Friday, September 22, 2006

Johnny Turbo and the Sods of Generation Z - "No War 4 Empire" Excerpt

You know how the prozines and video game websites always use cute graphics for each games console? Well, here's mine! Like it? I think it manages to communicate everything you need to know about Sony's new game machine.

The Playstation 3 will not be coming down in price any time soon. If I remember correctly, it costs Sony $800 or $900 to build each unit. The cost is fucking horrendous. It's a one-two punch of the Blu-Ray drive (which has been nothing but problems) and the Cell processor.

The reports I've read (Merrill-Lynch, for example) state that PS3's price will fall dramatically over its lifespan, but this still means that it won't drop down to $300 for three years. For now and the foreseeable future, this new game machine will cost $600.

For me, and just about any sane individual who works for a living, the Playstation 3 will be forever remembered by its other, unofficial name - SIX HUNDRED FUCKING DOLLARS. From now on, that's the name I'll be using for Sony's new console.

It's a perfect storm for Sony. Just about everything has gone wrong with the company, and they're betting everything on PS3 pushing Blu-Ray into millions of homes. I don't have the heart to tell them that Americans have been getting poorer during the Bush Crime Family's watch, or that our wages have been falling, or that we have to deal with such meaningless trivialities as health care or education or buying your cousin that body armor the Pentagon won't supply.

$600 for a toy? Okay, perhaps you're not listening properly, so I'll repeat. SIX HUNDRED FUCKING DOLLARS - a toy, encased in plastic, that plays games.

Sure, it's bound to sell its initial runs this year and into the next, just because of the hardcore nerds who've been conditioned to behave like domesticated pets. Fetch, boy, fetch! Woof! This makes me wonder just how expensive a videogame console would have to be for the fanboys to actually balk. It must be nice to have all that disposable income. Was it inherited or did it come from the lottery? Oh, for those good old days when wealthy parents would simply buy their kids an oil business or the White House.

I'm reminded of something Hunter S. Thompson wrote in his final book: no one is ever going to shed any tears for the spoiled little sods of Generation Z.

I wonder just what the impact in Japan will be. On the console front, Sony dominates. If the PS3 goes over like a lead balloon, just where will developers go? Microsoft was pronounced Dead on Arrival, and the Xbox 360 hit the discount bins five minutes after it came off the boat. Unless Japanese consumers hold their collective noses and stick with the lima beans, they're not going to change their buying habits.

So if you've been developing for PS3, and you're left holding the bag, what are your options? What's going to sell, besides the two or three most easily-recognized franchise titles? EA Sports, sequel, movie game. That's it. A lot of developers are going to lose a lot of money on this; it's just a question of economics when the hardware sucks all the air (and stray cash) out of the room.

There is that third option, Nintendo. But they've opted out of the rat race that Sony and Microsoft have become trapped in, and chose to take their own quirky path. It's been a successful move for them, especially with the DS handheld. That thing has become a license to print money. The Wii, I think, will enjoy a similar success. Heaven knows it's got the killer hook - everyone who walks by one will want to try it out, just once. And then they'll take a look at the price tag, and realize it costs less than a third than Sony's SIX HUNDRED FUCKING DOLLARS.

So Nintendo's got the hook, they've got the mojo. But let's go back to my earlier question from a moment ago. What happens to those developers who spent their fortunes tied to Sony's wagon? Where can they port their games and break even? Where can they make their escape? In Japan, at least, XBox 360 isn't going to happen. That leaves Nintendo as the other option.

Now here's the real kick in the teeth. The Wii has the killer controller, it's got the killer price, but the hardware itself? It's shit. I don't know if I can say that, honestly, since we're past the point where any modern games can look like shit (unless you're making a poop simulator, but that's neither here nor there), but the Wii appears to be little more powerful than an over-clocked Gamecube. Not really a problem for Nintendo, who have figured out that "videogames" have a certain stylized look to them, and are perfectly happy with staying there. The 2D sprite-based games on GBA and DS aren't that far beyond the Super Nintendo era.

Again, where does that leave the developers? Where do you cut your losses? How do you recoup your investments and enormous costs of making games on the SIX HUNDRED FUCKING DOLLARS that aren't selling because John Madden isn't on the box? If Sega wants to put Virtua Fighter 5 on some other console, what options are there?

None. There are no options. For better or worse, a lot of the videogame industry is tied to Sony's fortunes. So you're pretty much screwed. I suppose there's the chance that there are enough spoiled brats and rich nerds who've never learned the value of money. The spoiled little sods of Generation Z. They could save Sony's executives from the wrath of stockholders, right?

Yeah, right. I'm sure there plenty of parents, and plenty of girlfriends, who wouldn't mind at all that their Johnny Turbo has maxed-out his credit cards to play games on a SIX HUNDRED FUCKING DOLLARS machine.

Oh, by the way, Johnny, you do know the EA Sports games will all be stripped-down versions of the games you already have on your Playstation 2, right? It's a wonderful little scam they pull with every new console; they've been doing it for years. The classic bait-and-switch. Just though you should know that before your second mortgage comes due, and your girlfriend walks out the door.

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