Saturday, December 27, 2014

Consoles make a comeback in 2014

The last few years of the previous console generation were generally pretty bleak. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had been on the market for the better part of a decade, hardware and software sales were plummeting, and some felt innovation was falling by the wayside as developers eagerly looked for fresh platforms to spark creativity. Indeed, Ubisoft chief executive Yves Guillemot was one among a number of key voices at publishers who felt that the console cycle had dragged on past its welcome.

"We need new consoles and at the end of the cycle generally the market goes down because there are less new IPs, new properties, so that damaged the industry a little bit," he said at the end of 2012.

Fast forward to this holiday season, and it would seem that the calls for new consoles to revive the business were largely accurate. Looking back at 2014, it's clear that excitement for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One drove the AAA market. In every NPD Group report we covered, hardware sales skyrocketed as consumers simply couldn't get enough of the new consoles. Microsoft has shipped 10 million Xbox One units as of November, while Sony's PS4 installed base is close to 14 million now. By comparison, during their respective first years, the Xbox 360 sold fewer than 8 million units and PS3 had shipped around 10.5 million.

The difference between the seventh and eighth generations of course is that Nintendo's console platform suffered a precipitous drop. While the original Wii caught lightning in a bottle and soared to 20 million units in its first year alone, the Wii U - now completing its second year on the market - has yet to even reach half that figure (sitting at 7.29 million as of the end of September). That said, even Nintendo is now feeling some momentum and analysts are expecting it'll have its best holiday in years, driven by Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart 8 and new revenue sources like Amiibo.

"The landscape is changing, and the platform is becoming the retailer itself, much to the chagrin of companies like GameStop"

On the software side - at least in terms of the AAA market - Guillemot's hope that new consoles would drive more successful new IPs has proven partially accurate. While we've seen commercial successes like Watch Dogs, Bungie's Destiny, EA's Titanfall and a solid showing from Insomniac with Sunset Overdrive, there were others that performed average at best - Knack, Ryse, etc. - and the rest of the market has been saturated with the same AAA franchises we've grown accustomed to (Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, Forza, Dragon Age, Far Cry and more). The good news is that anticipated new IP like Evolve, No Man's Sky, The Order 1886, Bloodborne, The Division, and Quantum Break, to name a few, is still coming.

The bad news is that console software no longer "just works." In the old days, you'd choose console over PC because you knew that when you put in that cartridge or disc, it would boot up and you'd be playing shortly (longer load times notwithstanding) without significant errors. Now, with eighth generation consoles more connected than ever before, you're often confronted with day one patches, mandatory updates to make anything playable online, and even then you may run into problems, as evidenced by the troubles encountered by Drive Club, Assassin's Creed Unity, Master Chief Collection and more. This is really the subject of a separate editorial, but if publishers continue to ship broken products, they should at least treat them like unfinished games and charge far less, effectively beta testing with users similar to Steam's Early Access.

The more exciting element of the new consoles essentially being always-on is that digital gaming is reaching new heights. On the AAA side you can buy any major release digitally on day one, and indeed digital sales are becoming a larger and larger portion of a title's total. Some of the year's top games took in 20 percent or more in digital receipts - and that's great news for publishers who receive higher margins on digital sales. The landscape is changing, and the platform is becoming the retailer itself, much to the chagrin of companies like GameStop.

On top of the AAA business, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have all made great strides in bolstering their digital storefronts, offering numerous titles on a smaller scale, often from indies. Sony, most of all, has capitalized beautifully on this, luring in indies and grabbing the attention of gamers with free games as part of PlayStation Plus. The focus on indies has not only helped to diversify consoles' offerings in the early part of this console generation, but it's also served to offset some of the gaps left by the still-in-development or delayed AAA IP.

So where do consoles go from here? Needless to say, judging Xbox One and PS4 on just one year of sales isn't going to tell us where they'll be in five or six years. But barring a major surge in 2015 and beyond, it doesn't look like the eighth generation will significantly outperform the prior generation. In fact, Wedbush Securities' Michael Pachter expects around 240-260 million consoles to be sold when it's all said and done. The Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii combined for 260 million, so the eighth generation ultimately could see flat sales. "So it's not a growth industry. For everyone in this room not chasing that market, you're going to be fine. The market is going to get a lot bigger, just not on console," he said at the recent Game Monetization conference in San Francisco.

Indeed, the overall gaming pie will be getting much, much bigger, thanks to the booming mobile/tablet sector. A new IDC Research report points out that the smartphone and tablet gaming installed base has topped 1 billion in 2014. So consoles obviously are becoming more of a "niche" market, but that's not really a fair word either. 260 million units is hardly small potatoes, and ultimately, if you make a unique and innovative console game you can still be incredibly successful without chasing the mobile scene.

In 2014, consoles put their foot down, shouting "I'm still here and I'm not going anywhere!" It remains to be seen how they'll fare over the long haul, but memory constraints on devices and bandwidth troubles online will make it difficult for them to be replaced by any phone, tablet or streaming service any time soon. Moreover, if virtual reality does begin to take off, consoles could have another exciting avenue to pursue as we've seen with Project Morpheus (no expensive gaming PC rig required). And perhaps then motion controls like Kinect and Move, which - let's face it - were essentially swept under the rug in 2014 will be given new life as VR accessories.

Pressure from other platforms and technologies isn't the only challenge consoles will face, however. It's ultimately the business model that will have to evolve in order for the industry to really move forward. Mobile has been dominated by freemium, which isn't always ideal, while console often asks too much of its audience with $60 purchases and a flow of DLC add-ons. Customers deserve more options. As Xbox co-creator Seamus Blackley told us a year ago, "What we need is the next generation of business infrastructure to make [innovation] possible. And iOS isn't doing a great job at that. There needs to be new excitement injected into the console world to provide more infrastructure for that to happen."

Thursday, December 25, 2014


The only console I don't have in my collection is Xbox One so I bought that today with $300 birthday cash and then $120 from the savings today.  Halo 5 will be pretty awesome. 

My PS4 has 6 games already. I guess all I am missing is people. I obviously have updated to the  peripherals.  I believe the Kinnect is dead.  Now I own all of them.    Last generation, I bought Xbox 360 first in 2005 and then Wii last in 2007.  I bought this generation in complete reverse. (Wii U first 2012, PS4 2nd and XBox1 3rd.  I also got a 2nd Dual Shock 4, a BDRE drive, and Last of Us Remastered.

It's election year! PS4 holds the edge of sales worldwide. Xbox One has a slight edge of 22 states in the United States.

I got a Hyosung ATV for a graduation gift, because of the evidence Facebook users around here already had more than one already.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rebuying videogames or vacationing never increased my status.

When I was younger, I used to rebuy videogames for Virtual Console on Wii and multiplatform videogame titles across PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. I figured that these are for first time buyers who are younger then me.  For example buying Half-life 2 for PC and then PS3.  Then  I play 16-bit roms in PC emulators and 32-bit videogames in PC emulators/Cannoo/Android, because I don't want to rehook the consoles  to my tv. 

After I found that my popularity didn't increase after mulitplatform titles or upgrading  DVD.   I realized that repurchasing the same titles didn't matter from a hitcounter  and subscriber standpoint and stop upgrading to Bluray altogether.  Pressed discs have a lifespan of 100 years  No one is hyping Bluray, Advanced Audio Coding, and Xbox One around here.  I wouldn't buy a new car, because I can post a Koenigsegg Agera R on Pinterest for free  and get slightly less attention as the new car I bought.

Constantly looking at  Flickr and Youtube at English speaking monarchies scenery and news broadcasts completely killed my interest visiting them in real life for budget reasons. The pictures are free, and I could Photoshop myself in them to get the same amount of attention online.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


My dog is a genius. She can be naughty. I'm crate training her. She sings a lot, barks and howls.


Saturday, December 06, 2014

Owns Chrono Trigger Crimson Echoes

This sequel to Chrono Trigger was 98% done and in development for 5 years. Everybody likes it. Chrono Trigger 2 has  a 4.7 out of 5.0.
Lets  look beyond those and look at the game itself, the parts that were actually completed. The plot line weaves a very compelling main narrative in which the heroes are summoned to put a stop to King Zeal. How was he resurrected? It turns out to be a friend rather than a foe that did the deed. While the original Chrono Trigger plotline focused on bending the rules of time to protect history, this sequel has much heavier undertones with regards to the consequences of one’s actions in time. The party triggers a timeline change in the past while battling King Zeal, and must consign an entire future of Reptite Kingdoms that spawned from the change into nothingness. Crimson Echoes does a terrific job of bridging the gap from Chrono Trigger to Chrono Cross in it’s storyline. It doesn’t do quite as well at wrapping up the loose ends. For instance, a sidequest to start Lucca’s orphanage was left woefully underdeveloped and felt tacked on, while the game’s idea of why Crono and Marle wind up appearing in Chrono Cross will make you think of the term “magic bullet” pretty quickly. The aesthetic changes will either leave you cold or strike you as good ideas. One of each from me: I don’t mind at all that Crono learns to talk in this game, and as I read up on the reasoning behind it, where the group wanted multiple characters to shine, it struck me as a fairly well-thought out plan. On the other hand, Frog loses his middle ages accent and text because it isn’t there in the Japanese version of the game. While that’s all well and good, he loses a lot of his character in the switch. His dialog rings hollow and he speaks at times in a way that makes you wonder why the change was made at all. I don’t have any problem with them making him a little less stereotypical, but there are ways to do that without making it feel like he loses who he is in the process. I just felt like I had a stranger in my party. One of my big pet peeves with Crimson Echoes is the amount of original areas made inaccessible. I don’t need every place in the world to be a gateway into a new sidequest, but would it have been so hard to keep the Dactyl Nest or the Denadoro Mountains in 600 A.D.? Post some guards out at the gate and come up with a magic bullet idea about why the party isn’t allowed in if need be. It just feels weird to navigate familiar world maps without access to every area. You’ll look for openings in mountains for minutes before you realize that something is gone. Then when some areas are beaten, they simply vanish from the World Map as if they never existed. Awkward. The basic game play is unchanged, but through a lot of the game you’ll feel like the difficulty has been knocked up a notch. Partially this is because it has, but actually it’s because for a lot of the early game you don’t have three characters in the party most of the time. If you thought the Black Omen was difficult, try having to go through an entire forest when your party is Marle solo. You start learning just how many Ice spells it takes to kill an enemy pretty quickly, because there are a lot of eight minute battles involved. Some characters are given new moves, but mostly they retain their earlier skills. Magus got a pretty good makeover in terms of his learned skills, mostly because he loses all the multi-target elemental spells, but the characters as a whole average around two or three skills changed up. One of the best things the game has going for it are the new areas and maps. The Reptite timeline has a slew of wonderful designs, and Singing Mountain is an incredible dungeon. They pass the smell test for sure, and you never question whether they are part of the game or not. At least after you find it, in Singing Mountain’s case. The final dungeon did a terrific job of integrating the idea of The Dead Sea from Chrono Cross with the sixteen-bit technology of Chrono Trigger. Wander too far off the map and you’ll suddenly find yourself moving from a castle that you erased to a portion of 2300 A.D. that died after you beat Lavos in Chrono Trigger. I’d say this game rates a solid 8.3-8.4 on my scale. The flaws are very noticeable, but it’s hard to keep down a main storyline that’s this good. Contrast this to say, Final Fantasy 4’s The After Years, which could only be considered a truly good game if you played it with nostalgia, and I think you’ll find that Crimson Echoes is a better game. I wouldn’t call it a must-play, but if you still harbor any feelings for Chrono Trigger, I think it’s worth the 40-50 hours it will take to finish and the 2-3 hours it takes to find a copy of the 98% version. It’s a very ambitious vision that is still completely playable even though it wasn’t finished.