The Problem With… Nintendo Apologists

bundle_gray_tabletopI’ve pre-ordered a Switch. I do however still stand by my original stance that the Switch isn’t an impressive system; it’s ugly, under-powered and will struggle to get 3rd parties back on board. So why then have I pre-ordered? I’ve been a Nintendo fan since back in the NES days and their games still have that something special that keeps me coming back. Don’t get me wrong, they do occasionally churn out some shit. Even big franchises like The Legend of Zelda have the occasional “miss”; I thought both Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword were among the worst in the franchise. I also like the idea of taking some potentially great games like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with me while I travel. These days I find myself playing handheld systems like my Vita more often than my home consoles so the Switch might be a great setup for me.

I understand Nintendo get a lot wrong (as we’ll delve into in this article) but there’s a lot of fans who I guess we’d call “fanboys” who are so blinded by their sheer love for everything Nintendo that they cannot and will not accept any criticism thrown at the company. Now to be clear, there’s die hards in both the Sony and Microsoft camps too but Nintendo breed a special kind of loyal fan. In the past I’ve been labelled a Nintendo fanboy and a Sony fanboy but honestly, I’m neither. I criticise things I hate with all 3 video game giants, I just have a tendency to enjoy first party Nintendo games and in recent years my consoles of choice tend to be Sony devices – that’s my personal preference. So let’s explore the special flowers that are Nintendo apologists. I’m going to use a few personal anecdotes in this article which I’m ok with as I’m specifically making an argument about these types of fans, not Nintendo fans in general.

I recently got into a debate on a Facebook group when I saw a post stating “That explains why the pro controller is more expensive, that’s insane it has that all built in. Glad to know that”. The post was accompanied by a brief description of its features. The tech inside the pro controller boasts features such as “motion controls”, “HD rumble” (whatever that will end up being) and “built in amiibo functionality”. Firstly, I’m not totally convinced that these features do explain the high cost of this controller. Doing a quick search, the Xbox One controller retails for around $50 and includes their own version of updated rumble in the form of “Impulse Triggers”. A PS4 DualShock 4 can also be picked up new for a similar price and they too feature new tech such as the light bar, speaker (new to PlayStation controllers) and a “Clickable touchpad”. Arguably of course the Switches HD rumble might be a revolution compared to the rumble of old but do an NFC reader and a fancy update to rumble justify a full $20 increase over the competition? Let’s give the poster the benefit of the doubt here and agree that this “new” tech actually does justify the $20 increase. WHY DO I NEED IT? And here’s my argument that I posted in response:

“That doesn’t mean the majority of players want all that tech. Does everything in your house really need to have the ability to scan amiibo? Or would the main screen be sufficient? I’d certainly take the lack of amiibo scanning in a specific controller if it meant the price was £15 less.”11396097-6244453754475000

A second poster then argued that indeed, this same logic could be applied to PS4 or Xbox One controllers. I agreed that indeed that is true but that doesn’t justify Nintendo bumping the cost of their controller up significantly. We as consumers come to expect a certain price bracket for consoles and accessories and indeed on this matter gamers will vote with their wallets I’m sure. The worst part about this is that the pro controller isn’t even the most expensive controller on offer. A set of Joy-Cons will set you back around $90! Journalists and fans alike (well, except for Nintendo apologists) seem up in arms about the price, Polygon seemed to have done the work for me here, after checking Twitter Ben Kuchera stated “I checked Twitter to see if I was just suffering from a case of unrealistic expectations and nope, there seems to be some serious pushback from others about the price of these accessories”1. Jim Sterling commented after the reveal “Let’s look at everything else Nintendo did to kill my interest in the switch”2 before going on to complain about the price of not only the pro controller but other accessories. Colin Moriarty explained on his new show “Colin Was Right”:

“You do have to do something to keep people around. The games aren’t there and they aren’t going to be there and these ridiculous peripheral prices are simply isolating potential customers even more.”3

sales-figures

Gamers could chose to take or leave the console and any accessories; Nintendo has every right to charge whatever they feel is reasonable but get this. Since the NES we’ve seen a notable decline in install base throughout all of their home consoles4, with the Wii being the one anomaly here. The NES for example shifted over 60 million units whereas the Wii U has managed fewer than 14 million units and with the Switch releasing in less than 2 months that figure isn’t likely to creep up much further. With that I’d consider it a reasonable expectation that Nintendo should do everything they can to win back a bit of loyalty. Maybe sell the console for a significant loss in order to get the install base back up? After all they’d make a killing on software, much like the business model Sony and Microsoft have used many times in the past.5 How about charge a reasonable price for extra controllers? Maybe bundle in the ability to charge the Joy-Cons with the included grip rather than having to shell out for a special charging grip?6 So the slightly higher than expected price of controllers and accessories alone isn’t the only issue here. I think a Facebook post I wrote summaries this nicely:

“What exactly would Nintendo have to do in order for you to call them out on it? Shit on your lawn? There are a stack of issues surrounding the switch and so many Nintendo apologists are coming out with excuse after excuse.

Look, it’s not JUST the charging issue here, that’s merely the icing on the cake or should that be cack?”

Let’s address some of the other points then that are contributing to this mess. The launch line-up is really weak, on the launch day itself we have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Ok, here’s a decent first party franchise) and 1-2 Switch in terms of first party titles. As for 3rd party? Skylanders something or another, Just Dance 20 whatever year it is and Super Bomberman R.7 Nothing really to write home about. And as for Zelda, well although this is a beloved Nintendo franchise it really isn’t a big system seller; just take a look at past Nintendo sales figures.8 I’d also add that out of these games 1-2 Switch and Super Bomberman R are the only exclusives, Zelda is also on Wii U and the rest of the bunch are coming to multiple platforms. Ok, so how about games released during 2017? Notable “big” games include Super Mario Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, FIFA, NBA 2K18, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 and ARMS. Notice the absence of a lot of major cross platform games? Where are Call of Duty, Battlefield, Resident Evil 7, Kingdom Hearts III, Mass Effect Andromeda, Metal Gear Survive, Red Dead Redemption 2 and South Park: Fractured But Whole to named but a few. Sure, as the saying goes “people buy a Nintendo or Nintendo games, not cross-platform games”. Hmmm, I’d be convinced of that if only the sales figures showed that to be the case. The fact is when most households chose to splash out on a console they are clearly picking the Sony or Microsoft boxes that can play a few great exclusives as well as being supported extensively by 3rd party developers. Think about it, gamers with a bit of excess cash might buy 2 or even all 3 of these home systems but many kids or adults on lower incomes will only buy one console. And these consumers will certainly want a box that gives them a decent variety of games, including games that their friends are talking about.  And this brings me to the next comment I found on Facebook:

“The hybrid nature of the console will hold it back from being a mainstream success. But it will likely do pretty well, Zelda at launch, MK8 Splatoon and Mario Odyssey all in the first year, will keep the system selling well all the way through its first year.”

My response to this statement?

“4 games in a year will not “keep the system selling well”, especially when 2 of them are essentially “deluxe” versions of existing games and zelda is not an exclusive.”

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The conversation continued with this user stating that I was “forgetting those are four of the biggest games Nintendo has”. The problem is that these “biggest” franchises also made appearances on Wii U and they didn’t shift enough consoles so what makes him think they will just because they are coming to a new platform? Another user then chimed in to tell me games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe aren’t simply ports like we saw from PS3 to PS4. I’m not sure what he’d consider a port then when Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is (as the name implies) a Deluxe version of an old game, it includes all previous DLC and a couple of extra bits and pieces to sweeten the deal. It is by no means a brand new game and it isn’t being marketed in that way either. To top off this debate the original user then informed me that these games did in fact sell the Wii U console. Really? REALLY? The 85 million or so gamers who bought a Wii but didn’t buy a Wii U might disagree with you there! The final comment from the original user was also a bit of a surprise after I’d mentioned to him that you only have to look at how the media reacted after the second reveal. Proving my point that Nintendo apologists are almost blind to any criticism he noted:

“The “buzz surrounding it died”? In what world are you living in? Ever major gaming, tech, nerd , and even news outlet has covered the Switch conference.”

Well I’m actually referring to the likes of the Jimquisition episode9 on this subject where Jim Sterling does a fine job of highlighting some of the points (and others) that I’ve mentioned here. Jim specifically mentions at the end of the video that he made the episode out of frustration because he believes Nintendo has “the potential to be the best platform holder…”.10 I’m doing much the same thing here, I haven’t written this article to slate Nintendo – I’ve ordered the Switch! I’ve wrote this article to vent my frustration at a company which makes so many stupid mistakes that they really shouldn’t make.

Would you like more proof that the buzz died after the reveal? How about the Kinda Funny guys? Colin specifically stated after the Nintendo reveal11 back in October 2016 “I’m excited to pre-order”.12 After the second reveal Colin commented that he was “not very excited”13 before the guys commented negatively on the price of the accessories14 and everything else for that matter!15 Anecdotally I might also add that during the original reveal I left several comments on forums expressing my dislike of the Switch’s ugly, clumsy design. I was pretty much shot down immediately, not a lot of people agreed with me. Fast forward to the second reveal and forums are now seemly divided down the middle with arguments revolving around the high price of the accessories, the Nintendo network becoming a premium service (more on this soon) and the sparse launch line up. And then there’s the articles, of course it wouldn’t be fair to say that all the Switch press was negative. There are indeed a lot of positive posts and many fans and journalists alike have been won over. But just look at a few of these headlines and I think you’ll agree that Nintendo haven’t exactly knocked it out of the park:

The pricing on Nintendo Switch accessories is a bad, bad joke1
Nintendo Switch online service’s ‘free’ monthly games come with a huge catch161-2-Switch is not the killer app the Nintendo Switch needs17
Nintendo Switch will launch with fewer games than the Wii, Wii U or 3DS18
Nintendo Switch’s bundled Joy-Con grip doesn’t charge controllers19

And I think that sums up Nintendo, there are always caveats with their services, games and products. And talking of services, let’s take a look at Nintendo’s new offerings. First of all there’s news that the Switch’s voice chat is done…wait for it… via a smart phone app!20 That’s right folks, there is no native voice chat built into the Switch, and here’s the reasoning behind it according to NOA’s head honcho Reggie Fils-Aime:

“we want to reinforce the capability to take your experience with you on the go…. The ability to do matchmaking, voice chat through your phone, it’s a hell of a lot more convenient than having a gamer headset stuck into your backpack trying to do that. That’s why we’re doing it the way we are. We see the convenience, we see the ease of delivery. We think it’s going to lead to a better experience.”20

This is another common problem with Nintendo, they do things so against the grain that it defies all logic yet Nintendo will outright defend these decisions, as will their apologists. If the issue here is parental controls then implement controls to block this feature for children. If however the issue really is convenience then why can’t we have the best of both worlds and include voice chat out of the box as well as via a smart device app? Is Reggie seriously trying to say voice chat via a phone is more convenient? Not only does this mean anybody who wants to voice chat needs a couple of hundred pounds worth of mobile phone, but it needs to be charged, have a decent signal and be used separately from the Switch’s interface. And how about the “gamer headset stuck into your backpack”? Is he suggesting you no longer need a headset? So I just sit on the train with my phone next to my ear or with the speaker blearing out? Or do I use a small set of headphones with a microphone? If the latter then why can’t I use that with a Switch instead of the massively inconvenient headset Reggie assumes I need if voice chat was native to the console?

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For the record, personally I don’t care about voice chat, especially on a Nintendo console as I’m not a big online gamer. Like voice chat or not though, there’s a hell of a lot of gamers out there who use this feature daily on the PS4 and Xbox One. How can Nintendo ever hope to gain a big fan base when online gamers are denied basic features like this? Yet again though, the apologists help justify Nintendo’s absurd decision. One Facebooker commented “When you make things more difficult for people to use – voice chat – you deserve to be endlessly mocked.” Perhaps he was trolling a little as this was on the Nintendo Voice Chat Facebook group, however, just look at this response “I don’t agree. Nintendo is pivoting towards mobile as a focal point. They approach online differently as such. So, it may not be for you, but mocking is for kids online.” “Pivoting towards mobile”? So that’s the justification for shafting core online gamers?

It seems that voice chat isn’t the only online feature Nintendo is having a stab at butchering either. Much like Xbox Live and PSN, Nintendo will now also start charging for online functionality and in return gamers can expect online lobbies with voice chat, exclusive deals and monthly game downloads from the NES and SNES libraries.21 Here’s the catch, not only have Nintendo miserably failed with all online ventures on previous consoles when compared to Sony and Microsoft but their new paid for service will be giving fans access to an 8 or 16-bit game for one month only!22 Ok, so I’m a firm believer that gameplay is king and I also think that some of the finest games in existence can be found on both the NES and SNES but there’s no denying that offering gamers limited access to 20 or 30 year old games for a month isn’t exactly on par with their competitors. Sony alone offers 6 games per month (2 on each platform from PS3, PS4 and Vita), not forgetting that quite often a selection of these games are also cross-platform so the argument of “I only have a PS4 though” doesn’t wash here. Arguably a lot of these games aren’t worth the bandwidth they use to download but there have also been some great games on the service over the years. And what’s more, both Sony and Microsoft let you play these games for the entirety of your subscription. Having now been a subscriber for 5 or 6 years myself I literally have access to hundreds of games.

I actually put this question to members of the Nintendo Voice Chat Facebook group and in general most responses agreed with me. There were however a couple which tried to justify Nintendo’s decisions and put a positive spin on things. Here’s a couple:

“I like it the flavor of the month concept to it. In reality most of these games take a few hours to beat. So a month should be more than enough time with an NES or SNES game.”

“In a way wouldn’t having it only as a month motivate people to play right away, fill the online modes and most will be done with NES and SNES games after a month anyway? Just a thought.”

“The good thing about the monthly thing would that it would encourage a lot of people to play it that month. This would make it a lot easier to find people to play online with during that month.”

“I like it, i think it will be great for everyone to have access to the same title at the same time.”

Now, I understand what the first commenter is suggesting. In general a lot of NES / SNES era games can realistically be beaten with a couple of hours. However, what I don’t agree with is justifying this decision just because a game is short. Let’s put it this way, sometimes I might buy a game or get one free with PS+ but not actually get around to playing it for months, or even years in some cases. Why would Nintendo putting a restriction on the availability of the game be a good thing? Isn’t it better for the gamer to decide when they want to play the game instead of having it dictated to them?

I’d urge you all to throw away your nostalgia and throw away your biases and really take a look at Nintendo’s decisions. This is a company I grew up with, I love their consoles and love their games but there’s nothing wrong with calling out a company when they do something shitty. It’s pretty clear from Nintendo’s dwindling sales figures that they are struggling to stay relevant and keep up with Microsoft and Sony and if they at least don’t try and offer similar services and technology they will eventually fall.

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Finally, please go and watch both the Colin Was Right episode “Same Old Nintendo” and the Jimquisition episode “What Nintendo Fucked Up With The Switch So Far”. Both of these episodes are excellent, level headed and delivered by Nintendo fans.

A note about any Facebook quotations I’ve used.
I’ve left quotes unaltered, including spelling and typos. I felt this was the best way to avoid misquoting anybody. I’ve left out any citation here; they are simply being used as anecdotes to protect the users anonymity.

1 – http://www.polygon.com/2017/1/13/14261342/nintendo-switch-extra-controller-price-terrible
2 – https://youtu.be/7fH_wl8ceAg?t=341
3 – https://youtu.be/LenzNAyRnWU?list=PLy3mMHt2i7RJjrxBVoVL5tDTbhimG4NFz&t=540
4 – https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/en/sales/hard_soft/
5 – http://www.pcworld.com/article/127906/article.html
6 – http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-01-16-nintendo-switchs-basic-joy-con-grip-doesnt-charge-controllers
7 – https://twitter.com/NintendoAmerica/status/820006323328864256/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
8 – http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/01/29/these-are-nintendos-lifetime-hardware-and-software-numbers
9 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fH_wl8ceAg&t=352s
10 – https://youtu.be/7fH_wl8ceAg?t=681
11 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5uik5fgIaI
12 – https://youtu.be/HONQAWV5nxQ?t=754
13 – https://youtu.be/QdNiaVEzrwM?t=333
14 – https://youtu.be/QdNiaVEzrwM?t=452
15 – https://youtu.be/QdNiaVEzrwM?t=511
16 – http://www.polygon.com/2017/1/13/14266290/nintendo-switch-monthly-games-not-free
17 – http://www.polygon.com/2017/1/13/14268204/1-2-switch-nintendo-switch-pre-review
18 – http://www.polygon.com/nintendo-switch/2017/1/13/14263186/nintendo-switch-lineup-wii-wiiu-3ds-comparison
19 – http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-01-16-nintendo-switchs-basic-joy-con-grip-doesnt-charge-controllers
20 – http://uk.ign.com/articles/2017/01/14/nintendo-talks-voice-chat-online-approach-for-switch
21 – http://uk.ign.com/articles/2017/01/13/nintendo-switch-online-services-will-be-free-at-first
22 – https://twitter.com/kobunheat/status/819956802741747712?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

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The used games debate

coventryxl_01

Used games have plagued publishers and developers for many years but with a move towards digital content and talk of patents to stop used games sales from both Sony[1] and Microsoft[2] could the age of second hand games be coming to a close? It is very doubtful that only one developer will pursue this type of tech, otherwise they risk a large portion of their fan base switching sides. Nevertheless digital sales are on the increase and with no way to sell your digital content license after you have finished with it you no longer have the option to make money from old games (and nor do retailers).

You can’t blame console manufacturers for wanting to cut back or even stop the sale of used games; after all they normally sell consoles at a loss. Even the PS3 sold at a loss when it was first released and that was priced at £425[3]. The reason behind this is to get a good install base built up and then generate revenue from software sales. If gamers decide to buy only used games this means the console manufacturer will have no way to recoup their costs; IGN’s Colin Moriarity talks more about this issue during an episode of game scoop! Which I suggest you check out [4].

Used games have been a staple of many games retailers for years; it is no secret that shops can make a greater profit from buying and selling used games than they can from new releases. After all when a new game is released is has to cover manufacturing costs as well as pay the publisher and developer; all of these factors eat away at a retailers profits. When buying and selling a second hand game the retailer is free to pocket all the profits (minus overheads of course) as the developer and publisher has no way to take a cut (although there are now online activate codes, which I talk about later). Selling second hand games isn’t illegal so a shop or gamer is well within their rights to make a profit from doing this.

This article raises several arguments for and against used games and from the offset I’d like to make it clear that I don’t present a right or wrong answer, I am merely presenting both sides of the story.

Why should the games industry be any different? 

Many of those in favour of used games can argue that the games industry operates no different from other industries with regards to second hand sales. Vauxhall for example won’t get a cut of my money if I sell my Corsa next year, nor should they. Why should the games industry be the exception to this rule? If you purchased the game as a boxed product then decide you no longer want it why shouldn’t you be able to sell it? Now on the other hand it could be argued that Vauxhall have a very good chance of continuing to make a profit long after my car has sold, not only do they offer services and MOTs on used cars but Vauxhall parts will need to be bought to maintain the car (of course 3rd party parts can be purchased instead).

Another way in which car manufacturers capitalise on used sales is by having their own used car show rooms and finance options. This would be akin to a developer or publisher such as EA setting up a dedicated store, specialising in the sale of used EA games. You could then argue that if used games pose such a large problem then developers should open up shops to sell their own used games at competitive prices.

DLC, online multiplayer and patches

Developers can still benefit from sales of used software, let me explain why. This generation has witnessed a sharp rise in the sale of DLC (downloadable content) and generally this is viewed as a way to extend the life of a game by adding new maps, levels, stories etc…

The original owner may have also bought a DLC pack which cannot be transferred to the new owner. If the new owner then decides to also buy DLC the developer makes a further sale even though only one game has been sold. Strategically timed DLC can even prevent or at least prolong a player selling on their copy of the game. The Call of Duty franchise for example, offers DLC over several months, therefore if you want to experience the new content you have to keep hold of the game.

Along with DLC this generation has also seen a big push for online multiplayer content and this brings us to another debate. DLC and online multiplayer both require an internet connection and are both offered to a customer via a server. When DLC is obtained by a customer the developer is directly benefiting from the customer accessing the server (which will cost money to run and maintain) whereas multiplayer is generally a free service. Developers have recently started to capitalise on this by only allowing access to multiplayer content if an online pass is activated. The pass will come free with all new games but can only be activated on one account. If the game is bought used the new owner must buy another online code in order to access the multiplayer content. In this situation you cannot blame the developer; after all you are not only playing a game in which they have received no money from you directly but you are now also using their server bandwidth and interacting with their online community. It could however be argued that the previous owner will no longer be accessing the multiplayer content and so their impact on the server and bandwidth has simply been passed on to the new owner.

Developers can also lose out when they offer patches and various updates for a game. Patches cost the developer money to create, submit and store on a server for gamers to download. Services like this are totally free so a player with a second hand copy of the game will effectively be costing the developer money when they update their used game.

Building a fan base 

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Although buying used games isn’t illegal this debate reflects a similar situation the music industry found itself in with the rise of Napster back in the early 2000s. Big well established bands such as Metallica complained that they were losing money from all the sales they were missing out on [5]. On the other end of the scale many artists (generally less well known bands) didn’t actually mind their music being stolen because word spread and their fan base grew. Arguably the same could be applied to second hand games, with one large difference (and note I am not saying that buying used games is as bad as outright stealing music). Musicians make the majority of their income from touring and not from sales of music; developers on the other hand make most of their income from the sale of games.

Building a fan base through the sale of used games can have long term positive effects on game sales; many franchises I got into as a kid have stuck with me to this day. When I was younger I remember waiting all year for my birthday or Christmas just so I could get a few new games. I also remember saving money for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and this was a big event to buy a game brand new, on release! Generally this meant that if I wanted a game any other time of the year I would have to save a bit of pocket money and make a trip to the local games shop to sift through used games. Super Metroid was one game I remember buying second hand, years later I am still a fan and have bought brand new copies of every Metroid game ever since. This is one such example and I now find many established franchises I grew up with still interest me today and I buy new versions of these games. 

Retro games

Generally I will only buy a used game if it is no longer for sale brand new (retro games from old consoles) or if I have some sort of voucher e.g. CEX credit. This probably stems back to being a child and having to buy used games, generally in pretty poor condition. When I was finally old enough to earn my own money I opted for brand new games that I could open and be the first person to play (especially being a bit of a games collector and wanting to keep my collection in great condition). I no longer had to put up with kids who had smeared their jam and chocolate covered fingers over the cartridges.

As people get more invested in games they generally want to experience a back catalogue of a franchise they love or see how genres have evolved over the years. Others want mint condition copies of 20 year old games or to relive games they played as they were growing up. Previously I’ve never really considered retro games as part of the “used games” debate, owing to the fact that they are out of print and could not be bought new. This all changed with the release of consoles like the Wii and PS3, where back catalogues are now offered for many old franchises, effectively giving a developer a way to once again make money from old games.

Conclusion 

I can’t offer any real conclusion of sorts because I never expected to make a decision as to whether used games are a good thing or a bad thing. I think larger franchises which sell several million copies of a game won’t notice much of a mark on their profits from the sale of used games. If anything, my previous point about bringing in new fans to the franchise applies. With smaller developers and niche games that only sell several hundred thousand copies used games have a much larger impact on the developer. After all development costs are rising, teams are getting bigger and risky or poor selling games have a very large effect on the future of many developers. Maybe I’m biased because I work in the industry and see companies closing quite often. Maybe you think developers should be greedy and want to block all used games sales just so they make a bit of extra cash. Either way it’s an interesting time for the games industry.

[1] http://kotaku.com/5972787/sony-patent-could-stop-you-from-playing-used-games-possibly-on-the-next-playstation

[2] http://www.edge-online.com/news/the-next-xbox-always-online-no-second-hand-games-50gb-blu-ray-discs-and-new-kinect/

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/feb/01/games.guardianweeklytechnologysection2

[4] http://www.ign.com/videos/2013/02/06/game-scoop-the-pros-cons-of-an-always-connected-console

[5] http://web.archive.org/web/20071129061341/http://judiciary.senate.gov/testimony.cfm?id=195&wit_id=252