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What we heard: This week's new release schedule is all about Electronic Arts' Madden NFL 08, but message boards around the Internet suggest that retailer Toys R Us has committed a false start when it comes to BioShock, which was set for release next week.
The posters provided a number of different forms of evidence for their purchases, from pictures of the BioShock box with their user name written on a slip of paper to simply referencing their Xbox Live Gamertag, which includes a list of unlocked BioShock achievements and the latest games played.
A quick search on auction site eBay confirms that early copies of the game are available, as multiple sellers are advertising copies of the game in-hand and ready to ship overnight. People are buying the game at a premium, as well, with auctions ending for as much as $120.
So it can be established that copies are out there and being sold. The question then becomes a matter of how widespread the early release is. Is it a retail chain deciding to ignore the publisher's plans for a leg up on the competition, or is it just a handful of stores accidentally making a mess of things?
Like many of the forum-goers, GameSpot called around to a variety of local stores in order to see what the deal was. And like most of them, our attempts to locate a store selling BioShock early were unsuccessful. The game is already out there in the wild, but it appears it will take a dedicated hunter to track down a copy.
The official story: A Take-Two representative hadn't returned GameSpot's request for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus that this is an official (or even widespread) early release. Not bogus that underpaid clerks can be less than careful, making mistakes and putting out games ahead of their street dates.
Source: Britain-based, EU-focused game site Eurogamer.
The official story: Activision had not responded to requests for clarification as of press time.
What we heard: Though the rest of 2007 is jam-packed with releases, a few games stand out from the madding crowd. One of those is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the next installment in the previously World War II-focused series. Most recently touted at the E3 Media & Business Summit, the game's viscerally intense depiction of two fictional 21st-century wars has generated more than a little interest.
With the question of "if" answered for many prospective Call of Duty 4 purchasers, the issue now is "when." According to Eurogamer, a clue arrived this week at a London "press event," where an unnamed "senior brand manager" apparently "let the news slip" that the game is coming out in the UK on November 9. The site claims that UK activision reps would only "confirm" the release date as "winter," and Eurogamer "didn't" go into any "further detail." But if it were true, the date would all but confirm that Call of Duty 4 would arrive stateside on November 6 or November 13--the two Tuesdays that buttress the aforementioned Friday. (Games are most often released on Tuesdays in North America.)
Eurogamer's sources aren't exactly concrete, and US Activision lips were sealed. So why does an early November release for Call of Duty 4 seem completely plausible? First, the game looked nearly done at Microsoft's press conference at E3. Secondly, every Call of Duty game has been released in late October or early November. Third, the game is already in beta in North America. Fourth, online retailers such as GameStop are listing the game as coming out the first week in November.
Lastly--and most importantly--Call of Duty 4 will probably come out in early November simply because it can. Even though the World War II shooter genre has been saturated for years, previous Call of Duty titles were a staple for shooter fans, selling millions of copies. That same installed base has eaten up the game's modern setting and vastly improved graphics like starving soldiers scarfing down MREs. Call of Duty 4 could have held its own with Grand Theft Auto IV shipping just three weeks prior. The PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 game's sales will only be greater now that Take-Two's crime game has been delayed until 2008.
Bogus or not bogus?: Almost certainly not bogus.
Source: Last week, GameStop called up customers who had preordered Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol for the DS and told them the game was canceled, according to a poster on the NeoGAF message boards.
What we heard: When Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol for the DS was announced at E3 2006, it looked as if Nintendo was ready to make its cute robotic plug-toting automaton into a new franchise. However, the DS game was never positioned as a high-profile release. As the weeks and months dragged on, it seemed DS gamers and even Nintendo forgot about Park Patrol.
The company included the game on its third-quarter release list, and released a handful of screenshots during this year's E3 Media and Business Summit, but it was far from emphasized.
It certainly doesn't bode well for a game when the retailer selling it goes around telling customers the thing's been canceled. Nintendo's initial silence when asked about it didn't brighten the picture, either. However, today the publisher dropped GameSpot a note that reassures those looking forward to the game, and explains why GameStop's preorders were canned.
The official story: "Chibi Robo: Park Patrol will launch October 2. The game, which features an adorable miniature robot who wants to clean up the environment, will be available exclusively at Wal-Mart stores nationwide."--a Nintendo representative.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus.
Source: A scan of a Circuit City ad flier sent to Joystiq.
The official story: "We have no announcements to make on pricing at this time. While price matters, content is king. And no other system is offering all the games people want to play this holiday at a better price than Xbox 360. With games like Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, Madden NFL 08, Guitar Hero III and Rock Band to name a few, we have the greatest holiday line up in video game history."--A Microsoft representative, pulling out the same old chestnut as the last time Xbox 360 price cut rumors came up. And the time before that.
What we heard: Last week, the Hollywood Reporter cited retail sources in reporting that Microsoft would be dropping the price of the Xbox 360 by $50 on August 8. Yesterday, two scans of upcoming Sunday newspaper ads from Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us bolstered that rumor with $50 price cuts listed for the Xbox 360 Premium, but there was still no word on how much, if at all, prices would fall for the Elite and Core systems.
Today a scan of an upcoming Circuit City circular popped up online, and it advertises the price drop for the Premium system, as well as breaks on the cost of the Core and Elite. According to the ad, the Core cost will fall $20 to $279.99, while the price of the Elite will drop $30 to $449.99. The ad also says those who purchase the Premium system will receive a free copy of Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis, although that appears to be a Circuit City-specific promotion.
It seems pretty obvious that Microsoft told its retail partners about a price cut that would be safe to advertise in mid-August. Plans can change, but much like the way Sony's price cut was similarly spoiled by retailer ads, this is essentially a lock. All that's left to be seen is whether or not Microsoft will fess up to the price cut and put it into effect now, or let excitement for the drop wither as it continues playing coy.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.
The official story: "We have previously announced that Rock Band will feature Nirvana's single 'In Bloom' on the game disc. To date, the only official announcement we have made regarding Rock Band full album downloads is The Who, "Who's Next." Look out for more Rock Band news soon."--A Harmonix representative.
What we heard: It seems we can't go two straight days without some news on the marquee head-to-head matchup of the gaming year, Activision and RedOctane's Guitar Hero III versus MTV Games and Harmonix's Rock Band. That means no weekend breaks, so of course, Joystiq reported this weekend that the latest issue of GamePro features a wealth of information on Rock Band, including a November 6 release date and confirmation of the game's second downloadable album, Nirvana's Nevermind.
While most articles repeating the news through the blogosphere cited GamePro via Joystiq, CVG went with a more nebulous "according to reports" when they ran with the information, leaving readers to speculate as to whether or not all these reports stem from the same place or multiple sources. The only problem here is that Harmonix won't actually confirm either piece of news.
The Joystiq story was first updated with word from Harmonix denying the release date. According to the Rock Band developers, the official release date is still a vague "holiday 2007." And today, as stated above, a Harmonix representative refused to confirm the Nirvana news.
Nirvana's "Nevermind" is a natural choice for Rock Band. While Harmonix could certainly mine older hits in the rock genre for years of full album downloads, variety is indeed the spice of life, and more modern offerings will have to be mixed in with the venerable greats. Now about 16 years old, Nevermind isn't quite what "the kids" are "into" these days, but it is a hit-packed album that should be familiar to most members of the coveted 18 to 34-year-old demographic.
So the album would clearly be a good fit for Rock Band, leaving Harmonix's ability to secure the rights to it as the question mark. Harmonix has already nabbed one of the album's singles, "In Bloom," for the standard Rock Band setlist, so there's already a precedent set and a willingness on the part of the band to license its songs for the game. Given that Harmonix managed to bring the cagey Metallica into its stable of acts, there shouldn't be many--if any--groups considered "off limits" to the new franchise.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus. Now let's see them get Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and the Beatles.
The official story: "We have no announcements to make on pricing at this time. While price matters, content is king. And no other system is offering all the games people want to play this holiday at a better price than Xbox 360. With games like Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, Madden NFL 08, Guitar Hero III, and Rock Band to name a few, we have the greatest holiday lineup in video game history."--A Microsoft spokesman getting extra mileage from the response to the last 360 price-cut rumor.
What we heard: Earlier this month, a leaked newspaper ad for Circuit City broke the news that Sony planned to drop the price of the PlayStation 3 by $100. Several days later at the E3 Media and Business Summit, Sony went ahead and announced the 60GB PS3's new $499 price point--and its sudden discontinuation.
History could be repeating itself in near-record time, as leaks from the retail sector have been making the rounds, stating that an Xbox 360 price drop is imminent. Over the weekend, a Modojo forum-goer posted a scan of what is apparently a Wal-Mart ad promoting a $349 Premium Xbox 360. The small scan doesn't clearly give details about any possible price drop for the Core or Elite models of Microsoft's system.
The Modojo scan was later backed up by a scan of a Toys "R" Us ad from the Cheap Ass Gamer forums. That ad shows the Premium Xbox 360 selling for $349.99, but likewise gives no such indication about a drop for the Core or Elite systems.
Given the lead time on newspaper ads like these, it's likely both fliers are set to be distributed on Sunday, August 13. That would be the first ad-packed Sunday paper after August 8, the supposed price cut date reported on last week by the Hollywood Reporter.
It's clear that a number of retailers are expecting an Xbox 360 price cut next week, so much so that they're willing to buy print advertising for it. If that's the case, Microsoft almost certainly told them to expect a price cut, and when it would be fine to start promoting it. When Microsoft actually decides to announce it remains to be seen, although sources close to the software giant are grousing through back channels that the discounting's cover has already been blown.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.
Source: A report on film trade site The Hollywood Reporter.
The official story: "We have no announcements to make on pricing at this time. While price matters, content is king. And no other system is offering all the games people want to play this holiday at a better price than the Xbox 360. With games like Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, Madden NFL 08, Guitar Hero III, and Rock Band to name a few, we have the greatest holiday lineup in video game history." -- A very "on message" Microsoft spokesperson.
What we heard: Even before the console's November 2005 launch, rumors have abounded that a price cut for Microsoft's Xbox 360 was just over the next horizon.
The most recent rash of rumors stemmed from Sony's announcement at this year's E3 Media and Business Summit that it would slash the price of its 60GB PlayStation 3 by $100, dropping the price to $499 and putting it in the ballpark of Microsoft's top-end Elite console, which retails for $479. For as long as supplies last, the new PS3 price point would give Sony's console a significant boost against the Xbox 360. As a result, analysts were quick to project an impeding Xbox 360 price cut for Microsoft's console to stay competitive.
Despite Microsoft's repeated assertions that an Xbox 360 price cut is not currently in the cards, a new report today not only pegs the exact amount Microsoft will be knocking off its consoles price, but also when gamers can expect the cut to take effect. Citing retail sources, The Hollywood Reporter claims Microsoft's console will receive a $50 price cut as of August 8. The Hollywood Reporter's source did not reveal whether the new price would extend to all three versions of the Xbox 360.
As noted in the report, the move makes sense for Microsoft, considering the new price point would go into effect a mere week before Madden NFL 08, the next installment of 2006's overall best-selling game, hits retail shelves. Additionally, Irrational Games' highly anticipated--and Xbox 360 console exclusive--shooter BioShock is slated to ship the week after that, on August 21.
More importantly than being just a sales powerhouse, Madden 08's August release also signifies the beginning of the "perfect storm" that Peter Moore harped upon during Microsoft's E3 press event. Last occurring in 2004, this holiday season will see the release of new installments in three of the best-selling franchises of all time: Madden, Grand Theft Auto, and Halo. According to Moore, Madden 08, GTA4 and Halo 3 will drive one-third of all sales this holiday season. Microsoft is clearly basing much of its holiday strategy on these titles, and it seems more than plausible that the publisher would use the price drop as a trump card to draw would-be purchasers of the multiplatform front of the storm--Madden and GTA--to its console.
Furthermore, Dean Takahashi, esteemed techhead at the San Jose Mercury News and author of under-the-hood exposés on both of Microsoft's consoles, semiobliquely reported during E3 that the cheaper, more efficient 65nm CPU chip revealed last year was nearing completion and should begin appearing in Xbox 360s sometime this year. As precedence dictates, redesigned hardware eventually leads to console makers passing on savings to consumers.
It should also be noted that retail sources can be very well informed when it comes to these types of dealings. This sentiment rings no truer than the PS3's own price cut, which was initially blown by a leaked Circuit City ad the week before Sony made its official announcement.
Bogus or not bogus?: Likely not bogus. The timing seems right, and it seems unlikely that the Hollywood Reporter would tarnish its reputation by spreading this kind of false information.
Source: A report on British trade site MCV.
The official story: "We're looking at the show and will make announcements at an appropriate time."--An Entertainment Software Association representative.
What we heard: When the ESA announced last year that it was revamping its flagship Electronic Entertainment Expo, a parade of rumors and speculation floated through the industry as to why the changes were made, what the new show would look like, and even whether or not there would be an E3 of any sort in 2008.
With last week's E3 Business and Media Summit in the books, it seems time for that cycle to start again in regards to next year's show. Trade site MCV kicked it off today with a report that the show will once again undergo significant changes. Specifically, the story said the ESA would move the show out of the Los Angeles area entirely (last week's show was held in nearby Santa Monica), hold the show on new dates, revise its strategy once again, and re-examine the way it invites people to attend.
While the site didn't give any kind of source for its news, it did say it "could exclusively reveal" that the show will move, and that it was only ever held in Santa Monica to fulfill a contractual obligation requiring an event in the LA area. The article says New York and Las Vegas have been suggested as possible new homes for the show. It doesn't explain who suggested the former city, and the only other reference in the story to the latter locale is Microsoft exec Jeff Bell saying he isn't necessarily "flying the flag" for Vegas, but merely pointing out LA isn't a convention town.
The news that the ESA is considering moving the show isn't especially surprising. Earlier this week, the group sent out surveys to E3 attendees asking what they thought of the event. One question asked respondents where they would like next year's show to be held. The options included Los Angeles and Santa Monica, as well as Laguna Beach, San Francisco, and San Diego.
Furthermore, the survey asked if respondents preferred to have the event in a multiple hotel setting like last week's show, or a single, larger facility, like the Los Angeles Convention Center shows of years past. Other questions inquired about the usefulness of the Barker Hangar and the third-party publisher press conferences, as well as which month (from May to August) would be preferred for the trade show.
However, while the ESA is certainly considering its options, a final decision has likely not been made. For one thing, respondents are asked to complete the survey before Monday, July 23. Assuming the ESA went to the trouble of conducting a survey because the responses it gets will impact its future decisions in some way, the group probably hasn't committed to changing the location of E3 once more. Combine that with the vague sourcing on the original article, and it's not looking like a lock just yet.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that the ESA is thinking about it. Bogus that it's a done deal.
Sources: See below.
What we heard: Traditionally, Microsoft has spent lavishly on two annual game events: The Electronic Entertainment Expo in the US, and its own "X0" event in Europe. At the latter event, the company spared no expense to promote the original Xbox at X01 in Cannes, X02 in Seville, and X03 in the south of France. X05 in Amsterdam saw the company unveil the Xbox 360's launch lineup, and X06 in Barcelona was where Halo Wars and the mystery Peter Jackson Halo project were first unveiled.
However, with its Entertainment and Devices Division--which makes the 360--swimming in red ink, Microsoft appears to be tightening its purse strings. Though its E3 2007 stage show and hotel presence were plush, the company's display on the show floor was exponentially smaller than its behemoth booth at E3 2006.
Yesterday, word began to circulate that Microsoft was cutting costs again--by doing away with this year's X07 event entirely. Speaking on the E3 podcast of Microsoft fan site Squad XP, Xbox Live marketing manager Aaron Greenberg flatly said that "There's not a real X07 this year." And while Microsoft's official spokespersons refrained from comment, last night Xbox Live director of programming Larry "Major Nelson" Hyrb posted a small note (pictured) on his heavily trafficked blog morosely confirming X07's demise.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that, for the first time since 2004, there won't be an X0 event in Europe. That date is almost certainly no coincidence, since Halo 2 gave plenty of publicity to the original Xbox three years ago, and Halo 3 will likely do the same this year. It's also worth noting that Halo 3's September 25 release date exactly coincides with the dates of X06. Why should Microsoft shell out for a press event when the launch will be hogging headlines for free?
Source: See below.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: The console wars heated up this week when SCEA knocked $100 off the price of the 60GB PS3, cutting into Microsoft's Xbox 360 price advantage. Unfortunately, gamers across the Atlantic won't get a similar price cut on the system. Last night, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe instead announced a new PS3 bundle that would come with two games--Resistance: Fall of Man and MotorStorm--and an extra controller.
When asked why European consumers aren't getting the same treatment, SCEE president David Reeves said that the North American drop wasn't really a drop at all.
"Let's understand what the Americans have done," he told GameSpot UK. "They're going to introduce an 80GB model at $599 with MotorStorm on August 1, and they've got stock in trade of the old model. They're just selling it off, they're not dropping the price. The price from August 1 is going to be $599 because all the 60GB models will have gone. They've got to find a way to get rid of the old stock, and that's what they're doing."
Reeves gave nearly identical statements to several European outlets, setting off a firestorm before the sun rose on the E3 Media & Business Summit in Los Angeles. To help clarify the matter, GameSpot contacted Dave Karraker, senior director of corporate communications at Sony Computer Entertainment America. However, his answer further clouded the waters by apparently contradicting Reeves' statement.
"Those quotes from David Reeves are not accurate," he told GameSpot. "As announced this week, SCEA's product offering in North America consists of an 80GB PS3 available in August at $599 and a 60GB PS3 available now for $499. We will have ample supplies of both models to meet the needs of our consumers for the foreseeable future."
[UPDATE] Following a flurry of confusion, the matter was apparently settled by none other than Sony Computer Entertainment's president and CEO. Speaking to Norwegian game-news outlet VGTV, Kaz Hirai said in no uncertain terms that the 60GB version is being phased out.
"From a hardware perspective, the $499 price adjustment we did for the 60GB version for the American market, we're no longer in production for that product," he said in an on-camera interview. "Once that product is gone from the retailer shelves, then we're back to a $599 SKU only, so it's not like we have a two-price strategy in the US market. We found out very early on how consumers react to having just one SKU as opposed to two."
[UPDATE 2] SCEA has since confirmed the production cessation to GameSpot, but Karraker emphasized it would not be sudden. "The 60GB PS3 will be available in North America for $499 until supplies of that unit are depleted," he said. "We are offering a full-featured PS3 for $100 lower than the original price and will do so for months to come, allowing consumers the opportunity to acquire this model at this adjusted price."
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus, unless Hirai's bosses at Sony corporate change their mind.
The official story: "Circuit City hasn't announced any sales price on the PS3, so we have no comment."--A Sony representative.
What we heard: Thrifty DVD and game collectors might not know the name "speedy1961," but there's a good chance they've benefited from his work. This poster has been giving forum-goers at DVD Talk and Cheap Ass Gamer a reliable heads up on the Sunday newspaper ads from such retailers as Best Buy, Circuit City, and Target for more than a year now.
In his latest post on each forum, speedy1961 runs down the gaming and movie deals from the Circuit City circular for the week starting July 15. While he covers prices for everything from the latest Kelly Clarkson album to a DVD of the Will Smith film Hitch ($9.99 and $4.99, respectively), speedy1961 also mentions that Circuit City is advertising a $100 price break on the 60GB PlayStation 3, bringing the price of the system down to $499.
A $499 20GB version of the PS3 with a smaller hard drive and no wireless Internet capability was released alongside the current $599 60GB model when the system launched last year, but Sony discontinued it earlier this year. According to the electronics giant, demand for that version of the system just didn't justify keeping the configuration around.
While the PS3 is less than a year old, analysts and third-party publishers alike (not to mention consumers) have been asking for a price cut on the system for some time. While Sony's projected 10-year lifespan for the PS3 will likely prevent the company from cutting the price of the system too deeply too quickly, a $100 cut right now would put the system more closely in line with the Xbox 360. While Microsoft's box is still available in a barebones $299 and a 20GB HDD-equipped $399 model, its recently released 120GB Elite edition retails for $479.
The timing of this news also looks right. The Electronic Entertainment Expo is set to take place next week, and a price cut is exactly the sort of big news console makers have announced at the show in the past. The July 15 Circuit City ad in the papers would be the first Sunday after E3, making it the first chance the retailer would have to advertise a price cut.
Bogus or not bogus? Given speedy1961's previous track record, it's almost certainly not bogus that Circuit City will soon advertise a cheaper PS3. However, with no other retailer listings to confirm the drop and Sony playing coy, there remains a chance this might be a Circuit City sale and not an overall price cut.
Source: See below.
What we heard: Without question, the big gaming news of last week was the hubub around Manhunt 2. After being banned outright in England and Ireland, Rockstar Games' controversy-courting title was given the dreaded AO for Adults Only rating by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). The decision was essentially the kiss of death for the Wii, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable title since neither Nintendo nor Sony will allow games with an AO label to be released on their systems. (When Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was re-rated AO in 2005, it was already on the market.)
In the wake of the AO rating, Rockstar parent Take-Two Interactive delayed the July 10 release of Manhunt 2 pending an appeal. Today, though, an e-mail from another Take-Two subsidiary sparked speculation that the ESRB is expanding its clampdown. This morning, 2K Games sent out a notice to games press outlets demanding that the latest trailer for the forthcoming game The Darkness "MUST be behind an ESRB compliant age gate." (Emphasis and capitals in the original.) Age gates are the pop-up screens, which requirevisitors to enter their age before viewing a trailer, theoretically preventing anyone under 17 from seeing mature content.
The 2K Games notice was quickly followed by the straight-up retraction of two new trailers for Dark Sector, the forthcoming sci-fi shooter from D3 Publisher and Digital Extremes. "We recently received a ruling from the ESRB stating that the two officially released Dark Sector gameplay montages have been deemed to contain excessive or offensive content; and to this end are not to be available for download or viewing, regardless of being placed behind an age gate," said the statement.
Since the two trailers were first posted in March, their withdrawal raised the specter that the ESRB might retroactively ban any number of game trailers. Several online media outlets took the Darkness warning and the Dark Sector withdrawal announcement--which came within hours of each other--as an indicator that the ESRB was launching a new crackdown beyond games themselves.
The official story: As it turns out, the timing of the ESRB's double-dose of caution was purely coincidental. Also, the self-regulatory body has always had a division that oversees game trailers and other publicity material called the Advertising Review Council (ARC). "The notices issued recently by game publishers to third-party Web sites are simply steps in a chain of publisher compliance with ARC guidelines and the ESRB enforcement system that have been occurring since their establishment seven years ago," ESRB president Patricia Vance said in a statement.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus that it's new. Not bogus that the ESRB is keeping a careful eye on how games are promoted.
Source: An anonymous invite for a Sony event at next month's E3 Media & Business Summit.
What we heard: After months of uncertainty, plans for the forthcoming E3 are finally gelling. Hard evidence of that fact has been emerging in the form of invitations to after-hours events being held in conjunction with the expo.
One such invite all but officially confirmed that one of the most talked-about games from a prior E3 will be resurfacing this year. This morning, selected editors at select games press outlets received a semimysterious invitation for a function on the night of July 10.
Sent through an external media company, the black invite (pictured above) was a simple card with the event locale and serial number on the back over the PlayStation logo. On the front, the invite has a picture of a Hellghast, one of the Nazi-like villains in the PlayStation 2 sci-fi shooter Killzone--and its still-unnamed sequel on the PlayStation 3. (The Hellghast also appeared in Killzone: Liberation for the PlayStation Portable.)
Many are taking the invite as proof that the new Killzone will be at this year's E3. Any further doubts were largely dispelled by the fact the Federal Express envelope the invitation came in bore the words "Killzone 2 Invitation" on the front.
If true, it will be the first public showing of the new Killzone other than its controversial E3 2005 trailer and a brief tech-demo trailer at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, where Sony promised more details about the game at E3. According to European press reports, the Guerilla Games-developed shooter is the most expensive entertainment project in Dutch history, with a budget of over $20 million.
The official story: Despite mounting proof that the new Killzone will be shown at E3, Sony Computer Entertainment America remains tight-lipped. "We have not relayed any news about Killzone 2 for E3 at this point," a rep told GameSpot. "The invitation you saw is for a very exclusive media event."
Bogus or not bogus?: Almost assuredly not bogus, but the world won't know for sure until July 10.
Sources: See below.
What we heard: This week, reports began to surface that the Halo movie saga had taken another turn. Over nine months after the Master Chief's first big-screen foray was indefinitely postponed, many underground film outlets began reporting that the project was back on. Among those heralding the would-be blockbuster's return to the production pipeline was Latinoreview.com, which first leaked the first draft of the film's script. (Warning: Script leak contains profanity.)
The reports which did bother listing a source linked back to Variety and/or Hollywood Reporter stories. Those two pieces outlined how movie studio 20th Century Fox had entered into a "strategic partnership" to be the "primary licensor" for the Halo franchise. Since Fox was co-financing the Halo film with Universal and Microsoft, many sites made the logical deduction that the deal meant that production on the project had restarted.
Just one problem--neither article says explicitly that work on the Halo film has resumed. In fact, both merely outline how Fox will expand "the [Halo] brand's licensing and merchandise program" to include more products than the tchochkes currently offered at the Bungie Studios store and the forthcoming McFarlane Toys figurines.
"The addition of the Halo brand is a tremendous addition to our licensing portfolio," Elie Dekel, executive vice president at 20th Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising, told the Reporter. Steve Schreck, Microsoft Game Studios' director of franchise development said the agreement would lay "a solid foundation for the expansion of the property into new products, retail markets and territories."
The official story: With both Hollywood trades not giving any updates on the Halo movie's status, it came as no surprise that Microsoft was itself tight-lipped. "We have no new information to share with respect to a Halo movie," was all a rep would say.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus that pre-production on the Halo movie has officially resumed. Likely that it will, in some form, if Halo 3 meets expectations.
Source: Newsweek's video game blog Level Up.
What we heard: In March, by way of a surreptitiously captured cell-phone image, it was first revealed that the next iteration in the one-time PlayStation exclusive Katamari series would be making its way to at least the Xbox 360. Though reps from Namco were tight-lipped on the game's emergence, a retail listing found a week later lent credibility to the rumor, and even rolled a Wii and PlayStation 3 version into its burgeoning roster.
However, the Prince of All Cosmos was apparently not so careful with his ball. In April, Namco Bandai noticeably omitted the speculated Wii version when the company confirmed a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 version. At that time, the company also confirmed the game's rumored name, Beautiful Katamari.
Today comes word that the Prince may be rolling exclusively onto the 360. Newsweek's N'Gai Croal is claiming that an exclusivity deal between Namco Bandai and Microsoft is "very close to fruition," with an announcement likely to be made during the E3 Media and Business Summit next month.
To back up his claims, Croal notes Namco Bandai has recently embarked on an Xbox 360-exclusivity trend, with Ridge Racer 6, Eternal Sonata, and Ace Combat 6 all coming solely to Microsoft's console. Augmenting this list, Namco also previously announced Mobile Ops: The One Year War, Culdcept Saga, and the Japan-only Zegapain XOR would be Xbox 360 exclusives. In fact, many games published or on the way from Namco Bandai have exclusivity with one platform or another, not the least of which being Ridge Racer 7 and Tekken 6 for the PS3. Then again, Namco Bandai just this week announced Soul Calibur IV will be coming to both the Xbox 360 and PS3, so the company isn't exactly abandoning multiplatform releases. What is clear is that Microsoft's efforts to reach out to Japanese developers, diversify its lineup, and appeal to a broader audience is showing progress.
The official story: As of press time, Namco Bandai representatives had not returned GameSpot's request for comment.
Bogus or not bogus?: Croal is a bit of a celebrity in game-journalism circles, so it's doubtful he'd stake his reputation on something reckless--unless it involved Microsoft's J Allard wearing a wig. Without official word, though, nothing is certain...yet.
Source: The online edition of Game Informer.
What we heard: Last month, George Harrison (pictured), Nintendo of America's senior vice president of marketing and communications, took the stage at the MI6 game-marketing conference in San Francisco. For just under an hour, he outlined the successful strategy behind the nationwide ad campaign for the Wii. Given the console's surging sales, his presentation seemed like a victory lap of sorts, a pat on the back for a job well done.
Now, if a report today is to be believed, Harrison's job is itself done. The Minnesota-based magazine's online arm is reporting that he and several other major figures in NOA's PR machine have left Nintendo. Among those apparently boxing up their desks are senior director of public relations Beth Llewelyn and vice president of marketing Perrin Kaplan.
The mass exodus is reportedly a result of Nintendo's recent decision to relocate the entire sales and marketing department at its Redmond, Washington, headquarters to San Francisco and New York City. According to GI, nearly 90 percent of NOA PR staffers have opted to take a severance package rather than make the move.
The official story: Reps at Nintendo's external PR agency claimed to have no knowledge of the staffing changes. Inquiries sent to internal Nintendo PR--including several high-ranking staffers--were unanswered as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: With no official word, the exodus remains difficult to confirm...for now. However, departures of such magnitude are impossible to hide for long.
Source: The online database of the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
The official story: As of press time, Eidos Representatives had not returned GameSpot's request for comment.
What we heard: Last year, Tomb Raider: Legend breathed fresh life into the moribund franchise, thanks in large part to the high-profile Xbox 360 edition of the game, which was second in US sales only to the PlayStation 2 edition, according to the industry-tracking NPD Group. So when Tomb Raider: Anniversary was announced for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, PC, and (eventually) the Wii, one couldn't help but wonder why Ms. Croft was not interested in a return engagement with Microsoft's console.
That actually turns out not to be the case, judging by the latest update to the ESRB database, which has the rating board giving Tomb Raider Anniversary a rating... five different times. According to the site, Tomb Raider: Anniversary: Croft Manor, Tomb Raider: Anniversary: Egypt, Tomb Raider: Anniversary: Greece, Tomb Raider: Anniversary: Lost City, and Tomb Raider: Anniversary: Peru have all been rated T for Teen due to violence and mild suggestive themes.
Those locations happen to coincide with the levels of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, suggesting that what is essentially the same game will be split up and released on the Xbox 360 over Xbox Live Marketplace in five different chunks. While there's no telling when these games will be released, it would seem likely that Eidos would stagger their launches, in effect creating an episodic action game. Similarly up in the air is how much they might cost.
It's worth noting that not everything that gets rated sees the light of day. For example, Q Entertainment obtained a rating for "Lumines Live! Artist Pack: Madonna 'Sorry'" on the Xbox 360, but the offering has yet to surface on the Marketplace.
Even so, getting a game rated takes time and money. It's unlikely that Eidos would have Tomb Raider: Anniversary rated for the Xbox 360--five different times, no less--if the publisher didn't have very specific plans for it.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.
Source: See below.
The official story: "We do not comment on rumor or speculation."--Rockstar Games rep.
What we heard: Back in March, Take-Two Interactive's board was ousted by a shareholder revolt. Since then, it has been unclear what the company's new directors have in mind for the mighty--but mighty troubled--publisher. The first hard evidence about what tack Take-Two will take won't surface for 10 days. That's when the New York-based publisher will announce earnings for its second fiscal quarter, which ended on April 30.
In the interim, analysts are prognosticating about the possible outcomes of said call. One of the highest-profile game industry analysts is making some particularly gloomy predictions. In a note sent out this morning, Wedbush Morgan Securities' Michael Pachter said he thought "the company is likely to announce studio closures, lease terminations, and game cancellations during the conference call." He and his associates also "do not expect new games such as The BIGS, All-Pro Football, Fantastic Four, or The Darkness to be wildly profitable."
Pachter also set off a forum firestorm by wagering a guess about one of the year's biggest games. "We believe that it is possible that the company will choose to 'throw in the towel' on [its 2007 financial year] by shifting the release date for Grand Theft Auto IV by a few weeks, increasing the losses incurred this year and improving the company's prospects for FY:08." Take-Two's financial year ends on October 31, 2007.
Pachter gave another rationale for a GTA IV delay: namely, that moving it to early November would put more space between GTA IV and Halo 3, which is arriving September 25. "We believe that a two-week delay would provide a reasonable gap between the launch of Halo 3 and the launch of GTA IV, and would actually help sales of both games," he said.
Still another scenario in the Wedbush note would have the regular edition of GTA IV be pushed past Halloween, while the recently announced Collector's Edition of the game would go on sale October 16. That would "allow Take-Two to maximize revenues from the $89.99 Collector's Edition of the game...and to increase overall profitability." The extra $30 nets players a soundtrack CD, art book, duffel bag, keychain, and lockbox.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus that it's been confirmed in any shape, way, or form. Though well respected, Pachter is not infallible, and he is merely speculating here. Then again, stranger and more underhanded things have been done in the name of financial posturing. Also, giving gamers a few more weeks to save their pennies post-Halo 3 does make sense. But the November release schedule will still be crowded with competition, and GTA IV will be a monster hit no matter what...so why wait?
Source: A blowout feature from Fortune that primarily focuses on Nintendo's success with the Wii.
The official story: "We will be making an announcement on our feature set for FIFA Soccer 08 on Wii in mid-June."--an EA representative.
What we heard: There are a lot of things in Fortune editor Jeffrey M. O'Brien's new "Wii will rock you" feature that should stand out for readers.
Whether it's the abundance of sales statistics that underline Nintendo's success with nontraditional gamers, its depiction of Nintendo's corporate culture as efficient and penny-pinching almost to a fault, or the listing of babies as collateral damage in a sidebar about Wii Remote mishaps, there are plenty of things to raise gamers' eyebrows in the article. However, one thing that O'Brien mentions in passing may turn out to be more significant than any baby injury caused by an errant controller.
According to O'Brien, Electronic Arts is backing the Wii in a big way. But beyond simply bringing The Godfather and Tiger Woods to Nintendo's console, Electronic Arts is making use of one of the Wii's most popular features. As O'Brien wrote, "its latest FIFA soccer game will use Mii characters."
The Wii's Mii avatars were one of the system's earliest success stories, and provide a good chunk of the appeal of the console's killer app, Wii Sports. But apart from that system-seller, the avatars are rarely seen, having been incorporated into the Wii Play minigame collection, but not third-party offerings.
Opening up the Mii system to third parties would expand their presence on the system, further differentiate Nintendo's console from the competition, and perhaps break down the distinctions customers make between first-party games (which have been the bulk of the Wii's best-sellers) and third-party games. FIFA would also be a fitting first third-party Mii compatible game, its broad international appeal expands beyond the traditional gamer demographic (like the Wii itself). Not to mention that given the rules of the sport, the Mii avatars' lack of arms wouldn't be terribly distracting.
Nintendo has been pursuing third-party support more aggressively of late, and letting those publishers (and their customers) play with the Mii system just makes sense. In addition to giving publishers another reason to offer more than sloppy ports to the system, it would give Mii-loving customers another reason to consider a purchase. And in the end, that just puts even more money in Nintendo's pocket.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.
Source: Pick one.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: On May 8, the debut of Halo 2 on the PC was supposed to herald in a new age of Vista-enabled gaming on Windows Live. But then its launch was pushed back to May 22 and then again on May 24, when the game was officially--and suddenly--delayed to May 31.
Today, though, rumors began to spread like an unchecked rash that Halo 2's postponement had a fleshy origin. According to numerous online reports, the Master Chief's Windows Vista debut was delayed because the build shipped to retailers contained partial nudity.
The reports about the Halo 2 nudity were confirmed by an unlikely source--Microsoft itself. Famously recalcitrant when it comes to rumors about its games, the software giant flat-out admitted that Halo 2 contained risqué content. "An unfortunate, obscure content error which includes partial nudity was included in our initial production of Halo 2 for Windows Vista," the company told GameSpot.
One thing Microsoft would not comment on was a nonobscured photo attributed to Halo 2 that showed an error message displaying a young Caucasian male's rear end to the camera. Photos of said derriere surfaced on various sites, including popular blog Kotaku (WARNING: ADULT CONTENT), all of which said it came from the the PC game.
Microsoft declined to address the photo, saying only that the nude image in question in Halo 2 could not be seen by those simply playing the game. However, the ESRB had no such qualms about describing the game's interior posterior. "The content in question, although likely to be inaccessible to the vast majority of users, displays a photograph of an individual showing his bare backside to the user when a particular error occurs," an ESRB spokesperson said.
The inclusion of said nudity has caused Halo 2's M for Mature rating to be tweaked by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Now, the game's label must include the words "partial nudity," and all boxed copies must be relabeled--hence the delay. "As a result of updates to retail packaging, Halo 2 for Windows Vista will now ship from manufacturers on May 31," Microsoft said before apologizing for said delay. Microsoft also released a Halo 2 patch that will make the nude content totally unviewable, and anyone wishing to play the game online must auto-update the game with said patch.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.