Welcome to the one hundred and fifth edition of RPGamer's Currents Column!
I hope you all enjoyed your week. I finally got around to watching Star Trek, and I have to say that I really liked it. I am especially happy that I read the prequel comic, Star Trek: Countdown, before going to watch the movie. It is practically required reading for Trek fans, especially since the book really fleshes out Nero and the link between the time lines. I won't say much more than that to avoid spoilers. Enough Trek talk, time to do my usual news round up. There were actually quite a few interesting stories last week, from studio closures to a few new rumors.
So now, on to the NEWS!
Swine Flu Concerns Limit Travel for Japanese Game Companies
Guess who's not coming to E3...
As the cases of Swine Flu in Japan have risen to almost 300 since the global outbreak started, the Japanese government is cautioning its citizens by advising them to limit international travel and to "be careful" if anyone does travel outside of Japan. As such, Japanese gaming companies like Capcom are keeping many of its employees from attending E3. The Osaka area in particular, in which Capcom Japan's headquarters are located in, has had a significant number of cases. As such, only a few of Capcom Japan's employees will be attending the show. So few in fact, that plans to show off Capcom's brand new title Dead Rising 2 on the show floor have been cancelled. Capcom's Chris Kramer, the Senior Director of Communications and Community, had this to say about the decision:
"Our Capcom guys are not coming to E3 because of the Japanese government restrictions. The company is taking the advisory very seriously."
That is not to say that all of Capcom is pulling out of E3. Capcom America and Capcom Europe will still be there in full force with all its other games. Just don't expect to see Keiji Inafune there.
Unfortunately, Capcom isn't the only Japanese publisher to be affected by the rise of Swine Flu cases in Japan. Square Enix and Koei have also altered its E3 plans. Following Capcom's announcement, Square Enix has reported that it is going to cancel its plans to send its Kingdom Hearts team to E3. Koei also confirms that it will only be allowing a few of its employees from the Yokohama-based headquarters to travel to E3, but there will still be representatives from Koei Canada showing off one of Koei's new titles. On the other hand, SEGA, Tecmo, and Sony are still coming to E3 as planned.
Well, swine flu or not, E3 is progressing as planned. The show is expecting over 40,000 attendees from all over the world. That is a pretty good recipie for some major bugs to fly around and get a lot of people sick. Of course, the ESA is assuring everyone that it has public health officials taking all of the appropriate precautions for the show. If worse comes to worse, I'm sure many of us will just wear a mask during the show. Truth be told, nothing short of a zombie outbreak is going to keep me from attending the show.
Used Games + Walmart = Profit?
More competition in the used games market...
The used games market just got a bit more competitive as major retailer Walmart has begun a used game pilot program using trade-in kiosks. These new trade-in kiosks are currently being tested at 77 Walmarts in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. These machines are run and owned by an automated kiosk company known as e-Play. Walmart corporate spokesperson Melissa O'Brien confirms this and states that e-Play is only leasing space in Walmart. e-Play CEO Alan Rudy also says:
"Walmart is providing vestibule space to e-Play at 77 of its Northeast region stores. Some stores have Video Game Buy Back only kiosks and some kiosks are full-functioning, but e-Play manages all aspects of kiosk operations for both types. While we have over 200 other retail locations, this is currently a pilot program with Walmart, but we are optimistic of its success and future expansion."
The machines will accept PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, and Wii games. These will also have rentals on movie DVDs and video games for $1 per day. To operate the machine, all you need to do is scan the bar code on the game box to get a buy back price. If you accept the buy back price given, then the machine will ask you to insert the game's discs into the kiosk and the case into a bin. After you have given the kiosk your game, it will ask for your driver's license and credit card. The money that you earned is then transferred to your credit card within 2-3 days. The buy back prices can change daily since the trade-in prices are based on a proprietary algorithm that takes into account a variety of factors like the number of used copies in-stock. If successful, Rudy believes that these kiosks will pose some competition to Amazon's trade-in program:
"The e-Play trade method does not involve printing shipping labels or waiting on snail mail to deliver your games or to return your Amazon gift card. Soon, e-Play will also post their buy-back pricing online so customers can preview this information before going to a kiosk."
Currently, there are reports going around saying that these machines are not working very well. According to the editor at NeoCrisis, the machines "had more than a few bugs that need fixing," but once these machines start working correctly, Walmart will add to the competition in the game trading business that currently consists of only a few small companies: Toys 'R' Us, Amazon, and Gamestop.
On the other hand, some people don't believe that these kiosks will do anything to the game trade-in market. Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter says:
"I can't see this having tremendous appeal to hardcore gamers, unless the credits are substantially higher than those offered at GameStop. Even if this takes off, it's not going to make much of a dent in the used market... I don't see it being a big deal."
He might actually have a point given Best Buy's success, or I should say lack of, in the used games market, and Toys 'R' Us and Amazon have only started dealing with buying and selling used games. Only time will tell if Walmart's program will be successful, but one thing is for sure, the partnership between e-Play and Walmart will at best shake up the used games market, and at the very least, make the world aware that e-Play even exists.
Factor 5 is the Latest Gaming Industry Causality
Lair wasn't that bad was it?
I have to say that I'm getting sick of writing about people getting fired and studios closing down. The latest casualty is Factor 5's U.S. studio headed by Julian Eggebrecht, but this doesn't come as a terribly big surprise since there have been rumblings about this for quite sometime. Factor 5 has had to deal with the critical and commercial bomb that was the PS3 exclusive Lair, leaks of its projects Superman and Kid Icarus, and worse yet, major financial problems. The bankruptcy and closure of Brash Entertainment is what really damaged Factor 5. It was only a matter of time before Factor 5 would be hit hard with it's employees not getting paid after some projects were cancelled and reports of heavy layoffs in December. Achim Moller, the CEO of Factor 5 in Germany, had this to say about the closure:
"We are sorry to announce the closure of the San Rafael-based Factor 5 studio, but the obstacles created by the sudden bankruptcy of Brash Entertainment for the continuation of operations have turned out too great to overcome in the current economic climate."
In case you are still wondering about the Factor 5 branch in Germany, Moller also states:
"Factor 5 GmbH, is entirely unrelated to Factor 5 Inc and the circumstances surrounding Factor 5 Inc's recent challenges. Although we are saddened by Factor 5 Inc's situation, our corporation will remain unaffected by these developments and has partnered with both old and new friends in the industry who will reveal our upcoming projects over the next few months."
As for me, I'm going to miss Factor 5. In case you are not familiar with their work, Factor 5 was best known for the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube. The Rogue Squadron games were among the best Star Wars games ever made. Honestly, even if you didn't like Star Wars, the games were still great dog fighting games that had amazing production values and were a real blast to play. It is a shame that its amazing reputation was tarnished by Lair. For old times sake, I'm going to pop Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III into my Wii this week. My version of pouring out a 40 on the curb.
The Pack Made for Final Fantasy Lovers
Nomura would be proud...
According to the official PlayStation blog, the PSP is getting a new bundle centered around Square-Enix's new Final Fantasy brawler, Dissidia. In the pack, you get a "Mystic Silver" PSP-3000, a 2GB Memory Stick Duo, a copy of Dissidia Final Fantasy, and a UMD movie of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The pack is a GameStop exclusive and will go on sale August 25 for 199.99 USD.
This really isn't a bad deal for those Final Fantasy fans out there who have yet to pick a PSP. Even more so when you consider that you can buy new copies of Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for less than 20 bucks each. This seems like a good time to get on board with a PSP. I would just caution you all to wait and see what surprises Sony has in store at its press conference in 2 weeks before putting down a pre-order.
QUICKIES: A few Small, But Awesome News Stories!
Fast Bits of Knowledge
Atari Official Pulls Out of E3
Atari has decided to pull out of exhibiting its products at this year's E3. A spokesperson for Atari commented:
"Atari has made the proactive decision to attend but not exhibit at this year's E3 event. Although we feel E3 benefits the entire games business, we are very focused around other selling and marketing initiatives for our upcoming Ghostbusters, Champions Online and other to be announced titles."
This largely has to do with the costs of putting together and displaying a booth at E3. Atari is better off letting Sony or Nintendo display their Ghostbusters game in their booth to save their money for other PR initiatives.
Xbox Live Cheaters Face Permanent Branding
I doubt many of you RPGamer readers would find yourselves in this kind of trouble, but here is a quick heads up for all you Xbox 360 owners. On last week's episode of Xbox Live's Major Nelson Radio, Stephen Toulouse, Xbox Live Policy and Enforcement Manager, warned that anyone caught cheating to enhance their Gamer score could face a permanent branding as a cheater on their Gamercard and have their gamer score completely reset.
"It also puts a tag that you've been caught cheating on your Gamercard. That's a pretty big Scarlet Letter."
That sounds like a fun way of discouraging others from trying to artificially inflate their scores. The funny thing is that I bet more than few people would wear the branding like a badge of honor. Let me know if any of you have seen any branded gamers on Xbox Live yet.
So E3 is less than two weeks away and the excitement is building. Firemyst, Sabin, and I will be attending E3 and trying to get you the latest RPG news. Let us know the kinds of things you want covered or are dying to get a hands on preview of. This is going to be a big and flashy year for the show.
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