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Christian Games Target a Following

19 Jul, 2005 By: John Gaudiosi

The Bible Game

With the sexually explicit “Hot Coffee” unlockable code in the PC version of Rockstar Games' best-selling, ‘Mature'-rated Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas making the rounds, a growing number of parents are turning to Christian video games.

The niche market has been quietly churning out PC games over the years and has used the Internet and Christian book stores to sell video games that promote Christian values.

This November, value-priced game publisher Crave Entertainment will bring Christian games to the larger and more mainstream console gaming and portable gaming audience when its ships The Bible Game for PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Advance for $20. The game will be sold at traditional game retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target Stores, Toys ‘R' Us and EB Games and will open a new door for the growing Christian game development community.

“If Christian stories, themes and images are incorporated within a fun game, it could find an audience,” said John Taylor, video game analyst, Arcadia Research. “This is especially true as the installed base of PS2 reaches deeper into the mass market, and some parents seek out titles with positive role models, ‘wholesome' content or educational value.”

“The greatest impediment to volume sales of Christian games is the lack of public awareness,” said Stone Engelbrite, president of Inspired Idea. “As public awareness and consequent demand rises, I think we will see a variety of sub-markets and ministry fields developing.”

Engelbrite believes Christian games will be delivered in a variety of ways and will come in an assortment of genres, including mainstream games sold through the secular game markets, low-cost impulse buys, promotional items, free Web-based games with a purely ministerial purpose, specific church-branded games, Christian educational games, Internet-delivery based game services and Christian massively multiplayer online role-playing games.

Another big Christian game heading to Wal-Mart and other traditional retailers is the PC title Left Behind: Eternal Forces. The real-time strategy game, which ships in the first half of 2006, is the first in a series of games based on the best-selling Christian books, which have sold more than 63 million copies worldwide.

“I think it will be five to 10 years before a Christian game will outsell the top hit in the marketplace,” said Troy Lyndon, CEO of Left Behind Games. “Titles become hits when gamers tell other gamers about it, that it's a great game. It is our hope that a future sequel of a “Left Behind” game will attain this level of success; but we don't expect that for our first game.”

Lyndon said that the Christian game market is evolving similarly to the Christian music industry, which didn't happen overnight. Fifteen years ago, that market was fragmented and putting out music of varying quality. It wasn't until Christian music makers got together and focused on creating quality product that the industry grew into the juggernaut it is today.

“Christian music is now the largest area in Wal-Mart's music section and the fastest-growing genre in music today,” said Ralph Bagley, president of N'Lightning Software. He believes that within the next five to seven years, Christian games will explode.

Bagley is in talks with Wal-Mart to establish a Christian games section in their store as early as this Christmas. He said it's important to establish a separate games section to allow best-selling titles like N-Lightning's PC games Catechumen and Ominous Horizons to stand apart from secular game hits like Doom 3 and Half-Life 2.

Bagley worked closely with Christian bookstore retailers to educate them on the importance of point-of-sale materials in selling video games. Mass market retailers already understand the game industry; it's just a matter of getting in the door. The advent of console Christian games, including next-generation games for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in development for 2007 and beyond, will also open up rental opportunities to the market, which has traditionally stuck with the open world of PC games.

“The hardware companies are looking for games with universal appeal,” Left Behind's Lyndon said. “If games are too overtly Christian in their message, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo will probably reject them.”

For now, the field is open to about 100 Christian game developers around the world.

“I wouldn't expect major game publishers to target this market segment,” Taylor said. “They may publish games which include elements or characters identifiable as Christian, but I don't think these elements will be dominant.”

But Mel Gibson proved last year with The Passion of the Christ that there was an untapped market for Christian movies. A growing number of video game developers hope to prove the same holds true for Christian video games.

“It's not a matter of if Christian games will explode, but when,” Bagley said.

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