Opinion: Doug Thompson and Daddy Warbucks

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Console war skirmish
By Doug Thompson

A column of mine recently received a passionate and technically excellent critique. It’s available in the “Free Weekly’s” archives under “Wii won’t play well with others,” which ran June 14.
Since then Microsoft shelled out $50 million last week for two “episodes,” or expansions, for Grand Theft Auto IV for the Xbox 360. GTA is one of the most popular game franchises extant. GTA IV is coming out in the fall on both Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360. The first Xbox 360 episodes will come in March.
The GTA series used to be a PlayStation exclusive. Xbox used to get the game months later.
I mention this because my critic insists I’m ignoring history and that the PS3’s technical excellence will win out.
My recollection of history is that Sony got a lock on GTA and sports games and then conquered the world.
I make too much of the short-term flop of PS3 sales and its lack of games, he says:
“And please stop pretending that this is some kind of surprise for Sony. It is in fact the game plan. Perhaps you are unaware that fully 60 percent of PS1 sales occurred AFTER the PS2 was released in Japan. Also, as with when the PS2 first came out, Sony is selling its PS3’s at a loss (about $180 per unit). They will be quite happy to sell a great number of PS3 later down the road when they have streamlined production and get costs down (as they are currently doing extremely successfully with the PS2).”
I’m sorry, but I simply don’t believe Sony forced the “father of the PlayStation,” Ken Kutaragi, into early retirement after he successfully executed the game plan.
Kutaragi’s replacement, Kaz Hirai, told the Nikkei financial news service last week that Sony will release 200 new retail games and 180 download-only titles by March, 2008. Even if this is an empty boast, at least it’s bragging in the right direction.
The core of my disagreement with my critic is that he looks at console horsepower while I am look at game development. As I’ve written before, the PS3 is the better machine than its rivals.
But it has so few games.
My debater argues that the PS3’s games will come. Fine. Time will vindicate one of us.
Let me quote a remark from the critique that I agree with. (All statements in parentheses are his):
“If Blue Ray wins the format war (as I think it will) this will only help the PS3 more. With the high price of Blue Ray players it is (at the moment) almost the equivalent of buying a Blue Ray player and get the PS3 game machine for free.” The blu-ray format was developed by Sony to replace DVDs. It’s in fierce competition against Toshiba’s HD-DVD.
Airtight, 100 percent agreement there: I’ve gone farther. I’ve always contended the PS3 was a Trojan Horse to get a blu-ray player into homes. It’s apparently working. The Blockbuster video store chain recently announced that it will offer only blu-ray disc for the high definition format in most of its stores. This is an enormous victory for Sony.
The PS3 is a bargain for a blu-ray player. If it helps decide the home theater format war, troubles or even failure as a game console will be worth the sacrifice — for Sony.
Here’s my problem: Sony sold the PS3 as the greatest game console of all time — not as a blu-ray player. There’s a lot of people out there today with what amounts to a $600 high-definition movie machine when they thought they were buying a gaming console. Many own no home theater system remotely close to being able to tap the player’s power.
Buyer beware, I suppose, but now these exploited customers are going to be shut out of content of one of the most popular game franchises of all time. (On a side note, GTA developer Take Two’s is cash-strapped, and recent self-inflicted troubles with its “Manhunt” sequel certainly must have helped Microsoft clinch the GTA deal. More about that in another column.)
Suppose my critic is right. Suppose the PS3’s power makes it the eventual winner in the console war.
Then there’s no reason to buy a PS3 now, unless you want a good buy on a blu-ray player.
Now let’s suppose I’m right. Let’s suppose that game designers don’t get in any hurry to design games using all the PS3’s power.
Then there’s no reason to buy a PS3 now, unless you want a good buy on a blu-ray player.
Take either road. You get to the same place.


Daddy Warbucks

Never, say never, to a Wal-Mart Bank coming soon to a
SuperCenter near you

Federal regulators be damned, Wal-Mart is proceeding, full speed ahead with what looks like a bank. The new configuration cashes checks like a bank and offers other services like a bank, but Wal-Mart says it’s not a bank – yet, that is. But full service banking like mortgages, home equity loans, and other banking services Daddy predicts is indeed going to be offered soon – very soon. The world’s largest retailer might have been denied federal approval for a commerical bank, but if anyone knows Wal-Mart they know that with the retail giant, if there is a will, there is a way and if a profit can be made – there is a Wal-Mart way to do it. Hence the Wal-Mart financial centers complete with both English and Spanish signage will be springing up here and all across the Wal-Mart nation.

An interesting bit of “spin” the Wal-Mart folks made when rolling out the services concept–Wal-Mart says one out of every five customers in its stores do not have a bank account. Daddy W. thinks in some areas of this great nation, both here in the South and in the Upper Midwest, that figure may be grossly understated. Daddy’s guessing more like two out of five Wal-Mart customers don’t have a bank account and it may be even higher.

Critics of Wal-Mart’s new venture—bankers, those in the retail business and credit card companies will shriek and scream about this Wal-Mart way of entering the financial world. But they better get ready for even more Wal-Mart banking services coming. Why? Because the bottom line is this earnings stream most likely offers better profit potential than even retail. Daddy W. will be watching. Won’t you be watching as
well?

R.I.P.
With the closing of Smokey Bones and O’Charley’s can it be said that the area between the NWA Mall and the Fulbright Expressway is clearly “overbooked” with eateries. More restaurant buildings out there have been standing empty for a long time: The Kisor’s restaurant building—was it Shorty Smalls that last occupied the space-and the old Fire Mountain.

COACHES, ALL-STARS
The Dickson Street area is now ready for summer. The last couple of weeks, the usual influx of visitors here for the Arkansas All-Star games crowded many of the Dickson Street haunts. But now comes the laid back time of summer along Fayetteville’s food and entertainment district. Ah, summer is good here. It’s a time when the beer is cold and the food orders aren’t so rushed.

BB GUNS COME HOME
There was reason to rejoice in Rogers this past week, when the Daisy Air Rifle Co., announced it would leave Missouri and return to Rogers. The late Cass Hough brought the air rifle company to Rogers after WWII and made the Rogers industrial/economic base the envy of the state. The Air Rifle Co., has been sold, re-tooled and has diminished over the years, but now, 70-90 jobs strong it’s returning to NWA.

XNA ANNOUNCEMENT
There’s rumor that another airline may soon be coming to XNA. Daddy W. The upstart XNA is outpacing Little Rock’s National Airport. Who
would have thunk it? Why most anyone who lives here, that’s who.

BEEFY RECALL
Here we go again. Some 20 tons – yes, tons – of ground beef have been
recalled by Tyson Foods and another supplier on the West Coast. The scare affected stores in the mid-south and southwest. While lots is being done to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply this is a real, big, black eye. And not good for the local and national economy – remember Hudson Foods?

NOW A BILLION
And Daddy W. is not talking fast-food hamburgers, but Netflix. In February, Netflix mailed it’s one billionith movie. The on-line, mail movie service puts 1.6 million movies in the U.S. mails each day. Maybe Netflix will be the Savior of the U.S. Postal Service. But wait, they are gearing up – like everyone else – for an on-line down load. Big news as local and regional and yes, national movie rental stores are soon going to be vacant buildings. Just like old record shops. The dodo bird. The Carrier Pigeon and Mullets. Okaly, well, an occasional Mullet can still be seen although most are graying and thinning, and spotted deep in Madison County.

UNHEALTHY STATS FOR OUR STATE

Health care for Arkansas citizens remains near the bottom of national rankings at 48th. Only Texas, and thank God for Mississippi and Oklahoma are worse. The best Hawaii, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. One out of four Arkansans over the age of 65 have no health insurance coverage. And while we are awfully proud of a 68 percent rate for immunization of kids, the national average is 80.9 percent. There is still lots to do. And with the outrageously high cost of prescription drugs how can anyone afford to take the doctor’s advice?

3 Comments

Darrel July 8, 2007 at 12:14 pm

DAR
Perhaps it was too long. I’ll split it in two parts:

***
Hello Doug,
I am flattered that you would highlight my
comments in your above article. Here are more of my observations:

DOUG said:
The GTA series used to be a PlayStation
exclusive. Xbox used to get the game months
later. >>

DAR
Actually, GTA was developed for the PC in DOS
and was ported to the Playstation shortly after
(97/98). So PC owners have always had access to the game. It was never exclusive.
Now with the Xbox’s greater market share it
only makes sense that such a leading game would be developed for all main player consoles. I don’t see why a PS3 owner and GTA player (like me) would even care in the slightest whether other console players have access to this game or any other game. The idea strikes me as absurd.

DOUG
I mention this because my critic insists I’m
ignoring history and that the PS3’s technical
excellence will win out.>>

DAR
You keeping thinking this can only be a
winner take all war where someone “will win out.” The market has grown so much now that it is quite possible, and likely, for these three game
consoles to be very successful simultaneously.

DOUG:
…the PS3 is the better machine than its rivals.
But it has so few games.>>

DAR
Of course this is to be expected at the
beginning. As I just read in an interview with
the President of Sony’s Worldwide studios:
“We have a larger platform-dedicated
development resource than our competitors
combined.”
This insures that Sony has the ability to
crank out the games. Count on it. I have seen and played some of the demo’s and they are truly stunning. But until the really big PS3 games come there are about 9,000 PS2 titles. The same situation took place in the change between PSone and PS2.

DOUG
I’ve always contended the PS3 was a Trojan Horse to get a blu-ray player into homes.>>

DAR
Just as the PS2 got a lot of DVD’s players
into homes. When I bought my PS2 it was only a
little more expensive than a DVD player, so it
was like getting a playstation for free. DVD’s
are about double the resolution of VHS. Blue-ray technology is about double again (the processing and programing hurdles increase exponentially). History repeating….

DOUG
Here’s my problem: Sony sold the PS3 as the
greatest game console of all time — not as a
blu-ray player.>>

DAR
Rubbish, they are selling it as both. DVD’s
are the past. High definition movies are the
(very near) future (actually, what we call high
definition was standard definition in Japan in
the late 80′s. That’s how far we are behind with
our fuzzy TV’s). People interested in playing
high definition next generation games just happen to be the same kind of people who also like to watch HD movies and just happen to be most likely to own the latest TV technology. It’s a perfect match.

DOUG
There’s a lot of people out there today with
what amounts to a $600 high-definition movie
machine when they thought they were buying a
gaming console.>>

DAR
But it’s a high definition gaming console.
Your comment makes no sense to me. The PS3 needs some way to transfer game data, was Sony supposed to put a late 90′s technology DVD player in their PS3? Obviously not. That would be ridiculous. Were they to go with the lowest common denominator and put DVD resolution video processing power in their leading edge gaming machine? Of course not. The PS3 required Blue-ray HD data technology and of course the latest cutting edge HD video processing in order to compete for just the next five years or so. To do otherwise would have instantly doomed the machine.

continued…

Reply to this comment
Darrel July 9, 2007 at 12:07 am

DOUG
Many own no home theater system remotely close to being able to tap the player’s power.>>

DAR
That’s changing fast. This is just part of
the deal when you lead the market. Note:

“…by the end of 2010 the number of HD ready
households [worldwide] will reach 174m or 22% of TV households. The figure will be 59% in the
US….”

http://www.screendigest.com/reports/06highdeftv/readmore/view.html

Those 59% of US households also happen to be the prime customer base for the PS3.

DOUG
…now these exploited customers are going to be shut out of content of one of the most popular
game franchises of all time. (On a side note, GTA
developer…>>

DAR
GTA IV is coming out with an incredible new level of gaming for PS3 in the Fall, as you note,
and the fact that there will be some Xbox exclusive material in March of ’08 does not indicate that GTA is going to not continue to
produce for the PS3 and future models. That would be dumb.

DOUG
Suppose my critic is right. Suppose the PS3’s power makes it the eventual winner in the console war.>>

DAR
The Wii and Xbox are strong enough now that I
don’t think there will be an “eventual winner” (in that one of them will be a “loser” and go bust). And that is a good thing. The market is big enough now to have them all be quite successful. As an example you may note that the world is quite capable of having more than one or two successful car companies.

DOUG
Then there’s no reason to buy a PS3 now, unless
you want a good buy on a blu-ray player.>>

DAR
Buy the blu-ray player, get the powerful
computer/gaming console for free. Or vice versa. That’s a pretty good reason.

In the rest you seem to continue to think that
people only buy a PS3 to either have a really good movie player OR a really good game machine. You can get both and at a very good (below cost) price. For many people it isn’t an either or, it’s just a really good package that’s a little ahead of it’s time. Gamers are the target
obviously and I don’t know any gamers that are opposed to watching their movies with great clarity. This will be standard in the near future. Some people like to be a little ahead of their time. I don’t see how Sony could have done otherwise.

cheers,

Darrel Henschell

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