XBox Live Console Update coming in November 2006!

October 30, 2006

Oh.  So wicked.

Check out these doozies:

1) Lightning-fast enumeration and listing of all Xbox Live® Arcade games on the console.
2) Stream music, pictures and video from a Zune device.
3) Improved UI performance in Media Center Extender

#2 is one of those things I’ve been DREAMING about.  Imagine walking into your home carrying your Zune.  Now imagine being able to play all the content on your Zune using your Home Entertainment system – the 60" Big Screen TV… the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound system…

…all without connecting a single wire.  Just walking into the same room, and kicking off your XBox360 is all you’ll need to play your videos in full screen… your music with BIG sounds… and share your photos with anyone in the room.

Oh.  So wicked.

My Soapbox Favorites

October 28, 2006

Check this out:  This is a new feature of our video service, Soapbox.  It allows me to post all my posted videos in a blog entry.  I have over 180 videos currently posted right now… not all of them will be there once we release, but if you’re interested in seeing some of this stuff, check it out below:

My Online Videos

Additionally, this is another feature of Soapbox:  My Favorites.  All the videos that I consider to be "cool" and included on my video favorites list, are listed below:

My Favorite Videos

Chris Roberts – the Voice of UCLA Football

October 27, 2006

Today, I received my copy of "Stadium Stories – UCLA Bruins" on tape.  "Stadium Stories" a collage of great stories from the early radio days of UCLA Football from 1981 to 2005.  I’ve been listening to UCLA Football on the radio for close to 18 years now and as any fan knows, listening to a game through Chris Roberts broadcast on AM570 is so much more fun and memorable than watching it on Fox Sports Net.

In fact, with the recent introduction of
Petros Papadakis – former USC Running Back & annoying loudmouth extraordinaire – as the color commentator for UCLA football, it has provided even more incentive for people to "stop watching" UCLA Football on FSN West in deference to AM570 on the radio.  (It’s a common practice for Bruin fans to watch the game, mute the television, and turn up the radio and watch the game to Chris Roberts & Matt Stevens intelligent & thoughtful commentary instead of Barry Tompkins along side Petros Papadakis’ inane & idiotic ramblings)

I distinctly remember tenuous moments in UCLA Football history where I sat with baited breath on Chris Roberts confirmation over the radio that a game winning field goal had successfully parted the uprights.  I think it was 1990 vs Oregon, where I sat in the car with my little brother listening to the words, "With 2 seconds on the clock…SNAP.  The kick is up and… it is………………. GOOD!  <insert obligatory background whooping and hollaring in the pressbox>

Chris RobertsAnyway, I purchased the 5 Audio CD set a week ago from Chris Robert’s web site at  I was surprised to discover that Chris Roberts himself not only created the content of the Audio CD set, he published it on his own, and handmailed the set to me with a note & his autograph on the front cover.

Just listening the the introduction made my face light up with delight.  There’s something eerily comforting about listening to Chris Roberts talk about UCLA football on CD.  I can see this being a staple in my car from here on out.

If you go to his web site, he even has a commentary area that I never noticed.  This might be a new thing but he writes his perspective of the Notre Dame loss on the web site, which frankly seems quite positive considering the outcome.  He even has a video clip posted (using Windows Media!) on the site.

If you’re a UCLA Bruin Football fan, and you’ve ever listened to a UCLA Radio broadcast, I’d highly recommend this 5 CD box set – you won’t be disappointed.  It’s only $19 for hours of commentary about our 1954 National Championship season, the 2005 season of sensational comebacks, the infamous 8 game winning streak against USC… and you can buy it completely online.

The Problem with “Lumines” on Xbox Live: My two cents on the Microtransaction debacle

October 26, 2006

Admittedly, I’m pissed about this myself.  And I work for the damned company.

What is it that I’m talking about?   A few days ago, "Lumines", a small Tetris-like game, was released for purchase on Xbox Live Marketplace – the convenient online portion of Xbox 360 that allows you to peruse, shop, and try out/demo games, purchase add-on packs for existing games, or download video clips.  It was priced at 1200 Microsoft points, which is essentially $15.

Okay.  No big deal right?  $15 for a small addictive game with great sound and graphics that you can play in 1080i on a next-gen system… that’s little "up there" but if it’s a quality well-developed game, which it is, it’s probably worth the price of 3 Starbucks Carmel Macchiatos.

Or is it?

Upon further inspection of your game, (which by the way I will remind everyone that you can download and try out FOR NO COST before you buy it) a gamer realizes that there are entire segments of the game that appear to be flat out missing.  For example, if you look at the interface, you see that there is:

  • a "Mission mode"
  • a "Puzzle mode"
  • an "Advance mode"

And they’re all completely inaccessible… even when you PAY $15/1200 Microsoft points for it.

Lumines Live!… Q Entertainment’s recently buy-by-the-module Xbox Live Marketplace game

In order to get access to the "advanced mode" a more complex version of the basic play mode, you need to pay an addtional $10.  And in an obvious attempt to compel people to buy the "advanced" pack by sticking an untouchable selection in the middle of the game screen that reads "advanced mode", they’ve essentially baited the game to get people to buy these "microtransaction"-based add-ons.

It gets worse.  It turns out that even though you can’t see them, there are even more packs that you "get the opportunity to buy" to add to Lumines:

  • "Artist" Pack – For more music to play in the background
  • "Vs CPU Mode" Pack – For more computer players

Note to Q Entertainment, Xbox Live, whomever it is that did this…
I mean really.  Xbox Live Marketplace has been kind of a great forum for purchasing stuff you like, and not purchasing stuff you don’t like.  This however is the first instance of a product that people DO like however the manner in which it is served to the consumer is frankly insulting

The key here is that Lumines’ creator, Q Entertainment, by pricing the game as one of the most expensive products on Xbox Live Marketplace, is essentially acting like that big brother that used to tease you by holding a your favorite Hot Wheels car over your head and saying, "What’s the matter?  Don’t you want your car?  If you want your car, why don’t you come and get it?"

Then after you’ve grovelled, begged, pleaded, and said he’s the greatest guy in the world and no other brother is better than him… blah blah blah… he then proceeds to physically remove the tires off the car, and hands you the body saying, "There!  I gave you your car back.  Aren’t you happy?"

You little snivelling ingrate.

Lumines™ Live!And on top of all of this… "The Cherry"
The cherry on top of this big ice cream sundae of fun is the fact that a lot of content has actually been stripped out of the game, in comparison to the original version of Lumines on the Playstation Portable.  Lumines was originally a launch title for the PSP and out of the box the PSP version comes with 40 puzzles.  Not so for Xbox Live’s version:  It comes with FIVE… with the opportunity to buy the other 35 and a new feature called "mission mode" with a "Puzzle Pack" which is probably going to be $10 at a minimum, bringing the total to $25 or 2000 Microsoft points.

Also skins as missing.  The Xbox Live version comes with only 12 skins.  The PSP version came with tons of skins.  Again, the "Artist pack" will likely fulfill this empty portion of the game… for the low low price of $10 again.  Now were up to $35.

Now let’s just put it all to bed by telling you that the PSP version with all it’s features and all it’s portability is $19 for a brand new cartridge at BestBuy.  Compare this to the $15 "disabled" version that you download and buy online which a) doesn’t have any physical medium for Q to pay for, and b) doesn’t have to be stocked on shelves and distributed, being that there is a very negligible cost for moving bits instead of physical discs.

I should point out that Lumines for Xbox 360 has a multiplayer feature that can be used locally or over Xbox Live.  There is also a Time Attack mode that allows you to attain Xbox Live achievements which is good. 

However the question is not, "Is the new UI and these new features worth the $15 difference?"  The question is more like, "Why does the customer get positioned to feel like  they were sold a bill of goods?"  At the end of the day, all because the game clearly has been "partitioned out" for upselling, and the missing components have been laid before the user in as obnoxious a way as possible, the user feels like he bought an incomplete product – especially if they’re used to the PSP.

The "You don’t have to buy it" Argument
Now for the record, I respect Larry Hyrb.  He’s a great guy and he’s answered several of my questions personally over our internal network and he’s even volunteered to fly down and talk to one of my customers.  The poor guy must be incredibly busy.

That being said, his argument around the Lumines/Microtransaction debate is simple: 

"You don’t have to buy it.  You don’t have to buy any of the add-ons."

This is where historical perspective I think provides me with a little bit of a benefit.  This is the same line we’ve given to consumers about a lot of things we sell.  Internet Explorer = "You don’t have to use it."  Windows XP Professional = "You don’t have to buy it."  "Office Professional = "You can buy Standard Edition"

From my vantage point, this is the wrong tactic and approach for pissed off users/consumers.  These folks aren’t like corporate customers – every nickel matters.  They’re not ones to blow things off… to them, it’s personal – not business.  We have a great deal of goodwill built up in Xbox Live Marketplace.  People like it and people look forward to new content that they can download on the console over the Internet.  And for many people, I think they believe we’re pissing all over them by insulting their intelligence and selling them a "shell" of a game.

We’re selling them a proverbial dinette set with only 1 butter knife, 1 dining fork, a bowl, and a bread plate.   We then go tell them that they can buy the salad fork, the soup spoon, the stirring spoon, the steak knife, the wine glass, the water glass, the dining plate, the placemat, and the napkin separately… only as they need them.

YES, you’re damned right you need to buy them.

I mean seriously.  How many people are going to buy the "base game" then not want the additionals.  Case & point:  Xbox 360 Core System sales vs Premium System sales.  People are willing to pay a little more, but don’t go nickeling & diming them right in their faces with "unavailable features" that they can only unlock if they cough up another $10.

I’m talking about Lumines… not other Xbox Live products
Now to be clear, I’m talking about Lumines specifically here.  There’s some debate about the viability of lame add ons like "Horse Armor" for your horse in Elder Scrolls 4 Oblivion that’s basically just an aesthetic upgrade.  This is a $5 purchase that’s just stupid and really shouldn’t have been posted.  I’ll bet they made less than 1000 sales of that dumb upgrade. 

However Larry makes the point that Oblivion was worth EVERY PENNY of the $60 you likely paid for it at the store so if you ended up paying a little more for a microtransaction for ANYTHING you might be interested in that’s posted on Xbox Live Marketplace, so be it.  The game was worth far more than the $60 paid for it and had far more content in the game than anyone could have really gone through.  I know folks that simply never expect to "finish" the game it’s so expansive.  And I agree with him on this point.

But Lumines?  The inclusion of "unavailable options" in the main Lumines game download, combined with $10 downloads for every add-on just smacks of greed and insults the gamer at large.

What should they have done?
Hindsight is 20/20 however I believe they should have:

  • Made the game $20 and included everything in the PSP version + multiplayer & Time Attack.  It would have been a shocker but folks that aren’t used to $20 XBL games but they’d get over it.  It is a killer game.
  • Made upgrade areas "invisible" unless you actually purchased it from XBL in which case the option "appears".  This would be less like link-baiting, and more like a real software "expansion pack".  Right now, the "unavailable options" that are listed in Lumines just taunt the player that just coughed up $15 for the game.
  • Apologize.  Concede that while it is within the right of Q & Xbox Live to set prices to whatever they want, this was an experiment that wasn’t received well and that this was a mistake.  Product marketing misjudged people’s perceptions of value of the product. 
    Continue to sell Lumines for $15 temporarily & make the Puzzle Pack available for FREE immediately to people that buy Lumines today.  Then after say 11/15, either reset the price of the Lumines game to $20 and continue to have the Puzzle pack a free download, or reset the price of the Puzzle pack but make it $5, not $10.   Everything other add-on can remain a microtransaction.

But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.  Here’s a video debate on the topic brought to you by G4TV.

VIDEO:  G4TV – Are you being ripped off by microtransactions?

OMG… the stuff my customers send me.

October 26, 2006

Unless you have no friends whatsoever, I’m sure you’ve received a "funny forward" email.  And I tell you, with the number of people I meet on my job, I get some of the craziest stuff sent to me by my customers.  (And former customers)

I’ve received this one particular forward a dozen times and I still find myself opening it because it’s that funny.  Basically, according to the flyer, some Malibu couple got divorced however part of their settlement was that they had to liquidate the estate – part of which was a Tuscan Villa in Malibu – a 3 story, 5 bedroom palacial palacial abode overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  The master bedroom alone is 1600 sq ft.  For reference sake, that one bedroom is the size of my current condo.  And they’re including all the amenties as well – flat screen TVs, surround sound systems, refrigerator, antiquities, etc.

And they’re selling it for $2,999,000.

Now, I’ve seen brand new houses in Westwood that have gone for $2,500,000 unfurnished just a block away from where I live.  This thing looks phenomenal.  And it’s completely new.  And while I realize that it will sell for much more than that after the bidding is in, I can only dream… of being able to afford to ridiculous property taxes that would undoubtedly have to be paid on the property.

This could all be a big hoax of course.  I haven’t bothered to the thing, nor have I bothered calling the phone number.  But y’know, it’s still funny from an Internet lore point of view.  (Kinda like the infamous "Tiger Woods’ House in Hawaii".  Oh?  You didn’t get that one?  Sighhhh.)


Microsoft acknowledges: “Xbox360 USB HD-DVD drive WILL work on Windows Vista”

October 25, 2006

Holy crap!  We just acknowledged that the Xbox360’s USB-connected HD-DVD drive will work on Windows Vista seamlessly however it will still require a 3rd party player like Intervideo’s DVD.  (This is likely for the purposes of obtaining an H.264 license as well as using software that conforms to the rigid requirements of the DVDforum – mostly to prevent easy HD content duplication)

Xbox 360 HD-DVD PlayerI think this is a really big deal!  I think this announcement shows a few more of our bigger strategic cards on the table.   More importantly it also demonstrates how broad our decision maker’s thinking is – something I’ve always been proud of.   I mean, just think about it.  This move impacts:
– Windows Vista’s advancement against competitors like Apple & Linux
– Xbox 360’s advancement against competitors like Sony & Nintendo
– HD-DVD’s advancement over competitors like BluRay

I would surmise that a move like this implies that the XBox360 HD-DVD drive is not just a tool to develop interest in the Xbox360 itself.  This implies, liked I’d mentioned the other day that Microsoft is not the only source of subsidization for the Xbox360 HD-DVD drive’s cost.  In fact, I’ll bet (although I have no actual visibility into this part of the company – it’s just my hunch) that the DVDForum/Toshiba is in on this as well to help advance the standard on next-generation desktop systems and further permeate the hobbiest world that isn’t interested in purchasing a $1000 BluRay drive or a $600 Playstation 3 console. 

Another thing to note is that they clearly state "on Windows Vista".  I’ll bet $1000 right now that the drive is not supported on Windows XP.  This would be a good marketing tool to encourage individuals to adopt the HD-DVD standard along with Windows Vista for media-a-philes, which I think we can all agree will eventually become the next desktop OS standard.

WOW.  And the implications of this are huge relative to the next generation HD standard a.k.a. the BluRay vs HD-DVD war.   Sony’s discounted BluRay player is embedded into the PS3, and they’re marketing the PS3 as "the way to get a cheap HD quality video player".  By tying the drive however to their game console, they’ve essentially locked themselves out of a huge opportunity to move BluRay forward.

  • – On one hand, if they continue to make PS3 the "way to get BluRay", then they miss out on the PC crowd while people buy XBox360 HD-DVD drives for their systems on-the-cheap.
  • – On the other hand, if they subsidize the creation of a low cost PC connectable BluRay player for ~$200, they’ve just taken the wind out of their "buy a PS3 for a cheap BluRay player" argument.

They’re at a strategic disadvantage on either BluRay or PS3 – one or the other.  Given that PS3 is make-or-break for the company, I doubt that they will opt for the latter option and instead hope that HD-DVD doesn’t grab a foothold as rapidly as it could.

And y’know what?  This move actually has precedent in our history.  In 1995, Microsoft and Chinon subsidized the cost of a PC CD-ROM player to enable a next generation of developers and users to start installing Windows 95 via CDROM instead of installing using the 25 3.5inch floppies that the OS required.  I think the cost was something like $100 for the drive with the purchase of Windows 95.  It was a huge hit and people actively bought Windows 95 for the CDROM drive (and only Windows 95 supported CDROM using high throughput 32-bit drivers) or people that wanted Windows 95 likely took advantage of the CDROM drive just so that they could start to take advantage of the multimedia playback capabilities of the new OS.

It was a very successful move that put CDROM actively on the map.  Some might argue that CDROM would have been successful without this deal, but I think historians have acknowledged that the offer was one that made greatly accelerated CDROM’s adoption – especially on the Windows platfrom – and recognized it as the technology replacement for floppies instead of things like Iomega’s Zip Drive technology which, while it arrived on the scene later, never quite got a foothold in the marketplace because it was never recognized by either PC manufacturers or Microsoft as a "must have" storage medium.

Had it been, we might be booting up to Zip drives instead of CDROMs, USB keys, and external USB-connected Hard Drives like we do today.

Apple Advertisement Parodies Galore

October 25, 2006

I’m wondering what Apple thinks about all the parodies being produced of their ads. 

On one hand, there’s the old saying in business:  "There’s no such thing as bad advertising."  On the other hand, if the advertising brings attention to your products flaws relative to your competitor’s is it really advertising any more?  Take for instance this Mac ad parody that highlight’s the Macintosh’s inability to support pen computing well. 

I guess it is still advertising considering it’s getting the brand out there, but isn’t that overshadowed by the content’s focus on your product’s inadequacies?

The bottom line is that there seems to be an absolute torrent of Mac ad parodies coming out of the the woodwork at a rate 4x faster than the creation of actual Mac ads.  There’s a few that I can’t post because, while funny, their NSFW by any stretch of the imagination, so here’s a few that I CAN post for everyone to check out: