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Video Game Software Is Expected Focus of E3

8 May, 2003 By: John Gaudiosi

More than 60,000 members of the video game industry will converge on the Los Angeles Convention Center this week for the ninth annual Electronic Entertainment Expo.

With the anticipated price drops this year of PlayStation 2 and Xbox to $149 and GameCube to as low as $119 (with a game bundle), software will be the focus -- and the thrust of sales -- for 2003.

There will be more than 1,350 products on display at the show, with console games being the main focus, with 57 percent of games for PS2, Xbox and GameCube versus 27 percent for PC.

In a shift, licensed Hollywood games have risen to the top of the sales charts, thanks in large part to the improvement of the quality of gameplay.

“In 2002, five of the top 10 franchises were from Hollywood, but the other five were original entertainment properties or sports brands,” said Kathy Vrabeck, EVP of global publishing and brand management Santa Monica, Calif.-based Activision. “There is definite value in cultivating both as a publisher. Licensing a strong, relevant franchise comes with built-in consumer awareness and often a big marketing push from a studio. For that, you pay a hefty licensing fee. It can be less risky than developing an original property, but your upside is more limited. On the original property front, you need to spend more in marketing to seed a new franchise. A balanced approach, with a mix of licensed properties and original properties, is best in Activision's view.”

Some of the biggest titles of 2003 will come from the biggest Hollywood offerings of the year. Infogrames' ambitious Enter the Matrix (May 15) is expected to ride the wave of both films to become a Top 10 hit for the year. Universal Interactive's The Hulk (May 27), a virtual sequel to the film; LucasArts' Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike; and Electronic Arts' new “James Bond” and “Harry Potter” games and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King are expected to top the charts again this year.Other licensed games will ship in conjunction with DVD releases beginning in late summer, including: Alias (Acclaim), The X-Files: Resist or Serve (Vivendi Universal), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds (Vivendi Universal), Futurama (Vivendi Universal), The Simpsons: Hit and Run (Vivendi Universal), Battlestar Galactica (Vivendi Universal), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Infogrames), SpongeBob SquarePants (THQ), Bulletproof Monk and Bad Boys II (Empire Interactive), Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (Ubi Soft), Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat (Universal Interactive), Finding Nemo (THQ) and The Italian Job (Eidos).

Older licenses like Ubi Soft's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Universal Interactive's The Fast and the Furious, SCI's Reservoir Dogs and Gotham Games' The Great Escape will also be on display.

Original entertainment properties remain the driving force of gaming. Konami's third Metal Gear Solid game, Electronic Arts' new Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, Ubi Soft's XIII and Blizzard's Starcraft: Ghost are expected to be among this year's best sellers. Dark horses like Jaleco's Goblin Commander, THQ's Warhammer 40,000 and Microsoft's Psychonauts could also find a large audience this fall.

And there will be plenty of new platform, adventure, strategy and racing games on display. Platform games are big again this year, despite the rocky sales of many of last year's offerings. Each publisher has at least one big platform game and several have multiple titles. In addition to more Sonic, Spyro and Mario games, THQ's Sphinx and the Shadow of Set and Tak and the Power of JuJu and Ubi Soft's Prince of Persia look promising.

Sequels remain a staple of gaming. Games like Sony's Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando, Jak II, Gran Turismo 4 and SOCOM: US Navy Seals 2 are ready to repeat last year's great sales. Nintendo has more Mario (playing golf and go-karting) and Metroid on the way. Microsoft's biggest sequel, Halo 2, won't ship until 2004, but Midtown Madness 3, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge and Project Gotham Racing 2 are ready for this year. Electronic Arts' SSX3 and The Sims sequels; Capcom's Onimusha 3 and Resident Evil 4; and Konami's Silent Hill 3 should also find a wide audience.

Sports games continue to entice fans to splurge $50 every year on franchises like EA's Madden NFL 2004, which enters its 14th season. Sony, Sega, Midway and Microsoft will try to topple EA's dominance in the lucrative sports gaming category with new hockey, football, basketball and college football and basketball games.

The majority of games on display will ship this year (83 percent), with the bulk of games hitting store shelves between September and Thanksgiving. The growing number of PS2, GameCube and Xbox machines will drive more customers to rent and buy next-generation games than ever before. And the sheer volume of games coming out, many of them smaller titles, makes the “rent before you buy” option even more important to finicky consumers.

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