Europe finally got Wii, so the latest edition of Gamasutra's 'The Euro Vision' column
sees Jon Jordan wandering around Oxford Street, counting queues. And at the other end of the country, developer Realtime Worlds get a $31 million windfall, leading to speculation about what the cash will be used for.
"He reportedly had been waiting for 31 hours and so duly, student Marwan El Gamal became the last person in the developed world to be the first person in his country to become a media figure for standing at the front of a queue to buy a Nintendo Wii.
Of course, as with all such hardware launches, there was the expected amount of hype, flashing cameras, and retail madness but as someone present at the official Nintendo launch event, which was held at the large HMV store on Oxford Street London, it felt a rather flat experience. Partly this was due to the store's layout, which resulted in the enthusiasm of the three hundred-odd punters being diluted into thin lines spread along the length of the store.
That also meant only those at the front could enjoy the artificial pleasure of watching low grade celebs such as ex-soccer player Ian Wright, one-time Lara Croft model Nell McAndrew and ex-Wimbledon tennis champion Pat Cash waving their Wiimotes around. The only current sportsman among the group, undefeated welterweight boxer Ricky Hatton, frankly looked embarrassed.
Still having attended most of the hardware launches in the UK in recent years, it is fair to say they are tricky situations to handle.
Perhaps the most enjoyable was Sega's Dreamcast launch, which featured Sega's senior management, who had flown in from Japan and joined the show with some flamboyant company of their own. Microsoft's Xbox launch was enjoyable too, as it cleverly split the event into separate media and punter events, until the appointed time when the first person was handed his box, by Virgin's Richard Branson himself, if memory serves.
Sony, on the other hand, has always adopted a less is more philosophy and eschews official events, preferring to let retailers get on with it. Even in this case though, a certain amount of frisson can be generated by spying the likes of Chris Deering, just hanging around in an unofficial capacity. It's something Phil Harrison's height seems to have dissipated if his looming presence during PSP's launch was anything to go by.
Sold out is no news
Still, with Nintendo's European headquarters being in Germany, not to mention its almost complete lack of inhouse European development talent, the UK launch was always likely to light in terms of real industry news.
Indeed, when I asked HMV's head of games Tim Ellis how many Wiis the company had to sell, he looked strangely at me and said, "Nice try," as if it was some clever interrogation technique. I'd only asked because I'd counted a mere 107 Wii boxes and 300-odd copies of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
piled up around the cash desk. I assume they had more available in the back, but now I’ll never know.
Similarly David Yarnton, Nintendo UK's general manager, turned up for the event and ran though the usual platitudes, but every time I'd tried to take a photo of him, he grimaced as if I was trying to pull his teeth.
Not that it put off the 40-odd press photographers in attendance. A sign of the slow if growing interest taken in gaming by the general media, they obviously weren't taking photos of Yarnton. Instead they demonstrated the lure of celebrities, especially pretty ones who have featured in Playboy (un)dressed as Tomb Raider, and a general disregard for any of the queuing punters, other than Marwan El Gamal of course.
After a while, I wandered off down Oxford Street for the last train home. On the way, I passed the main London shop of specialist games retailer GAME. A much smaller store, and lacking any celebrities, if anything it was even busier than HMV (at least when I counted, its queue was 350-strong to HMV's 300). Maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere.
Cash in the Real world
Counting of a different type has been on the cards this week at Dundee developer Realtime Worlds. It's just received $31 million in funding from venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, which also backs Glu Mobile and backed online gaming messaging service Xfire.
It seems like a lot of money, but as with such deals, unless you know some of the fine print (typically how much of the company the investors have bought), it's hard to tell if it's a good one for the developer. Money always comes at a price. And frankly, the vanilla form of the official press release - all talk of visionary entrepreneurs, thought leaders and looking forward to the opportunities - tells us little.
What's more interesting is to think about what Realtime Worlds wants to use the cash for. To some degree, it's a standard two team studio (althought it has a small outsourcing studio in Korea as well). One team is finishing off its debut game, Xbox 360-exclusive Crackdown
for Microsoft, after this was pushed from its fall 2006 release date into February 2007. It's a solid shooter, with some neat design features, but seems unlikely to set the world alight, trapped as it is between the beasts that are Gears of War
and Halo 3
The other title it's working on is much more ambitious. Called All Points Bulletin
, this urban MMOG for Xbox 360 and PC is due to be published by Korean company Webzen sometime in 2008. However, thanks to the falling revenues from its mainstay title, Mu
, Webzen is under financial pressure, having made a big loss in FY2005 as well as the first half of FY2006.
It's complete speculation on my part of course, but it seems not unlikely that some of the investment will be used for Realtime Worlds to take on more control for All Points Bulletin
, either to ensure it get a much better deal from Webzen when the game's finished, or so it can renegotiate with other publishers should Webzen decide it doesn't want or cannot take the game. Of course, with Crackdown
almost finished, Realtime Worlds will also be looking to place a new project with publishers, and this money will also help it during those milestone-free prototyping stages. Within that timeframe at least, $31 million seems like the right amount of money.
In this context, it should also be pointed out that one area where Realtime Worlds is an atypical game developer is the seniority of its executives, multi-millionaire and former Sony Computer Entertainment Europe MD Ian Hetherington, and former Nintendo of America director of development and acquisition Tony Harman. They will have played a vital role in the deal, and highlight the need for independent studios to have strong management as well as development skills."
[Jon Jordan is a freelance games journalist and photographer, based in Manchester, UK. He hates queuing and vacuous press releases.]