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Games That Have Legs After Holidays

31 Dec, 2003 By: David Ward

Even as game rental and sellthrough retailers are still sweeping the tinsel off their store floors, many are already facing decisions about which holiday games deserve shelf space in the new year and which need to dumped into the discount bin.

January traditionally has been a tough month for video games -- and not just because consumers tighten their wallets after spending wildly in November and December. The biggest reason is that many retailers, especially the mass merchants, close their fiscal year around the end of January and thus are looking to get as much inventory off their books by month's end as possible.

“Most of January, retailers are trying to get you to take product back,” said one veteran game publishing executive. “The only time they'll take in more product is if it's nearly sold out and it's still moving like crazy. Other than that, they prefer to wait until February.”

Most publishers are cognizant of this, and only a few will dare to release a new title in the weeks after Christmas. Nintendo of America, for example, is waiting until Feb. 9 to release its first major GameCube title of 2004, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. But Nintendo's Anka Dolecki said a lot of retailers will take in new product, regardless of the time of year, if a game has a good track record.

“Their degree of caution always depends on previous sales,” Dolecki said.

But there's no doubt the new year marks the return of the hard-core game consumer to stores.

“I think family games really drop after Christmas,” said Vincent Bitetti, president of TDK MediActive, which was recently acquired by Take Two. “What does do well are the Spy Hunters and True Crimes, the type of games parents or grandparents won't buy someone for the holidays, but that gamers really want.”

January also marks the unofficial changing of the sports calendar. “Nothing really compares to December sales, and you do see a dropoff, especially in sports titles that go out of season, such as football,” said Steve Lux, marketing director for Codemasters USA.

But Lux disputes the notion that all family-style games won't do well in the post-holiday period. Codemasters is counting on a strong performance this month for its American Idol game for PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Advance, largely because the TV show goes back on the air Jan. 19.

“The ordering of new product will be wholly dependent upon the lift in sales we get from the show going back on the air,” he said. “More than 30 million people watched last season's finale, and we believe you will see a similar enthusiasm again.”

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