Exceptions to the Conventional Xbox 360 Lore

over the last few months (really just since e3), i’ve noticed a terrible, terrible amount of bizarre, propaganda-like information about the 360 coming from all over and being just accepted as fact. i thought i would take a few moments to point out a few “duh” observations that can contradict these “conventional” thinkings.

1. scratched discs are because of physics and not a design flaw.
what? that’s right! i forgot. all of those portable dvd players hose dvd’s when you carry them around while they are playing. so do all of the discmans and other portable cd players. the psp too? hell! everything that plays a spinning disc for content! beware all! don’t move those portable devices! you’ll scratch the crap out of the disc. Make sure that, if you are playing any of your mobile content, the machine remains in a sturdy and safe position.

Seriously. what kind of sheep believe it’s a “physics” issue. speaking as a person who took several advanced physics courses (weird, but it was my favorite subject in school) and can actually explain the differences between angular momentum, centripetal force and centrifugal force, that excuse is total bunk. sure, it’s gyroscopic in nature, but, i mean, even a llamma can fix the damn problem. microsoft — it’s not physics’ fault, it’s a design flaw. you may not have designed the dvd drives, but when you oem’d them from the manufacturer to stick them in the 360, you took responsibility.

2. no next-gen media puts the 360 at a disadvantage.

no. there is no “next-gen” media for the xbox 360. i really hate this argument. it’s so very “me too” in its formation. to use a phrase my grandmother used to say: you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.

  • most importantly, current game development methods are too expensive to scale effectively beyond the standard dvd. it costs $5-$10 million to create a game with 3 to 5 gigs of data. the vast majority of that data comes from the art assets available within a game. textures, audio, fmv, geometry, etc. all stuff that generally has been created by hand in the past by hordes of very expensive (as a function of total cost to develop a game) artists. now, to create 9 gigs of data to fill up a standard dvd, we’d have to really flog those artists. it’s pretty reasonable to assume it would cost 2 or 3 times as much to create 2 or 3 times the art during the same approximate development cycle. that puts the game cost at between $15 and $30 million. now, forecast that out to the 50 or so gigs for a Blu-ray disc. in order to fill one of those? that’s about $100 million — for a game. recouping that requires over 1.5 million copies sold at $60 a pop. heaven help you if your game gets relegated to the dreaded bargain bin. and that doesn’t count the publisher’s or console maker’s cut.

    now don’t fret, plenty of really smart folks are working on incredible ways to increase the amount of “dynamically created content” you see when you play while simultaneously reducing the amount of “pre-created content” on the disc with an amazing technique called procedural synthesis. and, they aren’t doing it because they are limited on space. they are doing it because they don’t want to pay someone to create all the hand built content that takes up all that space.

  • it’s too expensive to put a blu-ray or hd-dvd into the console. however, we’d have two choices if they did decide to put one in: either the console would be priced around $500-$600 dollars or microsoft would double their losses on the machine. having just come off the $4 billion loss on the first xbox, you can bet they wouldn’t subsidize the hardware anymore than they absolutely had to.

    not only that, but neither blu-ray nor hd-dvd is even ready yet. sure, panasonic just produced the first big run of discs for sony, but 1 in 5 is a coaster. it’s just not ready for prime time yet. and, since microsoft doesn’t develop the hd-dvd standard (like sony developed blu-ray) they have no control over it. it’s all toshiba and nec. microsoft can whine and moan about production delays all they want, but that won’t necessarily make toshiba go any faster. if they wanted to make the launch this holiday, there’s no way the drives and discs would be ready to roll out to 3 million users in the first 90 days.

    it’s just a brilliant coincidence (or a brilliant strategic move on microsoft’s part) that sony is launching about a year after the xbox 360 in north america. so, in the largest video game market in the world, the 360 will hit an already announced price drop right as the ps3 comes in at full-price (including the super expensive blu-ray drive) to put a $200 price difference between the two on shelves. perfect for mainstream christmas shoppers.

  • not like the price is the only thing that matters. the adoption rate to transition into hi-def dvd’s is going to be slow. for example, even once the music world settled on a final cd format, it still took 10 years for it to come into the mainstream. regular dvd’s were the same way — it took 7 years for those to come into their own. hell, i had a 3rd generation dvd player in ’98. you couldn’t even rent dvd’s at video stores yet and the shelf space at video stores was limited to a single unit with 14 (yes 14, i actually counted when i was shopping for my first dvd — blade.) dvds on it.

    another thing to consider is the fact that only about 25% of american homes even have high definition sets available to them and, of that quarter, only half of them actually know how to get high definition programming to work.high definition tv, while coming into its own, is still lagging in adoption. so, it’s up to the early adopters and influencers to push the format. raise your hand if you think they are going to want to show off their cool new high-definition player. the playstation 3? um. no. it’s going to be an expensive, high quality, heavy piece of equipment. not a game console. the early adopter crowd is an elitist group and they want to impress their friends. does anyone actually remember the dvd player that came out with the first run of ps2s?we still have a whole console generation before hi-def dvd is even remotely close to mainstream.

  • console developers think high definition is bigger and takes up more space. sure, if your shoddy game engine doesn’t look good enough to do in-game cutscenes and you have to pre-render a whole bunch of space-hogging video. i can see your point there. it’s a talent issue. that’s okay. keep in mind, tho, many last generation pc games run (with a beefy video card) at your standard ATSC 1920×1080 progressive scan resolution already — and they still are no bigger than 3-5 gigs for the big ones. building hi-def games has a big “yawn” factor for pc game developers and should for console gamers now as well.
  • not to mention, for a huge game, you can just span the discs, caching any relevant data to the 360’s hard drive along the way. that will let you wander in and out of town to your heart’s content without having to swap discs again. theoretically, you might even only have to swap discs once over the lifetime of your xbox 360. not even remotely a big deal — because there’s a hard drive.

3. finally, i’m torn on this whole availability debate.
on one hand, i want everyone to have access to a console at launch. it’s pretty poor form in this age of a worldwide community to not have something as big as a new game console available for a worldwide launch. however, i want enough units to go around in the territories where it does go.
if microsoft had concentrated only on the u.s. for this first bit, everyone who wanted one would probably have a console now. instead we have this crazy, ebay-scam-ridden, dearth-of-consoles environment.

i think, what i would have rather seen, is microsoft launching in the two biggest gaming territories, the u.s. and europe – and holding out for japan until 3-6 months later.

i mean, why are we chasing japan? people in europe and the u.s. want the consoles more! japan, not only doesn’t want them, but their market doesn’t even matter that significantly in the big picture! the north american and european markets accounted for about $16 billion in gaming revenues last year. japan? only $3 billion. seems to me that ratio ought to be upheld in console distribution for the first year, eh? maybe then, people wouldn’t be making $500 from selling a damn photo.



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