All posts for the month October, 2006

In a downward spiral of serial debacles, Sony announced today that after the estimate of 4 million PS3 units by end of year was slashed down to 2 million, with launch seeing a paltry 100,000 units for Japan and 400,000 for the U.S., guess what? Japan, the heart of PS3 loyalty, is actually going to be getting 80,000 at launch. In completed unrelated news, end of year units for the Wii is expected to "handily" beat 6 million, with 1-2 million estimated ready to go at launch. Preliminary reports rumor 24-120 Wii's per Best Buy.

Let's step back from the numbers here. What the heck is Sony doing? Do they really want their plentiful holiday season preceded by plentiful consumer base exposure to their competitors? And their weapon against the monumental XBox Live is a petulant adaptation of XFire (for which support falls into the duties of individual developers), completely ignoring the necessity of the online community in the console world, a need PC gamers have taken for granted? Even the Wii Channels system is taking the Animal Crossing model to make gamers networked and personal. The story is quickly going from a Miracle on 34th St. to Great Expectations to Macbeth.

Admittedly, their launch list looks like the strongest of the three so far, but it's almost as if they were actively sowing the seeds of confusion and disappointment into their product. From PR snafus to logistics drama, we're seeing a lot of weakness as they strut and fret their hour on the stage. Though people who find the whole console war debate irrelevant would say the market is robust enough for them all, and the industry stands to gain no matter who is the victor, if they're wrong, there is no doubt that Sony has its hands furthest down the cookie jar.

Despite growing apprehension in the currently overbought market, I recently bought a good chunk of Nintendo stock, something I should have done a long time ago. Even with a soft landing, the economy isn't too supporting of the PS3 price point, nor an alinear jump in game sales (yes I know it's cyclic). I think very soon, the industry will realize that huge budgets net huge revenues, but huge profit margin is what ultimately counts. As it stands, only the Big N seems to be on that terra firma. Looking at how game stocks did this past year, shareholders agree that "next-gen" is just bluster, signifying nothing. Show me the money.

…death and tax evasion.

I seriously thought gamers were a bunch of Democrats these days. Guess not.

I made a post earlier today that I felt worth expanding on. It dissappoints me how naively the gaming community opposes the taxation of virtual property, which thanks to the proliferation of game economies in venues like Second Life and World of Warcraft has brought legislative interests in like cultural vultures to a cash-stuffed corpse, which has begun turning the wheels in the dark recesses of the IRS’ mind. It is like a shudder in the Book of Revelations when Reuters decides to establish a virtual news bureau to investigate virtual news.

But it’s happening. And you’d be a fool to stand against it. Specifically, what’s being debated is that virtual transactions of either virtual goods or virtual currency is capitalized into real money. How much? There are a few individuals who make six digit salaries as black market dealers, (adult) service providers, and real-virtual-estate agents. Can one really expect the IRS to take a backseat to that?

Of course not. Income is income. Income is taxable, income SHOULD be taxable. It doesn’t matter if you’re engaged in the intangible businesses of gaming, or the intangible businesses of day-trading, education, entertainment, customer service, consultation, art, etc., if you’re making money, you should be taxed. The more interesting question is how asset value is determined. But I look forward to the day when I can write the cost of buying Warcraft off my taxes, or include the depreciation of my Second Life home on my Schedule A.

The most ignorant thing people said was that the EULA for the game prohibits sale of virtual assets, and therefore government is breaking the law trying to collect on in-game actions. It doesn’t matter if income is legal, illegal, magical, mystical, or genetically produced out of the ass of an X-man, it is TAXABLE.

I can’t wait until the controversy is stirred up further when Kojima’s stock market game comes out. It is possible the government will confuse realized and non-realized profits in the virtual economy. The current state of game regulation debate is looking bad, as we’re being caught between the “bring the government down on their corporate asses” Democrats, and the “morals aka sex should be regulated in all media” Republicans, turning the whole charade into a political lose-lose for video games. It’s high noon outside the virtual saloon, and the tumbleweeds are a’tumblin away from the gunfight.

Having read The Way to Win last night, a refreshingly apartisan account of the political strategies of the two “geniuses” of our time, Clinton and Rove, I was pleased that the authors summarized the nature of modern politics so succinctly with the phrase “Freak Show.” Their contention is that we’ve evolved the campaign from mudslinging to an outright technological media arms race. One by one, the failings of Gore and Kerry’s strategies to defeat a foe that seemed less articulate, less capable, less experienced, and less ambitious than them are expounded.

The brilliance of Rove’s polls-be-damned approach, or Clinton’s muddling of party loyalties, how they succeed despite our preconceptions of how a political campaign should work, how what we think is a right-wing media contra was actually an old guard manipulated by Bush’s neo-conservative movement, it all makes for an engaging read. Whether it’s Clinton or Rove you consider a malevolent architect of corrupt administrations, or both of them in my case, you can’t help but appreciate the the wealth of knowledge and understanding embodied in these two forces of 2400 Penn.

In the end, nothing is new about Freak Show politics, only its migration from a blunt tact to subversive science. For us, the chess pieces caught in the whirl of Washington’s gambits, the stark, existential playground of this independent one-man game Limbo feels so familiar. Watch the teaser, its abject desolation, its blacks and whites and greys, its determined abstractions, is rife with hope. Come the next election, perhaps a candidate will rise from the dark and seize on that hope. Until then, the throngs grow more disenchanted, and I expect voter turnout to drown in the wasteland.

Even since the Tokyo Game Show, I haven't seen much that was mindblowing in terms of console graphics. Sure, Bioshock gave me the chills, but its sub-aquarium art deco style and pitiless monster screams are working off the advantage of breath-taking art direction, and the echoes of the primal fear found, of all places, in a video game called System Shock. That's plain unfair.

To date, the System Shock games have been the only ones to scare the beejesus outta me, unless you count playing the marine in Alien Vs. Predator and facing hordes of wall-slithering low-poly xenomorphs with nothing but a desperate assault rifle and the para-sympathetic beep of an astigmatic motion detector throwing its hindsight into the dark of the tunnels. But that was fear, not the transformation of horror to terror you get running from Shodan's cyber-midwives birthing aberrated monstrosities while begging you to kill them. If Bioshock brings that feeling back, and under the new claustrophobic pressures of its ocean sunk carnivale screaming with rusting valves, leaking walls, and antique midways, well, it'll be a hell of a game.

Ok, so maybe I also jumped a bit at that first monster in Alone in the Dark simultaneously breaking the silence and the bookshelf I pushed over the suspicious hole, but c'mon, we were kids then. Regardless, that wasn't the kind of goosebumps I care for, and it still isn't today. No, the goosebumps I want are the kind I get when I watch this Alan Wake trailer.

From the folks who gave us the psychotic supercomic narratives of the loquacious Max Payne comes something of the same literary vein, a tale of a writer in Alaska with strange circumstances about. Let me tell ya, I've been there, and that is EXACTLY how Alaska should look in a game. It has all the isolation, the empowering and humbling expanse, and the sentient daylight that tricks the brain and tires the soul. It's gorgeous. And moreover, it drops my jaw without rockets, robots, aliens, or some iteration of WWII or Special Forces.