changed from 62 million to 59 million units.

On Oct. 27, 2011, Nintendo forecasted 12 million Wii units sold in the 2012 financial year. That number was revised to 10 million units. Wii software was originally forecasted at 100 million. That number was unchanged.

The 3DS is both on the comeback trail, but still underperforming. On Oct. 27, 2011, Nintendo forecasted 16 million 3DS units shipped. That number has been changed to 14 million. For 3DS software, Nintendo forecasted 50 million units shipped. On Jan. 26, 2012, that number was changed to 38 million units ship—a huge drop.

See, here's the thing: by now, everyone that wanted a Wii has one.  There are no compelling Wii games on the way (and there weren't many to choose from last year).  The Wii is aging technology in an era when more and more people are getting high definition televisions (they're more affordable now than ever even for those on a budget).  Casual-oriented smartphone and tablet games have drawn in the Wii's best known target audience with cheaper games that offer more social experiences.  The 3DS turned a lot of prospective buyers away at launch thanks to its high price tag and lack of exciting debut software.  The Wii U is still months away and is largely an unknown until some actual new games are shown for it (and Nintendo has got to launch with a new Super Mario title this time if it wants to come out swinging).  This is the end of this console generation for Nintendo and we've seen sales drop off during these transitional periods before.  Nintendo was so wildly successful this generation that a failure to sell mass amounts of new units is harder to take now than at the end of the Nintendo 64 or GameCube eras.  This news is a costly bump in the road, but never count Nintendo out.  I've seen the company power-up and surprise us all far too many times to dismiss its future.

Insomniac Rules Out More Resistance


One of this gaming generation's new properties, Resistance, is over as we know it.  Despite being a solid performer for the Sony PlayStation 3, developer Insomniac Games has decided not to pursue any additional sequels and has moved on to other projects.  VG247 has the details.

Whether you nearly drowned in a tidal wave of closure during Resistance 3′s credits or still – to this very day – spend long, cold nights yearning for the embrace of more guns, one thing’s absolutely certain: Insomniac’s finished with the Resistance franchise.  “We won’t be making any more Resistances,” Insomniac CEO Ted Price told VG247 during an interview at Southern Methodist University’s Game::Business::Law Summit today. Short, sweet, and to the point.

While Insomniac is done with Resistance, it doesn't mean that we've seen the last of it.  A handheld installment for the PlayStation Vita, Resistance: Burning Skies, is in the works from Nihilistic Software.  As for a proper Resistance 4, there's always the possibility that another developer could take a shot at the property under Insomniac's guidance.  While it's always sad to see a developer step away from a property that it created, perhaps it's for the best.  If Insomniac feels that it's said all it has to say with Resistance, it's best to let it go than for it to stagger on in a series of watered down, half-hearted sequels.  On the other hand, if Insomniac ever declares that it's done with Ratchet & Clank, I think we'll have to sit the company down and convince it to reconsider.

Netflix Won't Rent Video Games Any Time Soon

NetflixBack during the few days that Netflix was planning to break itself in half and shunt the DVD-by-mail portion of its operation into a new service called Qwikster, the company announced plans to begin renting video game discs for the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii by mail in addition to movies on DVD and Blu-ray.  Those plans are now, like the Qwikster plan itself, dead.  Netflix has no need for games at this time.  Engadget has the quote.

CEO Reed Hastings confirmed the company has "no plans" to offer videogames for rental, which had been announced as part of the later-retracted Qwikster spinoff. As far as offering current season episodes of TV shows for cord-cutters, it won't be bidding on those either. When it comes to 3D, Blu-ray 3D discs are already in the mix, while the company is "looking into" streaming 3D.

So, no games then.  It's really not a big loss; GameFly and Redbox seem to have the game rental business wrapped up these days.  However, looking at the other part of this news... if streaming 3D movies becomes an option, here's hoping that this new side of the service works with the Nintendo 3DS.  Watching 3D movies on a television still requires those cumbersome and expensive glasses.  The 3DS's no-glasses-needed 3D display makes it a natural for watching 3D movies.  The 3DS is doing well in the market at last, but 3D streaming Netflix content would bring it an entirely new killer app that the current handheld competition couldn't touch.

Next Generation Console Comparisons Fail Math Test

Fun With NumbersI've seen several statements floating around the Internet today regarding the next generation of video game consoles and how this console is that many times more powerful than some other console.  Considering all of the comparisons being offered, it seems to me that we can use some basic math to determine just how powerful a given console may be.  It's time for your algebra homework for today.  Let's take three statements regarding Microsoft's current Xbox 360 and upcoming next Xbox (informally dubbed the Xbox 720 in the gaming community for now) and see how they stack up to quotes about the Nintendo Wii U's power.  Are these comparisons realistic or just numbers made up for sensational headlines?  First, the declarations of power:

"In real terms, the Xbox 720's raw graphics processing power is expected to be six times that of the Xbox 360 and will yield 20-percent greater performance than Nintendo's forthcoming console, the Wii U." - IGN

"Nintendo’s next generation hardware will be roughly twice as powerful as Microsoft’s current system, the Xbox 360[.]" - Develop

These statements are just imprecise enough to draw you in and let you interpret them however you like. Are we comparing graphical power or total system power?  Let's assume all three comparisons to be true for now (because that's what everybody seems to be doing).  We can come up with some equations based on those statements. 

  • X720 = 6X360
  • X720 = 1.2WU
  • WU = 2X360

Since the reports don't say otherwise, now let's assume that all of these equations are measuring the same kind of capability and that it's possible to set one comparison against another.  Now we can see if these statements hold up across both sources.  First, let's consider how the Xbox 360 and Wii U compare:

X720 = 6X360 = 1.2WU

so 5X360 = WU

So the Wii U is five times as powerful as the Xbox 360 according to IGN's numbers.  However, the equation we have from the Develop quote tells is that the Wii U is only twice as powerful than the Xbox 360.  These comparisons aren't crunching mathematically.  The real takeaway from all of this is that whenever you hear that Console A is X times as powerful as Console B, remember that these are rough estimations that make for a good headline and may not actually represent consistent and/or nonconflicting facts.  Take them all with a grain of salt.  Better yet, ignore them entirely and wait to judge hardware based on the quality of the games that are in the works for it.  Fun always beats fractions.

THQ Ditching Kids And Turning Towards Core Audience

THQTHQ has a reputation for acquiring licenses to properties aimed at children, producing a quick game based on them, and then raking in the profits.  That strategy isn't working so well for the company these days, so a fresh news release from the company announces that the time has come to turn away from cranking out games for kids and will instead focus on the core audience.  Here's part of the statement:

AGOURA HILLS, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 25, 2012-- THQ Inc. (NASDAQ: THQI) announced its updated business strategy as the company exits traditional kids’ licensed video games and focuses on its core video game franchises and digital initiatives for the future. The company will continue to build its strong portfolio of core game franchises and align its resources to deliver games on both existing consoles and new and emerging platforms. The company intends to accelerate digital revenues by extending and supporting key console launches, and to create dedicated digital properties for emerging platforms.

As part of the alignment, THQ is in the process of exiting its relationships with kids’ licensed entertainment companies but will continue to sell certain previously released titles.

“THQ will be a more streamlined organization focused only on our strongest franchises,” said Brian Farrell, President and CEO, THQ. “The success of Saints Row®: The Third™ is an example of what our revised strategy and focus can achieve. We have now shipped 3.8 million units globally and are currently expecting to ship between five and six million units lifetime on this title. Additionally, our robust digital content offerings for this game have resulted in the highest digital revenue of any console title in our history.”

The company’s five internal studios are developing games aligned to several of THQ’s key franchises, including the upcoming launch of UFC® Undisputed™ 3 and Darksiders® II, as well as Company of Heroes, inSANE, Saints Row, Warhammer 40,000, and the new title from Patrice Désilets and his team. The company also continues to work with prominent external development talent on both existing and new franchises. THQ’s goal is to optimize its portfolio for the current generation of consoles and to establish new franchises on the next generation of game devices.

Part of this decision has to stem from the fact that THQ drastically overbet on its failed uDraw GameTablet peripheral and supported kid-centric software which is part of the reason that the company's stock price has lost nearly all of its value in the past year.  While I can understand wagering heavily on uDraw for Wii (as a controller that allows kids to draw on a tablet as part games like Disney Princess: Enchanting Storybooks, Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat, The Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns – Again!, and SpongeBob SquigglePants is aimed right at the Wii's demographic these days), producing mass quantities of uDraw tablets and software for the older-skewing Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 was a recipe for disaster.  I can't imagine why THQ's management thought that was a good idea.  Neither can former THQ employees who are lashing out at the aforementioned CEO Brian Farrell and other members of management in an open letter sent to the Board of Directors and the press.  Joystiq has reprinted the entire letter, but here's the most scathing part:

Continue reading "THQ Ditching Kids And Turning Towards Core Audience" »

Next Xbox Rumored To Be Six Times As Powerful As Xbox 360

InterocitorI'm not so sure that we're ready for the next generation of video game hardware (outside of Nintendo Wii owners), but everyone is forging ahead anyway with new technology.  IGN has a report regarding Microsoft's next Xbox that's intriguing, but entirely unconfirmed by the usual sources.  Rumor has it that not only will the next Xbox go on sale at the end of 2013, but the first round of parts for development kits bound for third-party developers are already being manufactured (although Electronic Arts may or may not have had some kind of development technology since sometime last year depending on whether or not you believe an earlier rumor).  Here's what IGN has to say about the timetable and the horsepower behind the graphics processing unit.

The next Xbox will ship to retailers in late October or early November of next year with six times the processing power of the Xbox 360, sources close to the project have told IGN.  In real terms, the Xbox 720's raw graphics processing power is expected to be six times that of the Xbox 360 and will yield 20-percent greater performance than Nintendo's forthcoming console, the Wii U.

The article has more information in technobabble form about part numbers and series lines and what-not.  It didn't really mean much to me on a specific level, but the takeaway is that the new GPU can output 1080p visuals and handle 3D which one would hope it would at this point in our lives.  It's all just talk right now with nothing officially confirmed, but it's still fun to consider.  We've seen some great games this console generation and I'm going to miss it when we move on.  I'm not really ready to cope with a new crop of launch games that will age really, really quickly just yet though.  Have you played a game from 2006 lately and compared it to a 2011 release?  We've come a long way.

Video Game Sale At Amazon Today Only

Buy somethin' will ya!It's been a few weeks since Amazon offered one of its one-day-only Lightning Deal / Gold Box discounts, so we're due for some savings.  It's time once again to clear some space in Amazon's warehouse with another games-only discount blowout, and the big sale of the day is Dead Island for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 which is 58% off today at a price of $25.  Also on sale at various times during the day are Zumba Fitness 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Rocksmith, and more.  A portion of each purchase you make through the green link here goes to help support Press The Buttons, and believe me when I say that is greatly appreciated.

Microsoft Rumored To Be Ditching Points Currency System

Microsoft PointsBuying downloadable content on Microsoft's Xbox Live service requires a little extra basic math in order to convert your real currency into the company's own virtual currency, Microsoft Points.  While competitors such as Sony, Nintendo, and Apple charge actual money for DLC, Microsoft has continued to use its own Points system in which 400P equates to $5 (Nintendo's Wii and DSiWare still use the company's own Nintendo Points that at least have a 100P:$1 conversion rate, but the 3DS eShop shows a transition into using actual dollars and cents (or whatever you local currency is)).  It's not possible to buy, say, $2 worth of Points at a shot, and all of this Points stuff is meant to semi-trick you into spending more money than you think you are.  All of that mess may be coming to an end this year, however, as there's a rumor going around that Microsoft is looking to retire its Points in favor of real money.  Inside Mobile Apps has the story.  Here's the relevant bit:

By the end of 2012, all transactions will be based on the region set on the purchasing account and real money will be used to purchase all Windows Phone content. The move puts the Windows Phone Marketplace in line with the purchasing practices used in the App Store and the Android Market.

When asked Microsoft declined to provide further information, with a Microsoft spokesperson responding with “we do not comment on rumours or speculation.”

Mobile developers that have publishing agreements with Microsoft are being warned to plan their upcoming downloadable content (DLC) and in-app purchases in accordance with the change. Customers with existing Microsoft Points balances will have them converted into their local currency after the switch.

I've never had to deal with spending Microsoft Points, but I have bought Points cards for friends as gifts and always had to wonder just how many points I was getting for my money.  Some online retailers sell the cards for more than their actual value, meaning that if you don't know what you're doing, it's possible to spend $25 for 1600 Points which is worth only $20.  It's very easy to be overcharged when there's an extra layer of currency involved in transactions.  I'll be glad to see the Points system retired just for that reason alone. 

Weekly Poll: Four's A Crowd

Weekly Poll for 1-17-2011Most of you have no intention of ever buying a Season Pass for video game downloadable content.  As for me, I have purchased a few of them.  I'm open to buying more down the line if I trust the publisher behind them, think the asking price is fair, and plan to play the game in question a lot.  I sprang for the extra cases for L.A. Noire (that I still haven't finished, for shame) and the upcoming extra missions for Saints Row: The Third.  I felt that the L.A. Noire content was fairly priced when purchased in bulk ($10) considering all of the extra material that was provided.  I took a chance on the $20 Saints Row pass since none of its expansions were available when I bought it.  That'll get me three mission packs and one costume pack, incidentally (and while I like to think I'm above such things, the Nyte Blaye costume pack did include an awesome car).  Maybe when it's all over I'll feel that I've overpaid, but I bought it with a gift card, so it didn't actually cost me any cash out of pocket and so far I am enjoing the extra content that is available.  It was a gamble, but I'm feeling lucky. 

Moving on, my girlfriend and I have been enjoying platformer titles that offer cooperative multiplayer fun.  We hit New Super Mario Bros. Wii a while ago and just recently finished Ratchet & Clank: All 4 OneKirby's Return To Dreamland is coming next, and then after that is Rayman: Origins.  I think we tried LittleBigPlanet in there too at some point.  Which multiplayer cooperative platformer title in recent memory is your favorite?  Let's hear your thoughts.

New Doctor Who Game Is Side-Scrolling Action Title

Ever since the announcement of Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock for the Sony PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and PC last year, we've all wondered what kind of game The Doctor will be starring in and when it will be released.  Today's new trailer answers both of those questions.  It's a side-scrolling action platformer and it's due out in March 2012.  Plus, we also have our first looks at in-motion River Song and a collection of enemies including the Silurians, the Cybermen, the Silence, and, of course, the Daleks.  Hopefully The Eternity Clock will live up to expectations, but for now you have to agree that it makes for an exciting trailer.  The PlayStation Blog has more information courtesy of Simon Harris of BBC Worldwide in which he discusses how the creative team at developer Supermassive Games chose which monsters it wanted to include in the story and how those monsters were tweaked slightly.  It sounds like the Doctor Who property is in good hands here and I'm optimistic about the final product.