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
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.