Packed with international game and console makers out to show the press and public just what they can do, the Tokyo Game Show opened yesterday for a three-day run at Chiba’s Makuhari Messe Convention Center. Eager to showcase their mobile gaming platforms, DoCoMo set up a giant booth splashed in black paint over yellow for a “street style” look. Multiple mobile play stations circling the entire area had event goers lined up ten deep to try out mobile games like Monster Hunter, Sonic, Gundam, and many more. Everyone who plays a game receives different free collectible badges that fit into a DoCoMo badge folder — also free — guaranteeing big crowds here. Last year DoCoMo enjoyed great success with a similar system that handed out collectible cards for each game.
Many handsets come with games already pre-loaded. The new DoCoMo N901iS, for example, has Dragonquest II (from Enix) pre-installed and ready to play. One of the most popular games was a mobile version of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog in playable demo form. Sonic will come bundled with one FOMA 901i-series phone starting this winter. An engaging game even on mobile, the movements and execution on the FOMA were reminiscent of the old Sega Genesis edition of Sonic. Capcom’s Monster Hunter, another popular game, will be exclusively on DoCoMo phones for a short time this winter but will soon migrate to other carriers’ game platforms according to a DoCoMo spokesman.
Japan’s 3G mobile phones have expanded the handheld gaming universe way beyond Nintendo and Sony. 3G phones are able to juggle Java and Brew-based high-resolution graphics and improved sound quality, especially through stereo earphones, now give mobile games more nuanced performance values. The spread of flat rate services also means players need not watch the clock or limit their downloads to a bare minimum. Monthly subscription for cell phone-based games typically run just 315 yen (US$2. 70) and increasingly popular, a one-time download option for 500 yen fee, is making them affordable to even average players. Unlike DoCoMo KDDI ignored their mobile game platform, EZ Game Street, completely and for the second year in a row prefers to push their broadband Internet service and its own online multi-player game platform.
Vodafone was most noticeable for its absence — again. By ignoring the Game Show, the company misses an excellent opportunity to showcase Vodafone’s creative and extensive library of games. Though they were part of a free Vodafone Live handout from gaming bible Famitsu, why not shout louder about their innovative V603SH motion sensor handset which no one else in the world has yet? Get some cute campaign girls to wave it around while playing games, generate goodwill for Vodafone and put a little (e)motion in some Otaku hearts.
Sega was showing off their Edy and Felica IC card phone connection. The Saifu Ketai [wallet phones] are already featured on both DoCoMo and now KDDI au handsets. The beauty of the Edy connection and gaming is that the card reader can be attached to game machines already in place at game, shopping and entertainment centers. The system locks onto the machine much like a Limpet mine with only a minimal adjustment needed to incorporate card reading into the revenue mix.
This year’s Game Show is shaping up to be the battle of the boxes: Microsoft’s Xbox 360 goes on sale in Japan this December and Sony’s PlayStation 3 debuts in spring 2006. Microsoft has chosen this venue as a world premier for a selection of Xbox 360 playable demos. Japanese gamers will be among the first in the world to put the Xbox 360 through its paces with Ridge Racer 6, World Airforce, N-3 Ninety Nine Nights, Wrestle Kingdom and more. The Microsoft booth also showcased colorful skins for the Xbox 360 — behind glass of course — much like those for Appl’s iPod or Shuffle series.
Sony opted for much less satisfying theatrical style trailers for their PS3 game lineup. Despite not being able to play most the games, previews for Capcom’s Biohazard 5 and Konami Metal Gear Solid 4 are packing in crowds at the giant Sony PS3 screening area for some vicarious thrills.
This weekend’s show featured one of the first joint outings of soon-to-be merged Namco and Bandai. The two companies are sharing a booth, though each features its own lineup of games. Their theme seemed to be ‘nothing succeeds like excess’ and the Namco/Bandai signboard over their gaming area was nothing short of massive. Even by game show standards, this was a big signboard. Namco already has a significant mobile phone cross-platform presence with a library of games including small screen versions of Ridge Racer, Time Crisis and Xenosaga on all three carriers. Bandai has outsourced much of their game development for popular toy lines but hopes to bring that in house now that Namco is part of the team.
Though the Internet was full of rumors Nintendo would appear, the game giant was a no show. Nintendo has traditionally shunned the Tokyo Game Show, preferring to stage its own exclusive public and press events. However, this hardly seems the time for excess hubris given the intense competition within the console and handheld gaming sectors and declining game sales worldwide. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata did condescend to make one of the keynote speeches during the opening ceremonies on the 16th. Microsoft Entertainment Division Senior Vice President Robby Bach was the other speaker. During the speech Iwata showed a preview of Nintendo’s new one-handed wireless controller for it?fs upcoming ‘Revolution’ game machine that frees players to move in synch with battle, sports or music-based games. Radically different from traditional two-handed controllers, the palm-sized unit senses not only movement but targeting, depth and position in relation to the game. It can be linked with a second unit that looks much like a small TV remote for games that need two-handed control.
Sony, Microsoft, Square, Capcom, Bandai, and Tomy, are just of few of the 131 companies represented at this huge event expected to draw over 150,000 visitors. Everybody who is anybody is here trying to outdo each other in hardware, software, games, girls and giveaways since Tokyo is one of the only international Game Show’s that for the price of a ticket, throws open the doors to the public. After all, these are the people who will be buying and playing these games on those very expensive consoles.
Though the excess of noise and neon is Las Vegas in proportions there were subtle indications that budgets were a little tighter this year giveaways centered around paper goods – posters, fans (lots of fans) and postcards – rather than plastic character items, phone and neck straps, pens and large full color stickers of game characters. Oh well, as long as they don’t skimp on the campaign girls then the thousands upon thousands of men and boys crowding the floor cameras in hand will not be disappointed. In fact if budget cuts mean the campaign girls’ costumes get even tinier it could increase attendance.
– Gail Nakada