War... What is it good for? Raising awareness?

Originally posted on Armistice Day, 11 November 2009 at Posterous.com

“Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” was released worldwide between 26 November & 10 November 2007.  The following year "Call of Duty: World at War" arrived (in North American territories) on 11 November 2008 with Europe's release just three days later.

This year "[Call of Duty:] Modern Warfare 2" [title according to whether you are a “hard core Caller”, just somebody who can read, or have to be patronized (with a “z”)] was released to the general public on 10 November 2009.

Is it just me that thinks that a release date during the second week of November is in bad taste?

War Games

If a member of her majesty’s Government can be lambasted in the UK press for not lowering his head enough to show a certain respectful gravitas during a Remembrance Day service whilst laying a wreath, then how is it that video game publishers do not feel the same wrath?

I am ignoring the aforementioned Government Minster’s Prime limited ability to compose a handwritten letter, & then the subsequent conduct during a telephone conversation with a grieving mother of a British Forces serviceman killed by a Taliban bomb whilst on foot patrol near the Nad Ali District Centre in central Helmand on 5 October 2009.  I am not even going to mention that Jamie Janes had begun his career in the Army soon after his 16th birthday anniversary, joining 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards when he was 18.  On the date of his unfortunate death, just two years later, he was engaged within his second regional Call of Duty.  Nor will I state that at the date of his death, Guardsman Janes was one of two hundred & twenty British Troops killed in Afghanistan within the last eight years.

Image taken from Sky News article ("Soldier Killed In Helmand Was 'Friend To All'", 7 October 2009)

Driving Internet traffic to this Blog entry by just quoting search engine buzzword criteria from recent news topics would be considered a shoddy attempt to capitalise on the sacrifice of all Troops posted around the world.

I would like to think that if just a single reader now has a raised awareness of the plight of our active servicemen & servicewomen then it has been worth the intrusion.

Incidentally, Jamie James [with an "m"], a guitarist/singer-songwriter from Toronto, who used to be a member of Steppenwolf later founded the group The Kingbees.  One of the tracks from their first (& eponymously titled) album contains a track called "My Mistake".  Coincidence, Mr Brown?  I think not.

Even though Activision, the publishers of the most recent title in the long-running series, are trying to help with donating the (multi-)million(s) they have made from this franchise so far ("Game developer's newest 'call of duty': Help vets find jobs / Firm donates $1 million to boost employment for lagging demographic", The Washington Post, 8 November 2009), the timing of this year's release was, again, a great (but, sadly, missed) opportunity to raise awareness of the various charities that exist to help fallen service personnel around the world.

Marketing Campaign

Although owning every “Call of Duty” main & spin-off series releases to date (some titles purchased for more than one platform), I found that I was not a fan of the first "...Modern Warfare" title.  I prefer the earlier World War I/II outings where you appreciate how the individual soldier makes a difference to a war campaign, rather than winning a battle because you have a larger defence budget, the correct fitting boots, and guns that function as originally intended.  That is, they do actually allow a solider to defend themselves whilst they are defending an entire nation.

My one & only attempt to play online with “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” made me feel very ill for hours afterwards due to the random nature of motion that my co-players took as soon as the multiplayer game launched.  On that day I reverted to playing my US imported “Manhunt 2” on the Wii console (via the “Freeloader” product I purchased from Play.com) to calm my kinetosis.  But I digress (again).

I also strongly believe that the Recommended Retail Price (£55.99) of the latest “Call of Duty” release had been set far too high for the current economic market.  To an extent, though, demand of the game would far outstrip supply even if they had not only raised the selling price, but had also made a version available that included “MW2” branded night-vision goggles, a statue of the main game character, a “hardened” case to protect the instructional guide (as the game disc never leaves the player’s machine), & a compulsory trip to Afghanistan.

Even up until a day before the release of "...Modern Warfare 2" I did not intend to purchase it.  This plan lasted until I returned to my humble abode on Monday evening when I was asked by my two youngest kids for the game for Christmas.  Prior to that point they were not interested, but the TV advertising (including the Xbox 360 “Modern Warfare 2” Super Elite console sold out across the UK for a number of weeks) had caught their attention.  Their elder sibling was like me; not bothered either way.  In fact, an unopened “Game of the Year Edition” of “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” bought as a gift & presented to my eldest offspring last Christmas was sold earlier this month to fund the purchase of “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves”.

Reporting for Duty

On a side note, that may be relevant to some who are just about to comment on my parenting skills, are you aware the Pan European Game Information [PEGI] ratings system is self-regulated & not enforceable by UK law (at present)?

Also, the British Board of Film Classification system that is used on some home video & video game releases, but primarily for film (cinema) classifications, is also not enforceable by UK law at present either:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has notified the BBFC of a serious issue which has come to light in relation to the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA). Because the then British Government failed to notify the European Commission under the Technical Standards and Regulations Directive (83/189/EEC) of the Act, the VRA is no longer enforceable against individuals in the United Kingdom...

Certain game titles are not allowed to be played in the company of minors in our household; other games are played with parental supervision at all times, and some games are played without any adult being present (as they have been played by at least one grown-up and, allegedly, responsible member of the household already).  If we have visiting children then only the latter category titles are played until they return to their own homes.

United Offensive

We are very fortunate to have our own private local area network of three PS3 consoles (with the fourth, another European 60Gb model, being added to the National Grid this coming 25 December).  I think British Gas have reverted to paperless billing since March 2007 in order to save a few dozen trees on our behalf.  My kids favour online multiplayer action, especially with first (or third) person shooter titles, and I would prefer their experience to not be ruined by the harassment of "Yankers" (from across the pond) just because my family have the audacity (read: skill) to be able to kill a player who thinks England is another one of the many United States.

Hence, I elected to also require the “…Modern Warfare 2” game for myself so that we could have our own local three-player competitive games with each of us sat at our respective consoles.  We regularly have similar matches with “Killzone 2”, “Uncharted: Among Thieves”, “The Club”, “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2”, “Resistance: Fall of Man”, “Call of Duty: World at War” and, less often, the previous “…Modern Warfare” title (mainly crowded around a single console using the less than ideal split-screen facility as some people tend to ‘cheat’ by looking at another quadrant of the screen).  I was, though, darn sure I was not going to go out in the nearing sub-zero temperatures of November and queue for the chance to gain one (or more) of the Blu-ray discs & wait in a line of people for hours before the high street retailers were able to accept my money.

Captain Price

In order to maximize my changes of finding a bargain price, I keenly subscribed to the various “deals” threads at HotUKDeals.com watching others work themselves up into a frenzy because they could save a couple of quid at one retailer, or had heard a rumour of a supermarket with a promotional price for the first few days, or even those that took advantage of a poorly conceived trade-in throughout GameStation stores.

GameStation’s management had kindly concocted a part-exchange scheme where you could relinquish ownership of two of your existing game titles (as published list on an in-store leaflet) & pay an additional £4.99 to gain a copy of the “…Modern Warfare 2” game (for the platform of your choice).  Unfortunately, it did not take GameStation Store Managers long to find out that one of the anticipated part-exchange titles (“Overlord II”) could be purchased for £9.99 from Play.com, and they quickly exercised their right to refuse to accept more than one copy of this game for fear of losing revenue on the resultant ‘pre-owned’ stock for re-sale in-store.

The day after the GameStation offer was announced Play.com’s sales charts showed that “Overlord II” was outselling pre-orders of “…Modern Warfare 2” pushing that item into second place in the weekly ranking .  Just a pity that Codemasters, the publishers of the “Overlord” series, had to make staff cuts recently; I bet they benefitted greatly from GameStation’s offer!  Play.com certainly did.

Such is the bargain-hunting spirit of the British Public though, that many converted their two (still factory sealed) £9.99 games, and additional £4.99 cash amount, into a £40 value on their GameStation trade-in card to be used at any time following the release of the new “Call of Duty” title.

Many were happy… but many were not (as they had pre-ordered the same title for over £40 at Amazon.co.uk, or GAME.net, and had received confirmation that their orders had gone past the point of cancellation).

Both groups of consumers, however, were less than pleased when the news of the £26 Sainsbury’s Supermarkets offer was made public.  This was short-lived for the GameStation customers though, as they realised than the £40 GameStation Trade-in Card could be used to purchase anything (not just the game on the offer leaflet).  I bet GameStation’s share holders were slightly enlightened because they then did not have masses of people trying to part-exchange the entire UK supply of “Overlord II” (or “SingStar Take That” available for £14.99 at certain online retailers).  Look out for pre-owned “Overstock II” coming to a GameStation store near you.

Last to play their gaming hand were Wm Morrison Supermarkets vastly undercutting their nearest rival by a single penny (at £25.99).

I was certainly not aware of this until I turned up at a Morrisons store on the day of release.

Reconnaissance Mission

I woke at my usual time, showered, dressed,… woah!… back up there Muskie… undressed, showered, dressed, and left home as normal, dropped one of my kids off at school at 8am (slightly earlier than usual, as it transpired that the roads were somewhat less heavy on traffic; maybe some people had a late night for some reason).  I drove responsibly back across town to Morrisons, parked carefully, walked to the cashpoint machine, withdrew cash in a non-frenzied manner, ambled into the store, collected a basket, sauntered to the video games aisle & approached the counter expecting to see a price not too far from £35.00.  I then saw the counter staff preparing the £25.99 labels that had obviously only been issued prior to the store opening minutes earlier.  I requested (the first two of the three) PS3 versions without any hint of hysteria.   I had no reason to stand around for hours, & my only exposure to the inclement November weather was when I removed my gloves as I entered the store.  I handed over my cash, did a little more shopping for five minutes, returned to my car, left my bags, and returned in-store to purchase another PS3 version of the game as there was a sales rule restricting purchases to “only two per customer”.  Nine minutes between purchases was all that I needed to circumvent the stringent “not for eBay resale” security measures.

I then drove home abiding to the posted speed restrictions, said goodbye to my other two kids who were leaving for the day (& who fortunately had not realised I had their beloved games in the plastic carrier bag I had about my person).  I then switched on my laptop computer & my optical scanner in order to prepare a digital image of the appropriate supermarket receipts to provide to my fellow HotUKDeals members as “proof” of the price I had paid (although this was not needed as many people had posted “got one” messages already).

Maybe Morrisons shoppers are just a blip on the statistics that the media did not report upon but chose to generalise the mad-crazy-bonkers attitude of the other members of the UK population that contributed to 1.23 million sales in the first twenty four hours.

Others may have stayed up late (or early, depending on your point of view) & queued for hours, or woke up earlier than usual to stand outside stores that do not operate a “24-hour opening” policy,  I preferred the sensible approach to shopping.  I am weird that way.  Mind you, as I said previously, it was not important to me when I bought the game(s); just that I (sorry, Daddy Christmas) did not have to pay silly money (read: over £40) per item.  In the end I did not have to pre-order to secure this price, I just walked into my local supermarket & paid just 47% of the Recommended Retail Price (of £54.99).

Big Red One

Talking of Christmas, I have read that Microsoft have given out some early presents for many of their “loyal” Xbox 360 console customers (with their “modified” hardware) who just had to go online to be one of the first (tens of thousands) to try the new game they downloaded digitally from “the InterWeb” days before it was available commercially (read: legally).  As part of an operation to closedown at least 1 million so-called “pirate” users on the Xbox Live service, the eager gamers have now been served (read: “Pwned”) with a “banned” notice for their loyal service to the console manufacturer’s revenue stream.  “Boom… Headshot!” I believe “the kids” call it.

Roads to Victory

Mind you, Microsoft platform owners are not the only customers who are not experiencing the new game as originally intended.  A majority of PS3 format players are finding that they cannot gain any of the Trophies during game-play.

The first patch for the PS3 (version 1.01), available early on release day, allowed (depending on whom you believe) either a) [Internet rumours] the skipping of the "Airport" level that is causing controversy due to the nature of the mission request in-game, or b) [the Developers] the resolution of some late-breaking game code issues.  However, it also ‘broke’ the in-game Trophies "firing" (unlocking) at the appropriate points.

For the short term, PS3 players can play offline by removing the previously downloaded patch update via the “Game Data” XrossMediaBar menu item thus reinstating the original game code to award Trophies as expected.  If the same players wish to play online, then the patch is required to be (re-downloaded and) installed (resulting in the return of the lack of Trophies if then playing offline).  Still, at least PS3 owners can play online.  Xbox 360 players banned from the Xbox Live service arguably only have themselves to blame.

The development team at Infinity Ward have reportedly found the problem with the PS3 Trophy system.  A further patch will be made available "as soon as possible".

Finest Hour

If the scenes reported across various forms of media yesterday outside the doors (& down the streets) of retailers were indicative of a mass of people queuing for something important, I can only imagine in horror what food rationing must have been like during War time, and what chaos ensues around a lone water standpipe 100 miles from any villages in African nations today.

Spare a thought for those less privileged... especially around the commemoratory anniversary today, 11 November.

Ninety one years after the ceasefire of the First World War in 1918 we should reflect upon bygone world affairs & the results of "playing war games".

If you benefited from a cheaper game this week, perhaps you could spare a few minutes making a charity donation too.




The text below was written on 24 September 2008, following the conclusion of the downloadable Public Beta Trial of the PlayStation 3 exclusive title "LittleBigPlanet"

The full commercial release of the title on Blu-ray disc was released in late October & early November to all territories, but I neglected to publish the text anywhere other than the semi-official (& now defunct) PS3 Blog, ThreeSpeech.com.

Now, almost a year later, the "Game of the Year Edition" of "LittleBigPlanet" has already been released in North America & a version for the PlayStation Portable is due to be released in Europe on 20 November 2009.

Additionally, a playable demonstration version of the (original) PS3 title was made available on the PlayStation Network on 10 September 2009.

Perhaps if you are in two minds as to whether "LittleBigPlanet" is going to be a game you will enjoy, after reading the text below perhaps you would like to visit CoolShop.com, or SimplyGames.co.uk, where "LittleBigPlanet" [PS3] is available to purchase for a ridiculously low price of £12.98, or £14.79, respectively. If you favour more mainstream e-tailers, Amazon (UK) lists the title at £14.99.

The PSP title is currently available for pre-order from TheHut.com for £17.79, or from many other online outlets for less than £18.00.


I am now officially "with the programme" regarding "LittleBigPlanet", and the little Sackboy & Sackgirl population that inhabit it.

I previously avoided the constant references found scattering across my typical online reading sources. I tried to not be caught in the hysteria, ignoring those who wanted to sell a kidney or two to play the title before anybody else. I even tried putting my fingers in my ears & saying "la-la-la" whenever anybody mentioned just the first few syllables "LittleBig... gawd, not that again...", but to no avail.

However, the twenty-fourth day of September will forever be a notable day in my gaming history. No, it was not the day in 2001 when "Ico" was first released to the world (well, North America), nor the anniversary of when a "Metal Gear Solid" conversion for the Microsoft Windows platform could be played. It was the day that an e-mail arrived that offered an "exclusive online trial" to a 'nearly finished' version of the game furthermore requesting my help with "tuning the servers". It would have been rude not to at least download and help out with the "running in real world conditions" as suggested, especially considering that I seemed to have been singled-out amongst the regular patronage to my usual InterWeb forums as nobody else had reported a similar incoming message. However, I was busy that afternoon with arranging my toothpick collection into circumference order, or pairing odd socks from the last ten years, or whatever else I was doing, so I opted to download the 906Mb file from the PlayStation Network mid-afternoon, but installing & viewing would have to wait.


Five hours passed. Nothing was on the TV (as usual), my Internet Service Provider's promise of a steady throughput of gigawotsits to rival the speed of a lame carrier pigeon had failed again, and my youngest (and, apparently, most bored) offspring was hassling me to play something on my PS3.

OK, I thought... I may as well let the young loin-fruit play the stupid game before I needed to remove it to make room for the next day's PlayStation Store updates and "Davis" upgrade to "Burnout Paradise". I'd been waiting for the "Bikes & Night" pack for a while now, and if I didn't have enough room on my (what originally seemed to be an) oh-so huge 60Gb European release day PS3 console to install it then "LittleBi-la-la-la" would be the item to be deleted, no question. At all. Ever. It would be rubbish anyway. User-defined content to be encouraged? That's just the sign of a lazy development team.

So, after being unconvinced by all the marketing, hype, rumour & speculation for months, all it took was two & a half hours of tag-team offline multi-playing with my 6 year old ("Awww... Sackboy... he's so cute") to understand what the heck everybody else had been telling me all along. OK, to be fair, all it took was two & a half minutes, but you wouldn't believe me if I said that, so we'll stick with the longer than average, but shorter than obsessive trial period.

I tried to keep the game-play to myself for the first twenty minutes of the enthralling introduction/credits/tutorial side-scrolling visual wonderment, but gave in to the seemingly constant interventions by my youngest child's open-mouthed delight, "Did I mention I hadn't had a go yet? That's because I haven't!... When is it my turn?... Come on already, give me the controller" etc.

A review of this title based on such a limited time could never do it justice. We only touched the surface of the ‘Planet, and what it will be capable of.

Any review, however, should include just three words... "Just play it".

It IS *that* good.

But those who know me, or have come to ignore me, should realise I do have something further to add.


Do you remember the feeling you had when you loaded up the first "Crash Bandicoot" title on the original PlayStation when the cheeky marsupial turned to you & raised his eyebrow?

Do you recall the many hours (and coins) spent on "Donkey Kong" as the Jumpman (Mario Mario) Carpenter character seeing how 'High can you go' towards the next 25 metre level only to be thwarted by a barrel that was faster than your little (plumber-like, but not yet) legs could carry you? (It was probably a wise idea to dress in drainpipe trousers that day. Trousers befitting of a master of wood probably meant you 'wooden' go faster when I needed you to).

And think back to the times spent with the same gaming premise but the differing approaches of "Hunchback", "Manic Miner", "Frak!", "Prince of Persia", "Chuckie Egg", "Commander Keen", "Super Mario Bros.", "Sonic The Hedgehog", & "Tomb Raider"?

Well, throw all these happy hours, nay, years of gaming into a bag labelled 'Media Molecule', shake it up, and stick your hand in.

Can you guess what you will find?... Yes, that's right, "CrashKongbackManicPersiaEggCosmicMarioHedgehogRaider"... a very large score at Scrabble, or the PS3's finest offering to date, and more succinctly packaged with a rather more convenient (and memorable) name of "LittleBigPlanet".

It also has elements of the "The Incredible Machine", mixed with the Milton Bradley "Mouse Trap" board game, and glued together with a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" style voice-over (unsurprisingly given that "The voice of the book", Stephen Fry, is here to narrate, inform, and generally welcome you to the game), and the soundtrack to the introductory levels is taken from the 'The Gallery' theme for BBC TV’s "Vision On" programme (or "Left Bank Two", composed by Wayne Hill, if you prefer).

It is like all previous platform games you have ever played, but unlike any other game you have ever seen. It is familiar but highly original. It is the title that is the current video games console generation's most intriguing, and influential offering to date.

All those involved should be congratulated for their vision, design, execution, and by no means least, their ability to capture exactly what is needed to convince everyone that the PS3 is a more than worthy successor to the previous iterations of the Sony PlayStation brand.

It was just earlier today I was saying at ThreeSpeech.com that the PlayStation 3 "is portrayed as a device for adults, with very few titles for children, or for families".

This title will change everything. This title is The Next Big Thing. This title is the past, the present, and the future all rolled into one.


Following the release of the full retail edition of the game, more enjoyable & hilarious game-play ensued. I thought back to my original comments, and felt the desire to put finger-to-keyboard again, primarily because every day of that particular week, prior to leaving for the daily commute (or, as I prefer to think of it, "the work I have to do before I get to work to surf the 'net"), I was playing alongside one of my kids [all three of them (ages 6, 7 & 10) play in varying combinations every morning, and evening!] at a few user community defined levels.

The interaction of the in-game characters with the environments was (and remains to be) genuinely laugh out loud funny. Even if you do not like the idea of a platform game, the level of attention to detail with the animation has to be admired.


I could gush on about the game-play, the characters, the costumes, and other inventory items, the in-game world objects, and the excellent focus on the action, but that would be spoiling the joy that anybody else would receive first-hand like we experienced on our first outing, and continue to unearth on each subsequent occasion.

Of course, you may hate it, as everybody's tastes in gaming are different. I am a first person shooter, martial arts, and racing game fan, and "LittleBigPlanet" has none of these elements (well, to a point, but I'll not spoil that either!). My young co-player also commented during the initial gaming session how pleasant it was to find a game where you did not "attack someone"; there is no killing of innocent aliens, no jumping on toadstools until they die, or bricks to headbutt until coins appear. There is, however, an environment where you can trust kids to learn problem solving skills, and adopt team-working strategies, rather than seeing how much blood & gore they can extract from a random character, or how to hot-wire a car.

It was a very refreshing change.

Although not created directly by Sony, Sackboy's dominance of the market in the next few months is in no small ("LittleBig", if you prefer) part due to Sony's intervention.

From my first "review" (of the Public Beta Trial, above) I commented that the game crosses boundaries like no other.

If I had a little(Big) more free time, I would love to devote hours to the level tutorial & the foreseeable trial'n'error antics that would follow. However, from the number of levels that have been captured in video form on various other sites across the InterWeb, I have the impression that the tools that are included must be easy to use as I would not imagine the number of people persevering with the user-defined content would be that great if they were not. And, of course, the game is quoted as one where the user community will dominate level development after the initial commercial release, so you would expect the in-built toolset to be easy to use.

Of course, any title to a point becomes "hyped" out of proportion, only to receive a backlash from the critics & public alike when it doesn't deliver the cure for cancer or solve world poverty.

Perhaps Sony's marketing strategy this time around is to let the title become known by word-of-mouth, rather than promotional buzzword bingo.

There will also be those (not necessarily who favour alternate home video entertainment systems) who condemn the title (even without playing it).

However, now the title is on general release & a downloadable playable demo is available to everybody [almost a year later; it now transpires!]; I would urge anybody to just try it & to make up their own minds.

I’m hoping "LittleBigPlanet" appeals to the masses, and there are not many who will be disappointed, but if they are, that’s cool too. Negative criticism (as long as it is constructive) is just as important, if not more important, than positive praise.

The PS3 console is still very young (albeit that talk of the PS4 [using the same cell processor architecture technology] is currently hitting sites across the globe), and remember that titles such as "God of War II" reached the PS2 catalogue very late on [and, incidentally, is part of the "God of War Collection" seeing a (720p) High Definition PS3 Blu-ray disc-friendly format release (in North America) at the end of 2009, prior to the European release in 2010, and the worldwide release of "God of War III" during the following spring; "March of War"... geddit?]. If "LittleBigPlanet" is the first title to be developed by Media Molecule, I am very curious to see what they can deliver thereafter or, indeed, what influence this title has any anything that follows it.

Never underestimate the power of PlayStation.


[Note to self: I really must apply for a role in the Sony Press Office :)]

Note to everybody else, if my verbal meanderings are not enough to convince you, may I direct you to the following article at Kikizo.com:

"LittleBigPlanet: The Very Big Interview" (30 September 2008)

Additionally, I would like to add that 12 months on my family's introduction to the game, my (now) 7, 8 & 11 year olds still play "LittleBigPlanet" on a weekly basis. Sometimes they invite their friends 'round to share in their enjoyment of the game levels they have found online made by the active user community, and to test out the multiple levels each three of them have built (individually) themselves.

Over the last year we have been treated to additional downloadable content ranging from single in-game character costumes based on a variety of subject matter including:

* annual festivals (Christmas, Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day [yes, seriously!], Valentine's Day, & St Patrick's Day, amongst others),

* other PlayStation titles ("MotorStorm", "God of War", "Metal Gear Solid", "Heavenly Sword", "LocoRoco", "Patapon", "WipEout", "Ape Escape", "Buzz! Quiz TV", "Street Fighter", "Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic" and, most recently, "Ghostbusters: The Video Game"),

* optional Game Packs that introduce new in-game level creation objects (stickers, backgrounds, & decorations),

* a full Level Kit such as "Metal Gear Solid: Paint of the Patriots", that included an additional in-game weapon, the Paintenator, allowing every player to fire harmless, but colourful paint pellets at every other player or to trigger switches to gain access to other areas of the levels. Combined with the "Metal Gear Solid" Costume Kit, you could play the levels as one of the franchise's characters; Raiden, Screaming Mantis, Meryl Silverburgh, or Solid Snake himself.

Mind you, I still have not found the time to even start the in-game level creation tutorial.Maybe having a portable edition for my PSP console will mean I do not have an excuse any more! :)



Virtually Physical

Originally posted on 16 May 2008 at 1upGamers.com

With the advent of downloadable gaming content (via the PlayStation Network, Xbox LIVE, and Nintendo’s WiiWare) at a relatively inexpensive cost, are we now seeing the beginning of the end of physical disc based products?

Unless a video games console was specifically purchased to play just one title unavailable on any other dedicated games machine (for example a PS3 for “Gran Turismo 5”, a Wii for “Wii Fit”, and an Xbox 360 for “Halo 3”), then it’s fair to assume that over the lifespan of the console the amount spent on software titles is far in excess of the original purchase price of the hardware. Even when the hardware fails beyond repair outside of a warranty period, it is the selection (and/or quantity) of game titles already owned that enforce the decision to purchase a replacement machine so that the gaming can continue.

In some cases, even when the console is covered by a replacement warranty, but the period to gain a refurbished machine is too long, then a new machine is purchased as soon as practically possible (resulting in many “pre-owned” examples ending up on eBay when the replacements finally arrive).

The existence of custom firmware changes and/or bespoke “Flash Cards” aside, the amount spent on handheld gaming machines (costing around £100) is certainly much lower than the “running costs” of buying a few games (cartridges, or Universal Media Discs, for example) that can be upwards of £25 each for newly released titles, so this after-sales market is really where profits can be made (to offset losses on every console made until a certain quantity have been sold).

Loss Leaders

Reports this week have relayed that Sony is losing 130 or 260 (US) dollars (depending which of the reports you believe) on every PS3 console sold. This is not new information, though. Sony have publicly announced that they hope to finally turn a profit on the PS3 hardware this coming August (2008), and figures on the actual build costs of each component in the console have always been greater than the combined selling price (so far). Whether this is actually true, or not, and whether this may just be a clever marketing strategy to make the public believe they are buying the latest technology for a considerable discount and getting an increased value for their money, I will leave up to you. I would not be surprised, however, if immediately after the PS3 “eventually makes a profit” then the announcement of a new, slimmer, lighter, PS3 console will be made public (another one of the industry’s not very well kept secrets, but it is not difficult to predict given the past history of the PlayStation brand).

This aside, could the profits reaped from game sales be greater by not seeking a Recommended Retail Price of £35-£50 for disc-based titles that sell very little beyond the first week? It has also been reported recently that if a title does not sell in large enough quantities within the first seven days of release then it is considered a “failure”. This may well go some way to explain why new titles always seem to be “out of stock” the week during, or immediately after, release as the store owners are waiting to see how (quickly) the first allocation into stock sell before they go to the expense of ordering more quantities as a regular influx of new titles means that there is always something to fill the shelves and nobody wishes to be left with 3,000 copies of “Asterix at the Olympic Games”, for example.

With the budgets spent on some titles reaching, if not exceeding that of Hollywood movie “blockbusters” it is becoming increasingly important for physical product sale quantities to reach a high turnover as quickly as possible to settle any debts incurred during the development and to ensure that the maximum number of sales are gained before the next “must have” title is release a week later. Those titles that have not sold as well as expected are discounted in price almost immediately, and certainly within a three to six month period the same title can be purchased at a large reduction in price, primarily via online mail order web sites, but also within in-store promotions at dedicated game-related retailers.

Cost Effective

But do games have to cost so much to produce? How much is spent on marketing and advertising? Is this wasted expense? Does word of mouth sell a game alone? Do demonstration video trailers released during development whet the appetites of undecided parties enough that a TV campaign, billboard banners, and/or printed media advertisements are not needed? Does anybody ever read the provided manual, or is a button configuration the only information read before the game is launched?

Does a “Limited Collector’s Edition” have to be produced to attract higher sales, or would a game sell as much if it came in a clear plastic sleeve at a reduced cost? In the latter case, I was one of the many who bought the “Assassin’s Creed” Special Edition release with a figurine of the lead character, Altair. It did not add to my enjoyment of the game, in fact it added nothing to my gaming experience. I was actually very disappointed with the game content overall. Why can our hero fall several stories onto concrete, but as soon as he gets his feet wet in 2 inches of water he dies? But I digress. Yes, you can argue that the co-release of a Collector’s Edition is only there to make more profit, instead of catering for the needs of the “collector”, and I suspect you would probably be correct in that thought. Extra in-game content such as a larger roster of playable characters, vehicles, weapons, and so on, or additional production video notes and images supplied in the form of supplemental discs are “collectables” if only available in a truly limited supply (and maybe even deleted from stock catalogues on the day of release). But when these so-called “Special” items are then made available weeks later as downloadable content, or unlocked by the player’s ability to use an Internet search engine, then it diminishes the extra value gained in the higher priced physical product.

If a typical consumer (with, let us assume, limited income) is looking to purchase a console (say, £280 for a PS3, £190 for an Xbox 360, or £180 for a Wii), and they review the prices of the game titles (that are priced comparably across the selection of “next generation” consoles), then it is understandable why the cheapest machine is chosen irrespective of any additional features any other may offer (such as the ability to play Blu-ray movies, or the support of the large online communities, or even the established back-catalogue of family-oriented games).

But do games have to be as expensive as they are? Simple economics says that when the price goes down, and with other factors remaining equal, the demand should go up. Thus, selling 100 units at £50 each may look attractive on paper, but selling 1000 units at £30 each is a much better business model. Of course this thinking is completely irrelevant when a high profile title such as “Grand Theft Auto IV” is released that receives so much hype in the lead-up that people will buy it at almost any cost, and will even queue in the lead-up to midnight to be the “first” to own it too. They then moan when it does not deliver the experience they were hoping for, especially with respect to the current issues with online multi-player games on the PS3 console. So, granted, offering a title of this nature at a reduced selling price in the first week would be financial suicide. In fact, the price will probably not drop until sales reach such a low that it is assumed that anybody who would wish to purchase (at the “any cost” price) has now done so, and the Christmas market needs to be targeted instead.

Cheap 'n' Cheerful

There are very few titles that attract this media attention (although the imminent release of “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” is another exception to this theory) as there are many new titles released on a regular basis that do not reach the same level of expectations but can be just as enjoyable and just as anticipated by the gaming public.

Personally I spend more time playing downloadable content on my PS3 console (“Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection Online”, “PAIN”, and “PixelJunk Monsters”) than I do on any other title. This could be because of convenience in that these games are instantly available when I switch the console on as they are stored on the integral hard drive as reaching for a different game stored in a box & having to get up to put the disc into the Blu-ray drive can be such a chore [?]. Or it could be that they are particular good games that I enjoy playing, and the fact they were a tenth of the price of other games only available in physical disc-based form does not have any bearing on my choice. These titles all have additional and optional downloadable “add-on” in-game content in the same “low cost” pricing model, and so the games can be bought in stages, or when disposable income allows.

So, is it justifiable to charge high prices for “big budget” games when much smaller budget titles are just as playable (and in some cases are enjoyed over a longer period)?

Change of Direction

Resources should, arguably, be devoted (or re-routed) into producing downloadable titles for less than, say, £10, that can be repeatedly plugged to the dedicated online store punters, with further downloadable content in the form of game packs, add-ons, & updates each costing similarly low-cost fees (£3-£5 each), in an attempt to revitalise sales of older titles and to re-introduce them if they had been dismissed previously. Certainly the “try before you buy” downloadable & playable demonstration versions of upcoming titles available at no extra cost has saved me a fair few pounds in providing a valuable insight to a game I would have bought but then realised it was not for me after all (“Clive Barker’s Jericho” being a prime example). Conversely, playing demonstration versions of certain titles has also meant that I have made subsequent purchases of the full commercial versions that I would never have considered previously (“Burnout Paradise”, being an example here). So, it sort of balances out over time (unless you are the makers of “Jericho”).

In the case of the Sony PS3 console, continuing their current trend of re-issuing PlayStation [One] titles as downloadable purchases from the “PlayStation Store” at a cost of £3 per time is, in some cases, three to six times the cost that the original CD-based titles are sold pre-owned in bespoke gaming-related high street stores & car boot sales, exchange/trade centres, and so on. Using the same approach, PlayStation 2 titles could also be considered for a future revenue stream at, say, £6 per time. The Wii “Virtual Console” also offers past Nintendo, Sega, and (just recently) Commodore 64 titles amongst others to the same audience who wish to reminisce in days gone by at a fraction of the cost of the initial selling price. The Microsoft platform also offers a similar service by way of the “Xbox LIVE Arcade” facility.

The only downside is that if there is no longer as much of a demand for pre-owned titles in high street stores then these organisations will have to adjust the selling prices of other items to generate the same profits, or move their operations online to reduce overall costs. I believe the internet is quite popular these days, so this may be a worthwhile venture [?]. Retaining a bricks’n’mortar presence will lead to higher shelf prices for disc-based games resulting in fewer console sales as the public choose cheaper (but, not necessarily, better) console options. Also, buying a present for a loved one may well prove less than personal if all you do is go into a shop, hand over your payment, and receive a “download serial key” in a card.

Small Price to Pay

The ability of a small child to cause a fuss, stamp their feet, shout, scream, grab the door frames with all available limbs and show no sign of letting go, and say embarrassing things they should never have overheard until they get a game in their hand when attempting to leave the shopping centre should not be underestimated as a viable sales trend. Look out for the signs of pitching in-store “deals of the week” during school holiday periods, offering demonstration “pods” of upcoming titles or dedicated competitions, and placing “real life” human-sized loveable gaming characters inside shops to attract kids with their reluctant parents bringing up the rear. Then keeping watching when the same parents want to go home & how they have to bribe their little bundles of joy with an over-priced game before they will be “allowed” to leave.

Maybe the absence of physical games in shopping centres may be a good idea for parents? There will still be the sweet selection at the checkout at the supermarket, though, so kids still win. Damn them.

But back to the point… there is obviously a balance to be struck between the prices and availability of downloadable content versus physical product, as well as ensuring further consoles have sufficient on-board hard drive capacities to cope especially given the plans for TV programme content to be remotely streamed & stored locally to video games consoles. Unless you own a Wii console, of course, and welcome the BBC supporting access to their “iPlayer” facility. Or, unless you know where to look for the PS3 iPlayer “hacker project”, and have not discovered “Google” either.

In the future, when the supporting network connection infrastructure bandwidth is in place (subject to significant investment from appropriate Government bodies so that speed restrictions are not imposed on connections no matter how far away a consumer is from a telephone exchange), consoles may well not have hard drives at all, but just larger on-board memory capacities to retain the entire game (or media) content without the need for any other local storage medium.

If the delivery of any media item to a domestic outlet (TV, personal computing device, video games console, mobile telephone handset, fridge, car dashboard, or whatever “multimedia entertainment centre” is deemed appropriate) is relatively instantaneous then the need to own the physical product no longer becomes a necessity.

How many of Earth’s scarce resources go into the manufacture/delivery of plastic cases & metal discs to high street shelving racks that remain unwanted? The products are probably not even made from recyclable materials. If the demand for physical products was not there then supply would need to be lessened.

I have many past purchases for varying games consoles still unopened and unplayed from the day I bought them as the price was “too good” to pass by. If the product was not physically on offer for me to waste my finite income upon, and it was always going to be available online at the same (fixed) cost then I would not feel the need to fill my basket full of top quality, reduced-price titles on the off-chance I will ever have enough time to play them.

Future Prospects

As Sony are already underway developing the “PS-Four”, and the other ‘major players’ are also in the design process of their respective next-”next generation” machines, we should really make our thoughts heard now about how we want to see the industry progress into the following decade and beyond.

If past decisions are anything to go by we may well see “SingStar Volume 17″ as a launch title, and executives are probably debating whether 120GB will be ample storage for the next ten years, if 2 USB ports are all anybody will ever need, or if a DUALSHOCK®3 controller is going to be released in the UK when it is bundled with the next console.

This said, Sony are not going to want to kill the cash-cow that is the home video-ownership market unless they have a suitable alternate delivery (and profit making) mechanism to replace it. As was the case with the vinyl/magnetic audio cassette/Compact Disc “upgrade” path where the same punter was conned into buying the same album multiple times (including the formats that were scrapped along the way such as Digital Audio Tape, and Digital Compact Cassette), the home video progression from (<cough> Betamax to) Video Home System cassettes, though LaserDiscs, Digital Versatile Discs, and now (<cough> again, High-Definition Digital Versatile Discs) to the Blu-ray disc format of today has been a very lucrative market especially if an organisation also has interests in movie production and can release incentives in the form of “never seen before extras” for the general public to re-purchase the same movie again and again when each new format is adopted (or forced upon the consumers).

One thing is for sure, is that if Sony does not see the end to the reliance on shiny round discs, certain other manufacturers (still smarting from the loss of support for the HD-DVD format) may well already be forming relationships with telecommunications organisations for their “next generation” console.

Nobody wants to come second … do they? Well, not unless they are a gentleman. So think on when you buy cheap downloadable titles. Who knows what it will lead to ?

Further Comment

Additional comment originally posted on 16 June 2008 at 1upGamers.com

In case you missed this news [like I did], TrustedReviews.com published an article on 7 March 2008 stating that a 60GB Xbox 360 model will be replacing the current 20GB model, probably by the end of the second quarter of this year.

The brief article also speculated on Microsoft’s discussions with Sony concerning the introduction of a Blu-ray drive, but this has recently been debunked by Microsoft (on a few occasions) in statements regarding the Company’s vision of making their gaming console the central hub of downloadable content, rather than relying on increasingly larger capacity external media drives (read: trying to pretend that this was their longer term plan all along, and in no way was as a result of the recent ‘defeat’ in the Blu-ray Disc versus High-Definition Digital Versatile Disc format ‘war’).

Today, TrustedReviews.com have followed-up with the news that Microsoft will make an announcement during the E3 ["Electronic Entertainment Expo"] Media and Business Summit computer & video games industry trade show (15 to 17 July 2008). The source of the information has also relayed that the scheduled release of an addition to the Xbox 360 range would be prior to 10 August 2008.

Of course, just because Microsoft are stressing that Lite-On are not manufacturing Blu-ray drives for the Xbox 360 console is no indication that this has not been considered, is being considered, or indeed is not happening (albeit with another manufacturer).

What you will not see or hear will be a statement where Microsoft admit ‘defeat’ & the announcement that they are going back on previous decisions to not support the Blu-ray media format.

In related news, Nintendo were recently seeking to appoint a “Software/Hardware Tester” on the “Career Opportunities” section of their web site. One of the required candidate’s duties was “Creating and executing a test plan for Wii’s USB devices“.

This employment advertisement has now been removed, but Monster.com are listing a Contract (part-time) position for a “Software/Hardware Tester” based at Nintendo of America Inc. (the Western Hemisphere headquarters of Nintendo Co. Limited of Kyoto, Japan) in Redmond, Washington 98052.

However, if you were interested in applying for this position (with Reference Code “060000001H”), you may well have missed the deadline as the Monster.com listing states:

Applications and resumes will only be accepted through Nintendo’s website as we no longer accept paper, faxed, or emailed resumes

One can only surmise that Nintendo are also looking to support external storage capabilities in the near future, probably in time for the pre-Christmas retail rush so that the Wii console offers the ability to store large capacity downloadable content locally.



Wii wish you a merry Christmas

Originally posted on 11 October 2007 at 1upGamers.com

Hi again,

So, how is your Christmas shopping going to date? What? You have not started yet? You leave all your shopping until after you come out of the pub at 4pm on Christmas Eve to swagger down Oxford Street (or your local main retail metropolis of choice) handing over this year’s bonus to anyone who will gladly separate you from your cash in exchange for any over-priced tat that they have left on the shelves? OK, anything in Oxford Street (in December) is over-priced, but you get the idea. Anyway, 74 (shopping) days to go.

My kids are, as usual, asking for everything gaming related, or Pokémon related, or Pokémon gaming related this year. In favour seems to be a PSP handheld for our eldest (aged 9), and a Wii console for our two youngest (5, & 6). The PSP has been relatively easy to source; given the recent release of the “Slim & Lite” the older, original (’legacy’ or ‘retro’) “Fat & Heavy” (or “Phat & Heavy”) console is readily-available with or without <cough> custom firmware. But I would not know about that. So do not ask me!

White Console Wonderlandment

Having missed out on the 39 Wii consoles delivered to the Canary Wharf branch of GAME on Tuesday this week, with only 12 left yesterday at 11:50am, and not being one of the first 22 customers queuing outside the door (who I thought was an over-eager audience for the price reduction of the 60GB PS3, and the release of the new entry level 40GB model), I spent a few desperate minutes on the Amazon.co.uk, SoftUK.com, ChoicesUK.com, Gamestation.co.uk, & GAME.co.uk web sites trying to find a Wii in stock. It seems the delivery at GAME had taken the store staff by surprise too, as the Wii boxes on the shelves still had stickers saying “out of stock” on them, or perhaps they were just saving themselves time expecting all the consoles to sell out within 24 hours anyway?

So, having rushed back to my laptop, I finally snagged one, the second Wii Console for our household; the first already in prominent place beneath our (10 year old CRT ["fat" screen not flat screen]) TV that is threatening to give up the ghost[ing] any day now… if only it could hang on until the January sales (as I do not want to be on Oxford Street on Christmas Eve trying to carry a HD-TV through the crowds). Yeah, I know, two Wii consoles for the kids is excessive considering there are so many people in the world without one (Wii consoles, that is, not children), but I did not want to be left in the same situation as I was in 2004 when I thought I would be able to get a PlayStation 2 without any trouble at the end of November/start of December. I even rejected one in stock at Blockbuster mid-November as it was £9 over the Recommended Retail Price.  Trying to save a relatively small amount of money turned out to be a Big Mistake!

Revolutionary Idea

I eventually ended up buying a pre-owned PS2 from GAME two days before Christmas as stocks just dried-up completely. My three kids were happy, thank goodness, but it could have gone so horribly wrong. The name of the white-bearded fat man in the red suit, who rides the night by reindeer in a saintly manner whilst scoffing so many mince pies & drinking so much wine he would be a danger to other airborne courier services, would have been taken in vain for many months to come if he had not delivered that year. The PS2 itself broke a few months later, just out of the three-month warranty period (surprise, surprise), due to over-excessive use, and we had to buy a brand new one (for almost the same price we paid for the pre-owned one, but hey-ho-ho-ho, it is the thought that counts at Christmas, right?).

So yesterday… there I was working my way down the list of bundles on the GAME site, and every time I added one to my basket & progressed in the checkout pages to pay I would find stock levels had run out in the few seconds it had taken. Luckily one of the bundles, a Wii Console (including Wii Sports) & “Resident Evil 4 (Wii Edition)”, proved fruitful, probably due to the fact that the title is not particularly child-friendly. The other available bundle included “Super Paper Mario”… I am sure the recent news that this title may cause the player to have to re-boot their console & restart the game had no bearing on availability here.

(If you are interested, a spokesperson for Nintendo claims the issue is avoidable, stating that, “At the start of Chapter 2-2, you will come across a character called Mimi. She will tell you to go to the farthest room on the first floor to meet a character called Merlee. Enter that room and press the green switch. A trap will be triggered, and a spiked ceiling will descend upon Mario. Before the ceiling reaches him, flip into 3D and jump on it to find a key. If you pick up the key, you won’t run into any problems. Use it to open the locked door to Mimi’s right. However, if you talk to Mimi without picking up the key, the game will freeze. You will then have to turn off your Wii console and start again from your last save point”. Nintendo has been quick to assure users the problem will not damage their Wii console or the game disc, but has promised to replace the disc for anyone who feels concerned)

I purposely did not attempt to buy from Amazon (UK) or, rather, I would have done at a very last resort, as they always seem to botch my orders. They either do not arrive at all, take an absolute age to be despatched even if all the items in my order are in stock (last week I even had to contact them to ask why it would take 4-6 weeks for four items to be delivered when each item was in stock on their site at the time!), or are just plain tiresome with cancelling orders because they have listed an item with an incorrect price & make it sound like it was my fault for not noticing their mistake! But I refreshed the Amazon web page I had open in my browser anyway, and found they too had also sold out within minutes of my initial search, and were only offering “marketplace seller” listings that were so vastly over-priced I would not have bothered anyway… no wait… remember the PS2 fiasco of 2004… OK, I may have bought one, but only because it was not really Amazon, it was somebody who has learned that selling on eBay costs way too much & have decided to pay less fees to Amazon instead).

Annoyingly I already have the “Resident Evil” title for the Wii; it is, in fact, one of the only titles I enjoy playing on the console as I find Nintendo’s offerings a little too child-centric for my gaming tastes. I will, therefore, probably be trading-in or selling this title as soon as it arrives. Hopefully this should be quite soon as we seem to be between Royal Mail strikes in the UK at present).

In Stockings or Out of Stock

So anyway, the reason for my post, if you are in the market for a Wii for your darlings (large, or small) this festive season, and do not wish to risk waiting to see if a new version is released in time for the over-hyped big day at the end of December; be it a Red console, a Black one, or a console bundled with the “Wii Zapper”, then may I advise you set the home page of your browser of choice [Mozilla Firefox, of course], to one of the following URLs:

[ http://www.wii-consoles.co.uk/wii_console_realtime.asp ]


[ http://www.wiipreorder.co.uk/Wii-Stock.aspx ]

Both these pages refresh every few minutes & list online e-tailers that have Wii consoles in stock. It may just save your, or rather Mr Christmas’, neck this year. The turkey or goose, on the other hand, may not be quite as lucky. Yes, some people are suggesting that Nintendo are deliberately making their new console difficult to buy (again, for the second year) by restricting availability as this gives them free press in the media, and makes the consoles themselves sound in such a high demand. The real hold-up seems to be with the production of the silicon jackets for the Wiimote devices as Nintendo have finally bowed to public pressure (or is that legal pressure?) with respect to legal action resulting from over-excited activity & broken objects in the same environment whilst using the motion-based Remote devices. A £25-£30 Wiimote does not seem to be favoured embedded within a £1000-£2000 HD/Plasma TV, it seems. Personally I think it is an interesting feature that offers a central point of conversation during coffee mornings & after dinner parties. But each to their own, I guess.

Festive Fashion

Although Nintendo-branded and third-party silicon jackets are already available for additional cost, all future Wii console packs should include a jacket for free.

(Existing owners can apply to Nintendo using the UK online form, or the US online form, offering up to four jackets for free once the site is supplied with the serial number of the associated Wii console).

UK production of the silicon jackets was initially slow, but this is now being resolved, and delivery channels to the high street stores & online sites should now improve.

Hmmm… Silicon jacket? That sounds like a good idea for slipping through the crowds on Christmas Eve.

Good luck everyone…

Further Comment

Additional comment originally posted on 12 October 2007 at 1upGamers.com

The Wii console I bought from GAME yesterday lunchtime has just been delivered by Parcel Force!

Faith in the UK postal delivery services is restored, for today, anyway.