More of the same, only better, at gaming gathering
More of the same, only better—that’s the paradoxical hype emerging this week as the video game industry’s three consoles embark on a third season of competition.
The focus at this year’s E3—Electronic Entertainment Expo—is recruiting new players with updated versions of proven hits for Sony’s PlayStation2, Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo’s GameCube.
“If you look at the best-seller lists, look at what sells, look at the competitive environment we’re in, look at the cost of development, look at the risk-reward profile, companies are not taking a huge number of chances,” said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, the industry trade group that hosts E3.
The trend now is to improve established genres—fighting games, sports games, driving simulations, he said.
Consoles typically have about five years of shelf life before the next generation of consoles overtakes them, said Richard Ow, an industry analyst for the NPD Group. “Is there still expansion left for these particular machines? Absolutely,” he said.
Among the new-and-improved, same-as-they-ever-were titles hitting the market in the coming year is a remake of the 1998 espionage battle game Metal Gear Solid in the intense graphic style of 2001’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The new game, subtitled The Twin Snakes, will be available on GameCube.
At the show, which runs Wednesday to Friday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Xbox is presenting the first-person shooter, Halo 2, a sequel to the console’s best-selling game, updated with online capabilities so players can work as teams.
Grand Turismo 4, the latest in Sony’s exalted car-race series, promises “perfected racing physics,” a wider variety of vehicles and an online option.
The game will initially be released for PlayStation2, as will Eidos’ latest Lara Croft adventure.
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness promises darker storytelling, with the curvy heroine a murder suspect.
Among PC sequels offering a multiplayer Internet option will be Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, which follows up on the pioneering fantasy world puzzle that was Myst.
Retreads and all, the video game industry keeps growing, reaching $11,7-billion in sales in 2002. The bulk were consoles, console games and accessories. PC games accounted for about $1,4-billion of that amount.
Among consoles, PlayStation2 remains the industry leader by far, the Xbox has developed a distant but steady second-place following and GameCube trails with a niche following among younger children.
Microsoft and Sony were each expected to unveil updates to their online multiplayer gaming offerings this week. While the Internet market remains slim, it will increase in importance now that the consoles are online, said Steve Koenig, an NPD Group analyst. “If you’re releasing a PC game this year that does not support multiplayer online gaming, then you’re well behind the curve.”
Lowenstein, however, said that Internet gaming remains “a wannabe,” having appealed only to a small fraction of current gamers so far.
Fifty-seven percent of the 1 300 new games and related products on show this week at the E3 gathering are console games and attachments, 27% are for PCs, nine percent for handheld gaming systems, five percent for use on wireless phones and about two percent for Internet gaming, according to an industry group survey.
Back in the deja vu department, Nintendo hopes to expand GameCube’s base by highlighting its fusion capabilities with the company’s fiercely popular GameBoy Advance portable system.
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, the latest in more than a dozen versions of the fighting, sorcery and puzzle-solving role-playing favourite, will allow players to battle on television through the GameCube system by connecting their handheld GameBoys as controllers, which then feed them secret strategy information the other players can’t see.
“Connectivity is a really great way to have a third way of playing that is unique to us only,” said Perrin Kaplan, vice president of marketing for Nintendo of America. She said several other connectivity games will be announced at E3, along with new Nintendo titles from the Pokemon, Starfox and Mario Kart franchises.
As for Sony, it planned to show sequels for PlayStation2 to its buddy comedy adventures Jak & Daxter and Rachet & Clank and was also debuting the fighting adventure Rise to Honour, which features the voice, image and fight moves of Jet Li. The Jet Li title, as one might imagine, is designed for sequeldom. - Sapa-AP