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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sony, what's that flushing sound?

Sony is sick, and the heads aren’t done rolling over at SOE. Maybe Sony should change the name of the company to Woe. It seems it would be more in keeping with the way things are going for the Japanese electronics giant. This week, a source with connections deep within SOE told me that preparations are being made for the departure of John Smedley. I know that is breaking a lot of you up. Choke back the tears for a second. Smed has been at SOE for a long time. And you can’t say he hasn’t accomplished something. Clearly we can’t lay all of Sony’s woes at Smed’s feet, but let’s do a little inventory of how things have been going for Sony.

It’s the early 90’s and Sony is all but ubiquitous. They are a market leader in stereo components, VCR, video cameras, and several other consumer electronic devices. Sony’s Walkman and Discman portable tape and CD players are dominant in the market they created. They probably made a bunch of cool shit I can’t even remember.

Late 90’s, and the PlayStation is HOT. It’s the must-have console for the home gamer. Sony owns the licensing for the games, and so has a continuous revenue stream for it’s intellectual properties. Discman is now IT for portable music players. Sony’s Vega televisions are the top rated sets on the mass market. Sony is beginning to have a real presence in media, with motion picture, gaming, and record label properties. Verant Interactive finds a golden vein in continuing subscription revenue with Everquest.

From the very beginning of this decade, the Sony fa├žade starts to crumble. Competing products are challenging Sony’s dominance in almost every one of their traditional markets. Some highlights;

Apple computer not only takes Sony’s lunch money by taking their leadership in a market Sony made, portable media, but stomps a big-ass mud hole in them.

SOE starts to bleed customers from EQ for, of all things, DAoC. This might be the first indication that their subscribers are sick and tired, and they aren’t going to take it any more. Sony seems to believe that the MMO market is a niche that has capped out at around 250-400 k subscribers. OK, then. By the end of 2006, world-wide subscriptions for MMO will probably be at around 10 million. This is including the Chinese subscriptions, which are done on a day-to-day basis, and are much easier to cancel. By my reckoning (as we say in Texas,) Sony has a whopping 4% share of that. That's down from their 50-plus share they held at one time. Hell, Blizzard has 10x the base that Sony ever had in a game.

SOE so royally screws up Star Wars: Galaxies that the ungodly loyal user base there that has stuck with them through think and thin for a couple of years finally tells them where that Wookie can shove that light saber.

Sony publishes CD’s with a root kit on them, and forgets to tell us how to remove them. Because you can’t. And they hope you didn’t need that CD drive for anything else now, did you?

Sony announces that they have delayed their new console until after the first of they year on 2007. Xbox is kicking Sony’s arse. I’m willing to bet that within a couple months after launch, Microsoft will announce that they now have more people subscribed to Xbox live than Sony has sold PS-3’s.

Sony announces that Blu-Ray isn’t quite ready juuuust yet.

Sony stops making the PS-1.

And today, it was announced that the movie industry is going to discontinue publishing movies on the UMD format, which is the only thing that ever sold any PSP’s. That one had to be hard to screw up that bad.

What happened to Sony? It’s my opinion that they just got too damn big, and started to think that they were somebody. They should have remembered that people came to love them for being innovative, smart, and fast to market. That was the old Sony. Today’s Sony is big, fat, and stupid. Except for the stupid part, is just like me. And I won’t be dominating the world any time soon.

Bye Sony, we hardly knew ye.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Defacation is Impacting the Thermantidote at Sony

Well the rumors continue to fly about what is going on over at SOE.  Only one thing is for sure, and that is that Raph Koster is out over there.  Other rumors regarding the company include that Raph’s heir apparent, Cindy Armstrong, is also off to greener pastures.  Also, word on the street has Lucas Arts wanting to revoke SOE’s SWG license.  This seems unlikely, since there aren’t a lot of people out there that can really handle a property that large and unwieldy.  Reading the media on the subject it appears that those last two are still very much in the rumor stage.  

Whatever turns out to be true something is hitting the fan over there at SOE.  Raph IS gone. Armstrong may or may not follow.  And keep the license or lose it, it’s doubtful that SWG is a winning proposition for Sony at this point.

Overall, it hasn’t been a good week or two for Sony.  The PS3 is still vaporware, BluRay is too, and now this.  And that is just March.  The odd thing is that the bleeding seems to have stopped over at EQ, and EQ2 is even in a sort of a comeback stage.  They are making some good decisions for the health of EQ2, almost as good as the SWG decisions are bad.

If I had Sony in my portfolio, I’d be selling.  It’s difficult to comprehend how far this once-proud brand has fallen.

Stay tuned.

Is Character Customization Worth the Overhead?

I’m noticing more and more that people have different words for things in MMO’s.  For example, people call client side low frame rates “lag,” even thought that is not what it is.  Lag does occur in MMO, and if you played WoW during the first months that is was out, you know very well what that is.  Another thing that I hear a lot of people talking about is character customization.

Now, before I go into a Genda-tangent, let me give you a little background.  When I was playing EQ, Genda’s nickname was “GQ,” because he always had to look cool in his gear.  If I got a piece of gear that wasn’t as good but looked great I would definitely wear it.  I killed to get my epic so I wouldn’t have to carry around a blunt weapon any more.  If you knew me in real life you would know that I’m anything but GQ.  Picture a 6’7” offensive tackle from a football team, but without the difficult-to-obtain body and muscle tone.  I used to care a lot about how I dressed, but I’ve developed what I like to call a casual style.  At work, I don’t have to wear a coat or tie, so I’m usually in loafers, khakis, and a white company oxford.  Classic, if not fashion-conscious. When I’m not working you can usually find me in a t-shirt or polo and jeans or shorts. Basic.

I’ve thought about what made me so particular about the character’s appearance in MMO. What I’ve come to realize is that there is nothing that drives me more toward accomplishment in a game than how cool my character will look once I get there.  I’ve rarely played pure casters in the games, and I think I have just realized why.  I don’t like how casters look in robes.  They just aren’t as cool as armor.

OK, back on track.  One thing that I’ve noticed is that once you have started playing a game for a while, you don’t notice the finer differences in a character’s appearance.  In SWG, you would notice if someone was a blue Twi’lek or a red one.  You would notice the fur pattern or color on a Wookie, but you don’t notice if their nose is narrower or wider.  All of those little details are taking proc cycles, though.  

One of the more visually stunning games I’ve seen to date is Lineage ][.  All the characters look pretty much the same.  Depending on your aesthetic, you could argue that all of them are beautiful.  You cold tell people apart by their armor and weapons.  And it ran a lot better than most of the current MMO at the time.  Getting back to the SWG example, that game STILL doesn’t run well on my system.  I’ve got a system that is way beyond what was available at the time that the game shipped.  If I turn on most of the options, it’s an effing slide show.  Wow didn’t allow major customizations and it runs like a champ.  

What I’m getting at is this.  Where is the line for trade-off worth it?  At what point is that extra detail on your character’s face worth 4-5 FPS (Frames Per Second?)  I’m getting to the point where I say that you should make your models look as good as they can, make them scalable for size, and let the character get his “GQ” from how he is dressed.  I LOVE how smooth WoW scrolls on my box, even with all the options on.

I’ll take that.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

I'm the second best gamer in my marriage

It’s official.  My wife is now the best gamer in the house.  I don’t know when it happened, or if I even ever was the best gamer here, although she would have me believe that I was.  She’s about the perfect companion.  She’s tall, over 6’, likes gaming, is fun to be around, and is my best friend.  I was playing Guitar Hero with her last night, and it was really no contest.  As I sat on the couch, watching her shred my scores and my dignity, I realized that even as we play MMO games, she is better at them than I am.  

Now, I will frequently have more knowledge about the game.  That evidently does not translate into effectiveness.  I gather that gaming parallels real life in this manner.  Now, I do have my advantages.  I’m hopelessly stubborn.  This actually helps in some difficult gaming situations.  She tends to be a little more easily bored, so she won’t stick to stuff as long as I will.  This is often to her benefit.  

The cool thing is, well the cool things are; I have a cool gamer as a best friend who looks good in her clothes and I get benefits, I’m OK with her being better at the games than me, and I have a duo partner in MMO just about whenever I want one.  

I hope one day all of you end up with someone as cool as Bran, although I doubt that is possible.  Most of all though, I hope that some day, if you figure out she’s better at gaming than you, you will be old enough to not only tolerate it, but appreciate it.

Keep your stick on the ice!