Second hand rain

There’s nothing new about the used game market. I frequently bought second hand SNES and GameBoy games as a child because money wasn’t something I had a lot of back then. In the last few years I’ve opted to purchase my games new mainly because of the incentives offered and because I’m an inpatient git but the market for pre-owned titles is certainly not a shrinking violet. It’s huge and many publishers don’t like that one bit. Quantic Dream co-founder Guillaume de Fondaumiere is one of those not overly keen on the idea of his products being re-sold without his team receiving any money.

In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz Fondaumiere said how around 2 million copies of Heavy Rain had been sold worldwide but looking at the PS3’s Trophy system, the number of people who played the game is somewhere in the region of 3 million. One thing he didn’t take into consideration are households with more than one account on a PS3. The extra million players may not all be from second hand sales but siblings and housemates passing on Heavy Rain or even game rentals. Still, the annoyances of Quantic Dream remain the same:

“On my small level it’s a million people playing my game without giving me one cent. And my calculation is, as Quantic Dream, I lost between €5 and €10 million worth of royalties because of second-hand gaming.”

While this may be true, another way to look at it is that a further 1 million people played Heavy Rain meaning around 3 million people experienced the art and story Quantic Dream wanted to tell. The company may have lost an estimated €10 million but also may just have gained a further million followers. Put like that, pre-owned sales are actually helping expand the potential audience for future Quantic Dream releases.

Fondaumiere wants the industry to address what he feels causes gamers to go the second hand route; the high price of video games. He states how he’s always believed games are too expensive and there must be a happy medium where all parties – consumers, publishers, developers and retailers – are content with a game’s price tag. Until then, the industry is “basically shooting [themselves] in the foot,” leading to either an end to retail-sold video games are exclusively move to an online distribution model. But this looks to be where platform holders are taking the industry anyway with a greater emphasis on downloadable content that aren’t just additional content but full games. One of the biggest problems right now is the throttling of bandwidth internet service providers have on consumers. All the while people are fighting to up their download caps and speeds, they’re unlikely to accept the exclusivity of digital distribution. So maybe that talk Fondaumiere wants to have to find a happy place for gaming should include ISPs as well.

Immoral kombat

As gamers are eagerly queuing in lines for, opening their parcels of, or awaiting the end of work to play the latest Mortal Kombat, series creator Ed Boon harkens back to the early nighties when the original game first appeared and became the centre of much controversy. The reason was simple, it was gory as hell for the time period with lashings of blood shooting from characters as they were struck and, of course, the now infamous Fatalities. After Mortal Kombat, many a fighting game matches were ended with some over the top death move but Ed Boon’s was the first to include them and without a rating system in place, Mortal Kombat felt the full force of angry politicians. Yep, they interfered just as much back then as they do now.

Nintendo, the family system, chose to censor all of the gore for the SNES release replacing blood with odd puffs of grey and neutering the Fatalities of certain characters. “People were objecting to the fact that a game that was as violent as it is, did not have a rating,” said Boon (via Eurogamer) adding “I agree with that idea. The rating system is great. The censorship with the SNES version was a response to that. Nintendo felt like they had an obligation to not offer something like this to a system that’s played by many young players.” Sega however seemingly felt differently opting not to exclude any content, resulting in my Mega Drive owning friends to gloat while I was stuck with seeing thing like Kano punch into the opponent’s chest but forgetting to pull out their heart. Thankfully, before the second game came out, a ratings board was in place so Nintendo felt happy with leaving in all the nasties because it was clear that it was designed for older gamers. This made Mortal Kombat II one of the games I became obsessed with back in my youth, buying any mag which included information on it and even proudly wearing a T-shirt sporting the MK logo.

At the start of the nighties, fighting games were huge and Capcom’s Street Fighter II was the impetus for Boon to develop Mortal Kombat: Street Fighter II was getting into its stride. We felt we wanted to do something that was an American-made fighting game with the latest technology, which was digitised graphics at the time. We felt we had something to contribute in that field.” Indeed they did. Not only were the aforementioned Fatalities picked up by nearly every publisher but the digitisation of real people instead of hand-drawn sprites was attempted by other teams too. Most if not all failed leaving the Mortal Kombat franchise to keep its unique look for two more games.

The popularity of Mortal Kombat was a pleasant surprise for Boon: “I don’t think anybody was expecting the level of success the game had. It would be arrogant of me to assume that something was going to perform this well. It was a big surprise to us. We hoped we would reach some level of success and pay for the development of the game. But I would have never have guessed that almost 20 years later we would still be making Mortal Kombat games.” The latest game is technically Mortal Kombat 9 but a few of the titles which preceded it are probably best forgotten as are the spin-offs and TV show. The 1995 film however is still awesome in my eyes. You know, so bad its good? Because the series deviated a little too much from tradition, Boon and the NetherRealm Studios team decided to call the gorgeous-looking new game Mortal Kombat, rebooting the franchise along side the so far brilliant webisode series. So does that mean if it gets a sequel we’ll have another Mortal Kombat II?

A shift in thinking

There are so many video games getting released nowadays it’s hard not only to keep up with everything you want to play but also finding the money to pay for them all. The two solutions to this are both frowned upon by developers for taking away potential profits. The first, renting, sees only a handful of games bought by a distributer but never the same as if those who rented actually went out and picked it up themselves. Second is the pre-owned market, a practice loathed by many publishers. But ceo of Saber Interactive (makers of Timeshift), Matthew Karch, believes the industry has only itself to blame because the cost of retail releases are far too high for the average consumer. To him, digital distribution is the way forward because the £40/$60 price tag becomes an immediate barrier for entry, especially if you’re spending a few hundred quid on a new console or PC.

“People in our industry are in a panic about used games, but honestly, can you blame people for playing a game and then trying to get some value back out of it? The only way for many gamers to currently play multiple AAA games is to shell out quite a bit of money and that definitely limits our consumer base.” I agree, paying full price for a game can be hard to justify but Karch’s comments to CVG come on the same day that EA announce how last Friday’s release of Crysis 2 has become the publisher’s biggest UK launch so far, beating Dead Space 2, Dragon Age II and Bulletstorm. While some may feel like trading the game in after completion – or even before – the £40/$60 price wasn’t enough to put those consumers off in the first place.

Karch adds: “If you want to reach an audience that is not accustomed to spending or can’t spend that kind of money, then you need to give them an alternative. I think this also applies to our core audience. Smaller, high quality digital downloads are a great way to do that. It not only provides people with games that they might actually finish, but it also enables them to play a variety of titles.” The target audience in question is quite important to the argument. Referencing those who aren’t accustomed to spending the normal price for games aren’t necessarily the kinds of gamer who are hesitant to spend vast sums of money to fuel their habit. It’s become an accepted normality to pay around 40 quid for a game and has been for the core market for a good number of generations. I remember paying £60 for Mortal Kombat II on the SNES back in the 90s so for me, games have come down considerably in price while offering a great deal more in terms of longevity.

But Karch does point out the powerful draw of the sequel due to such high development costs. He states how expensive it is to make, manufacture and market a game can be resulting in less innovation from developers who are keen to pump out the next Call of Warfare, Modern Shooter. Karch hopes that markets like XBLA and PSN begin to see more “high end” games that are smaller in size and cost to the consumer. It’ll be interesting if this does indeed happen because the downloadable space has been very profitable for a number of publishers though still the debate about a game’s length is called into question. Limbo was chastised by a small number of people for being “only four hours” and costing around £10/$15. I believed Limbo was worth every penny.

I don’t know if the future of games, more specifically triple A shooters, will become smaller, cheaper downloadable releases. With all the competition from mobile Apps costing a little as 59p, full retail titles are still incredibly popular with publishers announcing record-breaking numbers seemingly every month. The numbers may indeed be falling but there are various initiatives in place to counteract the fall including preventions to buy pre-owned games and strong advertising campaigns. If anything, I’d be more likely to pay full price for a game that gives me value for money be it a superb single player campaign leading onto a full featured multiplayer mode or just a lengthy adventure RPG. I’d be reluctant to only have shorter, easily absorbable experiences even if it does save me a lot of money. I think Karch does have a point that games need to offer more in order to stay in gamers’ houses but I’m not sure if this is the way to do it.

Can you keep a secret?

UPDATE: Secret of Mana is out now and costs £5.50, 10p less than the virtual console and without the option of a controller either. Hmm….

Even though it’s missing the feel of tactile buttons, the clunk of cartridge to plastic or the need to blow on said cartridge in order to dissipate any problematic dust particles, I’m increasingly thankful for the revival of retro classics onto the iPhone. My taste in gaming has change dramatically from when I was a beardless youth so if I wanted to experience some of the all time greats, I’d have to fork out a fair more money then I’d like (unless I chose to use an emulator. Which I do not). So news that Apple have given Square Enix the green light to release Secret of Mana onto the App Store is a call for celebration. See how producer Masaru Oyamada does so after the break along with a couple more screen shots of the paramount SNES RPG. Now Square have been quite experimental with their pricing system and for a time had the most expensive game on Apple’s service, Chaos Rings. They’re yet to give SoM a price but have assured us (via Touch Arcade) that it won’t be as much as Chaos Rings but not as cheap as 59p either. My guess would be £3.99 which is still cheaper than the 800 Wii Points (£5.60) it costs on the virtual console.

When nearly all console-based RPGs where making players take turns with the AI to fight, Secret of Mana took the Zelda route with real-time fighting and a top down map of prettied pixels. A lot of iOS role playing games owe their existence to games like this and its inclusion to the platform’s repertoire seems less like a harping of past glory and more like the returning of an old hero. I am a little skeptical as to the control method because like a lot of adventuring games for a touchscreen, it has a virtual d-pad and buttons however. Ironically, by not being turn-based, one of the features that made it interesting for its time, is one of the things that could hold it back from being a truly great touchscreen game due to the need for on-screen controls. But all these question and more (like can those buttons be any less invasive?) will be answered soon before the end of the year when Secret of Mana is said to be out.

Continue reading

A link to your mp3 player

Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has one of if not the best video game soundtrack. Its updated Overworld theme is just awesome and although maybe a something heard many times before, you can now download it for free, although there is one cost which isn’t monetary. Fansite Zeldainformer (via Destructoid) managed to acquire A Link to the Past’s soundtrack by ripping it from the original game, leaving 31 individual soundbytes of loveliness. But of course here’s where the cost comes in; ripping video games is bad so their souls are now lost. But hey, we didn’t do it so it’s fine for us to download the pack right!?

If you prefer a more classical take instead of the retro SNES beats then check out Zelda Reorchestrated. They take the music of Zelda and give it an orchestral once over making some rather beautiful music. So much so, I actually persuaded my wife to have the Zelda medley play in the church at our wedding. Truly awesome!

Teiyu Goto; the man who gave Sony wings

From the launch of the PlayStation 1 back in 1994 (in Japan) the winged controller with its iconic buttons is still the basis of Sony’s peripherals and has barely changed in 14 years. Analog sticks, rumble and most recently motion sensing have been added but we’re still holding onto fundamentally the same design. The man behind all three PlayStations and their controllers is Teiyu Goto who recently sat down with Famitsu (via 1up.com) to regale his reasonings labeling buttons with shapes instead of letters and why the controllers have those palm-fitting wings. Similarities between the SNES and PS1 pads aren’t coincidental as Sony wanted gamers to upgrade from Nintendo’s little grey box to their flatter grey box but the handles of Sony’s controllers were almost scrapped: “[management] said it had to be a standard type of design, or gamers wouldn’t accept it,” said Goto. He continued with how then-boss Norio Ohga preferred his design featuring the wings over Sony’s flat version. If he hadn’t been so persistent, we may have had a very different looking gamepad.

The idea of using shapes in place of letters or numbers on the buttons is far more logical than you might imagine. I always thought they were part of an elaborate promotional campaign that Sony are becoming infamous for but in fact, it’s really quite simple. The X represents no or cancel and O is yes or a sort of confirmation. That’s why a lot of Japanese games at the time had you pressing O to proceed through menus. Speaking of which, Goto said: “Square refers to a piece of paper; I had it represent menus or documents,” and Triangle at the top is Goto’s icon for the player’s head representing their viewpoint. Simple really.

Four shapes that started off a mere iconography have now become a key part of the Sony brand. Let’s tip our hats to the genius of Teiyu Goto.

The history of Metroid by Samus Aran

Vodpod videos no longer available.

With a solid release date for the US but a limp idea for Europe, Metroid: Other M will soon be upon us and word is that it’s chocked full of story. So much so, it’s lead Nintendo to release a promotional retrospective trailer for anyone new to the franchise and even those who thought they knew it all. Series star Samus Aran gives her view on the events leading up to Metroid: Other M in this clip, heavy on nostalgia and pleasant gaming memories. Ahhh.