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Why the Phantom Console Won't Succeed Even If It's Not Vaporware - Reader Responses
Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: March 4th 2004

Yesterday's article regarding Infinium's console generated a fair amount of mail, especially for a piece that's barely been up 24 hours.

There were a fair number of flames, of course - one could expect as much, even Infinium has their fanboys. There were a goodly number of "you only wrote that for the traffic you don't know what you're talking about" emails, which I have addressed on our news page.

Some of these flames seemed to come from Infinium's own servers. Or, rather, they came from servers CLAIMING to be infinium.com but not sharing remotely the same IP address. I suspect those have a high probability of being joe-jobs and as such, am just going to leave them alone. 

Unfortunately, none of the flames were really coherent. One person stated that something I was analyzing might be based on a false assumption, which I'll answer in this article. Beyond that, if I were to try to make any of the flames censor-friendly, there'd be only a few words left and the emails would actually be less coherent for it.

So, on with the emails. Note: Some of them have been reformatted (spacing and HTML removal only), because copying and pasting HTML email from inside of Eudora is annoying. Typos have been left intact, anything in white non-bold text read below here should be read as [sic].

Roger Melo writes:

Does anyone remember the original DIVX format? Yeah that went the way of the dodo real fast. As will the Phantom *if* it ever actually becomes a physical product. Nobody in there right mind wanted to pay to view the movies they already purchased when DIVX came out and nobody will pay to play games they already own on a Phantom.

Yeah, we remember DIVX. The players sell really cheap nowadays considering they also play normal DVDs.

Aeurix writes:

Mike,

After reading IF's set of letters written to HardOCP, I had a momment of doubt about who was right.  I never dove into the specs behind The Phantom because I'm not into Consoles much, but you're right.  The Phantom IS total BS.

I do have a feeling IF is going to send you a box labled Phantom Console... that will contain packaging penuts and air.  They will then claim you lost their super console in an attempt to sabatoge their stock and damage their person in the millions of dollars.

In regards to people saying you did the article for traffic only.. I don't really care, either way I'm adding you to my favorites list right behind HardOCP. Keep up the good work,

-Aeurix

Thanks.

Desmond Miller writes:

I will start with saying...very well done.  Your message was very concise and informative.  I also believed that your views were well stated as "Your opinions". I appreciate the time that you took to inform the community of a "interesting business venture", and the possibilities of practices that might have been overlooked...as I did not notice some of the fine print when I visited the Infinium Labs website.

I just thought you would like to get a response from someone who is not a hardcore console gamer. Actually, I don't even own a console...im a PC puppy, but your article was well written enough to keep my interest throughout.

Nice to hear from a PC guy on the matter.

Raymond Serville writes:

Just read the article, I have also been following what everyone else has said regarding this ‘console’. To be honest, after reading through all of the articles regarding the cost and the actual product, I’d probably say that they’d (infinium labs) would have to hold me at gunpoint for me to fork out that kind of money for a PC in a little box that plays the same game available on my higher spec pc, and without a subscription fee to ‘some funny company that I’ve never heard of before’.

I remember an Xbox having a faster processor and memory, hdd space and the like, and the reviews all came back saying the games ran too fast, I can only imagine the chaos when people start buying different models of the console. Some versions running the game smoothly and others not, but only after spending 20/30 hours to download the title in the first place.

I’m writing from the UK,  the average broadband user is on 0.5mb and at 50KB per second peak!!!!! I would not expect this console to be very popular, or at least many people would return them due to the fact that it only takes 5 minutes to walk down the road to your local Dixon’s and pay £30/40 for a PS2/Xbox/GC/any other console title, with no necessary subscription fee.

Yow. Sounds like Brits who get in for this are REALLY going to be in trouble. Interesting on the overclocked Xbox, though I couldn't find a story on it.

Robert Fisher writes:

I 100% agree with your evaluation of the Infinium Phantom.  I am a PC and Cosole gamer, and this thing sounds like a illconcieved way to bilk investors and consumers out of their money.  The idea sounds good at first...but when you really think about and look at it this thing is one big steaming turd waiting to be unleashed on the public.  After reading the HardOCP's September article, this thing has to be a way to scam people out of their money.  If this console even gets released it will crash and burn.  Only the very rich and dumb spoiled kids will get one, and they they will be left with a paper weight once the service is cancelled 4 months after release.  Thanks for the article.

Well they have a lot of big names signing on with the console, so who knows about a scam - I just don't see them getting widespread adoption enough to justify keeping it around that long.

Eric Daniels writes:

I agree with you 110% percent.  The one additional thing that I would point out is that I doubt that they will be able to obtain any exclusive titles.  Consoles don't sell consoles....exclusive games sell consoles.  I am someone who currently owns seven different consoles and regularly uses four of them.  Exclusive titles are what sold me on most of them.  The first three Nintendo consoles were purchased for me when I was a kid/teen so they don't really count in this discussion and were before the current console war started anyway.  Dreamcast I bought because it was the first 128bit console....but really I bought it for Soul Calibur.  Every console since then I bought purely because they had an exclusive title that I wanted and couldn't get them without having that console.  PS2 had Gran Turismo 3, Dreamcast had Rogue Leader and Pikmin, XBox had Project Gotham Racing and Halo.  The XBox certainly was interesting feature wise with the HD and Dolby Digital and all of that but! it was the games that made me buy it.  The XBox has since become my console of preference because of those features but I wouldn't have made the purchase without PGR.  Without a published developer list and with NO discussion of exclusive titles I don't think that there is really much to talk about.  There are many reasons I don't think any developers will give them exclusive titles. 

1.  They are instantly excluding any potential customers who live outside of the range of broadband and/or can't afford broadband.  One of the beautiful things about consoles are that they are relatively cheap ways to play games.

2.  They are an unproven company/product.  It's a chicken and egg thing.  You need the user base to be able to draw exclusive titles and you need the exclusives to be able to draw users.  Even though the XBox and PS1 were unproven consoles from unproven console manufacturers, they were from proven companies...with incredibly deep pockets.

3.  To be honest, thinking back on it, most of the exclusive games that sold consoles came from developers OWNED by the maker of the console, or at least with longstanding relationships with the maker.  Infinium labs doesn't have the capital to buy anyone and likely won't for a long time if ever and they don't have longstanding relationships with anyone let alone developers.

Just my $.02

That's a heck of a $0.02. You make an excellent point - the Atari beat the Intellivision with a similar strategy, and the NES beat the Sega Master System the same way. One must have "killer app" games.

David Walling writes:

First let me start off by saying I agree that I don’t think the console will do well… even if there really is one. I do, however, have a few ideas you may want to ponder about how they may do things. Also, let me state this is the first time I’ve ever written an email about thoughts I had about an article. I think your article was very good and well thought out, I just have a few ideas I wanted to share.

First off, about the size of the games. I agree, on a console based system where all maps and game data must be stored on the same disk, that a single game can easily take up 3-5 gigs. On a system like the phantom though, the games could be smaller. More like some of the current computer games. If all of the 3d libraries and other system critical software is stored on the disk already, than downloading a new game would be more a matter of just downloading ai, maps, models, etc. Also, not saying that this is how they are going to do it, but if it were up to me, what could be done would be the initial download could consist of the main game data and the first few maps, and then while you are playing those maps, the others could be downloaded in the background. This would cut down the amount of time you would have to wait to start playing the game.

I also think I remember reading somewhere that the console may use an embedded version of winXP. If this is the case, then having more memory, or a faster processor could benefit the speed of the game… both on loading times and rendering times. Of course, I feel basing anything on windows is sketchy at best.

I sometimes wonder if this console was designed more from a computer point of view than a gaming console. In which case, Infinium labs would probably be smarter in just trying to sell the service to people that already have a computer to download games online.

One nice thing I could see about an always on console idea, is that software and game updates could be done automatically at night (or early morning) when most people are sleeping. If it is done right, the user would never knew it happened, only to wake up the next morning finding out that all there games are getting better fps, and/or have better graphics.

I think to make it work, they’re subscription would have to be more like cable TV, where your cost per month already gives you a couple of games to download, and then charge for each additional game.

Again, I’m not really sure how all this mess will turn out, but I will be looking forward to at least reading about how they do decide to do things. I probably won’t buy one, but then again, I’m not a huge console person anyways.

Thanks for your time.

Your point on games that download the first section as you play is well made, but still - very few of this generation's games are on one CD, and those that are compress the data to the CD with a heavy compression scheme. Even if one just downloads the core app and first level, and leaves the rest for later, we're still talking about 60% of the game that HAS to get downloaded before you can start. And them games, they just keep getting bigger - remember, we used to be able to fit them on FLOPPIES. Now we're looking at DVDs rather hungrily.

Vincent Drake writes:

Nice article. I completely agree that a normal console or computer gamer would never put of up with the "features" (restrictions) that the Phantom has planned for it. But as I read your article, it dawned on me that there was at least one market that such a closed system may flourish in: Hotels.

Hotel entertainment centers are not new, but they are usually a hack of an existing system with some flimsy download option. Customers in a hotel environment are used to paying premium for every service they use (did you break the plastic lock on the fridge? $20), most upscale hotels already have broadband connections, the gamer generation is growing up, going to conventions, staying in hotels, so this might be an aluring prospect for hotel management.

That's about the only niche I can imagine the Phantom materializing in.

You make an EXCELLENT point about this market. A set of Phantoms in a hotel, with their pay scheme billed to the room, and a reasonable preload of their hottest titles (with the option to download others on limited rental of course) might make a big impact there.

I can't see someone locating that setup in their bedroom or living room, is all.

Austin Shau writes:

Thank you.

No, seriously, THANK YOU.

Penny Arcade makes fun of the thing because it's just ridiculous. [H]ardOCP exposes the company for what it is, or at least, exposes the people behind it and why it's dubious.

Now, finally, we have the third necessary part to exposing a ridiculous operation that in no way could have worked in the past, won't work now, and will probably never work: a legitimate analysis of the actual product and service at hand, and why it... well... sucks.

Your last paragraph before your Final Words really hit it on target, and is something I never even thought about at first:

"While it could be claimed that the $10 goes to Phantom's providing an "opportunity" to buy and use new games each month, what are we really talking about here? That's right, we're talking about Gamestop or Gamecrazy or Best Buy charging you a "viewers' fee" at the door just to SEE what's in their store, then charging you again to take it home, then charging you a monthly fee or they'll send someone around to take it back."

NO ONE can explain it away. "It's for server maintenance." Yeah, that's why we pay full retail price already. As you say, it's as if we were expected to pay GameStop's rent for them on top of paying for the game. Why in god's name do they thing retailers have a markup??? Why don't they just sell it for the cost of the disc and packaging?

I think some things you need to point out or remind your readers, though, is that...

(a) most likely it will be playing PC games, not games made specifically or ported specifically for this "console" (or has there been news that state otherwise? I honestly don't know so please correct me if I'm wrong, I'm curious to know).

(b) people who want to play PC games -- the way they're meant to be experienced -- they will pay a premium for a nicely assembled PC. If not, they'll buy an Xbox. And if they *don't* want to play PC games... well that's why there's Nintendo in the first place, isn't there?

(c) as such, the Phantom isn't sure of what it wants to be: a living room PC, or a console? (This, actually, is a flaw I see with the DISCover consoles, which I personally think are ridiculous but not as much as this Phantom monster). When a company and its product aren't sure of what to be, and the marketing shows as much, people aren't sure of whether to buy it or not. (Unless it's a finely crafted game like Deus Ex. That's a rant for another day.)

Thanks for listening, keep up the good stuff.

-MrCHUPON

Where to begin... for starters, I'm not part of some great big conspiracy. I like PA. I like [H]ardOCP. They're bigger than I am, and I respect it - I enjoy my own little corner of the web here, and it's fine for me. 

Regarding it playing PC games... that's a valid point. And I suppose at that point, for THIS generation of games at least, the machine is overkill - a 1 GHz processor and 256 Mb of Ram should be able to push the 640x480 or even 800x600-equivalent HDTV modes most people would use. Still, though, that will only hold for so long. 

Also, if it's playing PC games, people are just going to play on their PC. They build beefier machines themselves and enjoy them. With the hidden fees of the Phantom system versus a one-time $50 for their PC title in the store, you know which way any sane consumer is going to go.

"And if they *don't* want to play PC games... well that's why there's Nintendo in the first place, isn't there?" - Cute little slam there. I don't *quite* agree as I'm platform agnostic, but we'll let it slide. Play nice now.

"the Phantom isn't sure of what it wants to be: a living room PC, or a console?" - Hits the nail on the head. Unlike the Xbox, which is a bona fide console, this tries to be a Tivo-Console system, or a hotel-system-in-your-living-room system.

Well, thanks to everyone who wrote, and keep writing in!

Infinium Labs - Letters!


Added:  Thursday, March 04, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf

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