October 10th, 2002 - Issue 22

Your body flys twisting and hurtling through the air. Landing. You spring back onto your feet, jump high into the air and unleash devastating whirlwinds, sweeping up both your friends and foes. Luckily, there are more foes than friends, and they have smaller life bars.

I've been playing Mystic Heroes since last night - bought it on a whim - and while it was a little easy at first, I did note that unlike some recent games, button mashing was only one of the effective moves to use.

  • Magic Shot
  • Sweeping Homing Lock
  • 3 Different Sword Techniques
  • Various Rains of Magic
These are the four types of magical attacks in Mystic Heros. You will actually need to use them for certain situtations, for when mashing "A" just gets you a sword in the face.

The game is getting harder in a good way. I'm having trouble with this one flying boss that has an entire party of undead and one of my mind-controlled comrades attacking me. You can't get near her, cause she doesn't like being button-mashed - that earns you several unpleasant magic bolts and a backwards trip into the middle of the undead horde!

Also, depending on what distance you are from a monster, pressing "A" will make you leap in and fight three different ways, and each way allows a different sword technique to be used as the end of a combo. This may have tactical significance ,maybe neccesary to beating the game with a high score, but I haven't absorbed it yet.

Right now, I can definitley reccomend this game for a rental. The reason I bought it was the the two-player beat-em up mode, which should pass the time quite well until PSO. Rent or buy. Buy or rent.

-- Josh Buczynski

- [[Games Cost Moneez]]  - - more moneez in Britain!
October 10th, 2002

Revisionist or Radical?

    The British Fairplay Campaign has raised some hackles in this videogame web community. On the Fairplay side of things, they're complaining that most games cost 40-45 , which is about $65-70 bucks, American.

    Okay, yeah...That sucks!

    I pay $40-45 dollars for most PC games now and I remember a time when it was $60.

    Anyway, the first thing that web sites did, web sites that I visit at least, was to dis the movement, call it illogical and full of holes. I almost didn't read the actual site because of the remarkable text-form peer pressure.

    And the point of the Fairplay website, is very very simple. Too simple for some maybe. And the point is this:

      If game prices were to drop in half, people would 
      buy twice as many games.

    As far as I'm concerned, this logic is infallible given some conditions.

      1. Game prices change instantly, within a day. People that were going to spend $40-50 USD on games will most likely still be resigned to spend $40-50 on games, so they would buy two games to fulfill that self-impigned obligation.

      2. Game companies don't mind if other games get bought, besides their own.

    Ah, and there is the rub, and it illustrates the reason why game companies might not want to adopt a half-price/double sales policy. Let me illustrate this point clearly to you.

    If Blizzard sold 1 million games at $40 wholesale each, will they really sell 2 million games at $20. What happens if 1 million people buy 1 million OTHER $20 games? Blizzard makes half as much then. 

    How many millions of new people will be jumping into the game-buying habit just because of low prices?

    I can imagine Blizzard/Vivendi people poo-pooing this Fairplay idea with much gusto and acid words.

    However, if Blizzard rewarded customers for "brand-loyalty", with a buy one-get-one-free Blizzard deal, then they'd get all $40. With that, sales numbers for their games go up, hopefully, and popularity and word of mouth spread, and surely, an additional percentage of game sales come rolling in, because people who save money can't stop talking about the great value...


    The #1 fault with the Fairplay campaign is that publishers don't think of themselves as a family, as a single-bodied industry. For companies like Blizzard or EA, one that brings in top-sales numbers already... halving the price is not likely to produce a double-demand for their product.

    The #1 benefit of the Fairplay campaign is that some small publishers, which don't sell enough copies of their game to earn back expenses and make a profit, should have a better chance at increasing sales. That chance still isn't large enough to insure success, but if double the amount of games were sold... well, some portion of that number might include their games.

    People are going to buy from many different publishers and ultimately thin the profits for individual publishers as more publishers increase their sales.

    Greedy Companies

    The problem with the Fairplay campaign is that it only loosely targets greedy companies -- publishers and retailers alike. While the Fairplay call-to-action asks that you don't buy any games for a week starting December 1st, doing so will not only harm greedy high-priced companies, but also the few sensibly-priced companies that already sell their games at half-price. (If Britain has no so-called budget-priced games, then my pity goes out to all who suffer high prices)

    I say go ahead and buy the $20 USD games, and the low-priced GBA games, and the used games for consoles that are around $20-25. Send THAT message to the greedy publishers, a message that says, "I don't want to pay for your inneffective budgetting, your superstar lifestyle and/or your high licensing fees." Also, send the same message to Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo... that you want lower license fees on games so 3rd party publishers can lower their prices too!

    Then again, greed is a subjective thing. "Greedy" may be wanting more money than it took to create the game and distribute it. "Greedy" may be more than a certain attractive dollar amount to someone else. Unfortuneatly for consumers, some game publishers like having millions of dollars of profit. After that, what the company does with that money can be percieved as good or bad. Either they can keep it for themselves or they can use it to fund game makers in their next project. If that project does well, then the investment has paid off - in the creation of a successful franchise perhaps.

    Right now, with certain publishers, the ones that fund promising game ventures, cutting the cost of games would be bad for developers who can't put their own money into game development.

    How to Get Publishers to Lower Their Prices

    Videogame publishers already lower their prices over time and even offer combo packs of games at deep discount prices. They offer these deals when they see the game losing profitability at the current price, when the shelf-life of the game has all but ended.

    "The SIMS" has only just recently been offered in a combo pack because EA is very, very happy with the success of the game and how people don't stop buying it for $40 retail and the expansion packs for $30 retail. EA has never needed to lower the price to stimulate sales, until now that is. (I think it slowed a percent or two...) "The SIMS" has definitly pulled in more money that it took to develop the game and the expansion packs, many times over. Is this greed, and ripping off the consumer now?

    Is it greed if EA is putting that 240-300 million profit to proper use? Are we going to see 24 "million-dollar-budget" games being developed in the next few years? 23 games? 10 games at a million a piece? Will EA mind if they lose money on games that are great, but flop for some reason?

    What Do Consumers Do?

    If you want a consumer-driven price market, then you need to get consumers to buy games based on price, and not on content, even if the content deserves the high price.

    Epic and Digital Extremes deserve $30 wholesale dollars right now for Unreal: Tournament 2003. During UT's highly successful life, Epic and DE released patch after patch, not just for fixing and tweaking the game, but adding excellent content for many months after that. UT saw a dozen+ new maps and several official character types and skins, along with enhancements to the game engine. Not only are you paying for the game as it is now, but you are paying for the better game that it will become.

    Still, not all games work like that. Epic and Digital Extremes are the exception. Failed games and bargain bin pricing are the rule with other developers and publishers. With these, it's hard to say that price alone was the cause of death.

    What Should the British Do?

    Well, if they want to stop retailers and publishers from ripping them off for $30 USD over what we pay in the states, then by all means, boycott game salers for that week. Boycott those greedy people who add stupid amounts to the cost just because they feel like it.

    All I know is that years ago, I paid $40-45 for any NES game, a game that likely had a development budget of several hundred thousand. These days, I can buy a $40 game and know it cost several million to make. The games I choose to buy now have more appeal and replay than games 10 years ago. Already I'm saving money - "percieved value per dollar" and "dollar value per hour of my enjoyment." Both are very high now.

    If the cost of games in Britain and other countries are prohibitive to gaining new videogame customers, then go ahead with this campaign if you live there... tell them the costs are prohibitive, but make sure you buy the low-cost games... make sure you send a more powerful message to the industry, to the retailers... that only low-cost, low-budget games at reasonable prices will sell. Don't buy nothing at all, or you'll kill the good guys too.

    A Far-fetched Idea -- GAMESTOCK

    People that buy games at full price at release, why do they not feel gipped when they see the game at $10-15 lower a few months later? Maybe if they are me, they do feel gipped. Maybe if they are me, they learned to wait a few months to get the game, when it becomes discounted by the publisher or it is on sale by the retailer, or I buy it used.

    Even though I'm saving money, if others are like me and do the same thing, publishers are going to think their game is tanking. The lowering of price is often an act of desperation, just to get the already-manufactured discs and boxes sold and out of the warehouse.

    This type of thinking by me and others like me cuts down on initial sales, and because the newer, better game is always out there on the next month's horizon, game sales are not likely to recover once the publisher is forced to lower the price. It's last month's game versus next month's game.

    What we need is a system to reward early-purchasers, another way to say "Thanks for buying our game and giving us good sales numbers up front."

    We need an honest publisher who says "We should only make this much money from this game. After that, we will give back to early adopters and lower the price to entice more purchasers, to expand the market size".

    What will be given to the late-buyers is a lower price and what is given to the early-buyers is something I call "Gamestock".

    Gamestock is very simple. It's just a coupon that goes along with your receipt. The receipt shows the date the game was purchased. This is important. The Gamestock certificate has the name of the game on it, and maybe an encrypted auth code or something nice.

    Lets say you buy a PS2 or GC or Xbox game for $50 retail ($40 of that is the wholesale price and goes to the publisher, to cover manufacturing, shipping, advertising and to fund new games productions and to pay back dividends to investors).

    Lets also say that the publisher has said, "We want to make 24 million from this game, to cover the 4 million production cost, the 2 million ad campaign, 1 million in shipping and to make an ungodly 16 million taxable profit. 

    To make this much money, at $40 wholesale for each copy, they need to sell 600,000 copies. This is the amount of copies that a first party would need to sell. A third party must usually pay a $5-12 licensing fee to Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo (depending on who's console you are on), so if you still want to make 16 million in pure profit, you need to sell between 685,000-800,000 copies, depending on the console.

    A large number of games sell little under 200,000 copies. Most games sell less than 100,000. Too many games sell less than 50,000.

    Because of these low numbers, the publishers that don't top the sales charts regularly don't plan on selling enough games to earn 16 million. They just hope they sell enough to cover the costs of development, so that they have some money to make another game... or even enough money to pay their creditors!

    Grim numbers aside, lets say a publisher does meet their estimate of profit. Let us say that the company got 3 times the cost of a game's development in gross revenue (4 million dollar game earns 12 million in the store - meaning it sold 300,000-400,000 games - a successful amount).

    It's time to figure out how to give something back to the early-buyer and when to do it. Just lower the cost of the game by $5 increments and see how many copies you need to sell to still reach the 12 million mark:
     3rd party game - $12 million honesty goal
    Wholesale price (minus licensing)  Required copies sold Retail price
    $30 ($10 license) 400,000 copies $50
    $25 480,000 copies $45
    $20 600,000  $40
    $15 800,000 $35
    $10 1.2 million $30
    $5 2.4 million $25
    cost of manufacturing and 
    distribution of single copy
    ? million $15-20 
    minimum price

    With this chart in mind, a publisher will always drop the price down to the next row when the sales are reached on the row with the current price. Why do they do this? Because the 12 million revenue mark has been reached, and it's time to leverage the game's popularity by dropping the price. No need to be greedy -- better image would come from dropping the price and "inviting" more gamers to play.

    Also, for anybody who bought the game at full price, a Gamestock coupon that comes with the game can be redeemed in the store for savings on new games from the same publisher.

    If Jimmy Tomsohn buys the PS2 game, "Legends of Evil" from Combo Productions for $50 ($30 profit to publisher, per copy), and the price later drops to $30 ($10 profit per copy - 1.2 million sold) his Combo Gamestock coupon, along with the receipt is good for $20 off the purchase of any other Combo Productions game. He could buy the new Combo "Evil Legend" game for $30 instead of $50, all because Combo is not greedy and agrees that they should not earn more money than they deserve.

    Combo keeps track of sales numbers, and tells stores when to lower the prices. Hopefully, more people are enticed to buy games, instead of the same amount of people just buying more games - not much growth oppurtunity from that.

    Assuming that both games sell the same amount, profit for the company remains high. That $20 that Jimmy thought he got back actually goes straight back to Combo, but that $20 promise is what keeps Jimmy buying Combo games along with the other "no-brainer-purchase" Blizzard and the EA games.

    The only other rule here is that games should never be given away for free. Retailers should still get their markup and manufacturing costs must always be paid per copy, by the consumer. Thereforce, a game's price should never go lower than x dollars per unit... whatever number retailers have trouble with. $5 games are possible... lower than that, and you're not going to see that happen on the retail end, not if people are going to still be clerking the stores!

    Would Gamestock Ever Work in the Real World?

    Probably not. People think they are entitled to as much money as they can get or something, long after it has made them enough money back. Then there are people who simply don't know what enough is, because they don't pay attention to numbers (reckless publishers do exist).

    If the idea of Gamestock did exist, I can say that two things would happen.

    1. People that buy games now would buy more games in the future, without publishers losing money! Profits won't be mega-super high, because a company must set their profit goal and stick too it if they want to be popular over being "filthy" rich. Profits and sales will be "just-right".

    2. As game prices fall, popular games will fuel the sale of less popular games (through the same publisher). Having Gamestock means "wanting to spend Gamestock"... or you lose it. It's a "power-up" to the consumer... a big "thank you" from honest publishers and a clever way to get people to buy more of your future games.

    It's not a gamble, it's just setting a limit on how much money you make, and watching what grows from that efficiency. It's anti-greed, and that is the only thing that can grow the game industry.

    I just don't think you will ever see this happen though... it's cool, but unlikely. If any companies did start with a program like this, it would be a smart, daring, independent publisher who is confident of good future sales -- one that doesn't need to move into plush offices and upgrade to sleeker cars after every project. The big boys are too happy where they are with their fat cash.

    (Note: if you read this far, then please remember that everything you read is unresearched and recalled from a foggy memory)

Josh Buczynski

[ old thunk ]


Kingdom Of Boredom

I'm either going to ban Squaresoft games from my systems- or I'm going to have to force myself to enjoy them. Okay- well maybe thats too broad of a statement- considering I own a ton of Square games, and I also love every Final Fantasy to come out. Heck, I still consider Chrono Trigger to be my favorite title.

You see, I had picked up Kingdom Hearts about 6 days ago, and I played it on the first day for a good 2 hours or so. I got through the beginnings and at first it seemed rather interesting- that is combining Disney themes with Square ones as well. I really liked how they had Donald and Goofy as sort of the 'comedy relief'. Especially since Square RPGs sometimes get too serious for their own good.

They did a really good job with the graphics as well (at least in some areas of the game). And the fact that you get to see some old friends like Aeris (FFVII), Selphie (FFVIII), Cloud (FFVII) etc etc is a really nice addition. And the game was just about to setup for a really nice story. But for some reason, while playing I couldn't stand the combat. The problem isn't in that its real-time combat- the problem is in the camera.

The camera not only has problems in combat, but as you walk around too. Its almost like the idea of an auto-camera just didn't click into the developer's heads. Some of the movements of the camera got so bad, that while in combat I would sometimes get very disoriented to where my character actually was. Maybe if they had given me the ability to zoom away from my character- then, maybe everything could work fine.

The camera problem got on my nerves so much today, that I decided I HAD to take the game back. (and sure enough, I did and ended up preordering Timesplitters 2 for XBox.) 

I guess I don't really hate Kingdom Hearts per se- because I actually really really want to enjoy it. The premise of it just makes so much sense- I thought the combo of Disney and Square would instantly be fun. And for some of the parts it was-- but most of the time I felt like I was just doing chores.

As far as art direction goes- its hard to tell when quality control started and ended. Because some parts are absolutely gorgeous- while others left me thinking "what the hell were THEY thinking?!" Like when I went into Wonderland today (Alice in Wonderland) I couldn't believe that the area that I was in was merely a square with textures applied to the sides. Where's the surrealism in that? I felt like I was back playing some old PSX game.

I think I made the right decision- I was finding the game to be more of a burden on me rather than actually having fun with it. Wow- how many PS2 games is that now that I've taken back? Man, I've lost count.

So my suggestion for you guys is to go out and rent it- some of you may like it- some may hate it. Be weary of that camera- it has a big venemous pointy stick to stab you with.

 Huzzah! I took back a game to preorder Timesplitters 2!

 Making a 400k gif when I actually could have made it a web-friendly 32k.

 I am expecting more than the best out of Timesplitters 2- maybe I should knock down that hype a couple of notches. 

-- Curt Smith
"Project-Reality" web content created by: Josh Buczynski & Curt Smith - 2002
[Formerly Sharp Gaming Magazine -- 1998-2001] [4 years of blips and bloops and sprites and oh boy!]
All videogame characters are used without permission from their respective copyright holders.