This Week in Games - December 1, 2012

Wii U sales numbers, a new stripped down Wii just for Canadians, Destiny leaks a little, and Hideo Kojima doesn't want to be just "Metal Gear guy".

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It's the week after the big Thanksgiving crazy shopping season in the US, which of course means that it's time for some furious and vigorous willy-waving from the Big Three about their respective performances. All told, it was a fairly spectacular week for game hardware sales. The Wii U came out of the gate with a strong performance--though not as strong as its predecessor in 2006--the PlayStation 3 enjoyed a solid week, and the seven year-old Xbox 360 (it celebrated its anniversary on Thanksgiving day last week) shocked everyone with its Halo-fueled accomplishment.

Wii U Sold 400,000, Wii Sold Almost as Many, and DS Sold More than 3DS

The Wii U launched in the US on November 18 to very respectable sales of 400,000 units during its first week. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime revealed the milestone to GameSpot sister site CNET on Monday this week, adding that total hardware sales (Wii U, Wii, 3DS, and DS) for the week exceeded 1.2 million units. If you want some context; the original Wii did quite a bit better, it sold more than 600,000 units during its first eight days on the market. Interestingly, the aging Wii still managed an impressive 300,000 boxes during this past week, raising the question of whether some customers were perhaps confused as to what they were really buying. Nintendo's portables also did pretty well, although its notable that the various flavors of the original DS actually outsold the 3DS 275,000 units to 250,000.

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Emboldened by it's fairly strong launch, Fils-Aime says that he is not fearful that the Wii U will become irrelevant if Microsoft and Sony launch new consoles next year as expected. In fact, he said that he believes Nintendo has set the innovation bar with its Wii U, and that Microsoft and Sony cannot rely solely on more advanced technology if they wish to succeed. "In the end, our competitors need to react to what we're doing in the marketplace and need to figure out what their innovation will be," Fils-Aime said. "It's likely that faster processors and pretty pictures won't be enough to motivate consumers. They need to react to what we've done and we need to continue innovating with the Wii U and we will."

Unafraid of playing the "pretty pictures" card when it suits him, Fils-Aime told CNN that third-party games like Call of Duty: Black Ops II actually look "better" on Wii U than they do on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Responding to a question regarding the Wii U being on par with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in terms of specifications, Fils-Aime defiantly stated that this was not the case. "First off, I have to correct you. The specs are quite different than the competitive systems; much more graphically intensive. If you do a side-by-side comparison you would actually see that third-party games like Call of Duty look dramatically better on our system," he said. Whether or not they're "dramatically" better is certainly a topic for debate, especially given the numerous frame-rate complaints that players have expressed over the past week. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Despite the early success, not everyone is convinced by Wii U. One of the founding fathers of games is none too keen on the new console. Speaking to the New York Times, Atari and Chuck E. Cheese's founder Nolan Bushnell said he doesn't think Nintendo will find much success with its new console. "I actually am baffled by it," Bushnell said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big success." Answering a subsequent question regarding the viability of new consoles from all of the major platform players, Bushnell was similarly unenthusiastic. In fact, he said new consoles from the Big Three actually mark the end of an era instead of a beginning. “These things will continue to sputter along, but I really don’t think they’ll be of major import ever again,” Bushnell said, grumpily. “It feels like the end of an era to me."

If you were lucky enough to get an early Wii U, or follow anyone on Twitter that did, you will no doubt be aware of the somewhat epic day one download that activates the bulk of the system's network features. Nintendo president Saturo Iwata addressed the complaints on Wednesday this week, telling IGN that he is "very sorry" for the requirement. "Personally, I think that users should be able to use all the functions of a console video game machine as soon as they open the box," he said. "So I feel very sorry for the fact that purchasers of Wii U have to experience a network update which takes such a long time, and that there are the services which were not available at the hardware’s launch."

Iwata also addressed pre-launch skepticism, saying that he is used to the cynicism associated with bold Nintendo experience changes. "The brand new user interfaces that Nintendo invented often faced skeptical views before a hardware launch, but wound up becoming de facto industry standards," Iwata said. “It is challenging to communicate attractions which are hard to understand unless you actually touch and experience them yourself. This is especially so with Wii U because it has unprecedented entertainment potential."

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Outside of all the Wii U-related stuff this week, Nintendo also blew minds when it revealed a dinky new, stripped down version of the original Wii which will go on-sale next Friday, dubbed the Wii Mini. Initially (and inexplicably) intended only for the Canadian market, the teeny-weeny top-loading device will be $99, smaller, red, and stripped of Wi-Fi, internet connectivity, and GameCube backwards compatibility. Want one?

Xbox 360 Sold 750,000. There Was News of New Xbox in 2013

Much like Nintendo, Microsoft had a very strong Black Friday. The company announced on Tuesday that it sold more than 750,000 Xbox 360 consoles in the United States during the holiday period. Additionally, the company said that Halo 4 sales during the week also exceeded expectations, notching "impressive sales." What does that actually mean? Who knows? All we know is that they ended up selling more than they thought they were going to. Further, Xbox Live Gold subscription card sales jumped more than 50 percent year-over-year, though (of course!) no specific sales figure was actually divulged. Microsoft also revealed that on Sunday alone, more than 14 million people logged on to Xbox Live across the world. These users tallied more than 72 million combined hours of use.

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Next year, all the fuss around this period will no doubt be about the early sales performance of the next Xbox. Sources told Bloomberg his week that Microsoft will release its Xbox 720 (or whatever it will be called…smart money is on just "Xbox" as a reflection of the overall platform) in time for the holiday 2013 shopping season. This is far from the first time this timing has been predicted, but Bloomberg has a pretty decent track record for reliable information around stuff like this. Additionally, the sources said Microsoft has not yet decided when to announce its Xbox 360 successor. The company is understandably mulling an announcement at an event like the Electronic Entertainment Expo or (more likely) a separate event where the new machine would have all of the spotlight. As you can imagine, no one at Microsoft is prepared to comment. Yet.

PlayStation 3 Sold 525,000, Vita Sold 160,000

Sony sold 525,000 PlayStation 3 consoles and more than 160,000 PlayStation Vita units in the US last week, the company announced on Thursday. That means that PS3 sales (hardware, software, and peripherals) jumped 9 percent year-over-year. This is the first holiday period for the Vita (remember, it only launched this March,) meaning year-over-year sales information is not available. Sony said its $200 Assassin's Creed III: Liberation bundle was especially popular, with Amazon selling out its entire stock in under five hours. Other popular PS Vita bundles included the Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified and Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes offerings, which also sold out, Sony said.

If you're in the market for a Vita this holiday season, Sony announced another new bundle on Thursday, though this one is perhaps not as glamorous as those before it. The snappily-titled "PS Plus Instant Game Collection PS Vita Bundle" includes a 3G/Wi-Fi system, 1-year PlayStation Plus membership, Unit 13 game voucher, and a 4GB memory card for $300. Honestly, you might want to consider dropping an extra $50-60 on a larger capacity card if you want to take advantage of the downloadable goodies from PlayStation Plus.

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As is the case with Microsoft, we may be fast approaching new gaming technology from Sony, despite its previous hints that there will be no PlayStation 4 announcement for a while. On Thursday this week, the company published a patent for a "Hybrid Separable Motion Controller" on November 29 after originally filing for it during May 2011. Drawings from the filing indicate that the snap-together controller will be a mashup of Sony's standard DualShock controller and its Move motion input. It will also include components like a magnetometer and accelerometer, as well as support for vibration and audio playback through an embedded speaker. The filing also suggests a PlayStation Eye camera will be required for use with the new controller. Additionally, it appears games will be able to detect if the controller is split in two or not. It is not clear if this thing is planned for the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation 4, or perhaps both, if it ever exists at all.

Grand Theft Auto Sold A Lot, Take Two Boss Predicted Next-Gen "Casualties"

The Grand Theft Auto franchise has now shipped 125 million units life-to-date. Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick revealed the milestone on Tuesday during his presentation at the Credit Suisse 2012 Technology Conference. This figure is up 11 million units from the 114 million Take-Two announced in September 2011. Zelnick didn't provide any specificity on how that figure breaks down between installments, but a Take-Two representative confirmed the figure with GameSpot on Tuesday, noting that 2008's Grand Theft Auto IV alone shipped 25 million. Zelnick also explained why he believes the Grand Theft Auto series is so popular, likening it to the long-running James Bond film franchise, which marks its 50th anniversary with the release of Skyfall. He said that just as a new Bond film is not typically released every couple of years, the same can be said for Grand Theft Auto games. This release schedule keeps the series "special," he said.

If you need further proof: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Zelnick also took the time to (somewhat underhandedly, when you read between the lines) praise Activision CEO Robert Kotick and the multiple development squads required to make Call of Duty a "quality product" every year, but said this business model has risks that Take-Two is unwilling to take. "It's our view that if you want intellectual properties to be permanent, then you run the risk in that circumstance of having consumers fall out of love with that franchise. [Activision] obviously views the world differently." To prove his point, Zelnick said it is his understanding that Call of Duty: Black Ops II did not perform as well as last year's game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, a sign that the series is beginning to slow. "That's never been the case with one of ours," he said. "Ours do better each time. Our view is it's hard to make permanent intellectual properties if you annualize it, with the exception of sports titles. So far that's proven to be the case. IP that is annualized eventually seems to hit the wall and we don't want our IP to hit the wall."

Zelnick also stated at the conference that he believes the upcoming console transition will see some casualties on the publishing side of the business. "If you're not capitalized for the transition, you can find out that you're not there for the transition," Zelnick said. "And historically, in every transition that's occurred in this business, one or two third-parties have gone out of business. Last time around it was Midway and a couple of others. Reasonable people can argue about which one it'll be this time. I have my own point of view, which I haven't exactly been quiet about. We make sure we're not on the list of casualties; to the contrary, we're on the list of winners." He didn't specifically name any names, but his comments alluded to his recent prediction that Saints Row and Darksiders publisher THQ would be dead in six months.

Incidentally, if you were a bit miffed that Rockstar has no plans to make GTA V for the PC, it turns out you're not alone. The Change.org petition tackling the subject now stands at over 100,000 signatures. The petition politely states that it is a "big shame" that GTA V is not announced for PC, specifically calling out the modding community being a "huge part" of PC gaming. Rockstar itself is yet to officially acknowledge the petition. Given the enormous sales expectations hinted at by Zelnick (to continue the trend of each version being larger than the last, number five will need to sell more than 25 million units) it's safe to assume that it'll take considerably more than 100,000 people to make a big difference with this one.

Minecraft Redstone Was Announced

One of the biggest cheers at the huge Minecon event in Paris last weekend came from the announcement of version 1.5, which--as Mojang studio lead Jens Bergensten revealed--is called "The Redstone Update." The new version marks the start of a set of more focused updates from the Minecraft team that will each focus on single new feature, or theme. The team is planning to release those updates every two months. The Redstone update hasn't been the best start for Mojang's new release schedule, however. Originally planned for a holiday launch, keen crafters will now have to wait until January to get their hands on it. At least there's plenty to look forward to, especially if you're an avid user of the power-providing redstone ore and crave more consistent behavior from the stuff. The plan, Bergensten says, is to give the ore variable signal strength--something Mojang says makes it "analogue," and to add a new capacitor block that will work similarly to a repeater, with one input and one output. These capacitors will be configured by players to decide exactly how much input is required to push an output.

Bergensten was also happy to speculate on the future of Minecraft during his presentation, stating that some of the possible improvements include a new, beautiful dimension that appears after killing the end boss; bags for saddled pigs; a new combat system; updates to the snow biome; a new, a faster client for better performance on newer systems; and fixes to the lighting bugs around trees.

Destiny Leaked (A Little)

Halo-maker Bungie has released the first official piece of artwork from its next game franchise Destiny. Following the leak of some concept art and details on IGN thanks to a zealous ad agency, Bungie posted an official statement on its company blog. "We weren't quite ready, but we will be soon, and we can’t wait to finally show you what we've really been up to. Stick around, we haven’t even started yet." The leaked document, apparently overflowing with vapid marketing fluff, describes Destiny as a "fun and accessible" game (let's hope so. Better than "boring and inaccessible") with a "deep, tangible and relatable" universe that is compared to the Star Wars franchise. The game is also described as "social at its core". Elsewhere it reveals that Destiny's plot revolves around an alien ship bent on destroying Earth and the "knights" tasked with defending what's left of humanity. The document also shows images bearing the Destiny logo along with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 icons and the URL Destiny.com. Don't bother trying to go there yet… it's password protected.

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The Binding of Isaac Reborn for Consoles

The Binding of Isaac, despite being designed to clash again mainstream game ideals, has been phenomenally successful. Developer Edmund McMillen stated in a post-mortem for Game Developer Magazine (which was also carried on the magazine's sister-site Gamasutra on Wednesday) that his game was designed to be "niche at best." He told the magazine that, "I had hoped it would gain some minor cult status in small circles, kind of like a midnight movie from the 1970s. From any mainstream marketing perspective, I designed Isaac to fail--and that was my goal from the start." The game has now sold over a million copies on PC and Mac in less than a year, and has been met with great critical acclaim. It currently enjoys a Metascore of 84, and our own Maxwell McGee described it as "a dark and twisted mixture of genres that inspires you to come back and explore its gruesome world." In analyzing what was key to its success, McMillen boils it down to its "roguelike" design coupled with The Legend of Zelda's leveling structure (where each dungeon yield's an item and level up to give the player a sense of growth,) an uncensored, unique theme that is very adult and very dark, and the ability to circumvent censorship by distributing the game on Steam.

A few months ago McMillen was contacted by Tyrone Rodriguez of Nicalis (publisher of Cave Story, VVVVVV) and asked about remaking The Binding of Isaac for consoles. "I love consoles as much as the next guy," he said, "but dealing with the business end of console development wasn't something I wanted to dive back into at this point. I told him yes, but I had a few strict guidelines to make sure an Isaac remake was perfect. I wanted the game to feature the second planned expansion that I couldn't do in the Flash version, I wanted it to feature local co-op, I wanted the graphics to be totally remade in 16-bit but still look and feel like the Flash version, and finally, I didn't want to deal with anything when it came to business. Nicalis has agreed to these terms, and development has started on The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth."

It's not yet clear what platforms the new game will end up on, but McMillen states that "both Microsoft and Sony feel like it would be a perfect fit for their digital platforms, and we have a feeling the new look might soften up a few people at Nintendo for a possible Wii U/3DS eShop release. I'm wary about how the game might control on iPad, but if they can make it work, I'm all for it."

Kojima Wants to be more than "Metal Gear Guy"

Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima has revealed that upcoming entries in his beloved franchise will introduce concepts intended to hint at a new wave of intellectual properties utilizing the Metal Gear brand. Speaking to EGM, Kojima said that he wants to be remembered for doing a lot more than just creating the iconic series. "I'll admit that I hope my future endeavours are thought of as 'works by Hideo Kojima' rather than 'from the creator of Metal Gear'," he told the publication. "I haven't really shown the world what else I might be capable of yet. This may sound pretentious, but I don’t like being thought of as the Metal Gear guy. There's a lot more I can do." In the interview, Kojima also spoke about the influence of games such as Grand Theft Auto III, a title which he said "opened" his eyes. Kojima did not confirm whether the statement outlining the introduction of new concepts in upcoming Metal Gear games was in reference to Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes or future titles in the franchise.

What do you think? Will you remember him as being the Metal Gear guy? Or something more than that? Let us know in the comments.

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1 Reason Why Kicked Off On Twitter

The treatment of women by the game industry has been a hot topic for some time--both in terms of game content, and the challenges faced by women in the games business itself. On Tuesday this week, the Twitter hashtag #1ReasonWhy erupted in response to game designer and Kickstarter game specialist Luke Crane asking "why are there so few lady game creators?"

The responses came thick and fast, and amongst the boneheaded sexism and badly-timed attempts at humor several themes soon started to emerge; sexual harassment at games industry events, ignorance at publishers and studios about the female player base for titles, and creative input being ignored. By design the hashtag was soon filled with depressing stories of misconduct and prejudice, but some positivity quickly emerged from the conversation, too. A complimentary hashtag #1reasonmentor was set up and quickly grew into a stream of women working in the games business offering help to those struggling. Rhianna Pratchett also started the hashtag #1reasontobe as a way to highlight positive stories.

If you'd like to read more about the impact of this discussion, you should check out Patrick Klepek's editorial From #1ReasonWhy to #1ReasonToBe, and 1,600 Comments In-Between on Giant Bomb, and #1ReasonWhy You Should Pay Attention from GameSpot's Laura Parker and Carolyn Petit.

Pong Turned 40

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History buffs are no doubt aware of this already, but all of us should take a moment to remember the mighty Pong, which turned 40 years-old on Thursday this week. Though not the first video game, it was arguably the first to achieve mainstream popularity and was certainly the first commercially successful video game.

Don't Forget: Xbox Live Gold is Free This Weekend (As Long as You Don't Live in Europe)

This weekend you'll be able to use Xbox Live Gold free of charge, as long as you live pretty much anywhere outside of Europe. Microsoft decided to have a free Xbox Live Gold weekend for everyone (except Europeans) including players in the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan.

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