Amazon.com begin selling Xbox Live Arcade games

On May 8, 2009 by

The place of the traditional retailer is often discussed in regards to the games industry’s future and usually the conclusion is drawn that digital distribution will eventually be its death. Although Amazon.com can hardly be called traditional it would still face many of the same problems, were it to become the norm for consumers to buy directly from the console manufacturer, as is the case with XBLA and the Playstation store. In an effort to counter this, Amazon have pulled off a surprise partnership with Microsoft that allows them to sell individual XBLA games from their own website.

Unlike trial PC services in the past from high street competitors such as Game, Amazon will not host any of the downloads themselves. Instead, the site offers an unlock-code that can then be entered into the Xbox.com homepage or directly through your console on Xbox Live in order to gain access to the title. It is likely that this is due to Microsoft based restrictions, but not hosting the files will also allow Amazon to avoid the cost and hassle of using their own servers. The service should be fairly quick as the code is e-mailed to you upon purchase, but it all still seems a little awkward and time consuming in comparison to buying directly from XBLA. The question of why anyone would want such a service from Amazon then must surely be asked, but the answers are actually quite simple.

For Microsoft there are most likely two reasons why they would want such a deal to go ahead. Firstly, Amazon.com is a huge online retailer with a lot of activity and a wide range of customers. Although XBLA has done well since its launch, many people with the console are still unaware or unsure about the marketplace and how it works. Amazon.com will reach a much larger audience and provide a familiar purchasing system that most people will have used before. The second reason is that Microsoft will look to use this system as a way of keeping Amazon and other retailers on their side whilst the transition to digital content takes place over this, and the next generation of consoles. There is evidence of them doing this in the past with the

92,000 DSi sales in 48 hours

On May 1, 2009 by

The Nintendo DSi, the follow up to the DS Lite, was released recently, and sales have already gone through the roof. Nintendo has completely dominated the handheld console market in recent times, taking over the top spot from the PSP, and when sales of the new console managed to reach 92,000 in just two days of going on release it was clear that the latest incarnation was going to be a hit.

On the face of it, the DSi actually looks very similar to the previous version. However, one of the main differences to be found is the in-built camera, which is what the ‘i’ in the title stands for. Nintendo have cottoned onto the popularity of cameras in mobile phones, with the possibilities they offer for online social networking, and you can be sure that the camera will provide a great feature for a host of new and interesting games.

The console received huge pre-orders, so there were no surprises when it did so well in its opening 48 hours. In fact, the sales were so large that it has now become the fourth fastest-selling console in UK games market history. It also sold more units than all the other consoles combined over the opening weekend. The rather high £149.99 price mark has not stopped fans from snapping them up quickly, and it is unlikely that price will be a problem.

The DSi has larger screens than its predecessor, and it is also thinner to enable it to fit more easily in the pocket or bag. It can also record sounds, which is certain to prove one of its key features as more games are released.

The research was conducted by GfK-ChartTrack, and the DSi senior product manager, James Honeywell, said that the launch is

PS2 won’t be dropping in price this year

On April 24, 2009 by

Sony’s jewel in the crown, the PlayStation 2, is a marvel of modern retailing and electronics manufacturing. Since its birth in 2000 it has sold 140 million units, with an average of around 4 million units being sold in Europe over the last few years. The PlayStation 3 has been just as successful as has the handheld PSP. There have been rumours that Sony were going to drop the retail price of the PS2 this year in light of the new demand for the new consoles. It’s good news for those living in the US and mainland Europe but not for those in the UK.

In North America the PS2 will see a drop from $129.99 to only $99.99. This price will also be the same throughout Europe too, so the price tag will be 99.99 Euros. However, official word from Sony is that there will be no price drop for customers in the UK this year. The current price for a Slimline PlayStation 2, as found on Amazon.co.uk, is £92.99, which is quite considerably less than that charged over the last few years, especially following the launch of the PlayStation 3 in 2006.

When consoles are in higher demand and more people want new models, it’s obvious the old models are going to drop in price. Some people might see it as a strange decision not to allow the UK customers the benefit of the price tag drop. It’s not been said officially, but it’s clear that the decision has been taken at least in part because of the value of the pound. Computer gaming has suffered in the economic crisis as much as any other industry and Nintendo have had to bump up the UK price of the Wii this year. But with the PlayStation 4 already being talked about for some time after 2010, it probably won’t be too long before the PlayStation 2 is found in the charity shops with its older brother the original PlayStation.

Sales of Wii reach 50 million

On by

The phenomenon that is the Nintendo Wii continues to set new records and break new ground. It has just been revealed that the immensely popular games console has now sold more than 50 million units across the world, a phenomenal figure that just shows what an impact it has had on the games industry.

This latest statistic makes the Wii officially the fastest selling console in history, taking the crown from the PlayStation 2. At the same time as the announcement was made, it was also revealed that the Nintendo DS is not doing too badly either, having sold 100 million units globally, albeit over a longer time period than the Wii.

Satoru Iwata, the head of Nintendo, said that the success of the Wii was

Throw out your consoles, the future has arrived

On April 17, 2009 by

The Games Developer Conference took place recently and out of it came an idea that has the potential to dramatically change the current games industry model – its name, OnLive. What OnLive is designed to do is eradicate the need for expensive and high-end technology in the home, allowing its users to play their favourite games on entry-level hardware.

The concept is made possible because all of the processing and graphical work is not done by the machine that sits in front of you, but instead by a much faster piece of equipment in a server house. The console in this future is nothing more than a hub, transmitting your controller inputs across the internet and receiving in return the game’s image to display. For many gamers this may seem like one giant and complex waste of time. It’s hard to see why changes need to be made to the 5 year life cycle most have become accustomed to with today’s consoles. So why is it then that although many analysts have questioned whether OnLive itself will succeed, everyone seems to agree that the model at least will inevitably triumph over the current one?

The answers lie less in the benefits it will provide the gamer and depend more on what it will provide to the developers and publishers. For example, as the game is digitally stored at the server end of the connection and not within your home, the system will theoretically remove the possibility of software being pirated, sold second-hand or tampered with. This will allow much more money generated by game sales to go directly to the creators. There are some who belief though that not every pirated game is a lost sale, and that the second hand market brings in new gamers, whilst encouraging present ones try out the untested waters. Tampering with games is not always a bad thing too; many PC games in fact thrive on their unofficial modding communities, but with no files to edit it is unclear as to how this could continue with a game streaming service.

The question of ownership also comes into play with a service like OnLive. Although digital markets are becoming more commonplace they are still very much in their infancy. Many websites selling MP3s, for example, first began selling DRM coded files but quickly moved towards simple, access anytime music to match consumer demands. With OnLive however this would not be possible; when you purchase a game through the system you are technically buying access to it rather than anything physical, and if the creators of OnLive were to ever close down your game collection may just disappear overnight.

For the majority of us though, who still struggle to stream low quality videos from the internet without them stopping to buffer every 30 seconds, these concerns are perhaps a little premature. Although OnLive intends to begin its service this year it is likely to be at least another generation before this writer can realistically begin considering whether or not to join in. Perhaps by then some of the fears of a streaming, digital future will have been alleviated but until that happens then I for one will be taking a long hard look at my old game discs, files, cases and manuals with a new-found appreciation.

Wii is the answer to obesity crisis

On April 9, 2009 by

Nintendo were enjoying an unexpected publicity boost the other day with the announcement that the Wii could provide one answer to combating the growing obesity epidemic in children.

The announcement was made by Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, who said that interactive computer games could play a major role in reducing obesity in the future, as kids are simply not doing enough normal exercise.

The announcement was made after a pilot scheme went underway in the East Midlands, which wanted to find out just how useful interactive consoles could be in the fight against obesity. The East Midlands has seen a huge rise in child obesity levels over recent years, and was considered a prime spot to target.

The results were so encouraging that Sir Liam Donaldson claimed that although video games have been one of the major causes of child obesity, they could now be used to combat it. After all, if you can’t stop kids playing them, then why not use them to get kids healthier.

According to the findings of the report, energetic games can increase heart rates and can lead to an increase of 42% in the amount of calories burnt by children playing them compared to the calories burnt if they were sitting down. This means that one hour of play per day would lead to a 7 1/2lb loss in body fat over the course of a year. On top of that, they can also be played safely at home, especially important for obese children who could hurt themselves through traditional exercise.

Sir Liam Donaldson has said that the results would now be used to

Who’s using who?

On April 3, 2009 by

With Amazon.com and Toys R Us recently announcing they are to enter the used game market, the debate about trade-ins has one again arisen, this time with many industry professionals joining the argument.

The problem is this: when a game is sold brand new, some of the money you spend is given to the people who made it. When a title is sold used, all of the money you spend goes to the shop. Games have always been sold second-hand but recently problems have arisen because retailers began offering incentives to make people trade-back games within the first week of release. These copies are then given a higher priority over brand new ones, as the shop will make more profits from them.

Both sides have a valid point as to why they feel they are in the right. Developers and publishers pay for the majority of a game’s advertising, which in turn attracts people into the game stores, so they believe they deserve a cut of the money. Retailers argue, however, that they simply offer the customer a choice for better value. It may be interesting to debate the rights and wrongs if you work in either one of these industries, but should the average gamer really care? Well actually yes, as the way games are produced, designed and sold is about to change because of how seriously the issue is being taken.

Many have predicted the death of brick and mortar game stores with the next generation of consoles, where full game downloads may become a reality. Until then it seems that download codes could be the industry’s answer. One thing you may have noticed recently is the rise in pre-order bonuses. Gears of War 2 for example gave free levels to people who bought the game on release day; these came in the form of a one-time redeemable code. What this means is that the used version of the game will effectively have less content, reducing its appeal. Codes that give in-game advantages may be the next step in this strategy. Imagine if your second-hand copy of Call of Duty came without the ability to use certain weapons online, or your engine size in Gran Turismo was capped unless you pre-ordered the game. These things could then be unlocked after several months for everyone, allowing the used market still to exist, but not inside a games launch window.

Other industries, such as films and automobiles, also have a used market but neither seems to have quite the same issue with it affecting the sales of newly launched products. This is down to pricing and could be something the games industry may need to address. DVDs cost approximately £12 and often do not seem worth trading in for their low cash return. Cars on the other hand are the opposite; their cost is so high that selling back a car within the first week of release would lose you a large amount of cash. Games sit at an inconvenient price level as they are neither too cheap nor too expensive. One way to change this is to release games at a lower RRP. This can be budgeted for by producing shorter games and then charging for extra DLC. With extra content being released over time there is also more reason to keep hold of a title instead of trading it in. Burnout is one title that has relied heavily on its free and paid DLC to cover the cost of its cheaper launch price, and more than a year on it still has a very active audience who have held on to the title and reaped the rewards.

The problem is that without the broadband speeds in place to provide full game downloads, publishers must walk a fine line between curbing used game sales and upsetting their retail partners. More importantly though, they must be sure any changes they do make respect the customer and their positive relationship with second-hand titles. After all, without the support of their customers (and their money) it won’t matter what they do.

PlayStation and NBC sign deal

On March 27, 2009 by

In the latest instalment in the battle of the gaming networks, Sony has announced that it has signed a deal to make NBC content available to PlayStation Network users. The news comes only a month after a similar deal was struck between NBC and Microsoft for the Xbox 360, and suggests that the battle to provide more and better content is intensifying.

Films from Universal Studios and programmes from NBC, such as Heroes, will now be available on the network for users of the PlayStation 3 and PSP to download. Films will be available in high definition, and the programmes will be made available to download the day after they have been aired on TV, meaning fans will not have to wait around to get hold of them. Prices will start at about $5 (£3), and this is expected to increase the popularity of the network.

According to Sony, there are now 1,300 films and 4,500 TV episodes in total to download from the network, including content from Paramount, Fox, MGM and Disney. It also said that it now has 20 million accounts on the network compared to 17 million for the Xbox.

The head of Universal’s home entertainment, Craig Kornblau, said that the

Has the coffee gone cold?

On March 19, 2009 by

The first of two expansion packs for Grand Theft Auto IV was released recently, and with it came an interesting twist on the controversy that often surrounds new releases of the series. In GTA IV: The Lost and Damned, players leave behind the story of Niko Bellic and instead control Johnny Klebitz, playing out his role as the leader of a biker gang. The add-on has been described as darker and more gritty than its predecessor but it’s not the brutal scenes (a sledge hammer to the face being most prominent) which are generating the news. Instead what jolted bloggers and online game journalists into action was something deemed far worse, something far more likely to bring society to its knees; the inclusion of a penis.

A penis being in a game rated for 18s and over should really not shock anyone, especially when it is flaccid and is only shown for seconds during a non-sexual sauna scene. Yes, it is the first time a modern, fully 3D game had done this but if anything shouldn’t we be asking why it has taken so long? Apparently not, if the majority of game journalists are anything to go by. Some simply used it as a way of making puns and jokes, whilst others appeared intent on hyping up the predicted reaction of the mainstream media. Irresponsible as it may be, anyone who can remember the

PlayStation Network hits 20 million users

On March 13, 2009 by

PlayStation has released new figures stating that it has now managed to sign up a record 20 million users to the PSN (PlayStation Network). This figure represents a huge rise in the popularity of the network since it was first created back in November 2006.

After 14 months in existence the network had five million users, after 20 months that was up to 10 million, and now the latest figures of 20 million seem to suggest it will just keep getting more and more popular.

It is not hard to see why the network has taken off so well. It allows PlayStation and PSP users to access a huge range of content, including multiplayer gaming, digital content, text messaging, video chat and social features. It also provides access to the PlayStation Store, which currently has over 14,500 items on it. This includes 5,900 TV episodes and films, numerous new games and even a Game Archive where users can buy cheaper older titles.

PlayStation has stated that 600 of its titles now involve an element of online play, meaning users can hook up to the network and play people from all over the world. And with the network now available in 55 countries across the planet, it really does have a global reach.

It’s all looking rather good for PlayStation, especially as the rest of the world struggles through the recession. It has caught onto the popularity of playing games over international networks, and is pleased to announce that 380 million downloads have been recorded from the PSN since it was launched. In all, that makes up a figure of $180 million in sales, which is certainly something to be pleased about.