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Doug Thompson

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Meanwhile, back at the consoles
By Doug Thompson
Let’s revisit the game console wars, a reliable subject to write about because nobody ever admits defeat.
Nintendo’s Wii passed the Microsoft Xbox 360 in total units sold in the United States a few weeks ago. This matters because Xbox 360 debuted about a year earlier than the Wii. Persistent short supply and bad foreign currency exchange rates hampered Wii sales in the U.S., too.
It’s getting harder to doubt that Nintendo’s keeping supplies tight. They’re already hinting that there may not be enough Wiis in the United States for this Christmas either.
I could buy the argument last year that Nintendo didn’t want to invest heavily in manufacturing to increase supply until they saw if the Wii would succeed. I could even give credence to the notion that the dollar was so weak, it didn’t make much sense to sell many Japanese-made Wii in this market when you could get healthier Yen and Euros elsewhere.
None of that holds any more. A year has passed and the Wii is just too simple to make. As one game developer put it in an insult, all you need are two Gamecubes and some duct tape. Big N’s made so much money off the Wii, there’s no reason they could not have ramped up production regardless of exchange rate.
No, it appears that Nintendo wants to avoid saturation of the market. It’s hard to argue with success, but it’s a pretty cynical success.
Sony’s PlayStation 3, meanwhile, simply can’t catch a break. The strategy of disguising a Blu-ray movie player as a game console worked.  Customers were then supposed to buy big-screen high-definition TVs to take advantage of Blu-ray’s capability and buy Blu-ray movies. Sony owns the Blu-ray format, so the money should have come rolling in.
And then the American economy tanked — literally, as in “gas tank.” People don’t buy big screen TVs when they don’t know if they’re going to avoid foreclosure on the home they’d hang it in. They don’t buy high-definition format movies when every spare dollar’s going for gas.
Microsoft and Netflix recently announced that you’d be able to join Netflix and view movies onto your Xbox 360 console and your TV. I’m not convinced any of this movie mess matters to the most game console customers, but at least the video quality of the Netflix downloads I’ve seen are more in line with what a typical tube television can handle.
Some analyst I read over the past couple of weeks summed up the PS3 situation well: Sony spent a fortune selling this very expensive supercomputer at a game-console price. Then they spent a fortune carrying it while nobody produced games for it. Now they’ve spent so much money on it, they can’t afford to invest in the development of the very expensive, expansive games necessary to make a PS3 into something worth having. I’ll add that they aren’t selling enough Blu-ray movies yet to make the whole gamble pay off, either.
The PS3 enjoyed very healthy sales — during the week of “Metal Gear Solid’s” debut. Sales went back in the ditch immediately after that. “MGS” is type of first-rate, blockbuster, no-compromise game needed to show off and sell the powerful PS3. However, independent game developers simply cannot afford to risk a high investment like that and not also release it for the more popular, if less capable, Xbox 360. Therefore, the lesser hardware of the Xbox 360 sets the bar.
Witness the recent announcement that the next “Final Fantasy” game will open on both Xbox 360 and PS3. “Final Fantasy” is a series almost synonymous with Sony. You know, like “Grand Theft Auto” used to be. According to the website “VGStatz,” “Grand Theft Auto IV” has sold 5.71 million copies on the Xbox 360 and 4.18 million on the PS3.
The consensus expressed by coverage of E3, the recently held annual game industry convention, is that Sony’s upcoming lineup of exclusive games is anemic. The most pungent commentary was from the Internet comic strip “Penny Arcade,” which showed a drunk Sony rep, bottle in hand, saying: “Come on, guyzh. Pleaze. Puuhlease. Juss give ush one more year. You know we’re good forrit.”
Ouch.

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