HOME Technology 2002
Games are serious business
Game players are spoiled for choice this Christmas with Microsoft’s long awaited Xbox challenging the traditional PC, Sony PlayStation and Nintendo GameCube for the ultimate interactive experience.

Console gaming shifted gear in the past two years with higher powered processors, more capable graphics engines and more realistic and challenging games. New generation consoles double as DVD movie and audio CD players.

Xbox takes things one step further with networking capability and its own 8Gb hard disk giving plenty of capacity for saving games and downloading music or data rather than using expensive memory modules.

"The Xbox has a much more powerful processor and is well ahead of the others but for how long depends on new versions from competitors," suggests Garth Wylie executive officer of the Interactive Software Association of New Zealand (Isanz).

The worldwide console market reached revenues of nearly $US7.4 billion in 2001 with 31.8 million units sold and Strategic Analytics reckons the number shipped in 2002 will be 41.9 million units. The PS2 is expected to account for 72 per cent of global sales followed by Nintendo’s GameCube with 16 per cent and Microsoft’s Xbox with 12 per cent.

There are currently about 400,000 PlayStation one units in New Zealand and since Playstation 2 (PS2) was launched just over 18 months ago there have been 85,000 units sold. An educated estimate is of the value of the local gaming market is $160 million, double that of 2001, says Mr Wylie.

Mr Wylie says the games industry is larger than the film industry in terms of dollars generated worldwide and while some people complain at the cost of a game – typically $90-$130 – they often underestimate what’s involved. Top games can involve up to 100 programmers and cost $10-$20 million.

Old gamers don’t hand their controllers over to the next generation they stick with it. The demographic of who’s playing here is similar to the US where 60 per cent of the population aged between six upwards are regular gamers. The average age is 28 years old and 43 per cent are women. Of those 60 per cent expect to still be playing in a decade.

The Xbox had the biggest consumer launch ever in New Zealand in October, a year after the US and UK release. It’s available from 200 outlets at around $600 including the DVD dongle. Microsoft will spend $2 billion over the next five years establishing Xbox Live so game players can hook up to the internet over high speed connections and play partners across town or around the world.

My 13-year old son Miles was ‘stoked’ with the Xbox on loan from Microsoft. It took much effort to pry him away after five hours straight. His comments: "It’s like you are right there, the graphics are stunning, it keeps you thinking and involved, although the controls take a little getting used to. Its primo."

Global sales of video games are estimated at $US17.5 billion this year possibly up to $US100 billion by the end of the decade. The strongest interest was in strategy games. And there’ll be no shortage of titles hitting the market for the festive season.

GameZone in Auckland reckons the top five PlayStation 2 games will be GTA: Vice City, LOTR: The Two Towers, Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets, Tony Hawk 4 and The Getaway. GameCube top titles are likely to be Eternal Darkness, Starfix Adventures, Bond 007: Nightfire, Tony Hawk 4, Mario Sunshine and for the Xbox Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, Halo, Tony Hawk 4, Morrowind and Colin Mcrae Rally 3.

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