Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gaming Notes

First off, Russ Pitts wrote a commentary on Steven Levy's Newsweek article, and it's a thousand times better than what I wrote yesterday (no surprise--Russ is a terrific writer). Read it here .

Second, there's now widespread speculation that Microsoft is going to actually reward people with high Gamer Scores with merchandise/prizes. It originated with this post over at Unscripted 360.

That's a great idea. Wait, that's kind of my idea from November 2005:
Of course, people could also buy all kinds of Xbox Live gear with the Microsoft Points they earned through playing games, which they'll wear, which becomes instant advertising.

That was part of a longer post about how Gamer Score points and Microsoft points shouldn't be separate--that the achievement points people earn in games should count toward buying real-world merchandise as part of the marketing budget of these games. All via the Xbox Live Marketplace, of course.

Now, though, I think there's another possibility. What if the top gamerscores earn merchandise identifying them as "elite"? Letter jackets. Sweatshirts. Advertising, advertising, advertising.

Here's a thought: Microsoft should offer to custom-paint the cars of the top 100 Gamer Scores in the world. Make their cars into 360mobiles.

What they can do is virtually limitless, and they need to--it's another way they can clearly distinguish themselves from Sony, which has nothing like this.

Lastly, this was quite a surprise:
...officials from Japanese publisher and developer Square Enix have revealed that the company has licensed the Unreal Engine 3 middleware technology to use in forthcoming next generation games.

...In a press statement, Square Enix claimed that, in order to ensure both quality and development efficiency in the next generation, the publisher is “now building a combined technology platform to use throughout the company, utilizing proprietary technologies as well as third-party solutions such as Unreal Engine 3”.

“The complexity of next-generation game systems featuring HD graphics and multi-core parallel processing poses a number of technological challenges to our game development. However, we can expedite our game development process significantly while allowing extra time and resources to be spent on game design and mechanics by establishing an effective technology platform,” said Taku Murata, general manager, research and development division at Square Enix. “The technology platform for game development is becoming more important than ever.

Square makes terrific engines, and it appears that they'll still be using their own "White Engine" for Final Fantasy XIII, but this is still a big shift in their philosophy.

And it's about time.

Square tells great stories in their games. Why would a great storytelling company spent an exorbitant amount of money to develop a proprietary engine when there are outstanding engines available for license? Licensing an engine saves money, it saves time, and it lets them focus on content.

With each new generation of consoles, I believe the number of graphics engines out there will shrink. It's cost prohibitive to develop an engine now unless it can be aggressively licensed to other developers.

Here's the question that I can't answer, though: if a licensee has rights to both the PS3 and 360 versions of the Unreal 3 engine, do games developed with the engine for one platform port more easily to the other platform? I may have asked that question in a nonsensical way, but I think it's reasonable to speculate that this could be an entry point for Square into more aggressive development for other consoles--specifically, the 360. This would be consistent with the September Wall Street Journal article where Square said they would support other consoles to a greater degree than they did in the past.

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