Grand Theft... Ping Pong?
Maker of the video game industry's most controversial game swerves in another direction.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) – The company behind "Grand Theft Auto," arguably the most controversial video game franchise on the market, is working on a new game for Microsoft's Xbox 360 – table tennis.
I'll pause here so you can verify that it's not April 1st.
Yep, Rockstar Studios' San Diego offices, which were responsible for the "Midnight Club" titles and last year's "Red Dead Revolver," have secretly been working on a next generation Ping Pong game.
The game will be exclusive to Microsoft's (Research) next generation console and, judging by screenshots (admittedly a poor way to determine a game's final visual qualities) will take advantage of the system's powerhouse graphics capabilities. Due May 22, "Table Tennis" will carry at $39.99 price tag.
The decision to invest in development of a Ping Pong video game is certainly a curious one, but Rockstar has never been a company to play it safe. Rockstar is a division of Take Two Interactive Software (Research) – and is the company's chief breadwinner. Obviously, no one's expecting this title to deliver "GTA" like numbers (or even come close), but it's an interesting move – and one that may confound the company's critics.
As Rockstar founder Sam Houser pointed out on IGN.com, no developer or publisher has really tried to capture the speed of competitive Ping Pong before. Though many think of it mainly as a lazy game played in basements, Olympic officials have considered it a sport since 1988. And when Olympians begin slamming that little white ball back and forth, it moves at upwards to 100 miles per hour. And speed can be an addictive quality in video games.
On the other hand, Ping Pong doesn't exactly spur passions. Rockstar, in fact, has faced some harsh criticism among hardcore gamers since it announced plans for the game. That's unusual, since hardcore gamers typically go out of their way to defend Rockstar.
It's also likely troubling to Take Two investors, since those hardcore gamers are about the only people who own an Xbox 360 these days. And that's not going to change between now and May. Take Two and Rockstar face a considerable challenge in convincing gamers that "Table Tennis" is a game they want – and not simply a graphically souped up version of "Pong".
Actually, the decision to make "Table Tennis" exclusively for the Xbox 360 is a rather curious one. By waiting a few months and launching the game on Nintendo's new console, Rockstar could have piqued gamer curiosity. The system's unique controller (which uses wrist actions, instead of multiple buttons and thumbpads to reflect onscreen movements) seems better suited to a game of this sort - and could conceivably do well as a launch title.
It would also carry a curiosity factor as it would be one of the first titles Rockstar has developed for a Nintendo system, other than the Game Boy. The question is: Would Rockstar lose some of its "cool factor" with its hardcore followers by making a game for Nintendo, often viewed as a company that caters to a young audience? Rockstar declined to comment.
There is, of course, one other possible hurdle "Table Tennis" faces. While other sports simulation video games - like football, baseball and auto racing - let you live vicarious dreams of doing things you likely can't do in real life, it's not real hard to find a Ping Pong table. It is, in fact, one of the very few "indoor" sports that has a video game patterned after it. (Poker's about the only other one that springs to mind.)
All of that said, Rockstar's track record can't be argued with. The company's hit to miss ratio is one its competitors envy. To keep that streak alive, though, it's going to have to find a way to project the enthusiasm it feels about table tennis to its audience – and convince them this sport is truly capable of moving out of the nation's basements and rec rooms and into the spotlight.
A delay for the PlayStation 3? Don't panic
Morris is Director of Content Development for CNNMoney.com. Click here to send him an email.