Rumor Control: Xbox 360 shortages and the P$$$3

This week: Microsoft's next-gen dev kit, the 360's preloaded "game," and the price tag for ATI's Half-Life 2 deal.

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RUMOR #1: The Xbox 360 is no longer available for preorder at EB Games or GameStop.

Source: A variety of sites, most notably Computer and Video Games.

The official story: Microsoft had not commented as of press time.

What we heard: Gamers were forced to think about their holiday shopping five months ahead of time this week when word began to spread that the Xbox 360 was no longer available for preorder at either of America's two top game retailers. C&VG cited unsourced "reports" as saying that "Stocks of Xbox 360 consoles are already critically low because of rampant preordering." Guess what? They're right...sort of. "We ran out of our first allotment, which is set by corporate [headquarters], earlier this week," said the manager of one San Francisco GameStop. "We just got the second one in, but we're almost at our limit again. We'll try and get a third allotment, but there's no guarantee those will arrive by Christmas." The story was much the same at GameStop's soon-to-be-subsidiary. "We ran out earlier in the week, but we just got another 25 [at this location]," said an EB Games manager, "but they are going fast." However, since neither EBgames.com nor Gamestop.com yet offers 360 preorders online, gamers will have to show up in person and plunk down a $50 deposit to ensure they'll have happy holiday seasons. As for reserving it somewhere else, good luck. As of press time, Amazon, Circuit City, and Best Buy are not taking preorders at this time. So either the shortage is real or the retailers are giving the hard sell. Do you want to take the chance?

Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus...for the moment.

RUMOR #2: Graphics card manufacturer ATI paid Valve Software a cash payment of $2.4 million for the right to bundle free copies of Half-Life 2 with its 9800XT and 9600XT chipsets.

Source: The always inquisitive Inquirer.

The official story: "The terms of the ATI agreement are confidential."--Valve's Doug Lombardi.

What we heard: With the sturm und drang of Half-Life 2's storied development cycle now history, most industry watchers have been content to put the tortured saga behind them. However, not the folks at The Inquirer. This week, the UK-based Web tech-rumor site reported that, after much "time and energy," it had finally "found out just how much ATI invested in this deal." Though the site cited no source, The Inquirer is definitely right about one thing: ATI had to pay something. And while $2.4 million sounds like a hefty tab, consider the fact that ATI's quarterly marketing budget is $37.7 million, which is around $150 million a year. With those kinds of annual expenditures, ATI could easily spare a few mil to enlist one of 2004's top PC games to help hawk its highest-end graphic cards. So while there's no definitive evidence, The Inquirer's figure sounds like it's in the ballpark.

Bogus or not bogus?: Probably not bogus.

RUMOR #3: The Xbox 360 is coming with a game preinstalled on its hard drive.

Source: Curiously spelled game blog Joystiq.

The official story: See below.

What we heard: When enthusiastic next-gen hopefuls read the headline "Xbox 360 to ship preloaded with free game?" on Joystiq, reports of carpal tunnel syndrome must have spiked with all the mass mouse clicking. The preloaded "game" in question is actually an interactive application titled Neon, created by lightsynth guru Jeff Minter of Llamasoft. The program is a music visualizer, similar to that used on Apple's iTunes, in that it creates psychedelic patterns and colors based on sound that's fed through the system (which, in this case, will be music on the 360's "outrigger" hard drive or on a portable music device). There will be some interactivity with the virtual lava lamp, however, as up to four controllers can each manipulate a layer of visuals in real time. As Minter puts it on his company's Web site, "I had a conceptual idea for a lightsynth that would be truly worthy of the name ... with modules that you could plug together and dials and sliders you could adjust to create a huge variety of effects." In fact, Neon's existence and relation to the Xbox 360 has been known for quite some time now. So it boils down to one's definition of a "game." With no shooting, scoring, driving, puzzles, or carjacking, we're calling Neon an "app."

Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus, but great eye candy for next-gen Deadheads.

RUMOR #4: The PlayStation 3 will be the most expensive console ever made.

Source: See below.

The official story: See below.

What we heard: This week, a flurry of stories emerged purporting that the PS3 will cost a proverbial arm and leg. "PS3 is going to be expensive" crowed Ps3station.com, echoing Gizmodo's "PS3 to be REALLY 'SPENSIVE" piece. The popular Gizmodo cited a July 6 article on the Web site for UK gadget-and-girls mag T3 (think Stuff with cell phones) titled "PS3: Most expensive games console ever?" T3, in turn, quoted an interview with Sony Computer Entertainment Ken Kutaragi in Japanese business magazine Toyo Keizai in which he said his goal for the PS3 is "for consumers to think to themselves: 'I will work more hours to buy one.' We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else." If the quote sounds familiar, it's because it was lifted verbatim from a June 28 GameSpot story that directly translated a quote from the original Japanese-language article--an article that speculated the PS3 will sell for $399. While higher than the PlayStation 2's $299 initial sticker price, a $399 PS3 would not be the most expensive console in game history. That distinction belongs to the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, which went on sale in 1993 for a whopping $699 a pop. Given the short-lived 3DO non-phenomenon, as well as stiff competition from Microsoft, the chances of a sky-high-priced PS3 are slim.

Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus.

RUMOR #5: A picture of the Xbox 360 beta development kit has been leaked. (Pictured)

Source: The forums at the center of all things Xbox, Xbox-Scene.

The official story: Microsoft had not commented as of press time.

What we heard: The alpha dev kits for the 360 were a bit of a running joke in the gaming community since they reportedly used Apple Macintosh G5s, which are also based on an IBM-built processor. Those same kits were on semipublic display in May, where they appeared to power the Xbox 360 demo stations at E3. But it wasn't until this week that gamers got their first glimpses of what looks like the final beta dev kit. The Xbox-Scene forums were a natural place for the picture--an actual photo--to surface, given its popularity among the hardest of hardcore Xbox modders. It shows a black version of the 360 (its evil twin?) strapped to a current-gen Xbox dev kit. The black console is an exact copy of the distinctly convex 360, right down to the "circle of light" and memory slots, and it has a "bumper button"-equipped 360 controller perched atop it. Adding to its authenticity is the fact the current-gen Xbox dev kit looks like a clear version of the green debug consoles GameSpot and other sites use for previews...and it even has the same font.

Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.

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