Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen

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Somewhere along the line, way up there on the highest of high horses, Sony seems to have allowed some of the unrivalled success they have enjoyed over the last decade to go to their heads. This week, it was revealed that their lawyers had issued Cease and Desist orders to UK online retailer ElectricBirdLand, who sell imported American and Japanese PSPs.

Obviously anxious to make European gamers wait until the official September 1st launch (and to safeguard every last penny of profit), Sony have threatened action to anyone they find selling their little bundle of techno-cool. Problem is that it's their own fault.

European gamers are treated so shabbily that they are forced to import. Non-importing gamers who are patient enough to wait until September will have done so for nearly a year after the Japanese launch. This, unfortunately, is evidence of a trend the Japanese platform holders have always indulged in when it comes to the European market. Nintendo have traditionally been the worst culprits. Think poor PAL releases half a year after release. Think Animal Crossing. Often, you get the feeling that publishers think releasing product in Europe is a chore, not an opportunity.

What's more shocking is the fact that Sony hasn't any good reason for this policy. Why not allow a small core of gamers to import the machine? They're not the handheld's target audience anyway, and, if nothing else, will help to drum up hype for the machine by showing it off to their friends. If Sony think that thousands will fork out $500 to import the PSP with a few games, thus hitting profits of the machine when it's officially released, they're sadly mistaken. It's always been the techno hardcore who do this. They're a threat to nobody.

And highlighting the stupidity of Sony's import crackdown was Dan Morelle, Managing Director of ElectricBirdLand, who suggested Sony's own staff are importing the machine through them. To their credit, EBL are fighting this all the way. I wish them luck, and a Sony rethink.

Is there anyone left without one?

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Despite the occasional frustrating business strategy, you have to hand it to them, Sony know how to sell consoles. This week they revealed that they had shipped 90 million of the little black wonders. Since the Japanese launch back in March 4th, 2000, consumers have gone crazy. If anyone remembers that launch, Ridge Racer V was the best game for it, it wouldn't play The Matrix on DVD and Tekken Tag was extremely disappointing. But take a retrospective look at how Sony snatched the gaming crown from Nintendo's head. One word explains all those millions of consoles underneath televisions around the world: marketing.

Sony made gaming cool for older males - they widened the demographic from young kids and spotty teenagers to beer drinking louts. Sony sponsored raves, festivals, post-pub television and urban acts. They published games like Wipeout and Gran Turismo. DJ's made their game soundtracks and promotional material found its way into lifestyle magazines. At one music festival, Sony handed out little bits of cardboard with the PlayStation logo on, for use as roach paper. From that moment on, their future was secured.

And so, for all the damage some say Sony has done to the purity of the game industry, the success of the PlayStation 2 has shown that they, in fact, saved it from forever being a niche hobby. They expanded the audience, and continue to do so with products like EyeToy. As the 90 millionth PlayStation 2 ships, Sony look to pass the flame to the PlayStation 3 next Spring, and, thus, the circle is complete.

Pahhhupppy pahhhowerrrr!

Most agree E3 was about Sony trumping Xbox in the war of the consoles. This week, a few announcements from Nintendo suggest that there might be life in the old dog yet.

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Dogs are a good analogy, particularly as Nintendo are enjoying some amazing success in Japan at the moment because of them. Nintendogs, that curious game for the DS that was showcased at E3, has actually become the handhelds killer app. Japanese charts this week have shown the DS outselling both the PSP and the PlayStation 2, and it's all because of this game.

There's no guarantee that success will be repeated for the eventual Western launch. These types of tamagotchi style games typically do better in Japan. But, with some decent marketing, it could be the game to hamper sales of the PSP. Who'd have thought it eh? Sony's futuristic utopian handheld under threat from a few cute dogs.

But the Nintendo counter attack doesn't stop there. This week NOA vice president George Harrison outlined some of the key strategies for the Revolution that were omitted from their admittedly mysterious E3 performance. He said their main focus was on making the console easy and cheap to develop for, and thus attractive to publishers put off by the prospect of million dollar budgets for next-gen epics. He also indicated that you may be able to download all those Nintendo classics for free. That's right, for free. Playing Nintendo's own games online will be free also, although third-party offerings will be excluded.

It's a fantastic and very shrewd move. In the hunt for the non-gamer, Nintendo seems to know what they're doing. While Sony and Microsoft obsess over tech-specs, Nintendo quietly make their machine as customer friendly as possible. Imagine online Mario Kart! There will undoubtedly be more twists and turns in the ultimate game soap opera that is the next-gen console battle - will Nintendo be surprise victors come Christmas 2006?

Go UN go!

The United Nations this week announced that over a million people worldwide had downloaded their self-made game Food Force, an educational product where kids can negotiate their way through rebel blockades of humanitarian supplies and rebuild devastated areas, since its release six weeks ago.

That's fantastic numbers right there - numbers a publisher of a gritty 18-rated urban sandbox would be proud of. I love it when games are used in this way, and it's even better when they're successful too. It pours cold water over the moral right's nonsensical campaign to ban evil games. Many within the industry right now feel that one way to make gaming more acceptable to traditionalists is to get them in schools - Food Force would provide a valuable component of any curriculum in the classroom. It's down to ELSPA and their counterparts across the globe to speak to governments and try and convince them of gaming's educational value. Food Force is the first step in the right direction.

And in one fatal blow, Blizzard banned them all

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Blizzard don't take no #*&! - a message heard loud and clear this week when they banned over 50,000 fans from Battle.net in a spectacular cull of cheaters. Not only that, but over 8,000 Warcraft III CD keys were struck off for a month, meaning those banned will have to go out and buy another copy of the game if they want to play.

Now I'm in full support of hitting cheaters right where it hurts - taking the game away. It's the only actual deterrent. I hate cheaters in online games - in FPS's like Unreal and CounterStrike, in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, and in RTS's like Dawn of War and Warcraft III. I say, kill 'em all! Ban them! Maim them! Whatever it takes! Cheating ruins the game for those who are trying to play honourably and it puts off new comers. In short, it makes a game bad.

It's not only isolated to PC gaming either. Cheating was rampant in Halo 2 before the latest set of patches. With online console gaming becoming more and more prevalent (something set to expand further with the next-generation), there are many who can learn from Blizzard's hard line.

This week's new releases

PlayStation 2 owners finally get to play a good exclusive FPS on their system this week, with the release of Cold Winter from Vivendi Universal Games. While Cold Winter's single-player campaign is a little short, it's fun throughout and the game's multiplayer modes are fun online of offline.

Donkey Konga 2 should provide fans of the first game with some much needed new tunes and Ridge Racer DS will provide DS racing fans with an alternative to Asphalt and Need for Speed Underground. The rest of this week's new releases aren't all that exciting, but Still Life might please some adventure game fans, especially with its budget price.

  • Cold Winter (PS2)
  • CustomPlay Golf (PC)
  • Donkey Konga 2 (Cube)
  • Poker Masters (PS2)
  • Ridge Racer DS (DS)
  • RPM Tuning (Xbox)
  • Still Life (PC, Xbox)