Saturday, February 23, 2013

Good News, Bad News

By now, most of you will have absorbed at least some of the non-stop coverage of Sony's announcement of the PS4. We can't really call it an "unveiling" or a "revealing" or anything of sort, since Sony somehow managed to spend 3 hours talking about their new console without showing it, dropping a release date, or giving the slightest hint as to pricing. Instead, there was tons of typically silly sounding biz-speak like, "The living room is no longer the center of the PlayStation ecosystem. The player is." (I assume what this means is that Sony doesn't want you to think of the PS4 as a physical box that sits your living room, but as a more general brand that exists as some sort of Platonic Ideal, and can manifest itself it a variety of forms, such as, uh... the Vita?)

I have no idea exactly how well the PS4 is going to work for Sony. Every new game hardware system  released in the last few years has performed under expectations. The Wii U and 3DS both sold less than Nintendo hoped for, and the Vita is basically a huge flop. I assume this is due to a mass exodus of casual gamers from dedicated hardware to smart phones and tablets.  I can't help but wonder if we are experiencing the first stages of the decline of the game console right now. Regardless, my favorite piece of post-PS4 analysis has been this one from Gameological Society. It's a marvelously bitchy takedown of Sony's contention that the PS4's faster processor is going to save the game industry from its current malaise. Also, the fact that Sony has confirmed that your existing PSN games will not be transferable/playable on the PS4 is bound to piss off many gamers.

The Dreamcast sold over 4 million systems in the US in a year and a half. The Vita? Last month it moved 35,000 units.
And the good news I mentioned? If there's a silver lining here, it's that Sony seems to be hinting that the PS4 will not block used games, though they haven't come right out and explicitly said this will never happen. As connoisseurs of old games, we will all agree that a console that can't play used games has very limited appeal.  It's sad to think that we've gone from eagerly anticipating rumored new features on upcoming consoles to dreading them.

As for the the bad news? Well, it came as no surprise, but Ziff Davis has shut down This is a huge, huge shame, as 1UP was one of the few corporate-type game sites I actually liked. The quality of writing was always a few steps above most big game sites; they had a solid coverage of niche genres, such as retro games and RPGs; and they always seemed a bit more mature than the likes of Gamespot or IGN. The amount of content on 1UP has been slowly waning over the last couple years, in quantity, though not in quality. Lately they focused more on what the journalism world used to call "think pieces" instead of news and reviews. But the site has definitely felt somewhat empty and effete for a while now.

Some of the staff will be moving on to IGN; for example, Jeremy Parish already has some content up. Maybe there will a Retronauts revival at IGN! Many others, such as Bob Mackey, are being laid off, and my heart certainly goes out to them. For their sake I hope ZD has instituted some sort of decent severance package for them. God knows that takes some of the sting off unemployment.

I've been laid off twice myself, once from a company I was fanatically devoted to; the other time from a corporate entity I had no attachment to. The feelings ranged from anger/disbelief/bitterness to relief and something almost like euphoria. The constant worry that you experience when you think you are going to be laid off is terrible. There's a miasma of dread that hangs in the air when everyone in the office is expecting the worst. These things just eat away at you.  Once the inevitable finally happens, you feel hugely relieved.  In today's business world, there is no longer such a thing as job security. I was laid off from a hugely profitable Fortune 500 company which was actually hiring people at the same time my office was shuttered.  The reason I lost my job was not due to lack of business -- it was because the lease on our building was up. It was more profitable to hire new people in other locations than it would have been to renew the lease or find a new building. It's a cruel world out there today.

Any way: 1UP, I'll miss you guys. Good luck on your future endeavors.


Unknown said...

Dr. Sparkle, are there any sites you would recomend that discuss the thought process behind why nes games were designed the way they were, i.e. hardware limits or budgets, but that are told from the Devs or designer's first hand accounts?

Chris Sobieniak said...

See why I'm not really into video games these days?

Roto13 said...

Consoles are never priced and dated the same time they're announced. It was given a release window and the price probably won't even be set until they gauge interest, which they obviously can't do before they announce the thing.

As for what the plastic box looks like, I find it impossible to care.

Raffa said...

Hia Dr. Sparks.
I fully agree with you on the topic of PS4, I saw the stream Sony had, and I have a really hard time being excited over a machine that comes with a some kind of more or less standard AMD CPU and GPU, or as far as I know in this case APU, and 8 GB of GDDR5 ram, I mean there's a reason why we use computers with those things in it, we can easily upgrade.
When it comes to 1UP shutting down I knew that was going to happen as soon as ZD bought IGN. I've been reading EGM since the beginning unteill ZD sacked that mag in... was it 2008? And I've visited the 1UP site daily since the start in 2003, so however I turn back and forth on this stone I just cant enjoy anything they own, and I have tried coming to IGN, but the site is really built on easy news produced to catch as much clicks as possible, and most of the staff seams so unlikable, so I think I'll pass.
The only readable site that I have for now is Giant Bomb, they have and still holds quality as the most important. Other than that I guess Gametrailers works for everything in video format, and Gamespot at least tries. Other than that i guess we can hope Polygon gets fully up and running soon.
So with the death of 1UP there are other sites, not many, but a few that still has hart, lets hope nothing happen to them. Cause we should all remember Ziff-Davis once owned Gamespot, and if they got there grubby hands on them again, they probably also would buy up Giant Bomb, and thats how you destroy the gaming-press on the Internet.

BTW you working on something new for us to enjoy? ^_^

parish said...

1UP will miss you, too, Dr. Sparkle.

Unknown said...

Ya 1-up closing was a real shame. It was really the only game site I visited nowadays outside of retro game sites like yours. Plus it was Retronaughts that caused me to discover this blog as well. Plus they are the only site, ( that I know of) that every featured an article from Dr. Sparkle!

As far as the PS4. I am non committal at this point. I'm happy with the direction Somy is headed with the announcement, but am not excited with anything they have shown the other day. Although it is still very early. I imagine at E3 there will be a more concrete picture of what the PS4 will be capable of and pricing structure. As of right now owning a Wii U I don't have a reason to buy one, yet.

As far as the nature of backwards comparability with games and whatnot and transference of digital sales, at least the Wii U has taken a good path as far as backwards comparability of digital sales and retail games.

But this brings up a point that I've wanted to talk about for awile, what will the path be 20 years from now someone who wants to play the games released on e 360 or PS3 or Wii? It seems very possible that some of these games, especially digital download only titles, or games that required downloadable updates to be playable in eir final form, or games with downloadable content, will be lost to history. When the servers from these company's shut down all that content may very likely be lost. Already you see this from the loss of content for early online systems like the Dreamcast that had digital content that is no longer accessible with Segas departure from the hardware market. While now at least with the Wii, all copy protections seems to have been broken and all downloadable only games are playable. That may not be in the future with other systems like the PS3 or Xbox. And content for physical media that can only be updated from company servers surely will be lost when said company stops updating old games. What will someone in the future do who wants to do a chronstation 3 video series when alot of software is not available? (It could even be you, if you still do this when your 65). That's why I support efforts to hack and archive these systems software regardless of the piracy costs, as all the arguments I've heard over the years for archiving are more immediate and relevant now for today's machines than in the past for say arcade machines and console where there is the potential for a long live physical copy. There are games released last year that could conceivably lost to history already with the developer being out of business and no hard copy!

Sorry for the long post. Please don't go the way of 1 up yourself, at least not until you finish the 8 bit systems anyway ;)

Kamiboy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kamiboy said...

I've seen the end coming for a number of years. It all started when I realized that digging out an old cart release from a mound of vintage gaming auctions promised more fun on average than anything on the recent sales charts.

This coming generation is going to be for home consoles what 1983 was to Atari.

Unfortunately this time there is not going to be a Nintendo to swoop in, clean up the mess, fill in the void and lead everyone along a much pleasanter path merrily.

This time the problem is not quality control, it is that the industry has grossly outgrown itself and growing bigger is no more a solution than a cyanide capsule is panacea to a disease eating away at the patient.

klack said...

Really going to miss Retronauts (and lunchbreak). I feel like Jeremy, Bob, and Dr. Sparkle, are my video game buds. We've played so many games together!

Doctor Sparkle said...

Brian - I dunno. There are probably folks out there who know way more about game websites that me. GRDI often has good interviews with developers they track down.

As for the future of gaming, while I don't like the way it seems to be headed - requiring constant online access, copyright protection, etc. Nor do I like that we are getting fewer choices about how we can use the machines and content we buy. And this is only one aspect of a larger issue. Cory Doctorow recently did an speech about the "war on general computing" which is quite illuminating.

I don't really know the next gen of gaming hardware will turn out. I'll probably buying a Wii U eventually...

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