Dun da da DUNN!!! After a (far too long) two-week hiatus, the glorious Currents column is back, in all of its wonderful glory! I don't think I can apologize any more for the tardiness of this column, but in all honesty, having to deal with finals, work, moving out, papers, and presentations was just a bit too much for me to handle. There should be no more roadblocks preventing these columns from coming out at a regular time in the future, so be sure to check back every Wednesday for all of the important news that you can handle.
Now that summer is finally out, it is officially time to party! I've got a whole slew of games to play and finish up, so let's get this column started, shall we? On with Nintendo!
Nintendo Moving And Losing
Shift to California costs Nintendo many jobs, including a few head honchos
As we've reported all along, Nintendo of Redmond is relocating a large part of its Washington workforce on over to California in order to start up a new Nintendo division in the (occasionally) sunny lands of San Francisco and New York. While this inevitably calls for some big changes in the company, no one could have foreseen that NOA would be losing over 60% of their Redmond staff, including three key members: George Harrison (Senior Vice President, Marketing and Corporate Communications), Perrin Kaplan (Vice President, Marking and Corporate Affairs), and Beth Llewelyn (Senior Director of Public Relations).
Back in March, Nintendo announced that they would be creating new divisions in San Francisco and New York and offering employees in their Sales and Marketing division two options: relocating with Nintendo to San Francisco or New York, or taking a severance package and saying bye-bye. As of right now, approximately 120 employees have chosen to stay behind, while about 80 people have decided to fly south or eastward. While NOA President Reggie Fils-Aime has stated that there will be a "transition force of key executives to ensure the smoothest process possible", it will be hard to determine how the absence of three head members will affect the new Nintendo offices. Folks over at Wedbush Morgan Securities spoke with GameDaily about the impact that the loss of so many people will have on NOA in general. While they were quick to point out that companies' loss is "a big one", analyst Mike Patcher pointed out that the people who are staying behind will still be able to be consulted on an "as needed basis", while Fils-Aime's marketing background will continue to be a strong asset to the company. The switch will be a big one for Nintendo, but hopefully their successes with the Wii and DS will be able to carry them into the future regardless.
Wii Athletes Developing New Medical Conditions
Patients suffering from "Wii-itis" listed in stable condition
In what may be the silliest thing to have ever been printed in a journal, Dr. Julio Bonis has officially documented the first case of "Wii-itis" in the most recent New England Journal of Medicine. Yes, that's right, Wii-itis: a condition that results from lots of strenuous, intense playing with your Wii.
Wii-itis, which literally (and hilariously) means "inflammation of the Wii," was first noticed by the doctor when he woke up with a sore shoulder one morning. After pondering about the previous days events, the doctor realized that the soreness was not due to normal circumstances such as heavy lifting or the barrage of heavy punches that people sometimes get from coining silly terms. Instead, (surprise!) the soreness actually resulted from his intense games of Wii tennis the pervious day!
While the treatment, according to Yahoo, was to simply rest and take pain relievers, it's hard to ignore the uniqueness of the Wii-mote and its prevalence among casual gamers. As the console penetrates into the casual gaming market, more people who don't usually play videogames will be picking up a controller. While this usually fine and dandy, those who aren't used to videogames or other forms of virtual reality may come up with all kinds of weird, new injuries. While problems from injury have been noted from the Wii's conception (see Wii Have A Problem), it will be interesting to see how the console's prevalence impacts its users in...unexpected...ways. As long as people exercise a little sense when playing their systems, hopefully we can avoid the day when someone is decapitated or loses a limb due to their feverish Wii-mote usage.
Microsoft Has Your Mom In Their Crosshairs
Is a price drop to the "sweet spot" of $250 or less in the console's near future?
Microsoft knows the secret to Nintendo's success: casual gamers. Nintendo's silly little motion sensitive system has set itself away from the crowd through its rejection of the hardcore in favor of the casual gamers, who have a bit of money burning in their pocket (but not too much) and are looking for some fun. These casual gamers have been lining up for their Wiis for months now, and keep a system that has been out for over a half a year flying off the shelves and hardly able to be stocked. Nintendo has proven that there are more than just hardcore gamers in the videogame world, and people ranging from five-year-old boys to 78-year-old grandmas want to give games such as Wii Sports a try due to their unique and simple nature.
But can Microsoft break into this seemingly (and ironically) niche audience of gamers? The Xbox 1 was arguably one of the most hardcore systems out of all of the last generation, relying heavily on games such as Halo, Forza Motorsport and Project Gotham Racing (among other titles) that appealed to a more "hardcore" gaming audience that can put many hours into mastering a game(well, okay, there was Fusion Frenzy, but let's put that aside for now). How can Microsoft open up to the grandpas and little sisters through games such Gears of War and Halo 3, which are currently dominating the system?
One way that many industry analysts say that Microsoft can open their pearly Xbox 360 gates to the world is through a price drop. Lowering the core version of the 360 to $249 (or, even better, $199) would make a Xbox 360 more of an "impulse buy" for consumers who are looking for a good time without plunking down the $300-600 for a more expensive system. Also, the computer giant plans to retool its retail kiosks to give family titles and other games that appeal to women, children, and older people more prominence (Viva Piņata, anyone?).
Nintendo's previous taunts about Microsoft and Sony not being able to appeal to casual gamers may still hold some truth, but that sure isn't stopping either company from trying after seeing how crazily their cheap and addictive consoles have been selling. Peter Moore noted that if the Microsoft doesn't act fast, they will end up in the same place as the Xbox 1, rather than neck and neck with the Wii:
If we don't make that move [towards casual gamers], make it early and expand our demographic, we will wind up in the same place as with Xbox 1, a solid business with 25 million people. What I need is a solid business with 90 million people.''
Chances are we'll see some new forms of advertising and price cuts in the future, so keep an eye on those Xbox 360 displays in your local gave store to see how Microsoft plans to take a bite out of the casual gaming pie.
Sony Cutting Back In The U.S. And Europe
Maybe this means that console prices will be cut next?
After a rather tough start with the PS3, Sony announced last Thursday that it currently plans to cut employees throughout its game sector worldwide. According to GameDaily, Sony has stated that it will be letting go of 8% (or roughly 160 people) of its Sony Europe staff, while its American division only has to give the axe to around 50 people at this time.
These announcements come as little surprise to those who have been watching the sales charts and heard about Sony's loss in its game division last year. The media giant posted an operating loss of almost $2 billion according to Yahoo, largely due to the slow sales and high initial start up costs for the PS3. Luckily, Sony's stock has still held strong throughout all of this (it hit a five-year high a few weeks ago), and the company is looking forward to a strong holiday season this year.
While Sony's spokesperson noted that they are currently "taking another look at the company as a whole," they have yet to announce any cuts in their Japanese staff. Sony employs around 4,500 people worldwide, and is looking into making other areas "more efficient" through layoffs. This seems to only be a temporary fix, as the console is in dire need of a price drop to have any chance of coming toe to toe with the hotter-than-hell Wii and the steadily-selling Xbox 360.
PS3 Fastest Selling PlayStation Thus Far
Who loves the PS3? Europeans love the PS3!
After all of the lackluster news that has been coming my way concerning the PS3 (such as the need for a price change, the pushing back of its holiday blockbusters, and sizable losses in its game sector), Sony is ready for some good news. According to Gamespot, good things may come from the unlikeliest of places; namely Europe! After an impeccably late start across the ocean, Europeans and other PAL enthusiasts alike have purchased a staggering 1 million consoles in just over ten weeks, making the PlayStation 3 the fastest selling PlayStation console in PAL regions ever!
CEO Howard Stringer believes that the record-setting launch had little to do with luck in the Old World; rather, it was due to a more solid lineup and hardware offering. According to GameSpot, Stringer stated that the launch was aided by additional games that weren't available to Japan or the U.S., which allowed for Sony to live up to European expectations in ways that they couldn't previously in other areas.
Many attribute the high sales to the well-received Resistance: Fall of Man and MotorStorm, which have sold 600,000 and 500,000 copies respectively so far. The success of the PS3 isn't quite as surprising given its early performance in Europe, given that the $600 heavyweight was able to shatter sales records in Europe for initial console sales with a staggering total of 165,000 sold within the first few days. Ultimately, Sony is certainly going strong in Europe, and with all of the support and enthusiasm over there, hopefully things everything videogame related will become a little less dreadfully delayed in the future.
Church of England Angry At Fall Of Man
Resistance to portrayal including guns, violence, aliens, and more!
Videogames, much like other forms of art and media, love to mess with their viewers perceptions of reality and how the world "really is." One of the most common ways to do this is through alternate universes, futuristic settings, and using familiar areas (such as cities, locales, monuments, etc.) in unfamiliar ways. The team behind the PlayStation 3 bestseller Resistance: Fall of Man (one of the few real reasons to buy a PS3 at launch) knows this trick, and used an alternate timeline where our world was rocked by aliens instead of Nazi's during the second world war in order to draw players into their alternate universe.
This idea seemed relatively fine and dandy to the developers and players alike, with the only real problem being how absurd it sounds when paraphrased in the previous manner. Fine, that was, to everyone but the entire Church of England, who appear to have taken great offense to the way that their historical Manchester Cathedral has been portrayed and used in the next-gen epic. According to the Church, Sony did not acquire sufficient rights to use the historic location in its violent videogame, and as such is demanding the removal of the game from store shelves and an apology from Sony themselves (which has apparently already been fulfilled by Sony).
According to BBC news, Sony's choice to include the Manchester Cathedral was considered especially irresponsible by the Church due to the "well known [fact] that Manchester has a gun control problem." The Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch had this to say about the controversial game:
For a global manufacturer to re-create one of our great cathedrals with photo-realistic quality and then encourage people to have guns battles in the building is beyond belief and highly irresponsible. Here in Manchester we do all we can to support communities through our parish clergy. We know the reality of gun crime and the devastating effects it can have on lives. It is not a trivial matter.
In defense of the game, Sony representative David Wilson stated that "[the Cathedral] is game-created footage, it is not video or photography," and further noted that the game was created solely for entertainment purposes. According to Sony, they have sought permission wherever necessary when creating the game, so this was either an oversight on their part, or a misunderstanding on behalf of the church. Considering that a total recall of the game coupled with a redesign to either fix or remove the Cathedral setting would be devastating for the game's sales, it comes as little surprise that Sony has already issued a personal letter of apology for the cathedral's portrayal in the game. While Sony reiterated that it was "not their intention to cause offense by using a representation of Manchester Cathedral in chapter eight of the work," the Church of England has yet to remove their outstanding demands. Will this be taken to the courts? Will Sony have to recall thousands of copies? While the first seems a little more possible than the second, only time will tell how far the Church of England will take the dispute.
Manhunt 2 Censored Like A Madman
Will the game become an illicit substance, punishable by law?
To a handful of Europeans and Wal*Mart loving Americans in need of their extra gory and violent serial-murdering gaming fix, I just might have some bad news for you. One of the (supposedly) most gruesome games to come out in the last ten years has now officially been banned from the U.K. and Ireland, as Manhunt 2 received the almighty censor from the British Board of Film Classification and the Irish Film Censor's Office. In addition to this, Rockstar's controversial game has just received a potentially lethal "Adults Only" rating from the ESRB, which can lead to it not being stocked by many major retailers (think Wal*Mart, potentially Best Buy, etc.).
The game, which revolves around a madman's blood-soaked killing spree during his escape from a mental institution, has had little problem stirring up controversy since its conception. Months ago, our favorite supervillian stirred up a bit of rather hilarious controversy by publicly lamenting Wendys' decision to offer Wii toys and prizes based on the sole fact that the console will have Manhunt 2 on it. Now that people have actually played and tinkered around with the "murder simulator" (thanks Jack!), whole countries have gone so far as to restrict the sale of it statewide.
According to the British Board of Film Classification, the title is simply too graphic and unrelenting in the way that it portrays the violence that is found in the game. The BBFC's director David Cooke explained it as such:
Manhunt 2' is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing...There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game,
Media watchdogs have also been keeping an eye on the title in the US, demanding that the title be given an "Adults Only" rating from the ESRB for many of the reasons that Cooke previously mentioned. Now that the time has come and the title indeed has been given a preliminary rating of AO, Rockstar isn't wasting any time looking into the matter. According to Rockstar, the game was created for mature audiences, and should be rated as such. Rockstar is currently "exploring [their] options with regard to the rating of Manhunt 2," so expect a lawsuit or a change in the game's content sometime very soon.
I summarize, so you don't have to.
- Will the Xbox 360 have its first true Fantasy? Square-Enix is still remaining tight-lipped about any developments of Microsoft projects, but they aren't quite set to write off the idea either. In an interview with GamesIndustry, Squeenix's Executive Producer Shinji Hashimoto was quoted as saying that "Final Fantasy on the Xbox 360 [is] currently a completely blank page." This sounds like the usual dodgy answer that any Executive Producer would give, but keep in mind that he didn't write the system out completely. After all, if SE needs power for their future games and doesn't want to side with Sony, the Xbox 360 is their best bet. Hey, stranger things have happened!
- The time has finally come: Ken Kutaragi has officially stepped down as Sony Computer Entertainment's chairman and group chief executive. In a not-at-all-surprising course of events, Kutaragi's duties as SCE's chairman have officially ceased and have been handed over to former President Kazuo Hirai. Yahoo reported that Kutaragi will continue to hold an advisory post to Sony's gaming unit, so don't count the kooky father of the PlayStation out just yet. According to Yahoo!, Hirai has some serious work with the PS3 to do, so hopefully we'll see some changes in the PS3's immediate future.
I finally realized why no one really wants to email responses to prompts that I post here: why waste time sending an E-mail when you can just hit "Reply" on a messageboard? At least that's the most plausible reason that I could come up with (I refuse to believe that no one reads, cares, or doesn't like me :( ). The whole idea seems kind of silly to me in retrospect, but you can't fault me for wanting to spice up this column up a little bit
So now, dear reader, I will prompt you with a question or two to discuss on the boards, in case you reach the end of this column and are completely at loss for a response to give on the messageboard. So this, my friends, is what I'm wondering this week:
What does all of this Manhunt 2 business mean for videogames? Are games too violent and in need of a decency check? Or are organizations and entire companies overreacting to something that would have got nothing more than an "R" rating in a movie?
I know that some people, like myself, believe that "art forms" should be left uncensored. In the end, however, that still leaves videogames in an awkward situation as "interactive art". Well, what do you think? Take it to the boards and decide for yourselves!
And that, my friends, brings the much-needed news reporting to an end. Feel free to share whatever thoughts you want to on the message board, and E-mail me anything that you would like as well. My birthday is coming up in just a few days, so I should probably get to playing some games before I get even more that I'll probably never finish. Ah, videogames. There's not much better.
Until I write again...