A chance for Microsoft to push forwards in Japan

Microsoft is supposedly aiming for the Japanese market, according to Bloomberg. Some are taking this as some sort of new thing, but Microsoft has always tried to make itself a big thing in Japan with Xbox. This is, in itself, nothing new. The original Xbox S-Controller was developed and design the Japanese market in mind, and it ended up being successful enough to kick out the Duke controller for good (because the Duke, in all honesty, is kind of trash). The 360 had a hard PR push in Japan, with booth girls designed to appeal to the local tastes alongside numerous exclusive games and titles that should have been hit with the audiences. However, the X360 ultimately ended up playing the third fiddle (again), but kind of did follow the footsteps of old Japanese computers in its game selection. If you love shooting games and peculiar managing titles, the X360 is chock full of exclusive titles like many of CAVE’s shooters e.g. Death Smiles and The iDOLM@ASTER killing your hopes for a new chapter of Berserk. Down the line, these titles did get sequels and ports elsewhere, but at the time the X360 was, effectively, the otaku console to have with many niche titles. Hell, even Muv-Luv saw a port for 360 before Sony got its own. It’s niche library of Japanse games that didn’t get Western releases and were behind region locking meant that the X360 saw some limited importing within certain circles. Nowadays most of the good stuff has appeared elsewhere with no bullshit in-between outside needing to use Steam, so there’s very little reason to consider doing so nowadays.

The reason why Bloomberg is making a thing about Microsoft’s ever-continuing attempts to court the Japanese consumers is that Sony’s employees internally are more or less disfranchised. Analyst Hideki Yasuda of Ace Research Institute saying that Sony’s attention is drifting away from its consumers in the home market, and that’s an understatement of sorts. Sony’s American HQ has been making hits and after hits on the marketability and development of their third party titles, of which I’ve got few posts in the past. The fact that Sony’s pushing for censorship on games on their design phase and banning whole play elements and methods surely will push developers away, which turns the consumer tide elsewhere. Sony’s emphasize with its new internal rules and regulations has damaged the company in ways that are becoming apparent in consumer behaviour. Furthermore, an example of straight-up Americanisation of PlayStation as a whole can be seen in switching the X and O confirmation buttons around in Japan, something the Japanese consumers aren’t exactly keen on. Granted, that poll was open to a thousand participants only, but treating it as a sample size should give you an indication what the majority of the population thinks. Changing an established form factor that’s been there since the Super Nintendo days is extremely short-sighted. Not only this means long-time users have to work against their muscle memory, but also that X and O make no longer sense in cultural context, as they’re now reverse. There’s also a worry about this applying to backwards compatible games. Sony has confirmed that this isn’t optional, meaning Japanese who purchase PlayStation 5 will have one helluva time trying to figure out why the hell their O is suddenly a bad thing instead of X. However, now both Xbox and PlayStation share the same scheme of menu confirmation, with Nintendo still using the “classical” layout.

Then again, that first Bloomberg article states that Sony of Japan has been sidelined. I’ll quote this bit and then drag that horse carcass back for a moment; “The US office believes the PlayStation business doesn’t need games that only do well in Japan, employees in the California headquarters reportedly said.” Whoever said this needs to be fired from their job for effectively ruining PlayStation 5’s chances. A console’s lifeline is in its library. A console can not be a success alone. When you grind things down even slightly, hardware is just the middle man, the unnecessary evil, the crutch. You only buy hardware that has software that you want to consume. A console must have its own unique library of games that entices the player enough to purchase the hardware. If you want your console to succeed in Japan, it must have a wide variety of different kind of games that appeal to the Japanese culture of video games. These games are widely different from what appeals to general consumers in the US, UK, France etc. Every nation and culture have their own things that are bombshell sellers. For Finland, it would seem NHL and FIFA games because fuck these people are thirsty of sports.

Of course, after Jim Ryan, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s CEO, insisted that the company wasn’t Americanised when they moved HQ to California rings extremely hollow. Even the size of PlayStation 5 screams American whopper. It’s ugly as hell and larger than a man’s torso. No Japanese corporation would design their machine to be that big because space is a premium in Japan. The Switch is the king of this Generation of consoles due to its hybrid nature and a good library. Clearly Ryan was spouting bullshit, as the current global agenda is leaving Japan a cold turkey, and that probably will happen to European countries as well. Now with regional departments gone, Sony can’t have its individual arms creating specific plans and games for each region. Now, all we’re getting is what the American centre vomits outs. They can’t be flexible and nimble with only one scarecrow. 2020 has shown the downsides of globalisation to an extreme degree and Sony putting their eggs in that basket was a major blowout. It will only hurt them down the line as it will kill variety and regional specialities in favour of one corporate vision, now driven by censorship. I’ve seen claims of Japanese taking up Steam and other PC stores closer to their heart after since certain kinds of titles were banned and Visual Novels started suffering on the platform. Not only that, but Sony themselves have been shooting themselves in the leg by allowing ports of their harder hitters to Steam in hopes of making more cash. That’s a sure shot method of killing your device, exactly what they did with the Vita. Poor Vita, Sony mistreated you so hard. Whatever PR Sony wants to spin, like Natsumi Atarashi’s assertation how Japan will remain their utmost importance, can be disregarded as bullshit. Sony’s actions thus far have been telling the complete opposite. Don’t tell me a house isn’t on fire when it’s blazing just behind you.

All this is part of the continuing censorship routine and globalisation Sony has been practising for the past few years, something I have posts on. The thing about Sony’s globalisation and concentrating their decision power into one HQ is that in time it’ll be a disservice for them. I already mentioned that they will streamline their services and products with this, but it will also go against them. Global organisations with this size will see the rise of useless middle management that will drag feet down. Arguibly that’s already happening with the whole internal censorship and censorious regulation they’ve put into power. This will sap energy from regional offices and will damage their work capacity to work as they always have to wait for a reply from the main office from California. The more proper answer should’ve been to gut the middle management and allow regional offices to cater their target areas the best they can. The California HQ seems to think what applies to them applies globally. It may not be Americanisation as Ryan claims, but then it’s simply forcing a skewed view of the world forcefully unto others with ideas and values that do not apply even outside the doors of Sony HQ. Sony should value what their customers value in their brand, and they’re moving to the complete opposite direction, thinking that the consumer is a sheep who follows rather votes with his wallet. No matter how much people want to sell the idea of perfect global society as part of globalisation. Take Germany’s latest stance as an example. Globalisation doesn’t mean others will take up to your opinions and views as the holy gospel. Often it’s just the opposite. In a perfect world, we would have objectively the best standards for everything, but that’s not realistic. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for them, but in the current state globalisation, people need to come mid-way to meet each other. Sony’s current practices effectively oppressing rather than allowing themselves to create a company that would truly be of service at a global scale by adjusting themselves accordingly.

I’ve also noticed a certain consumer behaviour that’s tied to all this. Early in the PS4’s and Switch’s life cycles importers preferred the PS4 versions of games if there were two available. In recent years this has drastically shifted for importers to prefer Switch version, if available. This probably reflects what kind of consumer group current importers are at a worldwide scale, with most of them being aware of current happenings and decisions taking place behind the scenes the corporates want to keep behind the curtains.

Despite all this doom speak, Japanese developers won’t abandon the PlayStation. If anything, they’ll probably aim to go multiplatform more. Theirs is a traditionalist way of working, and abandoning one of the two national devices seems to go against the grain rather hard. It’s like how the US prefers Xbox mostly because it’s Xbox. Perhaps more and more companies will go multiplatform and ensure a Steam or similar release on PC as well, while moving some of their exclusive titles being developed for the two competing platforms. Sony will hire studios to make games for their hardware for sure and the usual line-up will come out that most people will be happy with, but then the question just ends up being what’s the difference between the new Xbox and PlayStation?  If the libraries end up resembling each other even more, and there’s no real difference outside an even smaller handful of exclusives, it becomes more brand battle than anything else. Here Microsoft has a chance to shine, but theirs is a steep climb. The Xbox One managed to scrape 0.1% of all console sales in Japan this year. That’s one helluva fight against PlayStation 4’s 10.1%, and all but an impossible task against 89.9% the Switch holds. The Xbox brand could turn things around in Japan if they’d manage to find that sweet spot Sony’s abandoning and working on that like no other. It’ll take a console generation and then some to turn the Japanese consumer’s opinion on Microsoft’s console around, but perhaps if they manage to properly deliver proper titles, that is achievable.

Xbox One is struggling in Japan

…and nobody is surprised. For what is often dubbed as one of the Big Three, Microsoft struggles in Japan. That is their lot in life as a company that doesn’t seem to be able to make any proper products for the market, and the developers don’t seem to be all that interested to develop for the platform. The occasional Xbox exclusive game Japanese have made often also stay in Japan or are so generic that nobody really even recognises them. The 360 may have been a shooting game heaven with all the Cave shooters, but do you really want to be recognised for the same thing that the PC-Engine is? Perhaps you do, but being one-trick pony only really works in arcades, and arcades are dead.

Much like how extremely anime games don’t sell in Japan, games with extremely Western aesthetics and mechanics don’t sell in Japan. The example of GTA being called Western kusoge always tickles my funnybone. Halo wasn’t exactly a killer title either. There are multiple reasons in play, and while the unappealing games are a major element, cultural differences are the second major factor. The two directly ties with each other. Just like the stereotype of Americans preferring the Xbox, so do the Japanese prefer their nation’s two machines.

While Microsoft will say they don’t really care about the loss of sales, that they are concentrating more on services than console products, the fact that Xbox One sold about 102 931 units by the end of 2018 has to sting. The same chart shows that 3DS had sold 24 304 964 units, PlayStation 4 hitting a healthy 7 552 090 units, followed by Switch at 6 889 546 units. Hell, the PS Vita sold 5 824 354 units, which really subs the salt in even further. If you calculate what percentage Microsoft has from the market using those figures, you’d end up with something around than 0.27%. Then consider that Japanese sales are 0.3% out of all global Xbox one sales from the second quarter of 2019, the picture painted is very, very grim.

Microsoft certainly is making a buck with its subscription models, but out of all major regions, Japan still eludes them. They can’t really make a buck on services that people don’t have a platform for. Perhaps Windows and app sales for it evens it out, but can’t really seem to find any proper data on that.

Outside not being able to bring in domestic developers to cater to Japanese tastes, it has also been suggested that the sheer size of the machine and its visuals has been a factor. Japanese homes are smaller than either in the US or Europe, and seemingly prefer handheld gaming over bulky home consoles. The Family Computer AKA Famicom was designed to be a small device that wouldn’t take much room, something that most if not all Nintendo’s home consoles tried to go for. The original Xbox is about as big as two stacked N64’s. I should know, I have them next to my original Xbox due to lack of space. Nintendo making Switch a hybrid was probably designed around Japanese home culture rather than for the overseas audience, but that hasn’t really deterred its success. The constant ports and no original content is hurting it, it’s becoming more and more a Vita 2.0 in a bad way.

Anyway, Microsoft did try to alleviate the size problem with the original Xbox a bit by designing and releasing the S Controller, smaller version of the standard Duke controller, because not everyone has huge hands like most American seem to have. The difference in body structure and ergonomics is an important part when designing for a market, and while you can find a golden middle way when designing e.g. a controller for all ages, Microsoft largely ignored people with naturally smaller hands with the Duke. Too often designers try out things themselves or in a small group rather than seeking larger pool of people to test their designs with, often due to lack of time and resources. Nevertheless, Microsoft already had two decades worth of design info, and kinda ignored it. Good for the people with large hands, not so much for the rest. All the successive controller from Microsoft have been much better in this regard, if not more generic in design. That said, Microsoft’s design for Xbox brand is not the most attractive thing in Japanese eyes, and often comes out garish. It’s not just about the bulk, but something how the shapes aren’t all that attractive and seem… maybe even a bit amateurish? Xbox just don’t fit well into the design of Japanese homes and appliances. The same can’t be said of American and European homes in general.

Supposedly, Microsoft never released their consoles are the right time, especially missing their release window with the first one, but outside some claims I’ve never seen proper arguments for this, just claims. What I do know is that Microsoft tried to push the 360 at full force for the Japanese. They had Japanese section put up, organising all sorts of events with race queens showcasing the console and as Japanese games as they could muster at the time, having deals with local marketing firms to work their brand and games in the local culture and economy and of course none of this worked as intended. Microsoft always came at the third place in a three horse race.

Project Scarlet, whatever it will end up being, will not success in Japan. Not unless it is small, sleek and will have similar games to Sony’s and Nintendo’s machines. Even then, it has to offer something special, something specific and something unique for that particular market. Microsoft’s brand isn’t at a strong point in Japanese market, and probably will never be despite the good (marketing) intentions Phil Spencer has. At this point I shouldn’t call it a struggle, it’s more like Xbox is kept languishing, wasting away in the Japanese market, drooping as Microsoft tries to keep hanging on their small hold in the market. At these sales, most other companies would probably have already left.

More first-party Microsoft titles in the horizon

Why do people buy game consoles? To play games that are on them, there is very little reason to buy a console in themselves. Each company who puts out a console needs to have a library of games to waver the customers’ decision towards their product. The only way is to offer a product that the competition does not. The very core reason why Nintendo’s consoles sell is that people wish to consume Nintendo’s games. If games are not up to the task, the consoles won’t sell well. The opposite also applies.

What first party titles can you name from either Microsoft or Sony for their consoles? To many, they can name titles either company has published, like Halo or Gears of War, with Sony having Ape Escape and Gravity Rush listed. However, Microsoft mainly utilises second or third-party studios to develop their titles they have either exclusive deals with or employ to develop a game for them. Rather than having their own in-house development, Microsoft has numerous studios under their belt; Turn 10, Rare, the closed Lionhead Studios and such. This isn’t anything out of the ordinary, as both Nintendo and Sony have similar ownerships as well, but one never really could say that Halo was a Microsoft game like we can say Super Mario is a Nintendo game.

Whatever the relationship happens to be with the developer and with the people who pays them, be it an in-house team or an employed outside studio, the core intention in the end is to produce a game that you won’t have on another platform. The third-party houses can do whatever they want, to certain degrees, but the games the console manufacturer puts out have to be great. This is due to how much weight the first-party has, in the end. If they can’t build an initial user base well enough, third-party will join the platform much later, only with ports, or in some cases not at all. While it is the first-party’s job to deliver impacting titles to open the market, initial ports can be a third-party’s way to test the waters a bit before taking the full dive. It is, of course, cheap to take an existing product and shove it unto another platform nowadays, seeing you don’t have to build the port from scratch.

Microsoft’s Phil Spencer intends to move Microsoft’s Xbox plans towards games. Games have never been Microsoft’s main front, despite the what the article wants to imply, though their emphasize when it comes to gaming used to reside on the computer market. There is where Microsoft used to shine like no other, but with the advent of the original Xbox, it fell to the wayside. If Microsoft had emphasized their computer gaming divisions like they did in the 90’s, Steam probably would not have taken root in exactly the same way it did.

This is why it is proper for Microsoft to utilise outside studios they may or may not own for their library of games. Microsoft, as it stands as an individual company, should always give emphasize to the operating system market and whatever needs personal computers may have nowadays. Perhaps spinning Xbox to its own company with practical in-house ties to the parent company should be considered, but this won’t ever happen for practical and political reasons.

What is true, however, is that Sony outsells Microsoft on the console game market. The only things that have any proper saying on this are the games. Microsoft only demerits their console if they continue to port their games to Windows, though in the end Microsoft is the company that would get the money from both ends. However, this line of thought doesn’t help when it comes to Xbox. While both Microsoft and Sony enjoy a rather healthy amount of third-party titles on their systems to the point of those games being the main reason to purchase their consoles rather than the first party ones. Sony has, for example, the Ryu ga Gotoku/ Yakuza series going on for them, and while the series has always been a bit niche, it has found its audience and has managed to expand its fanbase with constant releases. However, much like other Sony-only titles, e.g. most of Senran Kagura, Yakuza is a very Japanese game series that certain fringe groups find distasteful.

Microsoft also is expanding on software and services, whatever that ultimately means for Xbox brand. If Spencer is right about Microsoft probably rolling out a streaming service that doesn’t require the console, then there might be something working against Xbox as a console in the background. Perhaps not directly or even intentionally, but common logic would state that bot putting all your eggs in one basked it the best way to go. This doesn’t apply if you want to have a product like a game console survive on the market. It requires putting effort into it with almost all-or-nothing attitude and making it as unique in software library as possible. Look at Nintendo for a good example; it may not be an electronics company that makes the most money, but it is also pretty much the top company when it comes to making money on games and consoles alone. The mindset is completely different, you can’t have a dry rut too often.

The sort of services and software outside gaming Microsoft develops in the near future will have some impact on Xbox as a brand. While emphasising games has been in need for a long time now, it’s better later than never. There would also be some need to rework Xbox’s image, if we’re completely frank, as outside the US its image is rather redneck-y at places. The best place to show the brand’s lower quality is in Japan, and how little success it has there. Perhaps what Microsoft should do with this would be to customise the brand to an extent. The NES and SNES would be a good example what I’m after with this. You can’t really help with the American kusoge image though, that can only be done with getting more Japanese developers getting on-board and making games for Japanese to consume on Xbox. Of course, other realities then come into play, like how Japanese don’t really play home consoles like they used to, with portable consoles taking the top spots most of the time.

Still, if Spencer’s plans to make Xbox more game emphasised that before, that’d be great.

Microsoft Live E3

Xbox E3 presentation was less about the Xbox and more about how Microsoft has made a clear motion to push multiplatform support through their Live account system, something that the recent purchase of Linkedln will without a doubt tie into. Minecraft is an example how they are pushing this cross-platform play, signifying that they intend to be everywhere they can push their Live on.

Most importantly for Windows 10.

The current Windows 10 userbase is smaller than Microsoft has wanted it to be, about half the intended size. Not many people want to install it due to various reasons, ranging from its awkward UI design to the included spyware that takes screenshots and sends it to Microsoft. Use GWX to prevent all related updates. Combined with Xbox One’s lacklustre success, it’s understandable for Microsoft to want push multiple approaches.

Steam’s nigh monopoly position on PC went completely unchecked and as Microsoft essentially left their main platform for the wolves, Windows 10 and DirectX 12 will have a hard time to regain some ground back. Whether or not they can is a whole other issue, especially seeing how reports on the usability of Win10’s game store are far for admirable.

Maybe Microsoft is extending itself too thin. They tried taking over the console market and failed, then bought Nokia (which fucked us up) and failed miserably there too. I would argue that their experience with Nokia was the step towards what we’re seeing how, with further emphasize on Windows’ software compatibility across platforms. Gaming in Windows was strong after Microsoft began larger support for it, but we have a point in time where they essentially just left it be.

Indeed, Xbox has always been about dumbed down PC gaming, and now it seems Microsoft is intending to bring that dumbed down PC gaming to Windows at full force. PC used to be a platform of total freedom, that was its main pull, but now we’ve lost that and have become complacent in exchange for comfort. Windows’ modern design is also indicative of this, where users are not required to learn anything about computers any more and all systems are made so closed that the end-users have almost no real control options over their own systems.

With the Project Scorpio, Microsoft further shows that they don’t really give a damn about the console market. The promotional video Microsoft showcased for it spells their mindset; hardware power. To quote, This was the console the developers asked us to build. A console is a box to play games. It doesn’t matter how powerful the box is if it doesn’t have games that are fun and entertaining to play. Historically, the least powerful console has won each generation, as they’ve generally gained the sheer overpowering numbers in games. Do remember that the MegaDrive got push with Mega CD and 32X over SNES in terms of power, so that generation is not an exception.

While releasing an updated console has not been anything new, this sort of fetish to keep consoles at the high-end of technology has all to do with the PC mindset. The PC market was about the high-end hardware, the cutting edge tech, whereas console market used to be about the matured technology that had become cheap to use and produce. The game industry fellates and masturbates over 4K image, but the general audience barely knows such thing exists. With 4K, game development just got a notch up expensive. Much like with films, the Triple A game industry has gone completely insane with the million dollar budgets and barely produce any mid-range budget games.

If they indeed try to go generationless with Xbox, they’ll surely fail as any hardware ages and needs to be replaced at some point. Wear and tear are a reality, but much like how Nintendo generally replaces their consoles with cheaper, more efficient alternatives, a console can survive for long damn time as long as it has support.

But releasing a more powerful console per generation in the same “family” is nothing new. Atari did that too, but nobody really liked the 5200.  These high-end models don’t have a successful history with consoles or games and I don’t have much faith that they’ll do anything new or special now either.

All in all, the Xbox E3 presentation was, at its core, a showcase of Microsoft simply pushing the Xbox brand unto Windows 10. Their console has been failing, as indicated by their use over seven million Killer Instinct matches played instead of citing the number of players. That tells you a damn lot.

An Australian friend also noted that the places and scenery in Forza are fucked and don’t represent the real places at all. What’s the point of using real world locations if you’re not even going to try to be accurate with them?

Microsoft combining their platforms

For some time now I’ve been expecting Microsoft to return to their native PC market. Gears of War Ultimate Edition is hitting the PC via Windows 10 Store. Similarly, Forza 6’s slimmed down version is getting a release via Win10 store as well.

What does this tell you? This tells you that Microsoft is unifying PC and Xbox One.

The Xbox brand has been less successful than Microsoft wanted it to be. From the very first console, it never dominated the market anywhere to any extend outside the America. The Xbox lost to PS2, the 360 lost to the Wii and Xbox One doesn’t seem to sell anywhere. These have translated into losses very fast, but Microsoft’s vast monetary resources have kept the brand afloat.

Not only that, but the consumer has made clear what sort of OS they prefer. Windows 7 is still the most used OS at 52.34% market share, followed by Win10 and the goddamn WinXP. Nobody liked Windows 8, and it looks like Win10 is gaining foothold because it’s a forced update. It offers something to the hardcore gamers for sure, but that’s a niche audience at best.

UWP, the Universal Windows Platform, aims to run platforms on both PC and Xbox. Seeing how Microsoft is turning Xbox into a gaming machine that can be upgraded in hardware, like almost any PC. Hell, at this point they should do away with the Xbox brand as a console and start selling them as gaming designated PCs. Wouldn’t be the first time somebody has done that either.

On top of that, Microsoft wants to get into the whole Augmented Reality stuff.

It seems they are restructuring themselves harshly, but something doesn’t seem right. They’re not making a clear-cut difference with the console market, but they are teetering on its edge. With the upgradeable hardware they are essentially announcing that their targeted consumer base will be smaller than previously, as most console gamers are not into modifying their hardware in any way.

This weird split won’t push either Xbox side or the PC side if the UWP in the way they are hoping for. Digitally, the UWP acts as one platform, but we always have to remember that there exists a large amount of different hardwares running Win10. For the cross platform to work as intended, all UWP games would need to be tied to the Xbox side of hardware in performance and options. I do not see a scenario where UWP would allow any Xbox game to use the full potential of the PC hardware because Xbox hardware exists.

On top of that, DirectX 12 will be Windows 10 exclusive and that won’t affect anything. Rather, if UWP will utilise it, the Xbox will most likely get an equivalent update to it.

UWP and Win10 Store will function as digital game console, much like how Steam works, and that is what Microsoft will have an uphill battle with. Steam is without a doubt in a monopoly position when it comes to digital platform on PC. Both EA and Ubisoft tried their own thing and failed. GOG is sticking around as a good alternative for older games. Some have expressed the worry that Windows 10 will put games behind a walled garden, forcing people to use certain software to access their games to begin with with always online functionality, but you’d think they already got used to it with Steam.

Xbox as a brand had some root as a console name, and had dedicated fans just like everything else. However, unlike most of Nintendo’s consoles, both SONY and Microsoft were always the hardcore red sea competitors. But now there is an ad floating around with a modified Xbox One claiming that Together we are ONE, and especially mentions how the whole thing goes from the best casual games to a new generation PC gaming. It’s laughable and implies that PC gaming is the hardcore market, which it really is as we’ve discussed previously.While it’s sidestepping the hardcore fallacy, it resorts to casual fallacy with no care in the world.

The Xbox One seems to become a Steam Machine in many ways, an incredibly dumbed down computer for games.

None of this matters if the software they’re offering isn’t  up the task. Microsoft can reorganise the Xbox brand and their PC side as many times as they want to, but without the software to push either one, they will fall flat. Gaming on consoles has always been about one thing and one thing only; games. With Frankenstein’s monster -esque change they’re making won’t benefit the gamers or themselves as long as they intend to mix PC and consoles together.

I see this becoming another failure in Microsoft’s ventures. Zune failed, Microsoft phones failed, Microsoft’s tablets have been failing and now their consoles have failed and are being turned into third-rate PCs. The only reason Microsoft is still around is what made them big in the first place; Windows. The OS installation base is still large and Office is still largely a standard, but with their misadventures and constant screw-ups they are doing their hardest to fuck this monopoly up.

The next gen looks grim when it comes to games

The founder of the original Xbox project has some decent insight when it comes to Microsoft’s strange aims for the next generation. Seeing that Microsoft thinks that HDD, Blu-ray format and extremely draconian DRM that would not allow second-hand games is a bunch of good ideas, I have to wonder why they want to be in the console business at all.

Having a console that’s always online is a very, very stupid idea. Now all people are connected to the Internet even during these modern days, and this automatically shuts out a certain portion of the customers that might be willing to purchase your ‘box. The second is that I’m pretty sure this won’t stop a certain group of people from making their modifications to get surround the limitation. The same can be said of the second-hand games, a block that is completely unnecessary and stupid. This shows how much both hardware and software developers are afraid of the current market. They are not making enough profit on barely mediocre games that they need to force people to buy them new. If you want people to buy your games new rather than second hand, then make sacrifices; make them good again with smaller budget and drop the price of the game. God forbid people from making proper business decisions.

BD is a sensible solution. While the media has very little impact on the quality of the game itself (a lot of developers just want to have everything uncompressed on the disc rather than trying to fill it with content that isn’t DLC), thou it will give SONY some royalties. This is just one limitation less that developers have to think of, which is sad as best products, be it comics, films, music or games, have always been produced under a set of limitations.

But forced Kinect? Does Microsoft not realize that Kinect has been mismanaged and there are one or two games that use it to some successful extent. Forcing it on developers is a wrong way to limit the developers, but it can yield interesting and surprising results. Yet, seeing that all this time there only dance games have been utilising Kinect decently, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Nintendo always forces their own gimmicks on the developers to an extent, like the 3D screen, but most of the times what they do with the gimmick is pretty open. NES era allowed the developers to create and use their own controllers with the game if they so choose. This was successful move, and the Wii followed suit to a point with the port at Wii controller’s end. Both PS3 and X360 offer very little when it comes to controller variety, and very few games take advantage of these selected few. Arcade controllers are perhaps the most common secondary controller again in a long time, and those are exclusively used by the fighting game community.

There are also few reports that Microsoft is going to emphasize other services than games as is SONY. There’s a really damn good question why you would want to direct your customer to another service where you lose profits. Having a service of TV and films will give the customer and option to NOT use your intended service, which should be the games. I need to emphasize the should part, as it seems that both MS and SONY seem to think that doing an all encompassing multimedia force of extraordinary magnitude will sell like hotcakes. Just like in military, a unit that is made for too many tasks will usually fail. Same with game consoles. Make them be the centre of all your home media, and you’ll fail. None of the consoles I’ve used have been decent media players outside the original PlayStation. Even PS3, at one point the best option for a BD player, kinda sucks at it. There are better choices for all your playback needs, so having one mediocre machine doing it all is going backwards. Then if you own two or more consoles, you get more players and in the end you might end up owning around seven DVD players without a notice, and you only use one.

The current Xbox is not without its problems as well, as the original founder points out. All of these problems are because of poor design from the get-go. Anyone with a working view on design will instantly tell you that all current console GUIs are more or less horribly designed both in usability and in visuals. Useless and stupid warning messages are their smallest problem. The biggest problem with Xbox dashboards have always been that they have no real cohesion and are all over the place. Why do I need to navigate music and films on a damn games console?

I still do disagree with the notion that consoles are competing with tablet devices. However, seeing that most console games nowadays are nothing but computer games adjusted for consoles I can agree that games themselves are doing the competition because the markets have been mixed far too much for their own good. I’m seeing Duke Nukem Forever for 360 going for 8€, but I’m refusing to buy it because it’s a PC game. I do not want to play PC game on a console. There’s a reason why Command & Conquer games work better on PCs.

I was called by a salesclerk today about my Internet and other connection related stuff. He told me that they had a promotion for their customers, where they would be able to purchase a tablet computer for specially low price. Before he got his sales pitch at full force, I declined the offer. He naturally inquired why, and few of my friends began to gaze as I started listing things that are universally wrong with the tablet design from lack of tactile touch to gorilla arms. Besides, tablets are getting outdated faster than conventional laptops at this point. Size is not a problem either, as ultra-thing laptops are everywhere and most likely have longer battery life to boot.

It’s sad to think that companies have decided to get into the fight with every form of entertainment out there and losing in it, while specializing in games is left in the shadows. Without proper priorities from the game hardware and software companies these consoles will crash and burn, and the industry at large will die.

Wii U’s not looking good, SONY’s junk and Microsoft is…

… in pretty damn deep trouble it seems. For some time now I’ve said that Microsoft should concentrate on their strengths on PC and allow XBOX to be their tertiary objective or abandon it altogether. Because Microsoft has done the same thing SONY did ie. concentrating on the damn video games rather than on what they know to do well, their nightmare might come true. Or rather, it might already be in some form.

Let’s go point-by-point.
Are the pads eating the PC markets? Yes, but only if we assume that the iPad and other smart devices are something else than PCs. Pads and smarthphones are not some sort of magical thing of their own, they’re as much PC as laptops. The proper way to put this would’ve been that non-Windows based PCs are eating away from Microsoft’s share.

Are employees really converting away from Windows based PCs? I’ve discussed this with people who work on government facilities, and they do admit that there’s iPads for certain purposes, but majority of the work is still made on machines that have actual keyboard. As such, while iPad is certainly taking its place in the work environment, it’s way too early to say whether or not it will completely replace Windows. Perhaps a sort of paradigm shift is happening, where we are going towards more LACRS devices from Star Trek.

I wouldn't really oppose those, but there will be a lot of people who will never get used to the lack of tactile contact
I wouldn’t really oppose those, but there will be a lot of people who will never get used to the lack of tactile contact. There’s also the position where you type, most of the time is awkward if you’re using two hands

Now the third point is completely true and Microsoft can only blame themselves. The GUI of Windows 8 has got a lot of hate for a reason. For one, it abandons a lot of functions that users expect from Windows. it doesn’t help that Microsoft has emphasized on the touch-screen function a lot, and if you’re a home PC users this functions becomes more or less completely useless. When I gave the retail version of Win8 a throughout testing, it was clunky, rather horrible and felt that everything sank beneath something. Microsoft should have looked back what worked and not remove whatever they liked. Will Windows 8 replace Windows 7 like all other versions have done previously? It’s hard to say, but I’ve heard rumours that this wouldn’t be the case in every institution.

Windows 8 is also the reason why loyal developers are moving away from Microsoft. Technically this point, and all other up to point seven, can be crunched into one sentence that sums it all up; Microsoft dedicated too much of their attention to XBOX and 360 that they forgot where their true business and strengths were. Because of this Windows’ development has taken a hit and clearly the company has lost their sight on what the hell they’re doing. You can see that a lot of Windows’ properties has changed since the XP for worse, thou there are truckloads of improvements as well. Still, we all can agree that something was never right with Vista or 7, and we call agree that as light and efficient as 8’s core might be, it’s functionality is pretty damn awful (unless you train religiously on it.)

It’s no surprise that as Microsoft is losing in their main front, the XBOX series is also suffering. XBOX doesn’t bring in any money and only spends whatever Microsoft has made in the 90’s and early 00’s. There has been some reports about Microsoft making loss with every 360 sold, so if Microsoft would lose their main pillar, ie computer OS monopoly, the company would be in very deep trouble.

If Microsoft won’t get their business together, the worst possible scenario is that Windows loses its place in the work environment and the next XBOX will bomb worse than the PSVita. It’s their third time trying it, and I really hope their get it right. However, the blowing winds tell me that this won’t be the case.

However, while we certainly can judge MS and SONY at this point, the earliest point we can say anything about the Wii U’s success is after the holiday season. I’d put that somewhere around February or March.

Lifting a series out of medicority; Bloodrayne Betrayal

Halloween always puts me in a mood for vampires and the like. Mostly it erupts into hours of Castlevania and other good action packed horror themed games. Some years ago I tried the Bloodrayne series, and I was more or less let down the games and their lack of actual quality. The best about the Bloodrayne games was that they were supposed to be a sequel to Terminal Reality’s Nocturne, but that seems to have evaporated out from the games themselves. This is a good thing as Nocturne is pretty nifty adventure game and Bloodrayne’s two first games are just mindless shitfest.
The games, as they were, were mostly about sex appeal, blood and gruesome fatalities. That’s something I’d except from your dime in a dozen vampire game, but Bloodrayne was hailed like something special. I wonder if it’s just that the new generation likes more of this kind of games, or just that these people are a loud minority. If all signs are to be trusted, it’s the latter one, because I’ve never heard these same people say anything good about Bloodrayne: Betrayal, or say anything about it at all.

Bloodrayne was inredeemebly stuck in gray lower medicority until WayForward got the task to make a 2D game out of it. If WayForward is an unknown name to you, the only thing you need to know that these guys know how to handle any game series they get their hands on. They’ve done such games as Shantae, Contra 4 and the new A Boy and his Blob. I don’t know why these guys haven’t hit it big yet, but they’re going there slowly.
Now, Bloodrayne: Betrayal is a complete different beast from its sisters. The action is nice, fast and rather responsive. It uses in-house art design, and WayForward’s style brings out the style that Bloodrayne in general best known of. Rayne herself is redesigned to look far more sophisticated than what she looked in the previous games, and clads herself more for less.

After playing the Trial through about few dozen times and then some, I was assured that this games was what the series needed; over the top style (rocket coffin, anyone?) stylised colourscheme of darks, shadows, reds and earthly tones with good highlights, extremely nice gameplay and very light on the story. It practically ditches everything that wasn’t worthwhile in the previous games and took the core idea and refined it further. People have voiced their concern of game not being true to the realism of original titles, an we can all laugh at them; Bloodrayne and realism are as good combination as Uwe Bolle and videogames.
The only thing that doesn’t really work in the game is the Xbox 360’s own controller. I’d recommend getting this for the PS3, but even that controller has flaws beyond saving. But you know what controller would be perfect for this game? Sega Saturn’s.

The music in Betrayal is also something that I’d call “fucking good” if I were to use those words. Rather, I’ll just say that the music is exceptional in most cases that it’s overall great in quality, is catchy, works as a background music and sets the mood. This is the exact opposite of Castlevania Lords of Shadow music, where you don’t remember the music even if it’s good, but you’ll remember this because it stands up to you well when you start to listen it.

I’ll most likely give a full blown review of this game in the future as soon as I’ve ripped a new hole to Rayne to suck from, but while you’re waiting for it you might want to purchase it by yourself or visit here and play it.

It’s always a good thing to notice how a single game can make the whole series look a bit better, and while Bloodrayne Betrayal does stand on its own two feet, it does tie to the past games a little, but it’s better if you’ve never played those before this one.

Be sure to check the official site for two short Dev diaries for fun.

Living with fear and how to deal with it

There are times in every person’s life who start to live in fear. It crawls behind your thoughts, mocking your attempts and you can see the world sometimes going slower due to the fear’s attempt to grasp unto you. You try not to give in the fear or let it scare you too much.
I am, of course, speaking of fear of XBox 360 Red Ring of Death.

I got my second hand 360 from my brother as a “payment” of helping him out. The console was broken to an extent. The disc drive was damaged so that it didn’t really open or close, and thus discs couldn’t be read. As any intelligent console owner would do, I cracked the thing open and checked what was the matter. I eventually had to open the disc drive completely and take it apart so that I could realign the tray properly. Somehow it had jumped off from its intended spot on the gears. My brother had previously opened the machine in order to make it moddable but no extra chips were installed.
Now make no assumptions that I did something to the console. I haven’t. I am intending to paint the dull black into dark gray with a red cross on it, as I’ve myself using this combination pretty much everywhere during the last years, so it seems to have sneakingly become my own mark.

Now how to live with the fear of RRoD. There’s few ways. The first one is basically waiting this pile of horrible design junk overheat itself, not use the console at all, or getting a better to replace the stock one. I’m going with the third option this week. As I’ve found myself actually enjoying few games on the system, I want to make sure that the machine won’t die on my too early. I do not expect the 360 to live half as long as the NES or Atari 2600 systems have. I’m rather surprised that it hasn’t died on me yet. I’ve been playing few games a lot in these last days, namely WarTech: Senko no Ronde, DoA4 and most importantly, Virtua Fighter 5. Today I noticed that the loading time took three seconds longer than usual to load with no animations on the loading screen. I see this a mark of bad craftsmanship on Microsoft’s part, as the loading time most likely took longer due to system heating up too much.

I can’t imagine they encased the 360 into three layers; outer plastic and TWO inner metallic frames. No machine needs two RF shieldings, and this fact alone makes the machine hot as hell inside, and the insufficient heat sinks have no way to dissipating the heat, except back to the system’s components because the stock fan can’t pull out heated air out fast enough.
I might as well make a new shell for this machine that let’s more air move inside, and add some more coolant devices.

Above: Bad photo of a fixed system that most likely will get modded when the newest firmware is cracked.