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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Emulators forcing video-game manufacturers to play along

Why are old video games popular again? In a word: emulators.

An emulator is software that mimics a video-game experience on a personal computer. Some major emulator companies, like Connectix and Bleem, charged for their software and access to multiple games.

But many emulators are "freeware" - free downloads developed by anonymous computer geeks who were ticked off that their old games could not be played whenever the video-game manufacturers introduced a new console, according to James Conley, professor with the Center for Research in Technology and Innovation at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

Video-game manufacturers didn't like emulators and have waged court battles similar to the ones that gave the music industry a public-relations black eye when they sued college kids for sharing songs online.

But the game companies release a new game system, on average, every five years. If old games won't work on the new system, firms run the risk of regularly making their best customers unhappy. And if those customers already own a game in an obsolete format, it's dicey to go after them if they find a way to continue enjoying the game in another format for their own private use.

Conley wrote an influential white paper in 2004 called "Use of a Game Over: Emulation and the Video Game Industry." Three years later, the Big Three (Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft) have adopted many of his suggestions.

He says the courts regularly ruled in favor of the emulator firms because the manufacturers relied on copyright to protect their games instead of patents and intellectual-property rights.

Also, the emulators did a nifty - and perfectly legal - tap dance around the coding and the copyrights because they focused on how the games functioned, he said.

Conley even presented his findings to Sony in 2004.

"My suggestion to them was, 'Why don't we embrace it and see how we can't make this a positive thing as opposed to viewing it as a legal morass,'" he said.

So Sony now manufactures PlayStations that allow "backward compatibility," which means old games work on the new system. Sony and Microsoft also bought pieces of Connectix. And Nintendo and Microsoft are now making many extra millions by making retro, or classic, games available as downloads.

"It was low-hanging fruit," Conley said. "There was all this money sitting around. People want these games; you don't have to convince them that they're good games. It just makes economic sense to take this intellectual property and use it to try and eliminate the competition."

It also softened the industry's PR reputation by showing consumers that it was responsive to public demand for classic games, Conley added.

Although Nintendo spokeswoman Beth Llewellyn still calls emulators "the greatest threat to our industry," a bigger threat would appear to be bootleg games. Llewellyn says law enforcement agencies have seized 100,000 counterfeit Wii games since January alone.

Source: Content agenda

Week recap: PS3 decline; Xbox 360 Halo 3 sales; Wii lead


Sales for Sony Corp.'s Playstation 3 decreased in the latest Japan retail data. The PS3 ranked as the No. 5 best-selling hardware in the sales period.

A news item this week claimed that the 40GB PS3 SKU will be manufactured by Taiwan-based FoxConn. Sony has not yet announced a 40GB version of the latest Playstation.

Sales for the Xbox 360 incurred a minor sales gain in the latest Japan retail data. The Xbox successor still ranked below most other video game hardware offerings.

Additionally, Halo 3 logged more than 1.3 million players in the first 24 hours of release. The Xbox Live network this month reached seven million members worldwide.

Halo 3 sales this week fell out of the top 20 at Amazon Japan. The title was released in the region on Sept. 27.

Microsoft this week announced a price cut for select Xbox Live titles for a limited time. Discounted titles include Bankshot Billiards and Frogger.

Wii regained a 2-to-1 sales lead over the PS3 in the latest Japan retail tally. Additionally, Wii ranked three titles in the top 10 game sales for the week.

Sales for Wii increased in the latest retail data from Ebay. The Wii held the No. 1 rank as the Most Popular video game hardware at the auction website.

Konami this week released Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party to the Wii. The latest entry utilizes new motion-sensitive controls and traditional mat-based gameplay.

Nintendo this week released a new wave of Wii Virtual Console titles. New offerings include Kirby’s Avalanche and Streets of Rage 3.

Full review at Punch Jump

Don't Play Halo 3, Live It With a Real Warthog

I know. You were probably pretty disappointed when you were lining up at midnight the other day, anxious to get your hands on the Halo 3 Legendary Edition. Sure, the new first person shooter on the Xbox 360 is pretty hot and all the cool kids are playing it online with your friends, but it was that Master Chief helmet that captivated your interest. And then you found out that you couldn't wear it.

If you're a real Halo fan, you don't want to only play the game with a themed Xbox 360 controller. You want to recreate it in real life and now you can with a life-sized Halo Warthog vehicle. Created by the team at WETA, the working Warthog even has a replica machine gun mounted out back for when you want to go hunting for some nasty bad guys.

Play safe out there! This thing doesn't shoot blanks.

'Halo 3' does Microsoft proud - but will it be enough?

On Tuesday, the software maker released the first-person shoot-'em-up "Halo 3" for its Xbox 360 video game console. At stores in Indiana, like other parts of the country, gamers lined up Monday night, waiting to be the first to get their hands on the game at midnight.

Microsoft said it had 1.7 million pre-orders for "Halo 3" in the U.S. alone, although it didn't release actual sales figures. Still, the video game was expected to pull in more than $150 million in sales in 24 hours.
What's the big deal?

Well, there's Master Chief, the game's armor-clad, enigmatic superhero beating back angry aliens. The storyline is awesome. And so are the graphics - actually more so this time around because this is the first game in the "Halo" trilogy designed for high-definition televisions.

The video game also, arguably, makes the best use of Microsoft's service for online game play, Xbox Live.
With all that going for "Halo 3," too bad the launch wasn't flawless.
Hours after the launch, reports surfaced that a "small fraction" of the game discs were scratched. Microsoft blamed the packaging on the $69.99 limited-edition version of "Halo 3." It comes in a tin with a making-of-the-game documentary and behind-the-scenes features.

The scratches didn't seem to affect game play. With Microsoft's replacement program, customers can fill out a form and send in their scratched limited-edition disks for a free exchange through the end of December.
A regular copy of the game costs $59.99 and a "legendary" version, which comes with a replica of the helmet worn by Master Chief, costs $129.99.

But for all the popularity of "Halo 3," I seriously doubt it's going to be enough to convince casual gamers to pick up an Xbox 360 and let Microsoft take back the lead from Nintendo in terms of sales.

In August, according to, the Nintendo Wii passed the Xbox 360 in sales to consumers, not shipments to retailers. This is true even though the Wii was released in November 2006, a year after the Xbox 360

New award for video game writing

The Writers Guild has created an award for videogame writing with the inaugural trophy to be presented at the Writers Guild Awards on February 9 2008.
Guild said the kudo's been spearheaded by its New Media Caucus "to encourage storytelling excellence in videogames, to improve the status of writers, and to begin to encourage uniform standards."

"Videogames are written and many are written very well,". "By recognizing the skill and craft of videogame writing, the Writers Guild intend to raise the profile of these writers so that they can get WGA contracts and benefits for this work. We aim, we shoot, we score."

Qualifications require that the games must have been released between Dec. 1. 2006 and Nov. 30. Submission deadline is Nov. 21 with separate credit for writing (such as written by, story by, writer, story designer).

The guild also noted that there's no limit on the number of credited writers on a particular game but pointed out that credits not specifically tied to videogame writing would not be accepted ( lead designer, designed by, produced by). It also said writers of source material are not eligible.

More information here