Industry News: 2k Sports Announces $1 million MLB 2K10 Challenge

MLB 2k10

2k Sports announces $1 million Challenge for MLB 2K10

Sometimes I laugh about tournaments and challenges that are revealed that seem too good to be true.  I remember when CPL announced they were holding a $1 million Halo tournament in 2007?  I laughed out loud when I heard that CPL announcement years go but I didn’t laugh at all when I was forwarded a note from a colleague last Friday.

2k sports has officially announced that they are putting a bounty of sorts on their upcoming Major League Baseball game.  This is the 10th edition of the 2K sports franchise and they are serious about drawing people in to their new “revamped pitching mechanics”.  What would draw people in to play the 10th edition of a game that is probably the least popular sports genre in video games?  How about a million dollar prize?

The details have not been released but according to this page on their website the first person to pitch a perfect game before May 3rd, 2010 wins $1 million.  Of course everyone’s first reaction is that it is probably impossible to pitch a perfect game.  I mean they coded the game and they have probably made sure to cover their asses when throwing out a bounty that large for a video game?

However I am wondering if they won’t capitalize if someone actually wins the prize?  I watched EA blow $3.2 million yesterday on a 30 second commercial during the Super Bowl.  How many copies of the game will they have to sell to recover that money?  Of course they will get some name recognition for their overall EA branding, but all of that exposure was used up in 30 seconds.  With this promotion announced by 2K Sports they will receive exposure (just like my blog here) over the next at least 30 days or maybe even 90 days if someone does not win right away.

The funny thing is that my gut reaction was skepticism but now I am starting to draw up plans to pursue this and provide the opportunity for others in my video game center to pursue it.  What does that mean?  I will buy many more copies of MLB 2K10 than I would have without a challenge.  Normally for the next MLB sports franchise game I would purchase 3 copies for each store.   One would stay new for sale, two would be opened for players in the store or for sale used.

Now I am looking at maybe 10-12 copies for our store in Terre Haute as well as finishing my project for live streaming 4 stations in the store.  This will allow me to promote the event, have enough copies for everyone to attempt the challenge and then have everyone on the Internet watch live streams of the players attempts and emotional failures.  (top of the 9th innning, 3 outs away from $1 million and OH NO!….. he gives up a base hit to center field!)

Hats off 2K Sports for putting marketing money where a ton more people in the industry can take advantage of it and help them sell more games.

New Tech Review: Xbox 360 Ready Up Servers

Ready Up Servers provides console game hosting.

Sometimes an idea comes along that makes you both happy and sad at the same time.  Happy that someone is finally taking initiative and creating a solution to a problem and sad that you didn’t think of the idea first!  This happened to me yesterday when I came across a new company called Ready Up Servers.

I have been in gaming for many years and had the opportunity to be an Xbox LIVE beta tester 7 years ago.  I started out on the LIVE network 2 months before it was released to the public and was able to play some games that were never even released.  At the time PCs dominated the online world and Xbox was bashed pretty hard for wanting to start a service that would cost users money to play online.  I wonder if those critics feel good about themselves when they read articles like this one about the 20+ million Xbox LIVE users time spent online: 17 Billion Hours Spent on Xbox LIVE

When LIVE was created the standard for gaming online was that developers needed to create servers for the players to join to be able to play against other players.  Keep in mind that gamers back then had a REALLY hard time getting decent broadband connections at their homes.  The standard connection was between 128kbps and high end connections were 512kbps if you had the cash.  The server business for gaming was pretty juicy at the time but was an extra burden for game developers to create an maintain these systems.

After consoles started into the market broadband was picking up steam and capacity was increasing at an amazing rate.  DSL and Cable access showed up and started giving consumers cheap options for true broadband.  Xbox LIVE took advantage of this and had their systems use one of the player’s home systems as the actual server for the matches.  8 player matches would then have 1 player as the host station and the other 7 stations would connect to them to send and receive data for the game.

As you can imagine this was pretty revolutionary at the time and saved companies tons of money in server development and maintenance.  The players themselves were the server admins and most of the time they don’t even know it.  The console itself creates the server and manages the connections behind the scenes.

With this development a big problem started developing among the competitive gaming community.  The player who had the host console was able to see and do things in real time.  Their own console was accepting the controller inputs and displaying the results on screen instantly while the other 7 players around the world had to send their inputs over the Internet and receive results to display on their screens back.  Little did I know I would come to hate “host advantage” so much over the next 7 years listening to players whine during our tournaments.

From a competitive standpoint obviously this isn’t fair to the other 7 guys playing the game.  It isn’t a big deal to the developers because by my estimate only about 2% of the market plays these games competitively versus the other 98%  who are couch warriors and just play for recreation.  However for the competitive market this has been a problem that we have tried to overcome unsuccessfully for years through special rules and sharing “host” during tournaments.

A few games have been developed that will allow you to turn your Xbox into a dedicated server.  I remember playing Unreal Championship in the early Xbox LIVE days when I also ran an ISP.   I had 4 original Xbox systems, 4 extra copies of the game plugged into my head router right on our T3 connection.  If I tried to get into the server but it was full I would simply log into our router, close the port to one of the Xbox consoles which would kick everyone out of the game, then open the port back up and quickly connect.

Ready Up Servers is taking this concept to the next level.  It doesn’t make sense to have network admins on staff shutting of ports and re-opening them.  Not to mention there would need to be someone at the hosting facility to change the game settings.  They have created a solution which is simple on paper but more complex under the hood.

Ready Up Servers Set-up

This is taken from one of their developers forum avatars and seems to be a typical set-up for Ready Up Servers in their hosting facilities in Dallas.

Ready Up Servers is currently in a free trial mode while they continue to develop the technology and finish setting up their company and policies.  You can reserve a dedicated server by creating an account on their homepage and filling out the request form.  When your time comes you are able to login to a web interface that gives you control over the Xbox system acting as the server.

There are a ton of “work arounds” that happen with this solution.  Xbox 360s are closed for development and not supported for integrating software with the unit itself (legally).  I believe that what the smart folks at Ready Up Servers have done is simply automate the input system by simulating an Xbox 360 controller from the controlling servers (see picture to the left).

From reading the feedback of players that have used the service it seems you select an action on the web interface and then you just watch the server simulate those commands to the Xbox.  For example when you invite players to the match the server simulates pushing the Xbox Guide button, selecting the friends menu, adding the new user as a friend and then inviting them to the match.

So what exactly is the end result?  The players from all over the world have a dedicated connection to a NEUTRAL host Xbox 360 giving everyone a fair connection.  No single player has instant input/output from their own Xbox host any longer.  Also because the Ready Up Server systems are located in a massive data center in Dallas, TX they have fast response times to everywhere in the US and even worldwide.

Of course it isn’t time to crack out the champagne and hope that Ready Up Servers sells you some stock before their IPO.  The system really only works with games that have the ability to act as a host in the game itself.  Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is the only game currently supported on their system.  They list Halo 3 as something they can also support but I seriously doubt how this would work since the game itself does not have an option to host a game without spawning the host Xbox into the match itself.

The cool thing  moving forward is getting this revolutionary concept accepted by developers.  Then perhaps they will consider making more dedicated server options inside of the games.  Past titles like Rainbow Six Vegas 2 were developed with an actual dedicated server option in the game.  If more games will do this then the Ready Up Server system will really see some great value.

Hats off to the guys at Ready Up Servers on working to solve a problem and I sure hope that you will be rewarded someday for your forward thinking and actions.

Goodbye discs….

When I originally saw the announcement that Wal-Mart and Best Buy were going to try the used game market I knew it wouldn’t work.  Of course saying this now doesn’t mean much since they both announced yesterday the termination of their used game program.  Toys-R-Us is still promoting that you can trade-in games with them but knowing some of the workers at our local store tells me they won’t be doing it much longer either.

With the news that the big boys were not going to continue to try and jump into that market against GameStop I have been reading many posts from “experts” about sweet GameStop is because they have a corner on the used market.  I can’t help but laugh because I sure as hell am glad we didn’t go full force into disc retail last year like we planned.

@eBash we wanted to basically fill up our stores to the brim with games, used and new, and use our influence and location to sell tons of retail.  After visiting Coy Christmas at his awesome store, Brag Game Rights in Duluth, MN, we wanted to start relying heavily on retail to continue to grow our business.  We thought retail could double our monthly sales easily and help us grow our stores to $1 million a year in sales.

However like everything else today our plans were drastically effected by the economic downturn in 2009 and we had to use our cash to keep our stores going and only did about 15% of our inventory that we originally planned.  Our sales are complimentary to our main business but the retail disc market has TERRIBLE margins.  For example Gamestop pays about $47 for a new Xbox 360 or PS3 game that retails for $59.99.  At our small quantities we can get them for about $50 wholesale on average for the same games.

So now as I look to the future I still believe that retail will play a HUGE part in our game center industry but it will not be with the discs themselves.  I am not sure why the console experts think their community is different than PC… just ask PC folks how the disc market is today compared to download sales?  Xbox 360 already is pushing the crap out of their downloadable full games that are a few years old.  Want another example?  How about the new PSP Go?  100% download only.

You don’t believe that downloading games on the console is closer than the “experts” like to think?  Take a look at the DLC (Down Load Content) coming out for games like GTA IV, CoD W@W and other big titles like Gears 2 and Halo 3.  Game publishers know that they can drop a $20 DLC pack and make a much bigger return on their costs than producing an entire game that is distributed on discs.  Last year Microsoft admitted to basically blowing it by making Halo 3: ODST a full disc game instead of a DLC pack.

It makes me sad to think about the change because my brother works at Sony DADC here in town which produces all of the PS3 discs for the US.  I even worked at the same plant as an engineering intern for 3 years putting myself through college.   That will be a huge blow to our local economy here because thousands of people with great paying jobs will be out of work.

My prediction?  All games will be download only by the end of the year 2012, not 2015 like the “experts” are predicting.