Double Agent
Following the trends - September 3, 2000 - Andrew Kaufmann

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. Where to go? Don't say we didn't warn you.

I recently gave in to convenience and trendiness and invested in a cell phone. Does this mean I'm a dork that needs to be connected to technology all the time, or a hip cat? Hmm... I think the latter is out of the question, since I just used the phrase "hip cat."

Online worries

Right Idea, Wrong Time
"Broadband access is more of a fantasy than a reality." - Business 2.0

I find it remarkable that Sony is promising that their next generation system will be "the one" to deliver broadband entertainment to our livingrooms, that we'll be playing most of our games online against visible minorities, and downloading complete games, movies and music from Sony's vast entertainment content empire. What is even more remarkable is that Sony intends to accomplish this revolution with a device that won't ship with a modem, an ethernet adapter, or a hard drive, or from a company without an Internet strategy. What I don't think is remarkable is that Square would bet a large piece of their farm on such a promise, I think that's just plain stupid.

Microsoft is also making a similar promise with their X-Box. However, they're going to launch with the hardware to back it up, will most likely have an Internet strategy and the required systems in place, and will be offering fee-based Replay TV and Digital VCR services among it's rumored list of evils.

Unfortunately, what neither of these "broadband" consoles will have is an audience.

As it stands, broadband access is for the most part a North American thing. Canada leads the world with 17% of it's ONLINE population connecting to the internet at broadband speeds*, with the U.S. a distant second at 8.6% (due to the U.S. having 9x the population, it obviously leads in the number of broadband users which is around 5.5 million people). Most of the world, and particularly Japan, aren't anywhere near the numbers of either Canada or the United States in this area. When you consider that only about 10-15% of those few broadband users could possibly be interested in console gaming (probably an optimistic amount for sure), the numbers look even less promising. By 2003, they won't get much better.

(*) Although I could be wrong, I would believe that a "broadband connection" would be defined as any Internet connection capable of download speeds in excess of 200Kb/s (ISDN, Cable Modems, DSL...).

Forecasts for the number of broadband users by the year 2003 don't show much improvement. The percentage of online households with broadband access will rise to about 27% in Canada, 21% in the United States and only Australia, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Sweden are predicted to be over the 10% mark at that time. Of those countries, the United States is the only one that's considered a "key" marketplace in the videogaming industry, and they will lead the world with 25 million broadband users.

Disturbingly, a full year after the likely release of FFXI, the total number of Japanese broadband users will only be 2.5 million, a full 1.1 million less than Canada(at 3.6 million) despite having 3 times the population (120 to 40 million). Which brings us to FFXI.

Playing Online with Fire

Square has admitted that they will need at least 3.5 million subscribers per month to PlayOnline or they will lose money. The fact that they would even publicly announce such a detail should signal to everyone that aren't expecting to get 3.5 million monthly subscribers and are going to lose money. A ton of money. If 3.5 million people need to pay $5-10(US) a month for membership that means their expenditures for PlayOnline will be in the neighborhood of $17,500,000 - $35,000,000... or about 4x - 10x the development cost of FF8, per MONTH.

Between North America and Japan, Square will have a maximum market of around 25 million people capable of playing FFXI when it comes out late 2001/early 2002 (face it, 56K is barely fast enough to handle, let alone an online experience worthy of the Final Fantasy namesake). Then reduce that number to the amount of people who are into videogaming, have a PS2, and bothered to buy the PS2's optional ethernet adapter thing.

It's quite possible that by 2002 there could be fewer PlayOnline-ready PS2 units worldwide than the 3.5 million Square requires. As many recently failed "dot-com"s can attest to, market share means nothing when the market is too small.

For to succeed it will need to incorporate more titles from some of Square's other major franchises, it will have to run nearly flawlessly from day 1, and they will need to get on Sony's ass to ensure that millions of PS2 ethernet adapters find their way onto people's home consoles. Anything less could result in the failure of PlayOnline and possibly the sale of Square to a larger developer.

The more I watch Sony's fumbling of the Playstation 2, the more I believe that their broadband strategy is the Playstation 3.

The timing of the PS3 should be just about perfect. Around 2004- 2005, it will come out at a time where both Internet backbone and server technologies will be better equipped to deliver broadband entertainment. 56K modems will be woefully inadequate for even the simplest Internet tasks and will be replaced by broadband connections at a faster pace then ever before. Any faults present in the PS2 will be corrected and Sony's research into semi-conductors and broadband technologies will help produce a system that's not only difficult to beat, but can be applied a wide variety of configurations outside of just being a set-top box. Most importantly, Sony will have a solid business strategy and will be in a great position to make use of their massive libraries of movie, music and videogame entertainment.

We can only hope that Square will wait for the PS3 as well.


Sources of broadband statistics: -------------------------------- Business 2.0, August 2000 ( Cyberatlas ( eMarketing

p.s. Again, sorry for the length :(

At least you didn't have to research and write this sucker.

Mike Mitchell
Creative Director | Digital Spear Communications
Website ""

Wow. First off, I have to award you some serious props for this thing. Very well researched. Like a research paper.

The first minor point I'd make is that I don't remember Square saying that they need 3.5 million subscribers, even though that could well be me just missing something. It happens a lot.

The next point I'm going to toss out is that it's not a foregone conclusion that Final Fantasy XI will require broadband bandwidth. There's no debating it'd be ideal, but I still contend that it's very possible to create full online games using very small amounts of data. Easy? No. Possible? Yes. I think a bigger problem facing online game makers is making games that can properly adjust when the Internet gets a bit log-jammed somewhere between you and the person/place/thing you want to communicate with, because that's a problem that exists now and will continue to exist until there are enormous bandwidth upgrades along the backbones.

Broadband coverage is expanding at a fast rate, and Square is banking on that. Good idea? Maybe, but very risky. Another reason they're going to start looking to investors to help them out. Square going public is an interesting proposition. They're a well-established and profitable company that's in position to make tremendous profits in the near future: i.e. exactly what investors are looking for. It's a risk to investors, because the FF Movie could flop, PlayOnline could be visited only by a few dozen bored teenagers, and the PlayStation 2 might be beaten into the ground by the Gamecube. But compared to your average dot-com proposition, Square has a lot going for them. I serously doubt we'll see them in the throes of bankruptcy anytime soon.

Fighter RPGs

Actually, if you could put a good, coherent story onto Marvel VS Capcom or King Of Fighters, you could have a good Beat-em-up RPG. Consider that these games are team battles with 2/3/4 characters in your "party" at a time, and that they have dozens of fairly interesting and well-known characters. What's the real differnce between pressing HP and HK to swap between Ryu and Ken, and pressing Right to swap between Serge and Kid? Just taht it's real-time really. All you need to add is a exploration mode between fights.

Of course, the main problem is making a Good, Coherent story out of the mess that is the Streetfighter and King Of Fighters "continuities". I doubt we'll see that in our lifetime.

Mr Freeman may want to check out Treasure's "Guardian Heroes" for the Saturn too if he can. It's a side scroller, not a one on one, but it does have some nice RPG trappings; such as level ups, extensive dialogue cutscenes, a good story, and many branches in the plot. (5 final levels and bosses!) Shame the game is actually real short though.

Kett Shee

The Street Fighter series even has a bit of a story, usually revealed in each character's endings. Not very developed, no, but the potential is there. I'd love to see Capcom give it a try!

Another RPG maker


There is a dos-based RPG creation engine available at It's called the Official Hamster Republic RPG Creation Engine (OHRRPGCE), and I think it's ideal for a fanatical RPG fan. It has conversion tools available if you want to use .bmp and .midi files for your graphics and background music, too.

At any rate, if you're running a dos- or windows-box and you don't want to wait for RPGM to come over, this is a good substitute for the nonce.

I'm not mailing this to Chris because he doesn't like REM enough.


I didn't try out the program, but it sounds cool enough. I didn't check it for viruses either, but I'm a fairly trusting guy. If any of you aren't, give it a lookover with your favorite anti-virus program before trying it out (since it is an actual program, there is that chance it has a virus).

Thanks for the tip! And isn't Chris silly for not liking REM that much?

Vagrant boredom

HELL YEAH! At last, someone at the GIA who actually realizes VS's crappiness. I'm sure there's a good story hidden somewhere in there, but since the battle system is so incredibly crappy, plus the huge amount of dungeon crawling, means I'll never reach that story. Good to see that you don't fit into the "VS is GOD" mode that seems prevalent in most videogame sites/magazines.

Not a big fan of VS and proud of it!

Ah yes, I've bucked the trend and will stand up against Vagrant Story. I think I can hear Vestal's blood pressure rising from all the way over in California as I type this, but I think the battle system is just far too complex for a video game, especially given the insufficient amount of documentation for it. If you want to make a battle system that complex, you really need to provide extensive documentation either in-game or, preferably, on paper. The story, as far as I got, was interesting, but it and graphics were just so dreary and confusing that it wasn't nearly enough to make me spend the requisite amount of time to figure out the battle system.

In defense of Chrono Trigger

Hey hey

I'm guessing that Zohar Gilboa doesn't like any rpgs, or perhaps any games at all. To be so adamantly opposed to FF4 and CT, you really can't be much of an rpg fan. I don't go into a game expecting a 1984 caliber story. I go into wanting to be the hero and defeat an evil force, and I want there to be clear cut lines, and know that kicking his ass is the right thing to do. And you can't really have the classic hero and villain if you plan on devoting it to Citizen Kane style character development. For example I'm playing Spiderman on my PSX, and anyone who's ever seen a comic book, cartoon, comic strip etc.. can see every plot twist from a hundred miles away, but the game's still fun. I don't let a simplistic plot make me hate a game.


P.S. If CT is his most hated game, where would LoD and Beyond the Beyond rate on his list.

I agree with you, man. One reason I play RPGs is the "escape from reality" thing, and I don't really want to be popped into a reality that's more complex than my own.

I think Legend of Dragoon or Beyond the Beyond would cause his brain to just turn into a liquid and flow down his spinal column, or something.

Ayla feisty

Here's a conversation between Marle and Kino from Chrono Trigger.
"Now, you two better have strong kids, or else I'll be in big trouble!"
"Don't worry! Ayla very strong!"
"Hey, what exactly do you mean by that?"
This was from the ending you get when you beat the game all the way through. Is it just me, or is this some sort of sexual referrence?


Well, yeah, it's a sexual reference, but it doesn't look like a particularly dirty one to me. I think that Kino is saying that since Ayla is strong, her children will be, too. Now, modern genetics prove that's not necessarily true, and that it's also in large part a result of upbringing, but I'm sure genes play a role in there somewhere.

Or, I could be looking at it far too innocently and Kino means something far more sexual. But I just don't see it.

A triumphant return?


After 10s of minutes of careless deliberation, looking at blurry screenshots, and reading baseless opinions, I have figured out something:

Dragon Quest VII is a good game...

-Agent X "FOR ME TO POOP ON!!"

Oh, the dis! I'm not ready to pass judgement on DQ7 yet, but I'm sure there are a lot of people that will want to either kiss you or kill you. But that's par for the Agent X course, right?


Dude, Shakespeare misspelled Shakespeare. Honestly on some of the manuscripts it is spelled five different ways. Spelling wasn't standardized until the late 19th century.


Well, yeah, you got me there. Dadgummit! I lose. I was referring to the currently accepted way to spell his name. My English teachers all through high school would come after me with a rolling pin if I were to spell his name any way other than Shakespeare, so I reflexed and corrected the spelling. Oh, well.

Closing Comments:

It's Chris time again! Enjoy your Labor Day, and stay cool!

-Andrew Kaufmann

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If you rearrange the letters in Chris, they spell Shric. Now send him email.
DA FAQ is here. It really is Chris' thing, and doesn't really apply to days that AK hosts, but is great reading nonetheless. And this link really looks cool, so I don't want to delete it just because I don't use the same rules.