A day that SEGA fans thought would never come has arrived: SEGA has entered into a deal with Nintendo where Nintendo consoles will get the next three Sonic the Hedgehog titles as platform exclusives. The once bitter rivals are calling this a “worldwide partnership,” which despite being a bit short on details apparently leads us to believe that SEGA will be developing additional new software for the Wii U and 3DS consoles going forward.
The next three Sonic titles will include Sonic: Lost World, Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and a third unannounced title that the company is expected to officially announce at E3. The reason for the Sonic exclusive deal has to do with the past performance of Sonic titles on Nintendo consoles, and since they have proven to be good sellers, the deal does seem to make a lot of sense for both companies.
What is more interesting, however, is the other aspects of the partnership that will see additional titles developed for the Wii U. Nintendo needs all of the software support it can get for the Wii U, and just getting SEGA to continue to release new titles for the Wii U is a good thing. Sources tell us that SEGA has some new Wii U titles planned for announcement at E3, but it isn’t known exactly what SEGA might be cooking up.
While a big deal with Activision or Take-Two is really what Wii U owners might want, at least getting SEGA to continue producing Wii U titles is a positive news thing. It does remain to be seen, however, if SEGA can deliver the kinds of titles that will be successful sellers on the Wii U when so many owners are looking for the big titles from some of the other publishers.
Users should watch their email for an invitation from Pinterest to check out the changes, according to the company. The social pinboard site, which opened its doors to the public last August, is giving users bigger images, or pins, more information and better navigation tools.
“In January, we asked a small group of pinners to test a new look designed to make discovering things on Pinterest easier,” wrote Jason Wilson, lead product designer with Pinterest, in a blog post. “Since then, we’ve talked to some of these folks, analyzed their feedback, and made a few changes. Today, we’re thrilled to start sharing the new look with everyone.”
The redesign includes new features for close-up views of pins that are designed to help users find new things on the site, Wilson said. For instance, users now can explore an entire board without leaving the page they were on. It’s also easier to find pins from the same website and from the same person.
The feature that makes it easier to find other pins from the same person is expected to be added to the mobile apps for the Android and iOS platforms.
“We also responded to some feedback from pinners who told us they hated losing their place while browsing,” wrote Wilson. “Now, when you scroll through pins and click on something that interests you, the back button lands you right back where you were no matter how far you’ve gone.”
He also noted that people will see bigger pins and what he calls “subtle” changes to the site.
“We wanted to make things simpler and cleaner, without requiring you to learn anything new,” said Wilson.
Pinterest is like a shareable online scrapbook or a collection of collections. Users can create pages of interest by pulling in images from around the Web. If someone spots an image – of a inspirational saying, a stylish outfit or a beautiful cake, for example — she can use a plugin to grab it and add it to her board.
People who follow the user can see her pinboards, repin their favorite images and comment on them.
The site offers a look into the people forming the collections as much as it does into the worlds of religion, fashion, gardening, cooking and travel.
The latest rumors on the Wii U making the rounds say that Nintendo has decided to only offer 8GB of internal flash storage. It was thought that Nintendo would be pushing for more digital distribution and because of this the unit would come with more built-in storage.
Nintendo has apparently decided that it will count on SD flash cards up to 2GB and SDHC flash cards up to 32GB, as well as hard drives connected to the system via the USB 2.0 interface, to allow owners to grow the storage capacity based on their needs.
The decision to only go with 8GB could end up being a deal breaker for many, but it does save money that will allow Nintendo to pass the saving on to users. While some wild rumors do suggest that Nintendo has room for an internal hard drive within the unit, we can’t actually final anyone that will confirm or deny this.
We will don’t have long to wait, as Nintendo is expected to pull the curtain back on the Wii U today and we expect that they will confirm both the hardware in the unit as well what the pricing is going to look like for the North American market. The company is also expected to announce their plans for Europe today.
While there are NDAs in force, is seems some in the development community have confirmed what Nintendo has yet to confirm: the final specifications for the Wii U. While we expect Nintendo to officially confirm these specs in their upcoming press conference on September 13th, we have the majority of the low-down for those who don’t want to wait.
As we have mostly known all along, the Wii U will be powered by the IBM Power PC using a three-core variety that we are told is similar to the CPU in the Xbox 360, but a bit different. We still do not know at what speed this CPU is operating, but we hear whispers that it is clocked slower than the processor in the Xbox 360 (which we suspect is partly because they wanted to stay away from potential heat issues). The CPU choice is also good for Nintendo because IBM is likely giving them a very good deal on the CPU in this configuration; it is previous generation, only 3 cores, clocked slower than the Xbox 360 CPU, but we do suspect that it is using a reliable process for the die, which will produce good yields as well as low heat.
As we have told you previously, the graphics will be powered by an AMD/ATI 7 series GPU that has some customization done on it for Nintendo. It does feature a significant advantage in architecture over the current competing GPUs in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. We expect a conservative clock speed for the GPU to avoid heat issues, but we hear that it has type 4 shader support with a DirectX 10 feature set that includes embedded eDRAM. The Wii U will sport 1GB of RAM, which is about double what the Xbox 360 has; which is a clear advantage and something developers have been asking for.
So, there you have it. It is pretty much what we told you way back when we first started. The decisions make a lot of sense for Nintendo, as they want performance, but also need to hit a price point. Our crystal ball says the Wii U is still going to be a bit expensive, but that is not a real surprise to anyone at this point because of the second screen and other technology. We think you will see a price point right at $300, or a little less, but those hopeful for a $250 or $200 price tag are going to be disappointed. We would still like to know the actual clock speeds; but it is clear that it will have some graphics performance advantages over the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which means the potential does exist for some titles to look a bit better. We will have to wait and see how it shakes out, because September 13th isn’t that far off.
In a strange twist, Nintendo has still made no announcement about the Japanese launch details for the unit, and as far as we know has yet to schedule a press conference for Japan. The press conference on the 13th will likely only release the launch details for the North American launch of the unit, which could mean that supplies will remain tight till after the 1st of the year.
Nintendo’s launch of the Wii U this holiday season will be one of the most interesting hardware launches to watch in the venerable company’s long history. Both the economy and the games industry landscape have changed tremendously since the Wii was launched back in 2006. Consumers have less money to spend (or just don’t want to spend as much) and there are now more options than ever, with the rise of smartphones, tablets, social and free-to-play. On top of that, price cuts and/or bundles are almost certainly on the way for Xbox 360 and PS3.
Nintendo in some ways caught lightning in a bottle with the Wii, and as the saying goes, lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Even the top brass at the company would fully admit that repeating the success of the Wii is a daunting task, to say the least.
One of the keys for the Wii U will be to engender strong third-party support – a feat that has always been difficult for Nintendo platforms, where first-party dominates sales and consumers’ interest. While there are plenty of Wii U announcements to come still, the third-party software shown thus far has mostly failed to impress. With Batman: Arkham City as the third-party highlight for Nintendo at E3, and more recently, EA Sports confirming that the Wii U version of Madden 13 will be missing key features that 360/PS3 versions have (including physics), it’s hard to be encouraged.
Moreover, just last week, Warner Bros. announced Game Party Champions for Wii U, an assortment of sports or arcade-style games. Is this actually the Wii U’s destiny… either 360/ PS3 ports or casual fare of the sort the Wii was flooded with? Is this how third parties truly see the Wii U? And if so, how can this be anything but terrible news for the Wii U’s prospects in a challenging market?
The writers share their thoughts in the roundtable below.
I think it’s probably far too early to make a judgement call on this. If there’s one thing Nintendo does consistently, it’s to surprise those who’ve spelled out its doom. Having said that, software is obviously key to success, but I’m not sure that third-party is going to be what attracts buyers.
Until Nintendo started hitting the 3DS with its incredibly valuable first-party IP, it was going nowhere. Labelled as overpriced and based on a gimmick, the handheld was underselling enormously. One Zelda, a couple of Marios and the odd Yoshi later and it’s hit its stride magnificently, powering ahead of competition across the globe.
So yes, we’ll see more of the same from Nintendo – they’ll likely never stop iterating their solid-gold franchises – but they will sell, and they will sell systems. Games like Assassin’s Creed III and Madden might sell a few, but I doubt anyone who really wants to get them early will wait for the Wii U version. Even more so for Call of Duty or Battlefield.
Third-party minigame collections and dance or exercise titles may review poorly and be labelled as shovelware, but they populate the system with titles you can’t get elsewhere, playable in ways they wouldn’t be on other systems. What matters now is whether all of those millions of households with a Wii festering in a cupboard under the stairs will fall for it again.
Yes, it certainly looks like the third-party support for the Wii U is weak, consisting so far mostly of ports and casual/party games (the interesting ZombiU and gorgeous Pikmin 3 notwithstanding). We shouldn’t really be surprised; Nintendo has traditionally not worked very hard at lining up third-party support for their consoles because publishers were eager to put titles out for Nintendo’s industry-leading hardware. By the time the Wii launched, Nintendo was no longer the console leader, and publishers mostly gave it perfunctory support.
Of course, the Wii rapidly became a huge hit, owing to its low price (half that of the Xbox 360 or the PS3) and innovative, easy-to-use motion controller. Those two factors propelled it to the #1 console position, and only then did publishers push hard to put out titles for it. Fast-forward to 2012, and once again publishers aren’t paying much attention to Nintendo’s new console: The Wii U. Now publishers have many other places to put development resources, including DLC and mobile, not to mention other next-gen consoles on the horizon. It’s tough to convince them to put resources into new hardware that so far hasn’t generated wild enthusiasm… not that Nintendo seems to be trying very hard to get third parties to sign on. Only one of the big multiplatform titles for the holiday (Assassin’s Creed 3) is on Wii U? Did Nintendo even pick up the phone and call Activision or EA or Take-Two? The bottom line is that third-party support will strengthen only if Nintendo demonstrates strong sales of the Wii U.
The Wii U’s success, like that of the Wii, won’t really depend initially on third-party support anyway. What really matters is the price point Nintendo chooses, and the strength of its own software lineup. At launch Nintendo may not have a very strong lineup of titles, and its price for the Wii U may be too high. As we saw with the 3DS, though, Nintendo can recover from both of those problems in six months or so if they have some strong titles (hello, Zelda? A truly original Mario title?) and reach a price more in line with what consumers are willing to spend.
If they have strong sales then, third-party support will follow… though there may be fewer titles than in the past for any new console, given the state of the industry. Maybe by holiday 2013 Nintendo will have the Wii U in fighting trim, with a strong software lineup and a price half that of the next-gen consoles. I hope so…
The way the Wii U will perform is an enigma for much of the industry, much like the Wii was. Many expected great things for the Wii, but the system rocketed past the most optimistic projections of fanboys, pundits and even Nintendo itself in how well it would sell. This early success was built on the strength of Nintendo’s first-party offerings and third-party offerings that tended towards the casual and mainstream.
2012 is a whole different industry. Developers looking to the “mainstream” now see consoles as a secondary concern – they’re looking at the smartphones in people’s pockets or the laptops they have for utility. As for AAA console developers, it’s been established that retail has become the realm of the biggest of hits and almost everything else loses money. The “middle class” of developers looks to online options, and that hasn’t exactly been Nintendo’s specialty.
That’s not a good sign when the Wii U will no doubt be trumped in hardware power by Microsoft’s next Xbox and Sony’s next PlayStation. What we’re left with is the tablet controller (or “GamePad” as Nintendo likes to call it) which I’ve best heard classified as a solution in search of a problem. Many gamers and developers are wary of the device as a gimmick that won’t add significantly to a game experience; at the same time, it lacks the simple appeal of the Wii Remote that was simplistic and appealing enough for any member of the family to pick up. Even the NintendoLand games (which Nintendo wants to assert as the Wii U’s Wii Sports) lack the simple, elemental appeal of sports games recreated in a rudimentary form.
In synopsis, I expect third-party support for the Wii U to be about on par with the Wii, which is to say it won’t be very good. There will be certain exceptions (ZombiU and Rayman Legends look to be a couple of early examples) but otherwise I’d expect the good-faith efforts to be drowned out by the shovelware. And getting the same mainstream audience to pony up again for another system in the same numbers will be difficult, though I expect it to sell well early on. I hope things go well and the system does better than I and others expect; if it doesn’t, it is dark portent for those who are fans of console games in general.
What an ungrateful bunch of babies we are. The Wii U isn’t even out yet and already we’re throwing our 3DS XL’s out of the pram and calling its games unimpressive.
Yes there are a lot of ports; it’s a new machine that people want a presence on, and fast, but there are also signs of real ingenuity. Ubisoft’s ZombiU looked pretty damn cool from where I was sitting, and LEGO City Undercover suggested developers are coming up with stuff that manages to be family friendly and original at the same time. You can’t really blame the big third-party studios for being a little careful with their money. Some people are cutting back on holidays – they’re cutting back on risky development projects.
No one has money to throw around at the moment, on any of the platforms, and until the Wii U has hit the market and shown its stuff, the Nintendo range of titles will more than fill the gap for the average gamer. Pikmin or death!
Also, what’s wrong with a machine that is aimed at the more casual end of the market? It didn’t do the Wii any harm. Members of my family who didn’t even know how to turn on their PC without help bought a Wii. And their friends bought a Wii. And then their friends did. All because it was a machine they had played with at a party. Do you know how often they moaned about graphics? I’ll give you a clue – NEVER. To them the Wii U will be just another household appliance to upgrade to next time they’re in John Lewis.
To start calling it “terrible news” is a mix of snobbery and naysaying, and not much else. We can’t pass any judgements until the Wii U is actually released at Christmas, and by then I imagine we’ll all be too busy playing Project P-100 with our grandmas to remember.
The current problem with the Wii U is Nintendo’s message for the console is muddled. What’s the reason to consumers to upgrade to the new system? For PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners, will the promise of games they already have access to with additional touchscreen controls be enough? For casual owners of the original Wii, will HD Nintendo titles be enticing?
Then there’s the issue with third-party Wii U titles. Nintendo’s first-party efforts always make the hardware look good, but the third-party titles shown at E3 had the same problems some early DS games had: features crammed in to justify the system. Batman: Arkham City is just one example with its gimmicky Batarang control method using the Wii U tablet. The mode ends up detracting from the game more than it helps.
Nintendo needs to hit the right price point with the Wii U. Consumers need to be told clearly that the Wii U is a standalone system, not an additional controller for the existing Wii. Marketing needs to show off the best of the system, probably hitting hard on the group aspects and asymmetric play. Nintendo needs to make sure that the system’s strengths dovetail with the development efforts of its third-party partners.
I doubt Nintendo can reach the same success they did the Wii, but at least the Wii U has the potential to be a solid contender in the next console cycle. With the rise of mobile gaming and the next generation coming from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo will only have one chance to get it right. Fingers crossed.
Independent success story Limbo eventually made its way to PlayStation Network, but Sony could have secured the game first if it had been willing to play nice with developer Playdead. Sony Computer Entertainment executive producer Pete Smith admitted during Develop last week that Sony lost out on the deal because the company wanted the rights to the Limbo IP.
Playdead went on to sign a deal with Microsoft, the game released in July 2010 on Xbox Live Arcade, and then it took a year to reach PSN and Steam. Limbo sold 300,000 copies in its first month on XBLA and the game had passed 1 million by the end of last year.
Smith talked about the pros and cons of trying to gain full IP rights during his Develop session.
“There are obvious benefits to keeping it, but also to giving it up: you’re way more likely to get the deal,” he said. “Remember: 100 percent of nothing is nothing. A publisher is much more likely to commit to marketing and merchandising if they own the IP.
“Sometimes all we want is protection so [devs] don’t make a game, finish it then go to one of our rivals. We look at IP on a case by case basis. With a bit of common sense, you can find common ground.”
The world isn’t ready for cloud gaming,” says Rob Fahey. That may be true, but for how much longer? Sony has to prepare for a potentially all-digital future, and most of the analysts believe the Gaikai purchase is a very smart move, and even worth the seemingly high $380 million price tag.
But what impact will the Gaikai deal have on Sony in this generation and the next and how will it affect the video game business as a whole? Will Microsoft have to react by buying OnLive? Will Nintendo do anything at all? How will this affect the upcoming console battle? These are questions we put to several leading games industry analysts in our roundtable below.
Lewis Ward, IDC Research Manager
I think it’s kind of a bombshell. $380 million isn’t chicken feed, especially for a company that’s had a rough financial ride in the past year. I don’t know the particulars of the Zipper interactive, Sucker Punch, or Guerilla Games buyouts but this has to be one of the biggest deals in the history of Sony Computer Entertainment. That gives you a sense on how strategic Sony views the Gaikai platform.
I think this is ultimately more about the PS4 platform than PS3, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see some streaming game demos at least surface in Home and in the PS Store within the next year. I think Sony will hold off on the streaming of AAA games until the PS4 arrives and they can offer some interesting subscription levels.
I also believe the deal is important in the context of PlayStation Mobile: There’s no reason games and game demos couldn’t be streamed over WiFi to PS Certified smartphones and tablets. That may be phase two though, after it’s up and running in a PSN/PS4 context. I suspect Microsoft is working on their own cloud platform and won’t buy OnLive and it would be out of character for Nintendo to buy a company like OnLive. So buckle up – it’s going to be an interesting ride in the next year!
Jesse Divnich, EEDAR
Without a doubt this was a genius move by Sony. Although they’ve been doing quite well in video games, as a company Sony has been struggling. What the acquisition of Gaikai really does is it helps to future proof Sony, because no matter where the industry transitions, whether we’re getting entertainment through Wi-Fi, through a Blu-ray player or discs at the store, it doesn’t matter because no matter where technology goes over the next 10 years, they will be able to utilize Gaikai and its technologies to deliver entertainment straight to the consumer.
I think a lot of industry insiders thought the price of the acquisition was quite high, but really it’s pretty reasonable when you think about the value this is going to give Sony five years from now, even 10 years from now. I don’t think the market necessarily realizes how impactful and important this acquisition is for them. They may not realize all the potential of the Gaikai acquisition initially – obviously there’s bandwidth issues, but I don’t think anyone would argue with you that cloud won’t be the dominant form of entertainment delivery five years from now. It works beautifully now and once we get the bandwidth there – it’s more a problem in North America – Sony will be there. And this could be theoretically that five years from now, everything literally goes straight to the TV. You don’t need a Blu-ray player or a game console; all you need is a TV and it could very well be a Sony TV.
Microsoft is working on their own forms of cloud technology, but I don’t think this Gaikai move forces Microsoft to make an acquisition. I think this is something they will probably handle internally – they certainly have the skills and money to throw at this. Purchasing OnLive, which is probably valued at a lot more than $380 million, I don’t see Microsoft making a play to acquire OnLive, whioch would probably be well over a billion dollar valuation. I think the Gaikai purchase puts OnLive’s valuation beyond the reach of most entertainment players now – but I could see some cable companies or cell phone companies potentially looking at OnLive. I don’t think anything’s going to happen with OnLive for at least the next 12 months. OnLive only works when it’s part of a bigger network, so I think it’s going to happen. It’s a matter of price and I think it’s a little bit too early for anyone to make an acquisition, especially after the valuation Gaikai got today.
Billy Pidgeon, M2 Research
I think acquiring Gaikai is a good move by Sony, but this buy will pay out in the long term. Cloud gaming has terrific potential and will have a substantial disruptive impact on the industry realized gradually over the next ten to twelve years. Streaming high end console games will add value to free or inexpensive online services currently available from console vendors. However, cloud gaming isn’t cheap and will have to be subsidized by subscriptions and advertising. I think we’ll be likely to see tiered service levels and pricing for streamed games, with lower end casual games offered for free with advertising and high end game services bundled for premium subscriptions.
Streaming games are going to be an important feature in Sony’s next generation console, but I’d like to see Sony integrate cloud gaming with PSN for PS3. In the short term, Gaikai’s cloud gaming service will help Sony provide wider game demo distribution and back catalog PS One and PS2 games to PSN consumers. It might seem counter-intuitive, but I think Sony should use Gaikai to bypass consoles and use streaming games to bring PSN to PC, tablets, smartphones and televisions. Consumers are going to be able to access games on multiple devices from a variety of hardware vendors using networked services from Apple, Google and Microsoft, and Sony will also have to compete on hardware other than its own.
Microsoft may be working on a proprietary cloud gaming system, but could buy OnLive or (another cloud gaming provider) to acquire any patents or unique technology that would help Microsoft to match or outperform Sony’s Gaikai service. Cloud gaming is likely to be included in the next generation of Xbox, but could also be a valuable add for the Windows 8 platform on PC, tablets and smartphones. Microsoft should also consider using cloud gaming outside its usual hardware, specifically for television.
Wii U will allow local streaming, as games processed on the console can be played on the GamePad. Still, Nintendo should also invest in technology for streaming games from the network, as cloud gaming could be a “must have” feature in the next generation Xbox and PlayStation even though the potential won’t be realized until further out. Dedicated console vendors without cloud gaming could be squeezed out between services provided by competitors and more accessible networked games from Google, Microsoft or Apple on multiple devices. And even with cloud gaming Nintendo will have to work harder to compete as its business model doesn’t extend to convergent devices.
Michael Pachter, Wedbush Securities
I think that Sony is doing this for strategic reasons, and think that they want to control the migration from consoles to the cloud. Owning Gaikai lets them integrate the service into Sony smart TVs, and allows them to integrate with PSN and PS4 as they see fit. It also keeps Gaikai from competing or falling into the hands of a competitor.
I do not think Microsoft buys OnLive for this reason, although it makes sense from a cloud-computing/enterprise software as a service perspective.
Nintendo will do nothing at all.
This won’t impact next gen at all.
David Cole, DFC Intelligence
It is a major deal because it shows Sony’s long term commitment to the game business. The thing about services like Gaikai and OnLive is you still need a screen. In the case of Gaikai the service was also about driving users to buy a full version of the product for their specific hardware device. So in this case Sony is a good fit because they have multiple hardware devices and a service like Gaikai can help tie them together and also bring in users to the PlayStation brand that do not own a Sony hardware device.
Microsoft does not necessarily have to react by buying OnLive. It would really depend on how OnLive’s technology ties in with what Microsoft has developed internally. But it does come down to a build versus buy issue. Presumably Microsoft has been planning for cloud distribution for years so they have their own technology. Of course, they do need to do something.
Short term this will have minimal impact on the game industry so I don’t expect Nintendo to announce anything radical anytime soon. Also Nintendo has not really been focused on the cross platform issue that is a big reason for Sony’s purchase.
I really see this as a purchase about planning for the future.
Jeremy Miller, DFC Intelligence
One of many starting questions out there is when will we see fully streamed game demos on the PS3? Further, will that mean Sony gets into the marketing distribution business for its 3rd party developers? (i.e., pick up Gaikai’s business model?) Would that mean, say, EA pays Sony to serve up demos of the next FIFA this year and pay per minute of demo served? That’s getting into the details a bit, but it seems like an obvious initial question to explore. For that matter, I’d be curious to see when/how they’d serve demos on Sony televisions, and will consumers need a PS3 controller to play them?
If you really want to get into details, would this enable streamed gameplay to a PS Vita connected wirelessly to a PS3? Lots and lots of questions will come out of this and one could go on for a long time. Whether one thought today’s announcement was inevitable or not based on the talk in June, it’s certainly very interesting and should go down as a top 10 story for the games industry this year even if the short term impact is minimal as David says.
Many retail sources are telling us that they believe that Nintendo has learned its lesson from the pricing of the 3DS, and the company will come out of the gate with very aggressive pricing for the Wii U. Nintendo, on the other hand, still isn’t talking about what the Wii U is going to cost, which has led to wild speculation on the pricing of the console.
Sources tell us that at least some of the reason that Nintendo has been unwilling to talk pricing is that they actually don’t know yet what the unit is going to cost. The reason for this is that they are still working on pricing for the many parts that will make up the unit, and trying to figure out how that pricing will influence the final price of the Wii U. Whispers suggest that they will wait as long as possible to put the Wii U into full production, with the hope that prices will continue to fall on a number items that make up the parts necessary for the unit.
No matter who you talk to behind closed doors in this industry, everyone seems to have a theory on why Nintendo will charge what it will charge for the Wii U, or why they believe that Nintendo has already targeted a specific price point. The speculation that we hear seems to think that while Nintendo might like to come out of the gate with a $249 price tag, at least initially it is likely that the price will be at least $299; and the company will not be making money on the unit, or will be making very, very little to start with.
One source believes that Nintendo will attempt to strip as much as it can out of the Wii U in the area of extras to help reduce costs. For example, we look for the unit to perhaps not include a pack-in title to start with; and extras like cables will be the bare minimum necessary as the company looks to squeeze every last dollar it can at release time.
Sony has always had a strong first-party studio system. One of the strengths of the PlayStation business has been that Sony has a robust array of game developers working on exclusive content, whether it’s The Last of Us, Beyond, or God of War: Ascension. According to Sony’s vice president of Worldwide Studios, Scott Rohde, the first-party studios are all given the autonomy to work on games as they see fit. 3D, PS Move, multiplayer or anything else is never forced upon them. And because he protects their interests, he’s known as the “Shit Umbrella.”
“This is another thing that I’m very proud of as part of Worldwide Studios and Sony. We do what’s best for every single game,” Rohde said at E3. “It’s simply not the culture at Sony to say, ‘OK, here are 10,000 initiatives. Everyone must do those things no matter what effect it has on all the games.’ Games come first. And that’s why all the great studios like Naughty Dog and Santa Monica, they’re going to help lead by example across all of our group and do great things. And if they don’t think something makes sense, then we’re not going to force it down their throat.”
“It’s my job to create a giant umbrella and protect the studios from that because the game is first. There’s a name for that. My nickname is the Shit Umbrella. And it’s very apropos,” Rohde said with a chuckle.
Indeed, one of the things that many have speculated was forced upon the new God of War is the inclusion of multiplayer. This just isn’t the case, if you ask Rohde.
“The game teams are everything and, of course, we talked about it within Worldwide Studios even back during the development of God of War 3. ‘Should we think about multi-player here?’ And the foundations of what is in Ascension right now, we started to build that during the development of God of War 3 because we wanted to do it right,” Rohde said.
“They tried very, very hard to make sure that they were crafting a multi-player experience that did not feel tacked on because it is totally standard and I totally agree with the sentiment across the industry that it’s a box that a lot of game teams check. God of War is a single player experience and they found a pretty neat way to turn this multi-player. It still has that whole God of War feel.”
With E3 shining a spotlight on Wii U, and Microsoft emphasizing its new SmartGlass technology, the idea of multi-device experiences is gaining prominence. We asked Rohde what Sony has up its sleeve, and predictably he pointed to the Vita as that second screen. In fact, Rohde believes it gives Sony an advantage over the Wii U.
“Because we have the Vita, I think we can do a lot of special things. And remember, that Wii U tablet doesn’t have a processor in it, so it’s got to be fueled by that box sitting under your TV. We can do some pretty special things that you’ll start to see on the floor this year and you’ll see more over the upcoming months about what you can do when you actually have a processor in the thing that’s in your hand as well,” Rohde stressed.
That’s all well and good, but every Wii U comes with that touchscreen game pad controller. Moreover, most Xbox 360 owners do own some smartphone or tablet to take advantage of SmartGlass when Microsoft launches it. Vita, on the other hand, is only owned by 1.8 million consumers thus far and it’s hard to say how many PS3 owners also own a Vita. Rohde believes this will pick up. It’s early days for Vita still, he said.
“It’s only been three months though, just three months. There are a lot of games on that machine and I think what we have to hang our hat on… every single person that actually picks that thing up absolutely loves it. If you’re a gamer and you pick up a Vita, you’re going to have fun. And you’re going to use it over a device like this if you really want a game,” he said, while pointing to an iPhone.
“So we’re going to continue to build on that momentum. We have a lot of good things coming. And some of the games that we have coming out in the near future, they do cross out into the mobile space a little bit. And I think that’s just – again, it’s natural. We’re not necessarily going to brand that as a technology, but it’s absolutely natural for games to do that. You see all the big third party publishers have been doing it for a while. You see hints of it from us and hints of it from Microsoft. That’s just going to continue to grow.”
Obviously the Vita’s price point has been a hurdle for some, but Rohde wouldn’t discuss potential price drops, only saying they always have discussion about what’s “going to be best for the consumer.” From Rohde’s viewpoint at Worldwide Studios, it all comes down to securing games and getting more third-parties on board. So how does he convince them?
“They see the games that have already been built and they’re pretty excited. Obviously we have a big first party stable of studios, so that’s the easiest answer. Those guys were – take [Vita Uncharted studio] Sony Bend, for example – those guys were beyond excited to work on the Vita and they helped me personally be an evangelist to all the third parties and other devs out there. Those poor guys, we used them to build a launch title and to go evangelize the system to everyone else and people are still genuinely excited about it,” Rohde explained.
Tying it all back in to Sony’s claimed advantage over Wii U, he said, “And when you start to see how you can cross over between the two platforms – look at two of the titles that are here at E3, PlayStation All-Stars and Sly 4, for example. Both available on Vita and PS3, and there’s some sort of interactivity across the board. Developers are interested in that kind of stuff.”
Sources have confirmed to us that Silicon Knights has apparently decided to scale back operations, and as part of this decision the company has let some of its employees go. The decision was made to allow the company to move to a core group focusing all of its efforts on future opportunities.
The interesting part of this is that the company claims that the rumors regarding the developers’ reliance on Nintendo are false. Nintendo is said to have dropped the developer following an unsuccessful bid to prevail in its lawsuit against Epic.
Despite all of the bad news, it is possible that an Eternal Darkness sequel might actually be in the pipeline as no one bothered to deny that this was the case. No numbers have been confirmed as to how many employees were let go, but we hear that it was not a large number.
Samsung’s 7000 series range of TV sets already features applications, however the firm has teamed up with Gaikai, a cloud-rendering game streaming provider, to bypass games consoles entirely. According to the firm, 7000 series owners will be able to play games in under a minute.
Kyung-shik Lee, VP of Visual Display Business at Samsung Electronics said, “Samsung is excited to deliver this revolutionary gaming experience that takes advantage of all the benefits of cloud-computing, all on the central screen of the home-Samsung Smart TV. With Samsung Cloud Gaming, Samsung’s leadership in Smart Content and commitment to providing consumers with an innovative Home Entertainment experience is evident.”
Gaikai has grown to become one of the biggest players in the cloud gaming market, and with Samsung putting an application on its TVs, it could be the beginning of the end of dedicated games consoles. While Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo need not worry just yet, the truth is that cloud gaming services can offload the vast majority of compute power needed to play the latest games, with consumers only needing high-bandwidth internet connections, which many need anyway for playing on services such as Xbox Live or the Playstation Network.
Samsung said it will soon be accepting sign-ups for beta testing. The firm said the service initially will be limited to its US customers.
Nintendo is facing intense scrutiny and has numerous questions to answer, and even with E3 the company may choose to deliberately not answer them all. Will Mario and Zelda both grace Wii U’s launch? How much will Wii U cost? Can Nintendo strike a balance to retain its casual Wii audience while also attracting the core Xbox/PlayStation demographic?
It’s going to be a very interesting E3 for Nintendo. Here’s what the analysts had to say:
Jesse Divnich, EEDAR
Nintendo has the most to lose or gain this E3. Their backs are against the wall as their hardware numbers have fallen below expectations in recent quarters–but it is a position they’ve been in before and I’d argue some of their best decisions came while under pressure.
Nintendo is likely to put a big focus on all the third-party partnerships they have obtained for their Wii U line-up. My only concern with Nintendo at E3 is that they might cater too much to the core audience by announcing/showcasing a plethora of HD ports that are already in development for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. I think going head-to-head with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is a bad proposition. Nintendo has succeeded on their ability to go against the grain and create demand where there wasn’t any before.
And yes, I am more than positive that any HD Wii U port will each have Wii U specific features, but I don’t foresee any of them being able to sway gamers who are already entrenched in these franchises on other consoles (Darksiders, Ghost Recon, Assassin’s Creed, etc).
I am sure Nintendo will give us the usual Nintendo IP love with numerous Mario and Zelda trailers, which the fans will eat up. Personally, I would prefer that Nintendo focus on why the Wii U can offer a superior differentiating entertainment experience.
If Nintendo really wants to impress the E3 crowd, they will focus more on content that is exclusive to them. We all own an HD console and most see little reason to own another one, so it will be Nintendo’s goal to persuade us that the Wii U is not “just another” HD platform.
Billy Pidegon, M2 Research
The stakes are very high for Nintendo this year. Nintendo’s heavily promoted E3 2012 press conference will focus mainly on Wii U, the only known new hardware at the show. Millions of consumers will be watching. Fans and haters both will be entertained. But gaming enthusiasts and mainstream gamers are going to be a tough crowd for Nintendo.
I think the Wii U launch window library will have more quality titles than any previous console, but expectations are higher now than ever before. No Wii U launch line-up will satisfy everyone, unless it includes Mario, Zelda, Super Smash Bros, Metroid… you get the idea. There will be third party titles, but these must be more than just updates to games already released on other platforms. I’ll be looking for hardcore third party titles in addition to the popular categories that do well on Nintendo platforms, such as dancing and party games.
Nintendo needs to demonstrate how Wii U will change gaming in a way that other systems cannot. Last year we saw impressive gameplay integration with the tablet controller. The tablet controller’s NFC features will support interactions with other objects including toys (a la Skylanders). That’s a start, but not enough to sell a new system. Similar features have been or will be replicated in iOS, Android and Windows 8 ecosystems.
Surprises could include more changes or details to hardware specs to counter criticism that Wii U is no more powerful than PS3 or Xbox 360. Also, supporting only one tablet controller per console limits the local multiplayer scenario, so Nintendo may announce that two or more can be used with a single Wii U. Nintendo says price and date won’t be revealed, but timing and value are crucial details in a console launch.
Online features for Wii and 3DS have improved somewhat, but still lag far behind the competition. I’d like to see Nintendo roll out completely upgraded online network services at E3 2012, not only for Wii U but also for 3DS and Wii. Microsoft and Sony are constantly improving their game-centric networks to improve multiplayer gaming, gamer interactions, digital distribution and online marketing. Nintendo must not only match or surpass Microsoft and Sony here, but all three vendors must compete with online marketplaces and multiplayer services for PC and mobile devices.
For 3DS specifically, I’d like to see more quality software showcased at E3 to help move hardware units faster. And if Nintendo plans to cultivate a core gamer audience for 3DS, they need to offer gamers better multiplayer interaction so they will be motivated not only to buy 3DS but also to bring it with them when they go out. StreetPass and SpotPass were a good start, but Nintendo can and should do better.
Nintendo also needs to boost software sales for Wii. Sales have been sluggish and could get slower with an impending Wii U release. I’d be surprised if Nintendo did not reveal value bundles. Price cuts for Wii, DS and 3DS would move units faster and would be great for retail, but these are less likely, particularly for DS, given the recent cuts.
David Cole, DFC Intelligence
The limited information announcement of the Wii U at E3 2011 was a major tactical error on Nintendo’s part. DFC estimates that it probably caused Wii sales to be 25% below what they would have been if Nintendo had focused just on their current platform. Much of that business went to Microsoft and Sony. We hope that Sony and Microsoft have learned about the damage that can be caused by such an early announcement.
So at E3 2012, the Nintendo Wii U will probably be the big story and we hope Nintendo answers as many questions as possible. This would include of course price, launch date, software, but also a lot of questions around the tablet control device. Can two or more tablets work with a single Wii U? If so, how do they plan to utilize that feature given that many users will only have one tablet? We have been hearing many good things about the Wii U recently but right now they are just rumors. There will of course be some 3DS software that we will be looking at, but with Nintendo the Wii U is their future and E3 needs to be a true coming out party.
Lewis Ward, IDC Research Manager
For Nintendo, besides a lot more detail on the initial Wii U bundle, I suspect a piece of the surprise will involve how connected the 3DS and Wii U will be. I think a reveal along these lines is that the 3DS will be usable as a second Wii U controller via the $20-30 Circle Pad Pro. That should draw a few oohs and ahhs. I also think video calls over WiFi will be enabled across 3DS’s and the Wii U controller (and thrown up on living room big screens).
One concern I have about Nintendo is how powerful the Wii U’s CPU/GPUs will be. I think it’ll beat out Xbox 360 and PS3 from a processing and rendering perspective but it may not be by a lot. Now, the company’s customer base may not be as swayed by these sort of issues as much as the hardcore crowd but computational power will impact system reviews and so forth.
The larger issue is that once the next-gen Xbox and PlayStation arrive in the next two years, if those platforms are a big leap forward in terms of processing/rendering, then the Wii U may find itself back in the same position as the Wii in recent years. But it’s good for the industry if Nintendo has a strong E3 – so let’s give them their honeymoon period if they deliver a couple big twists.
Scott Steinberg, TechSavvy Global
E3 2012 is ultimately Nintendo’s to win or lose – the success of the Wii U will be paramount to reassuring investors and consumers, and securing the company’s future place in the retail console market. Our team expects a wealth of announcements in terms of new software products, third-party developer support, digital offerings, and hardware feature announcements designed to clearly illustrate the system’s core value proposition, and promote the idea that it’s not simply a passing fancy targeted solely at casual admirers.
A broad launch lineup of third-party software should be forthcoming to complement Nintendo’s usual first-party hits, supplemented by later launches by several major publishing houses. Also expected at the event are much more tangible and direct examples of potential real-world uses for the hardware, and/or ways in which it may interact with other systems, such as the Nintendo 3DS. Key series such as Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda and Mario Kart should also be present in myriad form and fashion, and of course a large push will surround upcoming feature and software launches for 3DS handheld.
More details on digital and multimedia capabilities for the Wii U should also be revealed, as the system looks to position itself to remain competitive with not only current, but next-gen offerings from rivals Sony and Microsoft.
The manufacturer of a new digital video recorder that allows viewers to skip television commercials at the touch of a button has asked a federal judge to let it sell the product, in a challenge to broadcast TV networks that are vehemently opposing the technology.
Dish Network Corp on Thursday asked for a court order that its “Auto Hop” feature does not infringe any copyright owned by the four major U.S. television networks: Walt Disney Co’s ABC, CBS Corp’s CBS, News Corp’s Fox and Comcast Corp’s NBC.
It filed its request with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
LG will apparently be the first vendor to offer a Google TV enabled television set.
The company announced that its first Google TV will go on sale in the week of May 21 in the US. An LG exec said the company will start churning out the new TVs on May 17 in Mexico, so we guess they should be able to sneak across the border in a few days.
If the new TV proves successful in the States, LG plans to load a bunch of them on Higgins boats and enter European and Asian markets sometime in the near future.
At the same time, the technology giant announced that Google+ now has some 170 million users, up from an estimated 62 million in January.
Vic Gundotra, a senior vice president at Google, wrote in a blog post today that the Google+ upgrades improve the site’s navigation, make it easier to join online discussions and adds a dedicated Hangout page.
“Today we’re introducing a more functional and flexible version of Google+,” wrote Gundotra in the post. “We think you’ll find it easier to use and nicer to look at, but most importantly, it accelerates our efforts to create a simpler, more beautiful Google.”
He also said the company is planning more changes to simplify the use of all Google products. “We’re going to continue upgrading all the features you already know and love — from search and Maps to Gmail and YouTube,” he noted.
The redesign sports more white space and moves the traditional five-button navigation bar from the top of the page to a new “navigation ribbon” along the left-side. The buttons, including Circles, Profile, Hangouts and Photos, can now be hidden or rearranged.
The new look also extends user profiles. With a large picture at the top and the user’s photo to the right, the profile page seems to have taken a cue from Facebook’s new user profile design.
“The new look is attractive and inviting, with the available apps lining the left margin and the middle available for showing stream content,” said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.
He added that Google faces a problem of few people seeing the updated social network. “If a little-used social network interface changes and no one sees it, does it still make a splash? The answer is, no, not so much,” Olds said.