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Midway Fights Next-Gen Snags


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352w ago - As Midway aims to return to profitability, snags with Unreal Engine 3, PlayStation 3 and stiff competition haven't been making things easy.
Midway hasn't made an annual profit since 1999, but analysts have noted that the Chicago-based game publisher does have potential to make money, with games like Stranglehold, Unreal Tournament 3 and Blacksite Area 51 (and of course, iterations of the undying Mortal Kombat franchise).

But there have been hurdles in front of that comeback, some of which are related to delays of PS3 versions of next-gen games and some that are related to Midway's company-wide adoption of a modified version of Epic's Unreal Engine 3, not to mention stiff competition in the action genre.

Most recently, there's the Blacksite: Area 51 delay. While the release date of the Xbox 360 and PC versions of the alien first person shooter have slipped by just a week to November 12, the PS3 version of the Unreal Engine 3 powered title has seemingly run into some more serious issues.

While not offering an explanation for the delay, a Midway spokesman confirmed to Next-Gen that the title would see a release after the other versions of the game, at some point "during the holiday season."

Whether the delay is specifically related to the UE3 engine or not is currently unclear, but what is evident is that this delay represents the latest thorn in the side of Midway's next-gen strategy. Having invested heavily in technology and staff to boost its next-gen drive, all three PS3 versions of its 2007 AAA multi-platform titles have been subject to delays.

Speaking exclusively to Next-Gen earlier this month Steve Allison, Midway's chief marketing officer, noted that "Blacksite is completely on track for its targeted ship date [of November 5]," something that with hindsight sounded like positive thinking.

He also expressed disappointment about the numerous delays to the PS3 version of the publisher's debut next-gen title, Stranglehold, which finally released Tuesday.

"In a perfect world I would love to have the different versions shipping same day and we will solve that problem in my understanding here in the future. It affects us but it doesn't destroy us," he said.

Allison went on to say that that despite Epic's best efforts to guarantee a 2007 release for Unreal Tournament 3 on PlayStation 3, the highly anticipated shooter was unlikely to hit consoles until 2008, representing a blow to, amongst other parties, Sony, who had billed the title as a 2007 PlayStation 3 exclusive.

"You talk to Epic they'll tell you they're still working for this year and they really are working hard, but in all likelihood, because of the way titles get shipped in Europe, it will not be able to come out this year on consoles, and you don't want to ship them split in the territories if you can avoid it. So its PC this year, that's all go... The PS3 version is essentially done, it's just got lots of cleanup console stuff to do that's going to take them a few weeks."

However, Allison is by no means downbeat about the future despite early teething problems following a heavy investment in next-gen that's financed new technology, staff and a robust marketing campaign for Stranglehold.

"I think we're super enthusiastic about our titles and some of the games which have been hinted at but not shown yet. The technology platform is tough because when you tell the whole company you're going to work on one code base core, and then you're going to sort of alter it from game genre to genre, that's a ton of work on the front end, so to some degrees that work is inefficient fiscally.

"But for the future we need to be efficient, so the thesis is that once those sort of genre specific versions of Unreal Engine 3 are completed and have shipped a game, the subsequent games that have similar features or the sequels to those games will be much, much cheaper to make with no drop in quality, and we still believe in that. We see now with Stranglehold being completed to ship and that code being packaged off to our other titles there's been rapid, rapid progress on the games for '08, '09 and even '010, more so than we expected, which makes us believe that our thesis is correct. It's just been tough to make that investment. On the front end of it it's very, very painful, but we still believe it's going to be completely worth it."

Despite the release of Halo 3 a month ago, and the impending release of big hitters like Call of Duty 4, Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect, Allison feels this holiday will be business as usual at Midway.

"This is just one of those Christmas' that happens every couple of years. A few years ago it was Halo 2 and Grand Theft Auto 3 and Metal Gear I think. They come every two to three years. Next Christmas everyone will say it's less competitive but you know, there'll probably be two times as many titles coming out so it'll be just as competitive, just in a different way."



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