From Horse Armor To Stimulus And Beyond: Future of DLC

 From Horse Armor To Stimulus And Beyond

Although this topic isn't exactly a new one, as this (armored) horse has been dead and beaten over and over again since the start of this generation), the launch of Nintendo's new DSi XL has brought some issues to light that a lot of gamers probably haven't spent a lot of time thinking about... namely, what's going to happen to DLC when this generation ends and the next one begins...

First, a few things to ponder:

1.)  It is not in the console makers' best interests to make DLC backwards-compatible with previous console iterations.  It is in their financial interest, as corporations, to make you buy it again.  Proof?  Look at how Microsoft half-assed BC in the 360 and how Sony ripped it out of later PS3 models.  BC is a financial drain, it doesn't make money and in fact ends up costing them money.  "Make your customers buy their games again, boost the bottom line."

2.)  Apparently users are scarfing up the DSi XL quite a bit overseas; a lot of these users over in Japan are owners of previous DS systems.

3.)  Rock Band and Guitar Hero, cash cows in the world of DLC, have limits on the licenses to their music.  If (when) iterations of RB and GH launch on the successors of the 360/PS3 and Wii, will infrastructure be in place to port over existing song catalogs?  Again, based on console maker/third party interests, that doesn't make sense.  And that doesn't even factor in RIAA/music licensing issues arising from such a function.  Almost guaranteed this would be a legal nightmare.

4.)  Even assuming you do not purchase a next-gen console, what happens when the XBL/PSN servers are taken offline, particularly if you had a RROD and never transferred licenses?

5.)  The casual crowd does not have a concept of "licensing".  In their minds, anything they purchase is theirs to keep/own. I guarantee there will be stories on the national news if/when Nintendo announces its next console with a next-gen iteration of Virtual Console with no means of porting over content from existing Wiis.  Particularly if that "next console" is a Wii1.5HD, i.e. not a full generation upgrade.  Nintendo:  your "blue ocean" casual audience - the one you've spent so much time, effort, and marketing dollars catering to - is going to be very ticked off when their VC games don't work on their new Wii.  Grandma doesn't know about EULA's.

I'm seeing a fairly disturbing pattern here, and it's one that a lot of gamers probably either fail to notice or don't care about.  In the realm of DLC, you don't own your content.  You license it.

I will spell this out, to make it even more clear: IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW,  YOUR DLC IS NOT YOURS TO OWN.

You are at the mercy of the console manufacturer in regards to most downloadable content, which doesn't bode well for people who spent hundreds of dollars on fleshing out their Rock Band song catalogs.  This is something the PC gaming world is already experiencing - with companies like Ubisoft implementing draconian DRM schemes at the expense of users everywhere.  Back in the days of "Don't Copy That Floppy", we never had to worry about our old games not being available to play in the future.  I still know people who play classic PC games and classic console games on a regular basis. This is going to change.

Ever since the early experiments with content like Horse Armor in Oblivion, all the way through locking out content on the disc, to now where "knowledgable" gamers are fairly aware of what pieces of DLC are actually a decent value - though most have splurged on a few "guilty pleasure" bad deals (my most notable being the SFIV costume pack - which I KNEW was on the disc and yet still bought once the price on it was reduced).  The point I'm trying to make is this... I believe gamers are being - or at least SHOULD be - mroe careful as this generation hits its peak and progresses into the background.  It is likely the new consoles will be announced next year, despite the fact that to me it appears far too soon (game incubation for current-gen titles is much longer than in the PS2 generation), and when those new systems hit the market they are almost guaranteed to be accompanied by a deluge of downloadable options incompatible with their previous iterations.   

At least Microsoft and Sony have _a way_ of making their new systems compatible with old DLC, through progression of PSN and XBL ids to the new systems.  Nintendo, on the other hand, has chosen to tie each piece of DS or Wii DLC to the console itself, which creates a whole lot of headaches for the consumer, but a lot of control to Nintendo.  For example:

1.)  Your console breaks out of warranty, and being the casual consumer you are, you go get a new Wii instead of calling customer service and find that your licenses don't transfer.  You complain and then buy your content again.  More money for the big N.

2.)  You decide to change your business model to a more Apple-oriented approach - rather than releasing new, drastically updated consoles every few years, you release slightly better yearly iterations, bringing in new users and forcing your dedicated fanboys to upgrade.  Since DLC is tied to console, the fanboys fork over the money for the few applications they aren't sick of and download them to the new console.  Every....time....  More money for the big N.  

3.)  The new console scenario.  Again, pretty much same as above.  Fanboys and the casual crowd will both scarf it up and download the applications they found most useful and possibly a few new ones.  Fast forward a year and cycle to #(2.)
Endless money-printing machine for the big N.

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Typical gamer rage, International Edition...

 
 


                                                                                                                          (Image from Kotaku.com)

And people wonder why Japanese gamers don't often play online.

Translation:
"You stupid JAP cheater. I wonder if you're angry because your dick is small? Do you remember HIROSHIMA and NAGASAKI? We can do that again. Sneaky, stupid dickhead..."

Some analysis:
The Japanese in the note itself looks like the product of an introductory college-level Japanese class combined with "butch speak" picked up from watching too many episodes of Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and Bleach.

There is some discussion going around about whether or not the messages is faked, but I'm fairly certain it is not, judging from both grammatical (early Japanese courses teach 'node' as 'because' - despite its lack of use in non-formal settings like this; interchanging wa and ha, etc.) and content (overuse of penis terms) point of view - it looks like someone has a bit too much time on his hands and wanted to rage. Said person just happened to be a Bleachtard.

Well, here's a news flash. This whole "play together over the Internet" thing? It wasn't always like that. In a lot of ways, multiplayer this generation has deteriorated. As much as I loathe the Wii's friend codes with a passion, it is nice to not receive hateful messages every time a match or game doesn't go in my opponent's favor. I grew up in the arcade renaissance of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat - very competitive games. But I never - EVER - heard people talking trash face to face the way they do now over the internet. People would challenge each other to matches, certainly, but that's about it. Even TEAM games have fellow team members yelling into their mics, name-calling, and trash talking their own teammates.  Anonymity + soapbox = RAGE

In Japanese arcades, people were too intimidated to play next to the opponent they were challenging in a fighting game. That's why they organize their candy cabs back-to-back, with only one set of controls on each side...this way the winner continues playing and the loser doesn't have to deal with facing the one that beat them.

I suppose the term "GAIJIN SMASH" would apply. Someone from the West thinking he's hot shit by talking down to a Japanese player. I suppose the worst part of the whole thing is the Japanese gamer on the receiving end of this rant probably has no idea how often this type of thing happens when western gamers play online against each other. Honestly, it's rather sickening. 
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Import Resale And Importance of Descriptions

As a frequent import gamer, I've run into a problem that has become more and more prevalent as of late.  
 
When I am finished with import games, and the time comes to resell them, I run into an issue.  Amazon, where I like to do most of my game buying and selling, does not have listings for all of the import software I sell, so I will often put my import copies up for sale under the listings Amazon does have.  In the case when there is both an import and domestic version, I do not post the import version under the domestic version listing UNLESS THE GAME IS NOT CURRENTLY RELEASED DOMESTICALLY - this is an important distinction.
 
Ever since gaming has become more casual, I've ran into a huge problem - people who do one-click ordering and don't look at descriptions, and then complain to me when the item they receive isn't what they've ordered - only it actually IS what they've ordered.  This is ESPECIALLY prevalent among Wii consumers - a guy from Utah thought he was going to get arrested because the back of the Milestone Shooting Collection game he mistakenly ordered from me stated 'FOR JAPAN ONLY'.  Another time, a soccer mom from Massachusetts bought a copy of the Japan-exclusive Nintendo Puzzle Collection and told me it was broken because it wouldn't play in her Gamecube, after explaining to her that she needed special devices to play imports she still didn't understand and thought the GBA cable I shipped with the game was the "Action Replay" device she needed to play the game - thus the game I sent her was obviously broken.  After 3 email exchanges, I gave up and refunded her - after she shipped the game back to me...which of course, worked perfectly with my JP Wii and ActionReplay + GC.
 
  When I put an import game up on Amazon, I follow three specific rules: 
1.)  I do not post an import game under a domestic listing unless the game is not released domestically;
2.)  In the case when I do post an import game, I state in the description that it is an import and will work with imported consoles only in the case of region locked games;
3.)  I mark the condition field as USED (which, in combination with rule 1, means people should actually understand what they're buying).
 
Before I get the response of "SELL ON EBAY INSTEAD", I do, but prefer Amazon generally due to turnaround on purchases, ease of use, and protection (I've been burned by a few 'lost' games that have actually been delivered when selling on eBay).   I am not trying to rip people off here, and have always refunded those that come to me - though I am never ceased to be amazed by the idiocy of some of my customers in regards to the products they order.
 
So I ask you, GiantBomb, who is in the wrong here?  Me, for selling the games on Amazon , or the people who don't read the description before ordering a used copy of an unreleased game?

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Strategy Guide to Buying Games in Akihabara ^.^

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
If you're a nerd, and you're visiting Tokyo, then I can only assume that one of your first stops on your whirlwind Japan tour will be Electric Town Akihabara...and why wouldn't it be? This neon district of electronics stores, arcades (some of the most famous in the world), Japanese junk food, maid cafes, and quirky manga/anime retailers makes up one of the most characteristic - if not sterotypical - places to explore in Tokyo. But TRAVELER BEWARE! Although Akihabara is generally fairly easy to get around as a foreigner, in general you need to be careful where you go and what you buy - it's easy to get caught up in the chaos only to regret it later.

Have no fear, akakaze is here!

How to get there: Yamanote line. Easy. Three stops from Tokyo station (you can also use the Chuo Line express to cut out a large portion of travel time if going from Shinjuku). But for those unfamiliar with the trains, your friendly neighborhood JR station staff should be able to point you in the right direction, as most of them speak enough English to be able to assist you. All ticket machines have English modes on them, so there really isn't a whole lot of explanation I can give you regarding how to get there. The important things to take note of occur once you arrive.

Now, the first thing you'll probably notice upon stepping out of Akihabara JR station is the maid cavalry...tons of college students dressed in French Maid costumes... which will be doing their best to get your attention, advertise their businesses, and hand you free packages of tissue (which is used because many public bathrooms don't supply TP or towels). Keep in mind that some of these maid businesses are more reputable than others, and although I'm far from a maid business expert I've noticed that the less English is in an advertisement you're handed, the more likely it is to be shady. I still have the handout I was given during my first trip to Akihabara for "Cutie Relax Maid Massages". I don't even want to know. Seriously. I don't.

Ideally, you want to just smile and walk by, and don't take their handouts unless you really want to. Chances are you're not here for that anyway, which leads me to: the stores.

Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you're here to buy games. Are you? Good. Now here's the bad news: aside from the region lock issue which affects every console except the GBA, DS, DS Lite, PSP, and PS3, purchasing brand new games will in general set you back far more money than stateside equivalents. A new game can go for 6800 Yen ($70) or much more than that for some Square-Enix titles. Fortunately the rule of mass depreciation doesn't only apply to cars. It applies to video games as well. You can quite regularly find complete games on sale for much much less than retail price. And it happens much, much more quickly than in the states. A game a few weeks old can sell for 30% or more off MSRP in some cases. Each retailer sets their own prices for both new and used games as well.

If buying new (consoles or games):

1.) SHOP AROUND! Remember what I told you above - retailers very often set their own prices, which means something selling for 5800 yen one place might very well be in the bargain bin down the street. Usually price variations are extreme - the only time when stores seem to universally charge the same price is when a game is first released (and as such, they can gouge). The price differences can be attributed to the presence of TONS of competition, unlike in the States. Use that to your advantage.

2.) Know your system. Most have region locks - so you'll either need a Japanese console or a means of circumventing the lock if you want to play them. Good Japanese store clerks will point this out to you as best they can, but most won't bother. Since you're in Japan anyway, you might as well get the systems too...(at least I did) -_-

If buying used (games):

1.) Read the signs! Unlike Gamestop, JP retailers do you a great service. They not only tell you that a copy of a game is used, but they list any particular problems the game or packaging has. Depending on the condition of the individual item, pricing will vary. Thus, if you just want something to play and don't care about packaging, you can get some insanely good deals. Even games with most packaging intact are sold for at least 20% off MSRP - in many cases a lot more. Unfortunately, these "condition notes" on each game are often written in "Japanese gamer dude scribble" which is, in my opinion, the most difficult handwriting to read in the world - period. Yes, worse than doctor prescriptions. Much, much worse. Here are some terms which will help you here:

中古
CHUUKO/CHUUBURU = "second-hand", "used"

ディスク
DISKKU = "disc"

新しい
ATARASHII = "new"

ゲーム
GEEMU = "game"

キズ
KIZU = "wound", "scratch" (in the case of a game, refers to disc scratching or damage)

多い
OOI = "lots of"

なし
NASHI = "without", "not present"

If you can probably tell, the phrase on a game that is a dead giveaway that you really don't want to buy it is: ディスク キズ 多い (you can figure out what it means from the list above I'm quite sure).

Often the notes are written just like above, not in sentence format.

2.) Know what you're getting. A game that has a rare US version may not be as rare in Japan. Hence tons of copies of PS1 Valkyrie Profile available at 780 yen ($8 each - here's the evidence)
 


 
 
 
 
 
Other interesting finds: complete boxed copies of FFIV - VI for Super Famicom @ $20 each, complete boxed copies of Chrono Trigger @ $15 each, complete Secret of Mana I and II @ $18, and Ogre Battle 64 - brand new and wrapped....in the bargain bin for $5. THE BARGAIN BIN! So remember, kids: if it's big in Japan, it's probably not rare in Japan. Don't think your copy of JP Chrono Trigger will fetch that same $100 on Ebay that the US copy will. Of course, if you're buying them to keep, or to play, as opposed to sell, then it's probably worth picking some of these classics up. Just don't expect to be rolling in the dough.

Useful phrases (including the "summon spell" from ordering from restaurants- which also works here if you need a cashier or clerk's attention!):

「すみません!!」
SUMIMASEN = "Excuse me..."  ("summon spell" mentioned above, causes waiters or store clerks to drop what they're doing and run over to service you)

「何かを買いたいんですが。。。」
NANIKA WO KAITAI N DESU GA... = "I would like to buy something, but [I need your help]"

「これは、いくらですか?」
KORE WA, IKURA DESU KA = "How much is this?"

「VISAを使っていいですか?」
VISA WO TSUKATTE II DESU KA = "Can I use my VISA?"   (They might say no, in which case they'll probably respond with something like 「現金だけでございます」 , cash only please... the word for cash is GENKIN).

So after you're done with your game shopping, you're probably going to be hungry. Now there are plenty of food stands in Akiba selling Crepes, Takoyaki, Ramen, etc...but if you want the full Akihabara experience, you should probably try out a maid cafe at least once. Now, the maid cafe is a part of Japanese culture that is very, very difficult to explain. Basically, it started as an innocent way for socially awkward Japanese men to part with money in exchange for conversation with women dressed up as maids or other anime stereotypes. The idea was to pull the customers into a fantasy (INNOCENT fantasy that is) of being in an anime - and give them the chance to interact with people that they normally wouldn't either due to shyness or other reasons. The phenomenon exploded out of Akihabara and now there are all types of theme cafes that have more or less the same purpose.

I guess if you have to compare it to anything, think of it as the Japanese version of Hooters without the hooters...erm...so to speak. The food really isn't that special but it is a unique Akihabara experience. I can't say I'd ever go back (especially after my girlfriend heard that I went innocently on a suggestion from a friend), but it was definitely unique. And the clientele has expanded beyond just lonely guys into a socially acceptable form of restaurant for people of both sexes and (almost) any age....



 
 
 
 
 
 
erm.... *gulp*
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"Potent Portables for 500, Alex" - Portable vs. Console in Japan

 
 

Earlier this year during my trip to Japan, and again during this year's holiday shopping season, I've come to a realization: console games are dead.

That's an overstatement, of course. But more accurately, the kinds of games I used to enjoy from Japanese developers on console have migrated to portables. Though portable systems most certainly have their place, this is a distressing move. Not only does it imply that the Japanese console market is weak, but it also squeezes modern sequels and new IP (such as Dragon Quest IX, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, Valkyria Chronicles II, Dissidia) onto last gen (or worse) hardware. The way I see it, the current-gen consoles (the 360 and PS3) have three distinct advantages when compared against the portables.

1.) Graphics/processing power

Next-gen graphics capabilities are a no-brainer. But the bigger innovation (other than more "shiny") is that the extra processing power the consoles provide can be used in other, more creative ways to generate new kinds of gaming experiences - no goofy controller required. Many more characters on the screen, better AI, and more.

2.) Online integration

Especially in the case of the 360, there are so many things you can do by integrating online experiences into your titles. Everything from typical multiplayer games, to co-op modes, to interesting interactions with other players (like in Demon's Souls). The portables are doing some experiments with this as well - and in some ways are better equipped than the consoles for these kinds of interactions. But more often than not these opportunities get squandered. Most games that could use online integration never get it.

3.) Experience/comfort

This is the big one. This is why I'm so mad at the Japanese developers. I love Japanese RPGs. I love playing them for hours, leveling up characters and participating in an incredibly involved storyline full of twists and turns set to an orchesteral soundtrack. What I don't love is playing a Japanese RPG squinting at a 2'' screen, its orchestral soundtrack muffled by the tiny speakers of my DS Lite. If Japanese developers are going for immersion, the absolute worst thing they can do is develop a big-budget RPG on a portable platform. I'm really looking forward to Birth By Sleep - but it's so uncomfortable to play my PSP for any length of time that I probably won't end up finishing it. A shame.


Alas, all three of these advantages are no match for the cost of development. To a Japanese developer, spending $5 million to develop a PSP title for a fairly large userbase is MUCH more lucrative than spending $30 million for a 360/PS3 (or even multiplatform) title that stands to return a fraction of the sales of the portable titles. What this leads to is an incredibly vapid software selection for the consoles - particularly in Japanese games. It broke my heart to be walking through stores in Akihabara and looking through the PS3 library - more than 2/3 of the games being offered for sale were from American and European developers. Again, this isn't the 360 displays I'm talking about here - there were actually MORE Japanese-made games for sale on 360 (yeah, I don't get it either).

In every past generation, the Japanese game development industry has dictated the pace and platforms that made the industry more successful. Yoichi Wada of Square Enix was recently quoted in an interview as saying how a one-console market (i.e. one "winning" console) is ideal for Square Enix. Unsurprising to say the least, considering the publisher was probably less than happy at the prospect of having to develop a version of Final Fantasy XIII that will run on Xbox 360 for the North American and European markets. If it were up to Wada, the marketplace would have welcomed the PS3 with open arms as the PS2's de-facto replacement as "the" gaming console.

Differences in gaming habits, cultures, and the wildcard Wii effect have caused the exact opposite scenario. PS3 winning in Japan (landslide), 360 by a wide margin in the US (bigger than PS3's Japan lead), and a deadheat in Europe. This means that third party exclusives have pretty much become a thing of the past. This isn't necessarily a very welcome environment for Japanese companies, who are used to "doing what works". Portable systems are pretty much the only place they can continue to "do what works" - but in doing so, they isolate a huge portion of their userbase.

A perfect example: Valkyria Chronicles II. The first game was released to PS3 with amazing reviews but tepid sales both domestically and worldwide. Fans of the game were very vocal and demanded a sequel...which Sega eventually announced - with a platform shift. The series would be getting an aesthetic downgrade and will be appearing on the PSP. They justified it in interviews later, claiming a market need for a platform shift. Completely unsurprising.

Look, I'm aware this is the way things are going now. So here's what I'd like companies to do in the future. Make your portable more compatible with your home console. I want to be able to connect my PSP running Dissidia or Birth By Sleep to my PS3, which will upscale the image and run it on my big screen TV. I want to be able to control it with my DualShock 3. And I want to play it online. Technologically, I don't think this is impossible. I just wish they'd realize how big of a need there actually is for this kind of product...

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