The Phantom's Future
July 1, 2004

It has been a long few months. Between E3, the troubles we've been having at the site, and increased job pressures, it's been difficult to get an update done. Add to that the usual lack of submissions and the sad fact that any submissions I HAD received pre-E3 were more or less deleted, and that means sadness for editorials. Fortunately, I managed to get together an editorial I think will spark some interest, so take a gander.

We'll be continuting with the former topic for this week, by the way, although you can still write in about anything. We all know that video games are huge in Japan, with kids to adults of both genders taking them somewhat seriously. Still, in the United States, video games are still thought of primarily as games with no real redeeming social value. So the question is: what could Japanese companies do in order to please and attract more American gamers?

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The Phantom's Future

E3 has come and passed, and with it came the actual unveiling of the Phantom, as well as its soon to be competitor, the Apex. Although much criticism had been leveled against the Phantom by many sources (yours truly included), the machine actually exists and doesn’t look to be the scam many of us thought it would be. Everyone at Infinium Labs’ booth was very gracious, and they even have ex-Sierra techs working on the project. Overall, I was proven wrong…

However, now that we know the new console really exists, we can turn our thoughts to other questions, the biggest of all being, “Will the Phantom actually succeed?” This is the subject I’d like to tackle, one that most of the industry should ask itself, considering that the Phantom and Apex are more or less radical new territory in gaming.

First off, for all of you gamers out there who don’t know much about the Phantom, it is what is currently being termed a “PC in a box.” Imagine taking fairly high-end PC hardware, and making it a dedicated gaming machine. Now, while some of you out there have already done that, there are a few differences here. The first is that all content is downloaded through a broadband connection, so it’s kind of like a pay-for-play service. Second, the Phantom will only cost around $20 or so, according to the Infinium Labs reps, while most high-end gaming boxes wind up costing upwards of $1000 bucks. The catch? You have to purchase a subscription to their service, and this is not surprising. After all, the Phantom is more about the service than the hardware. Gaming when you want it, so to speak. Remind you of the Sega Channel?

While the system’s ambitions are lofty, the realities of the matter may prove to be a stumbling block. For instance, the Phantom comes with a built-in 40 gig drive. Now, seeing as how many games made to run on high-end computers take up at least a gig, users are going to find themselves strapped for space quickly. Continuously downloading and deleting games will be a nuisance, then.

Another problem is the hardware: it’s some pretty high-end specs for today, but games are rapidly evolving, and with that evolution comes the demand for more processing power. If, as my rep told me, the Phantom was not looking to be readily upgradeable, due to proprietary this and that, how will it keep up with the demands of tomorrow’s games?

The final, and possibly most significant obstacle to the success of the Phantom will be getting the backing of all the game companies out there. There are quite a few PC game publishers in the states, let alone in the rest of the world, and many of them will likely be reluctant to throw in their hats with Infinium Labs, seeing as how it’s new technology. Granted, from what I gather, the risks are not all that extensive, Infinium Labs will have to work overtime in order to license enough titles to draw the casual gamer AND the die-hard vet. After all, UT2K4 isn’t going to win the war by itself.

Despite all the negatives, I’m actually pulling for the Phantom and its less-hyped rival, the ApeXtreme. Of course, I liked the idea of the Sega Channel as well. These systems represent the possibility of uniting PC and console gamers by providing a cross-cultural medium that both can warm to. Still, with two systems being hyped, and similar products being tossed into the ring, this fledgling enterprise might suffer a crash before it’s even out of the starting gate. I, for one, will take a wait-and-see approach to the Phantom and its ilk before making a definitive judgement, and hope it doesn’t suffer the same fate as the Sega Channel.

- Damian Thomas



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