Next-Gen Consoles, Movie-Based Games to Highlight E312 May, 2005 By: David Ward
Scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
With Microsoft's decision to unveil details of the new Xbox worldwide on MTV this week, the biggest cat at next week's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is already out of the bag.
But with both Sony and Nintendo set to make major announcements about their own new hardware systems — as well as a flurry of new movie-based titles, sequels and licensed games — there's still plenty of anticipation for the May 18-20 show at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Perhaps the best news for publishers and retailers is that fears the upcoming console transition could trigger a major slump in the industry are nowhere to be found this time around.
“I think this console transition will be less dramatic, because you have so many systems now on shelves,” said Bill Gardner, president and CEO of publisher O3 Entertainment.
Having to balance inventory and shelf space for so many different systems — some on their way up and others on their way out — presents its own challenges to retailers. But unlike in the past, when there were only two or three systems and the fast demise of any one of them could spell disaster, “the retailer now has plenty of opportunities to avoid making the wrong decisions,” Gardner said.
While Microsoft has stolen much of the pre-E3 thunder, Sony Computer Entertainment's first unveiling of the PlayStation 3 will be the other major highlight of the show. All that is known for certain is the new console will feature the 4GHz Cell chip and support high-definition game play. The PS3 won't launch until 2006 (some industry insiders speculate Sony will push up the launch to the first quarter to keep Microsoft from getting too much of a jump with the early adopters), but already a handful of developers, including Japan's Koei, have hinted they will be at least showing previews of PS3 games.
Having stumbled behind Xbox and PS2 with the GameCube, Nintendo has a lot of more at stake with its next-generation console, dubbed “Revolution.” But other than reports the new machine will wirelessly interconnect with the handheld Game Boy DS, even less is known about Nintendo's plans at E3 this year, not even whether the company will have on hand a prototype of its new hardware.
E3 Deals Still in Software
While new hardware systems are generating much of the hype at this year's show, Crave Entertainment Studio director Bob Bryant said when it comes to actual deals made on the floor, “E3 is always a software show.”
Few expect a burst of creativity resulting in new original games. “I certainly think the hardware will allow it,” said Clinton Keith, VP and technology director at High Moon Studios. “But the risk of the development costs may be a force against it and end up driving publishers toward the safety of franchises.”
What's encouraging for the game publishing community this year is that there are no dominant titles like Halo 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. “The sequels will be good, and there will probably be a lot of graphically impressive games for the new systems,” said Randy Webster, games buyer for Vancouver-based Rogers Video. “But I'm not hearing about a lot of individual games.”
Monster Movie-Based Titles
Among the titles that are attracting attention heading into E3 are games based on classic movies, including Electronic Arts' The Godfather and Scarface from Vivendi Universal.
Other licensed games that will likely draw a crowd are Peter Jackson's King Kong from UbiSoft, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe from Buena Vista Games, Warner Bros. Interactive's Batman Begins and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as well as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is set to be published jointly by Warner Bros. Interactive and Electronic Arts.
Even though there won't be films to back them up, THQ is bringing out a sequel to it successful game version of The Incredibles as well as a multiplayer game based on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” while Atari will showcase The Matrix: The Path to Neo.
Also worth checking out will be new titles from Nintendo based on the “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda” franchises and Perfect Dark: Zero, a likely Xbox 360 launch title and Rare Studio's first major game since being bought out by Microsoft.
For all the talk about a future filled with Xbox2s and PS3s, Webster, of Rogers Video, said he's heading into this year's E3 looking for games that will drive business over the short term.
“The new Xbox is probably going to occupy a lot more floor space,” he said. “But in terms of when we come back to the office and begin determining what we'll be buying, I'm sure the numbers will be much heavier toward the current systems.”