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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Microsoft should enter handheld gaming, what they should do, and how they should pwn it

Is Microsoft going to own the handheld market?

Maybe, but let's figure out if they're going to even enter it, first.

The rumor's been out there before, but well-thought-out connectivity of the Xbox 360 raised the possibility again -- but not as much as a recent Business Week article, with Xbox boss Peter Moore.

Though not confirming anything, Moore talked about the device needing to be more than "our version of the iPod." He also mentioned it could logically leverage the Xbox brand for gaming (in addition to audio and video) to push itself into consumers' hands.

Makes sense, since the digital media market is an exponentially larger opportunity than the handheld gaming market. And, with the recent Microsoft re-org that created the "Entertainment & Devices Division" (under Xbox boss Robbie Bach, and combined the "Home and Entertainment Division" with the current "Mobile and Embedded Devices Division"), this seems to be a no-brainer.

But there's some huge risk.

Though last year's launch of Sony's PSP significantly eroded Nintendo's stranglehold of the industry, that vertical market is littered with the bodies of other early competitors (Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear, NEC TurboExpress, Neo-Geo Pocket/Color, Wonderswan Color), and recent competitors (Gamepark 32, Nokia N-Gage, Tapwave Zodiac, and arguably the Gamepark Holdings GP2X and Tiger Telematics Gizmondo). In addition, marketing a handheld just as a "gaming" handheld could limit the appeal to gadget junkies.

Also, Microsoft is in its second iteration of an uphill battle against Sony's PlayStation, which absolutely dominates the console market. That said, Microsoft wasn't supposed to even be a contender, and they're a solid #2 now, with Nintendo's a distant third (and likely to remain so in the next round. And now, with the launch of the Xbox 360, Microsoft has upped it's industry smack talk from "aggressively increasing market share", to "becoming #1" (though, to be honest, who trumpets 'We're #2!' as a battle cry?).

What Microsoft should not do if they enter the market is make an "everything device" that sucks at one or more of those things. Look at the Treo 600, with the 650 not much better, and the 700 looking to take a step backwards in at least screen technology, the only real benefit of the 650 over the 600. Microsoft could make an amazing handheld gaming machine, with sucky (or only proprietary-supported) video handling, and it could kill the system. Or, they could make an amazing audio/video device to compete with the video iPod, but but an Xbox 360 connectivity effort similar to their first-gen Xbox/Windows MCE connectivity, and kill the device there. Do one thing well versus a bunch of things half-assed. The iPod is so successful exactly because it does very limited things extremely well.

What Microsoft should do is pick discreet functions and do them incredibly well. Given the above, that may seem obvious. But what would set them apart is picking one or more small, discreet functions that neither Sony's PSP nor Nintendo's DS has -- so rule out VoIP, Web browsing, Wi-Fi, or touch screen (though except maybe for this last one, a Microsoft portable should have these features). They should think more along the lines of GPS, gyroscopic motors, and motion capture.

So, going back to the list of recent failures, what should Microsoft do (besides learn from their demise)?

They should buy, rebrand, and market the Gizmondo.

We'll get to the technical features and needed opportunities in a second, but from a business opportunity perspective, it makes sense:

  • Just after Gizmondo released in America, a newspaper printed a story linking Europe Executive Officer Stefan Eriksson with the "Uppsala Mafia" (named for their city of operation), and Eriksson resigned (along with at two other resignations in connection with this case)
  • One of the resignees, Carl Freer (Chairman of the board and a director), co-owned with Eriksson Northern Lights Software Limited, which was paid a chunk of change to create Chicane and Colors, two original and innovative IP Gizmondo games actually developed by Gizmondo Europe
  • On the January 23rd of 2006, the UK based arm, Gizmondo Europe (GE) entered administration (the Brits' version of bankruptcy)

So, the acquisition pickings may be good (and I hope the Austin guys are OK), but the technical match is really good, too.

I've been thinking about this match since reading a preview article about the Gizmondo in the UK's Edge Magazine last year, where they played up many of the Gizmondo's features, and made an allusion to it being a "handheld Xbox".

To summarize some of it's features:

  • Gaming
    • Windows CE OS
    • High-rez TFT screen
    • 400Mhz processor, and Nvidia 3D co-processor
    • Downloadable games
    • 8-way D-Pad, left and right triggers, 4 face buttons.
  • SD card support
  • Integrated camera
  • "Built-in Windows multimedia MP3 facility" (interesting ...)
  • Windows Media Player 9 (again, interesting ...)
  • SMS/MMS support
  • Bluetooth
  • Unique features
    • Built-in GPS technology (good for gaming, location-based services, and probably directions)
    • "Smart Adds" system lets advertisers deliver customized feature-rich content through MMS, and could arguably be extended with GPS ("don't you feel like going to the PF Chang's you're passing?")
    • GPRS worldwide gaming
    • Cool features realated to the camera. For example, in one demo, they took picture of stacked notebooks, and animated characters danced up and down the stairsteps. Talk about taking mod'ing into a new, handheld direction!
Best thing since sliced bread, right? So what does it need?

  • Design -- Design has got to be damn sexy; think a version of the Xbox 360 controller with a screen
  • Media -- At least Play4Sure compatible, but the more formats, the better (MPEG2/4, MP3, WMA, etc.)
  • Connectivity -- If my Xbox 360 can recognize an iPod and a PSP, it damn well better recognize the Microsoft handheld
  • Games -- Exclusive IP, and handheld-playable versions, and make the dilineating factors of the handheld matter to the games (GPS, GPRS, etc.)
  • Partnerships -- Extend the relationships that have made Xbox 360 Live and Xblox Live Marketplace so successful, and extend the new DIRECTV/Microsoft partnership for content
  • Controls -- Move the D-Pad down, add an analog stick above, and add an analog stick to the right side of the screen, below the face buttons
  • Screen -- widescreen, and touch screen
  • Sound -- Stereo sound
  • Camera -- Megapixel or better camera
  • Network -- Wi-Fi at least; I'm mixed on GPRS, because it seems kind of limiting with upcoming Wideband broadband ...
  • OS -- A real OS (probably a bastardized version of the Xbox 360 OS, which is a bastardized versionof the Xbox OS, which is bastardized version of the WinXp kernel, which someone adamantly told me is a bastardized version of the Apple OS)
OK, so that's my spiel. Between now and E3, let's see if Microsoft enters the market, how right I am on the features, or whether I'm right about the Gizmondo acquisition.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Child's Play, and a Metaphor for Game Design?

So, I was watching two young sisters play -- a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old -- and I was struck by the dynamics of their overlapping, conflicting make-believe.

2-year-old: "I Clifford! Big Red Dog!"

4-year-old: "No, you're Emily Elizabeth!"

2-year-old: "I Clifford!"

4-year-old: "No, Daddy's Clifford because he's big and I'm Cleo and Mommy's Jenna and you're Emily Elizabeth."

2-year-old: "I T-Bone!"

4-year-old: "You can't be T-Bone. You're a girl."

2-year-old: "I Mac."

4-year-old: "Mac's a boy. Emily Elizabeth's a girl. You're Emily Elizabeth."

2-year-old: "I Cleo. Cleo girl."

4-year-old: "I said I'm Cleo. You're Emily Elizabeth."

2-year-old: "I Clifford! Big Red Dog!"

I think there's a lesson in there somewhere, not just for life, but for the smaller part of it that is game design.

Generally, I don't like to be told what I'm going to be in a game (faceless space marine/WII soldier/uninteresting bouncy platformer thing/etc.). I like it to feel organic -- which means I can't tell that I notice I'm a character, but I'm totally into it and feel empowered by it.

I'm trying to figure out the formula, mainly by looking at games that have strong types of characters, do it well, but I didn't notice (Halo, Namco's seriously under-rated Breakdown, Half-Life, etc.).

I'm also thinking about games that didn't work for me (Brute Force, Perfect Dark Zero, Stubbs the Zombie (great game, but I wasn't Stubbs -- I was playing Stubbs), etc.)

I'm playing a lot of Tecmo's Dead or Alive 4, and I'll be writing separately in my "I'm Playing" blog about it, but I'm wondering if this is one of the strengths of a good fighting game -- to finish the game, you have to play as a ton of different characters, and you have to "get" all of them. And they're all different (in a good fighting game).

I need to think on this some more.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Austin "How to Break Into the Game Industry" conference rescheduled

The "How to Break Into the Game Industry" conference, which was supposed to be this Saturday (January 21) in Austin, has been rescheduled to February 25.

I don't know if the reschedule is due to lack of registration or lack of speakers, but the published speaker list is looking a little slim so far.

The Seattle conference is still on schedule for February 4.

More information below:

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

CES Gamer Goodies

  1. CES Gamer Goodies
  2. I'm playing ...

1. CES Gamer Goodies has an article of the coolest game-related stuff from last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas.

I agree with a few of their selections, like Best Xbox/360 software (Black/The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) and Best TV Technology (SED).

But some of their choices were odd. Like the M.I.T. Oracle V1.1 Speaker Cable ($25-grand a pair) and Best Xbox 360 Speaker being the Avega Oyster Wireless Speaker System (no price has been set, and who knows if these things will actually work well wirelessly). My personal non-favorite is the Monster Game GameLink 360 Component Video and Fiber Optic Audio Kit. I've got the Xbox version, and I'm pretty pissed it requires a proprietary connector for the optical audio. Having to pay $30 rather than $15 for TOS-Link is just ... ass. Anyway, that's their list.

Here's my list of cool CES game happenings:
  • Partnerships: DIRECTV and Microsoft team up to "enable the flow of digital content among Windows-based PCs, DIRECTV's set-top boxes, PlaysForSure-compatible devices and the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system"; and "DIRECTV customers will be able to use a Windows Media Center-based PC as a DIRECTV receiver to create an all-in-one digital entertainment environment, supporting both national and local standard-definition and high-definition services."
  • Changes to TV technology: I'm excited about changes to TV technology (besides the afore-mentioned SED) in the DLP space, where Samsung showed the first LED light sourced DLP rear projection HDTV, which gets rid of the existing DLP segmented color wheel technology that gets more expensive as you up segments (my DLP project has 3 segments, and upper end projectors have 7 segments), and removes the rainbowing effect up to 1-in-4 people see. I've also got to think this may give Samsung relief from paying Texas Instruments royalties for the existing DLP technology, and gives them a royalty revenue stream.
  • 1080p HDTVs: These seem to be on the rise, with Pioneer, JVC, Samsung, and Sony announcing upcoming sets. I don't know where the content is really going to come from, other than Sony, who will be producing content from its own library of films.
  • Wireless HDTV: Forget wireless surround sound -- think wireless HDTV! Pulse~LINK demonstrated wireless connectivity between an Xbox 360 and an HDTV Display. In fact, they had a bunch of stuff, including "gigabit" speeds (real-world of around 400 Mbps) over the air or over in-home coax. If this stuff pans out, ultra-broadband media is a cable jack away, anywhere in your house.
  • External next-gen optical drives: First, Bill Gates mentioned an external HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360. Then, Peter Moore (corporate VP of Interactive Entertainment Business in the Entertainment and Devices Division of Microsoft), basically said if HD-DVD loses the next-generation optical war, Microsoft could still develop a Blu-ray Disc drive for the Xbox 360. If Sony loses, their optical drive is embedded in their console. I don't think they'll lose, though; PS2 inclusion of a DVD drive arguably drove consumer DVD adoption.
2. I'm playing ...

Probably Halo Zero on PC, but check out my "I'm Playing" blog to be sure ....

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"Halo 3" NOT coming out at the same time as the PlayStation3

Face it, the Xbox 360 needs a killer title, and it doesn't have one -- yet.

Gears of War may be it, but no dates have been set.

Halo 3 would be the title that would sell 360s, and Time Magazine quote Bill Gates at the 2005 E3 saying that Halo 3 would release day and date to counter Sony's PlayStation 3 (due later this year). Execs at Microsoft (Robbie Bach) and developers at Bungie disagreed, and Bach even said, "Halo 3 is something that we'll ship when it's ready."

This last week at CES, Gates as much as said his statement may have been premature. "It's up to the team [at Bungie] when they want to ship [Halo 3], and they're going to take their time to make that a super great product... So even we don't know when that will come out."

The question is now whether the game will launch in November (like previous versions of the franchise), or with the Halo movie in summer 2007.

I just hope they're not stupid, and launch it at the same time as Gears of War, which would hurt both titles.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

How to fix a dead Xbox 360

(Aside from dropping it out of a window, of course.)

Three days after I submitted an Email request to Xbox 360 Support, I received a response.

Interestingly, they're not offering to replace it, and the support tech evidently just cut-and-pasted the support script for me.

My Xbox 360 is back up and kicking on its own, but I've pasted the note below for your enjoyment and/or edification, should you encounter the same thing.

I like that I'm given instructions for what basically equates to "intermitent hardware failures." If I were to tell any of my Customers I wasn't going to fix one of their servers experiencing "intermitent hardware failures", I'd probably lose the Customer, get sued, get strong-armed into fixing the problem, etc. (or all of the above).

Notice the problems in the Email ("you’rehaving"; "12mn Central Time") that give me all sorts of confidence in Microsoft's appropriate and knowledgeable handling of my concerns.
Hi Adam,

Thank you for writing Xbox Customer Support!

I do apologize for the inconvenience. I understand that you see three lights on the Ring of Light flash red on the front of the Xbox 360 console. The upper-right quadrant light is the only light that does not flash red.

This behavior occurs when the Xbox 360 console experiences a hardware failure.

Please try the following steps to resolve the concern that you’rehaving:
1. Restart your console.
2. If that does not resolve the issue, unplug all the cables from the console, and then firmly plug the cables in.
3. Have the customer power-off the console, remove the hard disk drive, and then turn on the console.
a. If the 3x Red LED error light is no longer displayed, have the customer turn-off the console, re-attach the hard disk drive, and then turn on the console.

If you continue to experience this behavior, contact Xbox Customer Support.

For further assistance, please don't hesitate to write back or call Xbox Phone Support at 1-800-4MYXBOX (1-800-469-9269) at your earliest convenience. We are open everyday from 9am to 12mn Central Time.

To expedite service, please provide Service Request Number 1007060835
when you call.

For more information about Xbox360, please visit or

Xbox Customer Care Team

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

It's alive!

So, My Xbox 360 started back up today (that is, it started when I pushed the power button; it didn't go HAL on me).

And no word in response to my Email to Microsoft Xbox 360 about my 'box being dead. This seems odd.

Since the console has died more than once, and this time was a longer outage, I'm going to push for a replacement box -- I don't need to be worrying about this thing dying.

Oh, and the refurbished replacement Microsoft sent for my last-gen Xbox that caught on fire? It's dying, too, and getting so loud that it sounds like it's going to send a disc through the chassis.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

My Xbox 360 is dead ...

This time, I think the thing is really dead.

Unlike last time, it's not coming back, no matter how many times I restart it.

I just fired off a note to XBox 360 Customer support, and I fully expect a "We need you to call us" response.

Remember this fiaso (here) with my last Xbox? I'm going be seriously pissed to go through this with this brand-new console.

And since they're replacing these things out of Texas, my replacement better come damn fast. And it better be a new unit -- not a refurb.

It's Friday, so I'm guessing this going to impact my standing Monday night 360 'boxing. Thanks for cramping my social life, Microsoft.

Let the new saga begin ...

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Gates announces Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive

During tonight's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) keynote, Microsoft's Bill Gates announced an external HD-DVD drive will be coming for the Xbox 360 in 2006.

The high-definition DVD wars are proceeding in earnest at CES, where Sony already announced the first 20 Sony-backed Blu-Ray format movies, and Toshiba announcing the first 2 consumer Toshiba-backed HD-DVD players.

I think it's good that Microsoft's giving Xbox 360 owners a way to play HD-DVD movies, but what I don't want from my 360 is another PC, with a ton of USB peripherals hanging off of it. And I'm concerned about the additional cost for developers and publishers. If they have a ton of HD content, are they going to have to press multiple Xbox 360 versions -- multiple standard Xbox 360 DVDs, and an HD-DVD version?

What I would like to see Microsoft do is extend their wireless controller protocol to peripherals like HD-DVD players and such; that would be useful ...

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CES preview; Games and Movies; Game Updates ...

  1. I've been sick, move on ...
  2. CES preview
  3. The integration of games and movies
  4. Silver, gold, and now diamond ...
  5. Game updates
  6. Boo-yah!

1. I've been sick, move on ...

So, I've been sick, and haven't had a chance to play or write much. If you're bored, read about it here, otherwise, move on ...

2. CES preview

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) starts Thursday in Vegas, and there may be some cool game-related announcements upcoming.

Bill Gates will be doing the CES keynote, and though he'll likely focus on Windows Vista, rumor is he may be announcing future hardware plans for the Xbox 360 -- including an HD-DVD drive.

Though it may be Google-related announcements that really steal the show.

3. The integration of games and movies

The CMP Game Group (host of the Game Developers Conference (GDC), and entertainment trade pub The Hollywood Reporter are teaming up to co-produce the "Hollywood and Games Summit", to be held June 27, 2006, in Beverly Hills, CA.

More info at (though right now it just has placeholder info).

4. Silver, gold, and now diamond ...

Xbox Live Silver memberships are available to all Xbox 360 owners out of the box. Upgrading to a paid subscription gets you Gold membership, online play, and Gold-only downloads and promotions.

Now, you can bring your Xbox Live benefits into the real world with the Xbox Live Diamond card.

Besides a touchable Xbox Live card with your Gamertag, you'll get Diamond card benefits at Ticketmaster, Cambridge Soundworks, Timberland, McDonald's, "and hundreds more".

More details and sign up at

5. Game updates

AQ Interactive has entered the publishing realm with a bang, announcing 3 new titles.

The first title, Bullet Witch, is an action/adventure set in 2013, "tells the story of a fight for survival between humans and demons," and is to be released next spring in Japan. Second is Vampire’s Rain, an action game also for PlayStation3, developed by ARTOON (the folks behind Blinx and Blinx 2), taking place in modern Los Angeles, and the player is an operative that needs to root out and eliminate vampires. Finally (and most exciting) is Mistwalker’s next RPG, Cry On, which has "tears" as the theme, the player is a little girl (Sally) in a world where giant sand creatures rule, and one serves as her companion.

Mad Catz Interactive has become a publisher in conjunction with Microsoft. This makes sense to me, as it's likely why Mad Catz aquired GameShark.

6. Boo-yah!

In October, I said Xbox 360 Live was going to integrate with MSN Messenger. In December, Microsoft made it official, saying Xbox 360 users will be able "to send instant messages using the MSN Messenger infrastructure".

They have not said whether the communication will be bi-directional, and I'm surprised they said the integration is at least 6 months out.

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

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