: Pete’s Perspective: Episode 7

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Pete’s Perspective: Episode 7

Pete’s Perspective Episode 7:
 The NyQuil Hangover Edition

Here we are, less than two weeks away from video gaming’s biggest event of the year, E3. It’s like Wrestlemania for the gaming world, minus an aging Hulk Hogan. I’m sure that a lot of you are excited to see and hear what comes out of Los Angeles, regarding the PlayStation 3, more software for the PSP and PS2, and whatever other surprises that happen to slip out during that time. Although I will not be there this year, our other senior editorial staff will be—and I’ll be here trying to keep you updated on the news as it breaks. One of these years, I really am going to make it to an E3… preferably before I’m 80.

Anyway, one of the most significant news items to come down the pipeline this week came with the announcement of a “merger” between Japanese toy giant Bandai and Namco, one of Sony’s staunchest supporters since the PlayStation launched almost 10 years ago. While some people are arguing about how this might be a good thing, and how Bandai won’t mess around with Namco in terms of creativity and gaming decisions, I don’t buy it.

For starters, Bandai owns the majority stake in the soon-to-be-newly-formed Namco Bandai Holdings Inc., to the tune of 57% to Namco’s 43%. Bandai’s president is also the ultimate decision-maker for the new company. This means that Namco won’t be calling the shots. Sure, they’ll likely have some input, but can be trumped by Bandai as they see fit. It’s also worth noting that Nintendo holds a sizable number of shares of Bandai stock, which potentially could lead to fewer Sony exclusives in the future.

Note the key word in that last sentence, everyone… POTENTIALLY. In truth, we really don’t know what will happen as this deal doesn’t go into effect until the end of September. Still, to steal a Star Wars quote, I have a bad feeling about this.

The precedent for my fear comes from Sammy’s buyout of Sega. What has Sega done since that “merger”? Not much… at least, nothing worth mentioning. Their sports division is gone. Their game releases have been slightly below average at best. Their reputation has actually become worse since the merger, which is quite the feat in and of itself. Sure, there are signs of potential hope, such as the new Phantasy Star game… but then you contrast that with a game that revolves around Shadow the Hedgehog with guns and a new “badass” attitude that sent the Prince of Persia franchise on a collision course with indifference.

Bandai’s not exactly a slouch when it comes to gaming. The .hack series wasn’t bad at all, even if it did cost $200 for the entire series (if you bought them right away). Their Digimon IP (intellectual property, or franchise) has fared respectably against Nintendo’s Pokemon IP. They’ve been plugging away with the Gundam series, although the right formula hasn’t been found quite yet. They’ve got a handful of anime licenses, too. Perhaps letting Namco get a chance with these franchises can help in the long run. Can you imagine the Project Aces team getting a chance at a Gundam game? Maybe we can see Monolith Soft do something with Digimon? Obviously, there are possibilities.

While Namco can help Bandai with developing games for their IPs, I don’t like the idea of Bandai telling Namco what they can and can’t do. Even though there are only a handful of people who enjoyed R: Racing Evolution (like me), I don’t want to see Namco’s creativity stifled over differences in management. If Katamari Damacy hadn’t been such a success among critics and gamers alike, you have to wonder if Bandai might have decided to pass on it—at least for audiences outside of Japan.

Something else about this deal troubles me. Namco and Bandai both cited the imbalance between increasing development costs and falling retail prices as a main reason for the transaction. If a company like Namco, who’s generally been pretty successful, is ripe for a takeover like this because of this imbalance, it could signal (or continue) a disturbing trend in the business… and I think that it clearly demonstrates why rising game prices are a given for the next generation of consoles, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in Episode 5. It also makes you wonder which company will be next. Konami and Capcom are two game companies that really stick out to me as possible takeover victims. Each company has a healthy number of IPs that other companies can farm with probable success. My gut tells me that one of these companies will be a takeover victim—or merger acquisition, if you want to be more positive-sounding—by year’s end. I sure hope I’m wrong, though.

That’s just about it for this installment, but, before I go… let’s do this week’s Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down:

Thumbs Up: They’re not paying us for advertising, but I’m giving a big Thumbs Up to Game Crazy. They’re running a very sweet “old school” deal in that all “older” games—including PSX games—are 3 for $15. If you’re looking to add to your PSX collection, especially the RPG library, swing down and see what you find. Imagine scoring both Lunar games and Valkyrie Profile for $15! It doesn’t matter what the list price is, so take advantage if you’re either a collector or starting a collection, like I touched on last week. It’s also worth mentioning that the sale also applies to N64, NES, SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy / Game Boy Color games. Retrogamers, rejoice!

Thumbs Down: There seriously needs to be a warning on NyQuil bottles regarding “NyQuil Hangover”. Not to sound like Jeff Foxworthy… but you know you have a NyQuil Hangover when you mindlessly walk into things while at the grocery store or just stare aimlessly into space for hours at a time the day after taking it. Maybe it’s worse for people who don’t drink (like me) since there’s mainly alcohol in NyQuil, but I’m just now shaking off the effects of it some 20 hours later.

Thumbs Up: Keep an eye on copies of Star Ocean: Till The End of Time for an imminent price drop. Word is that new copies will be dropping to $20 soon, if they haven’t already. Although I initially passed on this game due to poor pacing, for $20, it’s a lengthy RPG with a decent battle system that can get very addictive.

Thumbs Down: When will legislators learn that bills trying to restrict certain types of games from minors are generally doomed to defeat, even if it means going to court? Thankfully, Leland Yee’s gaming bill in California didn’t pass… but, in Illinois, their bill, which basically makes the ESRB obsolete by instituting its own “18” rating—applied to any game with “dismemberment, decapitation, disfigurement, maiming, mutilation of body parts, or rape”—is on its way to the State Senate. It’s time that parents start taking a little responsibility and start monitoring what their kids play… either that, or just don’t allow games in your household. Period.

 

See you next week.

5/7/2005 Peter Skerritt Jr.

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