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Game Makers Look to Extend Holiday Season

27 Jul, 2004 By: David Ward

The holiday selling season can't come early enough for many in the video game industry. Despite some success in turning games into a year-round business, a huge chunk of hardware and software sales still come bunched together in the months leading up to Christmas.

The primary reasons for this are consumer shopping habits, but the industry also bears some responsibility in that it has never really tried to stretch the holiday selling season into September and even late August by releasing a strong slate of titles at that time, industry executives said.

“If you had a big enough title and you continue to release new versions on an annual basis, I think you could establish August and September as big months,” said one sales executive from a major game publisher. “But you have to consistently do that year after year to train consumers to look for titles then.”

There have been some exceptions, including Namco's Soul Calibur 2, which generated strong sales last year following a late August release. But there have also been games such as Acclaim's Turok: Evolution, whose poor sales following its late August 2002 release ended up clogging up shelves.

“You're simply not going to sell in as many units to retail as you would in October,” the publishing exec said.

Wim Stocks, EVP of Atari, added, “To a degree, there is some benefit to getting titles into the marketplace earlier, prior to the onslaught of the big box office titles and campaigns kicking in. One detriment to early placement obviously is the lack of enhanced store traffic seen leading into November and December.”

That's not to say you won't find any new games in the coming months. Among the semi-high profile titles due out soon are Nintendo's Pikmin 2 for GameCube, Viet-Cong: Purple Haze for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, Terminator 3: The Redemption for all three consoles, Crash: Twinsanity and Electronic Arts' Def Jam: Fight for New York. But there's only one game that is really guaranteed of monster sales and rentals in late August and early September: Electronic Arts' Madden NFL 2005.

“[Madden game sales in] the past few years have actually made August a great month, albeit for a single publisher around a single property,” Stocks said.

One thing that hasn't taken off is any attempt to turn back-to-school into a game- buying opportunity.

“It appears most parents buying for their kids — and kids themselves — are thinking instead of new clothes, new books and returning to some levels of seriousness after a summer of freedom and fun,” Stocks said.

While retailers routinely complain that far too many new games are released into the 10 weeks before Christmas, publishers note it isn't like stores reward games that are released earlier.

“If you get out in August or September and you don't continue to sell well, then you've got real problems,” said O3 Entertainment president Bill Gardner. “Because come October, retailers are going to want that shelf space back for a new game.”

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