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Whazzup?: Majesco secures rights to distribute select episodes of Nickelodeon cartoons on the GameBoy Advance, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Jimmy Neutron and Fairly Oddparents. Majesco's compression technology allows up to 45 minutes of video to play from a GBA cartridge. The company claims advance orders from already enthusiastic retailers could top 1 million. So What?: Most kids have seen every episode of the Nick favorites about ten times on TV already, for free. Beyond the initial novelty thrill of showing a cartoon on their GBA, we expect most kids would rather use the time and device to play a good game involving the characters. The first lesson of the new media age has been, just because technology can do something doesn't mean we want it to.

Whazzup?: Girls just wanna have tech. Harris Interactive's annual Youth College Explorer Study shows that the old myths about technology and gender, including games, are just that, myths. Surveying 18-to-30-year-olds, Harris found that women spen 2.7 hours a week playing games online, compared to 2.9 hours a week for male counterparts. AOL's recent casual gaming survey revealed similar figures, but Harris offered the surprising finding that 22% of women in the age group owned a portable game unit, compared to 27% of men. So What?: Now we just need games marketing to catch up to market reality. The twenty-something women were raised on video games, and they are poised to break even the oldest myth -- that consoles are male-only zones. Alas, despite this striking penetration of handheld games into the young female adult demo we have yet to see a coherent ad strategy that targets this group's media (women's magazines, Web sites, TV, radio) with campaigns that are tailored to them. The wireless capabilities promised for the next generation of handhelds would seem to be the perfect place the more socially-oriented game play that many female gamers like.

Whazzup?: Sony argues that connected PS2 game play is stealing media time share from TV. The company points out that 18-to-34 year old males, the key demo that Nielsen says has reduced its TV viewing this year, makes up 65% of the online gaming audience during the 5 pm to 11 pm time block. Sony says the PS2 online gaming audience is 2 million, with 67,708 newly registered in February alone. So What?: Playing fast and loose with numbers is not going to convince anyone, especially real ratings-crunchers at ad agencies that young men are playing online rather than watching prime time TV. 2.6 million gamers? How many are active players? 65% of prime time players are young males? How many in any given prime time slot? What is the actual nightly number and how does it rate against cable and network shares? Take a hard lesson from Internet advertising. Don't challenge the legitimacy of other platforms until you can go head to head with real apples to apples numbers.

Whazzup?: Parks Associates projects that more than two million broadband households will subscribe to games-on-demand services by 2007. More broadband ISPs will introduce these services in 2004, Parks says, as a way to increase retention and increase revenue per user. Currently, most games-on-demand services offer only small and back list games, but report claims the quality of offerings is improving.

So What?: Parks estimates that 100,000 players subscribed to games-on-demand in 2003, but we have a hard time seeing how that increases to two million in three years, given the slow level of acceptance for this model and the resilience of the retail model. At the recent Digital Media Summit in New York, researchers from consumer electronics manufacturers claimed that consumers for now want that tangible media, which means that digital delivery of games and DVDs is a long way off for most of us.

Whazzup?: The first Ph.D. in game studies, so far as we know, was issued in late January to Jesper Juul from the Center for Computer Game Research at the IT University of Copenhagen. Dr. Juul defended a thesis entitled "Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds," which examines the computer gaming experience as a tension between obeying rules and occupying an imaginative fiction.

So What?: Juul's site ( http://www.jesperjuul.dk ) is a window into the emerging field of European academic study of games, dubbed "Ludology." Businesspeople love to scoff at the scholarly pursuit of the commonplace, but the industry has a vested interest in supporting the academic legitimization of gaming by inviting these theorists to research the production process and establishing scholarship and internship programs with institutions.

Whazzup?: John Riccitello, president and COO of Electronic Arts seriously dissed the Nokia N-Gage in an interview with Reuters. "When I picked that thing up I knew it was a dog," he said. "It just feels stupid." He did add that Nokia was likely to "figure it out" eventually.

So What?: The N-Gage felt stupid to most of us reviewing the hardware, too, and within a few minutes of actual use the game play was clearly challenged by the button array. So if this was sop clear to anyone who picked the thing up, including attendees at E3 2003, how did the thing even make it to market with publisher support, including EA's, whose top dog knew from the outset it was "stupid?"

Whazzup?: The first iPod game, "The Rise of the Lost," revives the old text adventure format. Published by XO Play ( http://www.xoplay.com ), the ingenious design utilizes the notes section of the iPod to let players choose their path in the adventure.

So What?: Don't be surprised if a gaming market emerges for digital media players, including upcoming video players from Creative and the like. In many cases they are better suited to play games than cell phones, with better button arrays and soon better screen technology.

UK Bestsellers (week ending Feb. 28)
Rank  Last Week  Title\Publisher                    Platform Shares (%)
1     *          007: Everything or Nothing\EA      P-66\X-24\GC-10
2     1          Final Fantasy X-2\Square-Enix      P-100
3     2          Sonic Heroes\SEGA                  P-65\X-19\GC-17
4     5          Norton Internet Security\Symantec  PC-100
5     3          Need for Speed Underground\EA      P-73\X-10\PC-7\GBA-6
6     4          Simpsons Hit & Run\Vivendi         P-80\X-9\PC-7\GBA-4
7     8          Prince of Persia\UbiSoft           X-51\GC-23\P-18\PC3
8     7          LOTR: Return of the King\EA        P-67\GBA-14\X-10\GC-4
9     6          FIFA 2004\EA                       P-57\X-14\P1-9\PC-7
10    12         Medal of Honor: Rising Sun\EA      P-80\X-13\GC-7
Source: ELSPA

The post-holiday period sees Electronic Arts loosen its grip on the UK top ten, letting in Vivendi, Sega, Ubi and Square-Enix. In fact, in its 18th week on the charts, Prince of Persia hits one of its highest spots ever on the charts, suggesting that a game can have legs months after launch if a publisher keeps promoting it and lets the audience find it. Remarkably, both Xbox and GameCube versions of POP are outselling the PS2 port. In fact, POP is the second best selling Xbox title in the UK. The mysterious success of Sega's unremarkable Sonic Heroes both in the US and UK may reflect pent up demand for the franchise on systems other than the GameCube, according to some game store clerks we tapped.

Gaming's Most Wanted Titles

Title                                 Platform  Publisher
1. Halo 2                             Xbox      Microsoft
2. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes  GameCube  Konami
3. Fable                              Xbox      Microsoft
4. Metroid Prime 2                    GameCube  Nintendo
5. Half-Life 2                        PC        Vivendi
6. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater    PS2       Konami
7. Resident Evil 4                    GameCube  Capcom
8. Splinter Cell: Pandora's Tomorrow  Xbox      UbiSoft
9. Ninja Gaiden                       Xbox      Tecmo
10. Gran Turismo 4                    PS2       Sony
Source: GameStats.com (for March 9, 2004)

In synch with the finalization of its merger, IGN/GameSpy launched GameStats in late February, which tracks the relative popularity of current and upcoming titles according to activity across their sites as well as the wish and own lists that members keep on their system. GameStats updates its numbers daily. While skewed to hardcore gamers to be sure, the list is striking in the paucity of PS2 and Sony titles. Clearly both Microsoft and Nintendo have a chance to gain some mindshare in coming months as much of the buzz surrounds their platform exclusives.

Retail Console Demand

WholesaleCentral's latest trending report of independent retailer searches for console wholesalers reflects continued declines in January, with the PS2 down more sharply than Xbox and GameCube. Of all searches for consoles games on its system in January, the company found that 50% were for PS2 title, 40% for Xbox, 8% for GameBoy Advance, and only 2% for GameCube. As suggested in GameStats' most wanted survey above, the Xbox's software library is starting to shine in 2004 as the platform seems to hold many of the most anticipated titles.

[Copyright 2004 PBI Media, LLC. All rights reserved.]

COPYRIGHT 2004 PBI Media, LLC
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group





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