Comic courtesy of Fat Gamers.

Kutaragi - making money for everyone

Sony playstation 3
Start saving your pennies

Yes he's mental, and yes he's brilliant, but this time, Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc and 'Father of PlayStation' may have let one slip that's played straight into the hands of his most bitter of rivals: Microsoft.

Over the last few months, Kutaragi-san has been talking up the PS3 like it's the end of gaming history itself; a console fit for Kings. But he's also been warning that he'll be charging royal prices for his baby and that gamers are just going to have to work longer hours if they can't afford it. Cue smiling Xbox executives, gleefully rubbing their hands together while dollar signs flash before their eyes.

Because now, of course, they can up the price of the Xbox 360. Most recent unconfirmed reports suggest that the 360 will be priced around £299 when it's launched in Europe just before Christmas. Why so high? Because Kutaragi-san has been letting the world know in advance they'll have to re-mortgage their homes to afford a PS3. Even at £299, the 360 will be cheaper than the PS3, if Kutaragi is to be believed.

With every single yen Kutaragi slaps on the PS3, Mr Gates can add a dollar to his bulging bank account. Microsoft may well be prepared to price the 360 at between £200 and £250 and take a hit on profits in an effort to maximise installed base before the PS3 comes out, but why should they? The price divide is a terribly important thing. If consumers see the 360 £100 cheaper than the PS3, they're less inclined to think bargain, and more inclined to think inferior product. Ergo, as the PS3 price rises, so must the 360.

So Mr Gates can sit back and relax (in an extremely comfortable chair no doubt), arms casually cast behind his head, and afford himself a rare smile. 'Carry on Kutaragi-san', he thinks. 'I'm all ears.'

Is World of Warcraft harmful to minors? Hell yeah!

Worldofwarcraft.jpg
Will this game ever not make it into a Sunday Supplement?

Especially if you're a minor who plays an Undead Rogue - then I'm seriously gonna harm your rotting backside. Additionally, if you're an American minor, who invades my open channel on TeamSpeak and starts insulting me because I'm British, then it could even become catastrophic.

But, as the Chinese government declared this week, player killing in any online game is harmful to under 18s. Why? Not because it might cause them to kill in real life, which was, admittedly, my first thought, but because player killing in games encourages you to play too much. All this comes in the form of new proposed legislation that is in direct response to the growing number of MMO players in China, and some recent high profile 'when MMOs go bad' cases.

I'll let them explain: "Minors should not be allowed to play online games that have player killing content," according to the head of the Ministry of Culture's Internet Culture division Liu Shifa. "Online games that have PK content usually also contain acts of violence and leads to players spending too much time trying to increase the power of their characters. They are harmful to young people."

It's a novel twist, I'll give them that. And really they have some kind of convoluted point as well. The only reason MMOs suck the hours from your very soul is because of the incessant desire to appear better than the thousands of players who are trying to do the very same thing.

Take World of Warcraft for example, which has 1.5 million players in China, and has player killing. Every act in game is to make your player better so that you can show-off in front of other players. More experience makes you more powerful, better armour make you more powerful, and better weapons make you more powerful. My real life isn't improved by these virtual trinkets, but my in-game life is. If I have a glowing epic Krol blade, players will stop and look. If I have the complete epic priest armour set, players will stop and salute me. If I have all this amazing stuff, I can go down Battlegrounds, kill thousands of other players every week and I'll become feared. I can never achieve this kind of recognition in real life. That's why it's so addictive.

Which means, for good or bad, the Chinese government have some kind of point. People play MMOs obsessively, and sometimes (very rarely), it can cause real world problems when sons and daughters get neglected and other distasteful things occur. But for most people common sense prevails. If they feel an MMO is taking over their life, they make a conscious decision to cut back.

The Chinese government, then, doesn't have much faith in their citizens' ability for self-control. And don't think over 18s are free to abandon normality for the virtual escapism of MMOs either. They are proposing a compulsory log-off for all players after a set number of hours in the game. I'm not sure how that would go down among some of the 18-hour daily mentalists in my current guild Double Dragon.

Note to Western MMO players - have a look in the mirror. If you think you're starting to resemble something that can only be described as Gollum-esque, it's time to take a walk (and I don't mean to the Barrens, I mean to the common or something). Otherwise, Messieurs Blair and Bush might be paying a visit when you least expect it (probably during an instance run).

Sane journalism in mainstream press shock!

This week, two articles caught my attention. They appeared in mainstream UK publications (albeit left leaning ones), which is the first shock. The second is that they both treated the thorny issue of videogames with calmness, accurate journalism, decent research and an air of rationality rarely seen in the tabloids and news broadcasters.

The first appeared in The Economist, and asked the question: do videogames turn children into killers? It's conclusion: no. But the piece carries research and quotes to back its claims. This is a journalistic standard neither the Mail nor the Mirror seems to indulge in when portraying gaming as Satan spawn.

From the piece: "Like rock and roll in the 1950s, games have been accepted by the young and largely rejected by the old. Once the young are old, and the old are dead, games will be regarded as just another medium and the debate will have moved on. Critics of gaming do not just have the facts against them; they have history against them, too."

Newspaper article print
Shock horror. They can include good games journalism!

Refreshing to say the least. And then, to my amazement, I saw a feature in The Times on Friday celebrating the 25th birthday of Pac-Man. The paper had deemed it such a worthy subject that they sent reporter Leo Lewis to Yokohama to interview the iconic games creator Toru Iwatani. The piece is extensive and heavily invested in (no features editor will have scoffed at the cost of flying a reporter to Japan, put them up in a hotel and ready expenses).

From the piece: "And yet, Iwatani is in some ways a video game Luddite. He has become a great believer in a golden age of video games, when the ideas were instantly accessible, the controls easy to grasp, and the gameplay simple and charming."

Again, refreshing, and the correct use of terminology (something often overlooked by mainstream game reporting).

Although not quite evidence of a growing trend, the two pieces at least show the signs of a mooted acceptance of the game industry among the press, and, more crucially, worthy of copy. It will take time, but eventually we'll see features discussing the intricacies of MMO communities, the game as social commentary and the historically accurate electronic experience. Not yet mind you, so expect more 'KILLER PLAYSTATION' headlines and tabloid news pieces telling of celebrities kitting out their dressing rooms with 'full-sized electronic games.'

This week's new releases

Desert
An actual photo from a games retailer in Brighton

The drought continues. With less than four weeks until the launch of the PSP in Europe it seems that publishers are scared to release any high-profile games, obviously convinced that the British game buying public are saving their pennies for the lovely, but rather overpriced, handheld and equally high-priced games.

The selection of games on offer this week is pretty pitiful, but anyone caught up in the Cricket frenzy caused by the Ashes might fancy the rather long named International Cricket Captain Ashes Year 2005 for the PC. The series has sold well in the past and the latest version should do equally well.

Next week isn't shaping up too well either, with Premier Manager 2005-2006 being the only notable release, and that is pushing it. With releases so thin on the ground, expect our coverage of the PSP to come to the forefront, starting next week and continuing through to the September 1st release date. You can expect a few launch games to be reviewed each week, hopefully giving you all an idea of what games should be on your 'to buy' list.

  • Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action! (DS)
  • Aurora Watching (PC)
  • Flying Club (PC)
  • Herbie Fully Loaded (GBA)
  • International Cricket Caption Ashes Year 2005 (PC)
  • Steel Empire (GBA)