With the holiday shopping season now in full swing, video game publishers are seeing brisk sales and offering only a few surprises. Since December accounts for a major percentage of the industry’s annual revenues, most video game publishers are playing it safe by promoting sequels to already successful titles.
Greg Kasavin, executive editor at GameSpot, an online source for gaming information based in San Francisco, said that most of the best-selling games this holiday season are either a direct sequel to an existing franchise or an extension of an existing franchise.
“Sequels sell in this industry, because they’re generally well received by fans,” said Kasavin. “One of the key differences between movie sequels and game sequels is that game sequels tend to be fundamentally built on tried-and-true, well-liked mechanics … so people who liked the original tend to be pretty confident that they’ll like the sequel too.”
GameSpot, a subsidiary of CNET Networks, recently announced the most anticipated video games of the 2004 holiday season based on statistics from GameSpot Trax, its market intelligence tool that follows the activities of over one million gamers every day.
GameSpot expects heavy competition among game publishers with over 350 new releases in the last three months of 2004 across all console, portable and PC platforms. According to GameSpot Trax, the top sellers this holiday season include: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas; Halo 2; Half-Life 2; Need for Speed Underground 2; Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater; World of Warcraft; Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3; and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.
Kasavin said results this season have so far been rather predictable. “Some of these games, like GTA: San Andreas, Halo 2, and Half-Life 2, were basically sure-fire successes before they even came out,” he said. “People loved these games’ predecessors so much and were so excited by what they’d seen of the new games that they preordered these sequels in droves.”
According to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a global provider of tax and advisory services, the video game market will grow to $55.6 billion in 2008 from $22.3 billion in 2003, reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 20.1 percent. The study predicted that the personal computer market will continue to shrink and that online and wireless will be major distribution channels, spurred by growing broadband penetration and new mobile phones.
PricewaterhouseCoopers also predicted that video game publishers will continue to cut back on their slate of titles to put more resources into the titles they do publish. Plus, sequels will continue to play a large role in the video game industry. The firm noted that most top sellers in 2003 were sequels, including Madden Football 04, Pokeman Ruby and Pokeman Sapphire.
Success is in Sequels
Dean Tsouvalas, writer of “The Lycos 50” — a list of the most popular people, places and things Web users search for — agreed that it’s “all about sequels” this holiday season. He said that almost every single game on Lycos’ list of the most searched video games for 2004 are sequels.
“The success of these sequels is phenomenal. In just 24 hours on the market Halo 2 had sales of $125 million,” said Tsouvalas. He said that for the fifth year in a row The Sims ranked as one of the most searched video games on an annual list put together by Lycos.
The top 20 most popular video games this year, according to Lycos, are:
- Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku
- The Sims 2
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
- NBA 2005
- Halo 2
- Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
- Doom 3
- Star Wars Galaxies
- Unreal Tournaments 2004
- Warcraft III
- EverQuest 2
- Final Fantasy X2
- Half Life 2
- Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance
- Dragonball Z: Budokai 3
- Madden 2005
- Gundam Wing
- Need For Speed Underground 2
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
Clint Patterson, vice president of marketing for Handango — a provider of mobile downloads for millions of mobile customers, based in Hurst, Texas — also put together a list of the top selling video games this holiday season, in this case, by the type of device/operating system.
The top five most popular video games for Palm OS, according to Handango, are PAC-MAN; Ms. PAC-MAN; Aces Texas Hold ‘Em — No Limit; Bejeweled and Chess Tiger.
“Results this holiday season are in line with our expectations,” said Patterson. He noted that both PAC-MAN and Ms. PAC-MAN are classic arcade games that almost everyone has played and that both are new releases sold exclusively at Handango.
The top five most popular video games for Windows Mobile Pocket PC, according to Handango, are Arvale: Journey of Illusion; Fish Tycoon; Age of Empires; Atlantis Redux and Anthelion: The Galactic Alliance.
“All five best selling Pocket PC games contain fantastic graphics,” said Patterson.
The top five most popular video games for Symbian UIQ, according to Handangom, are V-Rally; MegaPack; Sky Force; MGS Mobile VR Pool 2 and IntelliGolf Birdie Edition.
Patterson noted that the top Symbian games include a variety of genres from action to arcade and all have great graphics and entertainment in common.
The top five most popular video games for Symbian Series 60, according to Handango, are ZXBoy; MGS Mobile VR Pool; Super Transball; Wackoo Board Games and MGS Silver Ball.
Three of the five best sellers in the Symbian Series 60 category are action games with bright colors and challenging levels, according to Patterson. “These results are interesting as they show that not one type of game outsells another,” said Patterson.
The top five most popular video games for Windows Mobile Smartphone, according to Handango, are Pocket Mini Golf; Sky Force; All-In Hold ‘Em; Links and IntelliGolf Birdie Edition.
The top sellers for Smartphone include three golf games, an action game and card games. Patterson speculated this might represent the favorite past-times of Smartphone users.
The top five most popular video games for BlackBerry, according to Handango, are Sol Mania: Solitaire Card Games; Blackjack Buddy; Puzzle Pack; Casino Pack and White Ninja.
The best-selling BlackBerry games include three card games, a puzzle game and an action game, according to Patterson. He said that like the results for Smartphone, these games might be the most popular because of the demographics of BlackBerry handheld owners.
“BlackBerry owners may have more money to spend in Vegas, so they like to spend time brushing up on their casino skills in hopes of improving their winnings,” Patterson joked.
DVD games, which basically turn a standard DVD player into a video game-machine have also been selling well this holiday season. Dave Long — chief executive officer and co-founder of Screenlife LLC, a DVD game publisher in Seattle — said his company’s Scene It DVD video game, launched in 2002, is currently outselling other DVD games four to one.
According to a recent survey conducted by Coleman Research for Screenlife, Scene It ranked a best seller among retailers across the top 20 markets in the United States. Last year, Scene It games sold in 8,500 stores and this year the games are selling in 25,000 stores.
Screenlife has also added four new games to its product line: Scene It TV Edition; Scene It Turner Classic Movies Edition; Scene It James Bond Edition and Scene It Disney Edition.
“All four games are very hot sellers this holiday,” said Long. He estimated that the DVD game market was only worth about $1.5 million in 2002. He said that DVD-based games are expected to top $200 million this year and Scene It is poised to capture half of that amount.