December 7, 2006
Has your gift list got game?
With Chanukah gift shopping well underway, three video game systems are jockeying for the top position on teen wish lists. Demand for PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii is outstripping the available supply, and analysts predict the shortage could lead to increased demand for Microsoft's Xbox 360.
But how will you know which system is the right fit for your family?
Arena Interactive Lounge has recently added a couple PlayStation 3 and Wii consoles to the 50-inch HDTV DLP flat-screen televisions that populate its 3,000-square-foot gaming center in West Los Angeles. For $12 an hour, you can test drive one of the two in-demand systems, or for $6 per hour you can give the year-old Xbox 360 a shot.
Arena is the brainchild of 28-year-old Ron Rosenberg, an observant Jew who grew up in Pico-Robertson and attended Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva University High School. The USC grad opened his modern lounge last year, around the same time as the release of the Xbox 360. Sound-system-embedded Pyramat couches add to Arena's living-room-away-from-home vibe, and game reviewer Scot Rubin hosts his weekday radio show, "All Games Interactive," from this 21st century take on the arcade. Rosenberg said gamers have expressed disappointment with the launch of PlayStation 3, equating its hype to last summer's film, "Snakes on a Plane."
"Sony came out with a product that wasn't ready. There's maybe three titles worth playing, but then again, there's no multiplayer format," he said.
Critics like New York Times gaming columnist Seth Schiesel have faulted Sony's rush to get the PS3 to market for the holidays, citing the example that its much-vaunted Blu-Ray movie feature requires high-definition cables that are sold separately.
Mounting negative reviews and a glut of consoles on the resale market have weakened enthusiasm for the product since its violence-plagued launch on Nov. 17. A drop-off in demand for the PS3, which retails for $499 to $599, saw Thanksgiving weekend sales on eBay drop from a high of $1,500 to a near-retail low of $650.
Rosenberg believes that savvy consumers will ignore holiday hype and wait for PlayStation 3 to work out the bugs before a larger rollout in the spring.
"In a year the PS3 will be rocking," he said.
According to a recent ZDNet poll, readers said they would prefer Nintendo's Wii as a gift over the PS3 or Xbox 360.
"The Wii is a dark horse," Rosenberg said. "It is fun. I could see my wife, who never touches a video game, and me playing this for two hours together."
He said that industry insiders initially laughed at the wireless Wii Remote earlier this year at E3, the annual video game trade show held in Los Angeles, but added that few are laughing now.
The Wii's intuitive controllers shy away from the rows of buttons found on the PlayStation and Xbox controllers. Instead, the Wii Remote -- along with the analog joystick add-on, the Nunchuk unit -- senses its own position in a three-dimensional space, allowing players to swing it like a golf club or fishing pole and have its motion replicated on screen.
Rosenberg said he broke a sweat as he played "Wii Sports," one of 34 titles available this month. Building on the popularity of titles that demand more physical activity, like "Dance Dance Revolution," the Wii is designed to break with the coach-potato status quo and get players up and moving.
"Everybody in the family can get into this," he said.
Wii retails for $250, and Nintendo is hoping weekly shipments through December will keep pace with holiday demand.
But Rosenberg said that consumers shouldn't count out the Xbox 360, especially in a market where demand for its competing systems, peripherals and games will keep prices at a premium. The Xbox 360, which launched Nov. 22, 2005, features more than 100 titles and retails between about $300 and $400.
Rosenberg predicts Xbox 360 will continue to reign supreme at Arena Interactive Lounge until at least next spring due to its plethora of titles and the quality of game play.
"Every game coming out on the 360, which is an inferior machine to the PS3 power wise, looks much better," he said. "They've had time to work with the system. But in a year, the PlayStation 3 will kick the 360's butt."
For more information about Arena Interactive Lounge and "All Games Interactive," visit www.arenalounge.com.