2011 Hindsight: The Xbox in 2011

What Microsoft did right in 2011

2011 will go down as one of the best years for the Xbox platform ever. Much like the PS2 in 2004, the Xbox 360 has hit that sweet spot where the system is selling itself without the need of great exclusives or much push form the company. It has really landed the network effect where Xbox 360's are selling just because the install base is big. People are buying Xbox 360's because their friends have them.

Microsoft has also done a good job of pushing multi-platform games as 'exclusives' basically grabbing the public and claiming "Yeah you can play this on the other boxes but it is best on Xbox." Whether or not that is true is totally immaterial, it works. I've talked to more than one person who thinks Skyrim is only on the Xbox 360. (not PS3 and not PC) While their advertisements are not as funny or cool as Sony's, Microsoft really nails the audience mind share. When you see a Kinect ad you know ti is a Kinect ad before the little camera shows up. This is important in growing their install base, at this point Microsoft is selling the sizzle not the steak but man that sizzle sells.

Microsoft has also done a good job keeping the Xbox 720 rumors under wraps and out of the mainstream media. The only think I see derailing Microsoft is if they unveil that new box. Microsoft needs to ride this wave until it land on the beach, announcing a new platform would be hilariously dumb.

What Microsoft did wrong in 2011

One word 'Coast.'

With the gutting of Microsoft Game studios Microsoft is taking a short term view of the business. They are riding the wave of popularity but they are not actively looking for the next big wave. Or at least they are not being open about looking. The view from the outside seems to be that they are going to ride this pony until it can't go further and then jump onto the next thing.

I'm not saying they shouldn't enjoy being on 'top' but they need to watch out because the PS3 is nipping at their heels. A high reliance on Kinect is hurting the hardcore market. Xbox rode big third party multi-platform games in 2011 and that isn't a good plan to maintain an audience of hardcore gamers. In 2011 all the reasons for hardcore gamers (except 1) to buy a new Xbox 360 were on the other consoles as well. That isn't good.

Wrapping it up and looking ahead

There are no big names coming out this spring, I'm not talking about no games being announced I'm talking about the fact that we are not even hearing murmurs of anything. Admittedly this is the time in a console's life cycle where you enjoy the investment but I'm afraid Xbox fans may spend next year in the same boat Nintendo fans are spending 2011 in.

I still think it is way to early for Microsoft to put out its next console in 2012, I think you'll see an announcement in 2013 and a release around holiday 2014. The quietness on the exclusive software line up is troubling because consoles need exclusives.

Also Microsoft needs to kick Live in the pants it they want it to stay relevant. At the moment people are signing in because that is where their friends are; but Sony is offering a similar service on the other console for free. The game quality on PSN is equal if not better than Live and PSN is slowly checking off the same boxes Live has. One day, maybe in the next console generation, it will come down to the only difference between PSN and Live being that Live costs more. When that day shows up Microsoft is in very hot water.

Unlike Nintendo's future Microsoft's is largely in their own hands. Sony spent 2011 doing everything they could to win the most customers, Nintendo spent the year doing everything it could to lose the mos customers and Microsoft spent 2011 just having the most customers.


2011 Hindsight: So what has Nintendo been up to?

Step 1) mentally prepare for reader outrage,
Step 2) write blog

What Nintendo did right in 2011

There are few things that will push consoles out the door more than a price cut. Nintendo entered 2011 with strong sales after cutting the Wii's price since then retailers have offered sale after sale on the Wii and Wii games. It isn't uncommon to see Nintendo's little box going for $150, I've even seen it go for less! This coupled with the 3DS's price cut in the early fall really pushed Nintendo hardware into consumers' hands.
Also Nintendo released a few Mario games and a few Zelda games and that is always a good thing.  

What Nintendo didn't do right in 2011

"Everything" is too broad a term.
There are few things that kill current hardware sales quicker than announcing another new hardware system! The Wii's sales were slowing by time Nintendo announced the Wii U (a system we know nothing about, with games running on other systems, first party games we know nothing about and a controller that you may or may not be able to have two of) but once the new box was trotted out at E3 those slowing sales skidded to halt. Nintendo has had 'big' weeks lately but that is because the hardware is so dang cheap. Come on Nintendo how are your faithful supposed to feel? Like abandoned puppies crying for love? I thought this was just a slight business misstep but when Nintendo of America decided to not localize Xenoblade - wait scratch that - not release the already localized Xenoblade, I was sure that Nintendo just doesn't give a #$% anymore! 2011 has been the worst year I can remember for Nintendo fans. I know that "no one only owns a Wii," but imagine if that person existed, what would they have done with the last 365 days?
The 3DS's price debuted at a price even Sony would consider high and then quickly got a price cut to push sales. Software wasn't there so Nintendo did the only thing it could and start basically giving the things away. The Nintendo fan is the most abused gamer in history after 2011. Nintendo in 2011 seemed to just be willfully stomping on any goodwill its customers had. 
The good news is they are paying for it, with the biggest annual loss in the company's history. 

Wrapping it up and looking ahead

In 2011 there was no new reason to buy a new Wii. Nintendo can keep selling to its fans but for a company with a big "Everyone can play" strategy those fans are not gonna be enough. 2011 will be remembered as the year gamers started to smell the snake oil that Nintendo was selling. These don't look good for the House that Mario built, and that is a shame

2011 Hindsight: All things Playstation

I'm gonna go ahead and get this one out of the way first because; A) I have the most to say about it and B) it is my platform of choice. So if you are a fan of the other platforms I'll go ahead ad apologize for being a Sony elitist and you can just copy and paste this rebuttal into your reply: 
"Yeah?! Well too bad PS3 sales still suck in America, where it matters!"

What Sony did right in 2011

2011 continued on the 2009 promise that you'll always want your PS3. Sony has done an astounding job of releasing AAA titles through out the year. From a first party perspective you have to admit that it takes guts to release a AAA title during a window where game don't sell. Killzone 3 and InFamous 2 are two of my top ten titles this year and both of them came out in a release wasteland. From January to December there has been a good first party title release, it is shocking. Titles like Resistance 3 have managed to get a little lost in the fall shuffle but they still debut strong. 
Sony has also been good adding Move functionality to different titles. Since there has not been a killer app for Move this is kind of Sony's Trojan horse. After purchasing a sharpshooter the Move makes sense. The problem is that it requires a readjustment, the same readjustment I had to make when going from a keyboard and mouse to a controller but an adjustment none the less. The addition of Move functionality and new games gives gamers that picked up the Move last fall a reason to keep playing with it. ( Ape Escape is a personal favorite) While the Move is never going to have the gee whiz factor of the Kinect it is probably the best motion control solution out there. However when you speak to the hardcore, having the best motion controller doesn't mean much.
The net result of all of Sony's pushing this year was that there was always a compelling reason to buy a PS3 instead of an Xbox 360 or Wii - (well except one reason but we will get to that soon.)

What Sony did wrong in 2011

Sony's biggest problem in 2011 was Sony in 2007. I mentioned above that there was always a compelling reason to buy a PS3 and well that is true and good but you can't ignore the fact that a lot of people have already bought Xbox 360's and there is already a built in audience. If your friends are on XBLive you're going to buy an XBox. While Sony's PSN is steadily moving down the road to parity with XBLive it still isn't there. Frankly at this moment Sony needs a new generation to kind of re-level the playing field with XBLive, with customers already set up on XBLive it is just hard for Sony to woo them away. I mean let's be honest; today, between Live and PSN there isn't much difference. The biggest divider is that your "friends list" on Live is about twice as large as it is on PSN. Sony has done a good job of recovering from the hack (in fact I hesitate to mention it because I imagine most of you had forgotten about it) and they've done a good job of fostering a developer community on PSN. Sony has done everything 'right' to make PSN a success but the customers just are not there yet. Honestly that is a shame, because there are some great experiences exclusive to PSN and it doesn't cost the customer. If Sony had the PSN they have today in 2007 the PS3 would be the top selling console this generation. The only thing holding the PS3 back is Sony's past mistakes.

Wrapping it up and Looking Ahead

This was a great year for Sony; a great year that didn't translate into big dollars but a great year none the less. Sony is holding an excellent poker hand going into 2012 and really they just need to keep doing what they are doing. The Vita looks cool, the PSP is winding down at the end of its life and the PS3 is selling well enough that it should over take the Xbox 360. I see a new console announcement in 2013 and a release in 2014. Next generation I hope Sony won't make the mistakes in made this generation because the PS3 deserves that top spot, too bad it won't get it.

2011 Hindsight: GotY is gonna be odd this year

I'm not going to name my 2011 Games of the Year, it is still to early and I still have some stuff to play.

Anyone still here? Ok? Cool has anyone else noticed how there is not a clear Game of the Year this year? All the Triple-A titles released this year, especially those released in the last few months, have been good/great but every single one has some rough spots. Whether it is the bugs of Skyrim, the repetition of Uncharted 3, the sameness of Arkham City or the been there done that feel of yet another Call of Duty. Is it just me or is there normally some sort of consensus by this point in the year as to what the best game is? Personally I'm tossing three titles around in my head as potential GotY and I feel like they are all worthy contenders.
This sort of problem even extends into the normal "what platform had the best year" discussion with each kind of hitting highs but not the highest of the highs. On the plus side this gives me things to wright about for the next few days.
So let's do this!


Drop that price like it's hot

Nintendo isn't doing so hot right now. Sorry it's the truth and it happens. Businesses ebb and flow based on the economy and demands in their market. Nintendo's problem is now and has always been a willful ignorance of their market. They've sold Mario games since 1988 and never changed. Mario games are always full price and you can't try them before you buy. That doesn't really matter; you know if you want another Mario game before it is released. I thought when the Wii came out Nintendo may have changed its stripes that it was finally going to react to how people played games. Instead they expanded into a market that quickly abandoned them. The difference is this when chasing the "core-gamer" you have a number of solid known expectations (graphics, competition, longger gaming experiences) the expanded market or "casual-gamer" has very different priorities. (namely abstract concepts named 'fun' and 'value') This is why the 3DS is having a rough go of it.  
The 3DS cannot survive in the age of Angry Birds. Gaming can but the 3DS cannot. Why? How much would you pay for a system where all the games are free? $100, $200, $500? Forget data plans for a second and realize that you can buy an Android tablet that will run Angry Birds and other cellphone games well for less than $200. A one time fee (not counting wifi access) and you have a library of quick arcade-y titles literally at your fingertips. In this world Nintendo's (admittedly cool) $169 system that has games for $40 has a hard road ahead of it. 
Sony is also raining on Nintendo's parade with announcement of the PSVita. When the price for the Vita was announced it was the same as the 3DS. (I called that there would be a 3DS price cut 5 mins later btw) This hinges on the question of value. At the same price the PSVita offers a better value proposition. Sony is still trying to sell the market on a "home console experience on the go" philosophy. For $250 you get an HD(ish) home console that you can fit in a (big) pocket. The 3DS does not offer that feature set to offer. The 3DS graphics are better than the DS but it isn't as good as some of the PSP games I've seen. The PSVita's graphics are more on the level of the PS3's and Xbox's surpassing Nintendo's home console (and abandoned child) the Wii. Graphics only matter to the 'core-gamer' someone Nintendo isn't selling 3DS's to. That core-gamer has already left Angry Birds in the dust though. So Nintendo is losing a battle on two fronts; they can't sell a system to people who don't want to pay more than $5 per title and they can't sell a system to people who want a core gaming experience. 
 The good news is Nintendo can still sell systems who want to play Mario. The bad news is those sales won't keep them in business forever.


E3 2011 the reckoning!

Man it has been awhile...
Anyway E3 2011...yay! Who won? Who cares? No one and no one.
Each of the big three game companies delivered a lackluster presser even though two of them had some awesome tech and game son the floor.

Breakin' it down!

The ad wizards at Microsoft have continued to some how manage to give the people what they don't want. I really felt like I was watching E3 2010's presser all over again. It just seemed like a photo copy of last year's; start with COD, next do some Gears follow that up with a bunch of expanded media announcements no one in this auditorium cares about, KINECT! KINECT! KINECT! CHILD ACTORS WITH KINECT! and wrap it up with a little Halo. granted the Halo stuff was new...but there wasn't much to it, it was like back in 2008 when Sony announced God of War 3 with a short pre-rendered trailer. Pretty much a let down and if I were a Microsoft fan I'd be scratching my head. I'm sure the Microsoft execs are scratching their heads wondering who their audience is-kids? moms? Tweens? Bro-Dudes? Dalmations? Thumbs down!
Sony: Has had a hard spring...a really hard spring. They did a few solid things namely apologizing for the PSN outage twice. They also showed off Uncharted 3 and a 3D TV I can actually afford. Resistance 3 did not look as good as I had hoped but hopefully that is this years Uncharted: Drakes Fortune a game that didn't show well but blew my mind once I had it to play. The Vita's price was a pleasant surprise. I always knew I was going to eventually get one because of my PSP fanboyism but I didn't think it would be priced so I could get one at launch...which is when? Sony just said it would be released by the end of 2011? Am I getting it for Christmas? New Years? Boxing Day? Who knows?! I was more surprised by what Sony didn't show, no Twisted Metal, no Starhawk on stage, no Ratchet and Clank, no big surprised game to close the show? By most accounts all these games are good so why didn't Sony show them off? Too much time with Move and 3D? I love the Move and think Deadmund's Quest looked fun but was it really better than Starhawk? There was more stuff I liked than stuff that left me shrugging but come on this was an easy win and Sony botched it. They had the good stuff they just didn't show it off. Thumbs sideways!
Nintendo: Nintendo hates the Wii. That was my impression, you're gonna get this Zelda game because Miyamoto's been working on it for two years, but that is it. As quickly as Nintendo abandoned the core audience they've abandoned their new expanded audience. (In all fairness both audiences abandoned the Wii first) 3DS games look cool but this year they didn't show off the cool 3D parts, it was kind of like "Here is a new Mario game...ad it does 3D if you want." With the Vita priced at $249 the 3DS needs an app and quick. I don't think Super MArio 3DS is that app. It needs an app that reaches beyond its established audience and into a wider audience like Angry Birds or (in Japan) Monster Hunter, the good news for Nintendo is that they have time Vita doesn't appear to have that mass appeal app either. Then there is the WiiU I guess it was fun and I guess it is powerful but outside from the controller and the name it is still a big question mark. A lot like last year's 3DS reveal everyone ohh-ed and ahh-ed and handed out prizes but you still didn't know much. In fact I would say we know less about WiiU then we knew about the 3DS last year. No games, no specs, no format, no price and no release date. I mean come on I'm sure it is cool and all but what have you got for me now? Nothing? You have footage of games running on your competitor's hardware presented like it was your own? A Zelda OST? Okay I guess... thumbs sideways
If I had to pick a winner I would say Sony...but nothing blew the doors off the place.
IF Microsoft had more Core stuff to show and showed an interesting game for Kinect, they could have won. If Sony had announced the Vita's price, release date and not said AT&T they could have won and if Nintendo had shown an actual game running on the WiiU that was worth the wait they could have won.
No won truly won ... well the fans did because there is gonna be another wonderful year of cool games, just wish we could have seen some of them at the pressers.

CGC (Classic Game Collecting) Priceing

Author's Note: ...And we're back. Sorry for the abrupt downtime but I've been switching up schedules in real life which has left me with very little time. Thanks for coming back.

Pricing is the one aspect of building a collection that results in nothing but headaches. You may remember my advice that you focus on a theme to keep your collection small for awhile; pricing is why. It is hard to explain how a certain title is priced or why title A is worth more than title B on the open market. It is also hard to explain why and how price can fluctuate across the same title. Yes it is hard to explain pricing, but I'm gonna try.

Quick Tips

  • Remember your theme.
  • Mentally assign a price to a game you want. (for example, I really love Ducktales but I would never pay more than $10 for it)
  • Try to gauge a title's price from multiple sources.
  • When your first starting out don't go crazy buying a bunch of 'video game lots'

Pricing for Dummies Like Me

It all boils down to supply and demand. The basic price of a game is an indication of its availability in the marketplace. In English: Expensive games tend to be rare and rare games tend to be expensive. When I say 'rare' I don't mean that they had a small print run or that they are hard to find I mean that they are in high demand and are not on the market very long. To break this down we'll use the example of the first printing of Super Mario Bros. 2-
  • The first printing of Super Mario Bros. 2 (US) used a different audio chip than later printings. This audio chip has a high compatibility rate with NES clone systems.
  • There are less first printing SMB2s than later printings combined but the first printing is still not that hard to find.
  • Mario is a popular character and his games always sell high
  • The first printing SMB2s have a "Nintendo Seal" on the cart label making them easy to identify
  • Since they are purchased to play (because of their compatibility) Collectors tend to keep them in their collections
This all means that first printing SMB2s are easy to price compare against later printings. They are the same game but since the chip is different the first printing's demand is higher. Not enough to affect the cart's price but definitely its demand. First printing SMB2s sell faster than other SMB2s and usually for the same or on slightly higher prices. Since they don't often appear in the marketplace very long they trade at a higher price.
  • Summing it up: The first printing of SMB2 is worth more not because of the different chip but because collectors do not trade them as often and when they are available ted to purchased quickly. This creates demand and increases the price. (But you should still not pay much more than $10 for it. Regular SMB2s should go between $5-$10)
Another example is "DuckTales 2." Released towards the end of the NES's life cycle Capcom did not print as many "Ducktales 2" carts. While still popular the game just wasn't as available as older titles. The thing is "Ducktales 2" is a very good game and like other Capcom/Disney titles was based on a popular brand. The title sold well originally which means that there were not a lot of copies "left in a box in storage" or placed in game store bargain bins. Ducktales 2's high sell through rate (the number of copies that were bought by original customers) and low print run combined to make it a cart that is easily worth as much today as it was new.

Basics of Pricing

Factors that will raise a title's price
  • low print run (there just are not that many carts that actually exist)
  • A high sell through rate (most of the carts went to private people making large amounts of them hard to find)
  • Popularity (no one wants a game no one wants)
  • Compatibility (as more and more original NESs break how does the game play with a newer NES Clone)
Factors that will lower a title's price
  • High print run (You can find them everywhere)
  • Low quality ( E.T. for the Atari 2600 'm looking at you)
  • Time specific titles ( Madden 95 will never be worth a lot - sorry)
  • Availability on Digital distribution (Once a game shows up on Virtual Console its price plummets and then raises a bit before leveling off)

Next time I'll delve into how the different conditions a cartridge can be in will effect its price.

Is this PSN hack as bad as the RROD?

Before I get too far in; if you haven't heard the PSN was hacked thanks to custom firmware and registered PSN users personal information (including maybe credit card numbers) was compromised. Thanks GeoHot. SO the question has been running around about whether this is or is not as bad as the RROD. Well Sony managed to handle this in surprisingly Microsoft-esque  fashion by not telling everyone right away. Just kind of hoping it wasn't as bad as it could be and then having to fess up. We won't know how bad this effects Sony's reputation for a few months really, once the problem is solved and hoopla dies down, if the issue still lingers then we will know. For right now I would say no not really but that is only because the RROD was a much larger problem then what the PSN Hack seems to be right now. Having said that if people's credit information is compromised and the worst comes to pass this could be a big black eye on the PlayStation brand.
Sony needs to do something big to make up for this some gesture beyond giving away free PSN downloads. If I were in charge of Sony PR I would make sure a vague mention of this came up in the E3 keynote (along the lines of "We've learned from our mistakes and we are better") and a position was created to both keep in contact with web security and the customers. But I'm not in charge of Sony PR so I'll sit back and watch, I feel they've done a sub-par job thus far with this crisis but they haven't handled it the worst. Already SOny seems to be strengthening the network to protect users, but that isn't enough. If anything I think this will push Sony to price the PS3 at $199 before Microsoft, it would be the kind of big news story you need to cover this stuff up.

On a personal note this is why I am against hacking and home brewing. It opens a platform (and its customers) up to abuse in a way that most hackers don't for see. Geohot may play nice and say he only jail breaked the PS3 to run his own code but this is what happened and he is responsible for it. He is as responsible as Sony for any breach if not more so. Geohot bypassed the security safe guards and this is what happened.

If your information is compromised; I'm sorry, hate GeoHot and the hackers because it happened and hate Sony because they took their time telling you about it.

So consensus seems to be that if this is as bad as it could be then this is a worse PR blunder than the RROD. However, it is interesting that most people in the other camp are taking a more relaxed approach to the problem (waiting to see if it is as bad as it could be.) There is also a third group that thinks they are not comparable.
I actually have to agree with both sides here; I think this initial response is pretty bad on Sony's part since the problem may not be as bad as it could be Sony has caused a lot of media attention. Unless credit card info was taken; Sony's worst day (with this fiasco) is behind them, they bit the bullet and told everyone to be cautious. Was that the smart thing to do? If the PSN goes back up in a week and nothing else happens, no probably not. At the same time if everything is ok, people will always say that at least Sony told them. Once again I think it is too early to tell because Sony only warned us of potential damage, if that comes to pass then the situation changes. PR wise I feel like they handled this "not-bad" like a C-. Sure it will give a little more gas to the flame wars but really at the end of the day at least they told us they screwed the pooch.

The next console generation begins now! (Well sorta kinda)

This morning Nintendo told its investors not to fret over dropping profits or 3DS launch figures being a little low becaue it has another console int he pipe and its gonna be turbo-kittens-awesome! So this is the start of the new console generation right? Wrong. Sony and Microsoft have said they are sitting on their consoles until 2014. Now if this new box is super successful that might change but I doubt it. A lot has been made out of being the first of a generation to launch but that doesn't really work. The TurboGraffix 16 launched over a year before the Super Nintendo and that didn't help. Sega Saturn launched before the PS1 and N64 and that didn't help. Dreamcast hit the stores before the PS2 and that didn't win. In fact the Xbox 360 hit the stores with a year's head start on the Wii and that didn't help. Also I'm of the mind that the Xbox 360's success has more to do with the PS3's launch price than with that year head start. At this point Nintedo will need to convert the Wii owner that doesn't already have an Xbox 360 or PS3 because I don't think economically the U.S. consumer is ready to buy another full price box. Also if Microsoft and Sony can get their consoles down to $200 or less this thing is dead in the water.
Having said that Nintendo surprised the world with the Wii's success and maybe they can make lightning strike twice. I don't think they can make an HD competitor to the PS3/Xbox 360 and win, the other systems have had enough time to iron out the kinks.


CGC (Classic Game Collecting) Where to buy old stuff!

When it comes down to building your collection you'll be buying the games from a few basic sources all of them have strengths and weaknesses.
Ebay - You really can buy almost anything on Ebay. Ebay is going to have the broadest selection of titles for you peruse but be aware that you might also be looking at games from other countries which might not work with un-modded hardware. Be sure to check the bid price and shipping cost for a game some shipping costs can get down right ludicrous so be careful. Since Ebay is an auction a games price can sky rocket pretty quick be careful not to over spend.
Craigslist/Garage Sales - You will always get the best deals here but you also have a very limited selection of titles. When buying on Craigslist also be sure to pick a public place to trade and agree on a price before you show up to trade don't let them inflate the price on you. As always don't be afraid to just walk away.
Pawn shops / Vintage Stores/ Used Game Stores - These will have a wider selection of games than garage sales but you can't bargain so know how much you want to spend before you go in. Also pricing can be weird since most places will price games based on inventory, I'll get into this in a later post but, sometimes you can make great deals other times you can get shafted.
Conventions - Selection is usually good and prices tend to be lower since there are a lot of dealers just be careful since you are going to buying against other serious collectors.

No single place is my favorite and I've made good and bad deals everywhere. My least favorite is probably Craigslist buying since it is kind of shady sometimes. My wife hates Ebay since it is so easy for me to rack up a big bill. I'd say when you are just starting stick to the pawn shops and used game stores, the prices aren't bad and selection is good.

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