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Gamers spoiled for choice

Gamers are faced with a Pandora’s box of titles this year from role playing simulations featuring Norse gods and Atlantean Titans to the movie driven heroics of Lara Croft, Star Wars and The Matrix or the more realistic histories of trains, planes and sporting encounters with snowboarding, motor racing, rugby and Quidditch

This year about $180 million in games were sold in New Zealand – about $20 million up on 2002, according to Garth Wylie, chief executive of the Interactive Software Association.

Sony’s PlayStation and PlayStation 2 (PS2) have the lion’s share of the market although Microsoft’s X-Box had a big impact when it was launched a year ago. Microsoft New Zealand says it has sold 40, 000 copies of X-Box in the past year. Price wars erupted between it and Sony earlier this year with both dropping their consoles about 20 per cent.

The main rivals have 70 per cent of the console market between them with PC games having a 20 per cent share. Nintendo, which has a much stronger presence in other countries, has less than a five percent with the rest made up of hand held games such as the GameBoy.

On-line drives growth

According to Informa Media, the games industry was worth over $US30 billion in 2002 with continued growth expect to push sales to $32.1 billion in 2004. There were an estimated 56.3 million users of advanced gaming consoles around the world in 2002, up 128 per cent on 2001 according to Strategy Analytics – 75 per cent of were using the PS2 and 12 per cent were on Nintendo’s GameCube and a similar number on the X-Box which had just been released. The key factors for success were the growing library of software and having an on-line gaming strategy.

X-Box and PS2 128-bit consoles have hard disks for games information to be stored and on-line capability. Sony is now bundling an on-line adapter with its PlayStation 2 consoles and Microsoft is now pushing its X-Box Live service which kicks in from December enabling about 50 games to be played on-line.

In the past most PC and console games have operated over a 56k modem but the new generation demand at least a 256kbit/sec digital subscriber line (DSL) connection.

The X-Box currently has the more powerful processing capability but Sony will soon launch the PSX - a high-end multimedia unit that comes with 160Gb and 250Gb hard drive models to record games, TV programming and burn this onto a DVD. This device will play PS1 and PS2 games but is still an intermediary step before the launch of PS3 around 2006. The cost? Expect between $1500-$2000.

New generations promised

Microsoft isn’t sitting still either, although it has to recover billions of dollars in investment - the sequel, X-Box 2 is expected in 2005. It has a library of more than 300 games and hopes to have shipped 16 million units of the X-Box by the end of 2004.

Bob Glancy, Microsoft’s games account manager says there’s now a more of a natural migration between PC and X-box games with many titles being ported to both platforms at the moment.

Sci-fi shoot-em up Halo, previously only available on the X-Box has come to the PC with on-line capabilities, and successful PC games including aerial dog fighting epic Crimson Sky, war title Counter Strike and Project Gotham motor racing action are now available on the X-Box.

Also expected to be a big seller this Christmas is the family oriented X-Box MusicMixer karaoke, which has its own songs and lyrics and microphone but also enables users to put in their favourite CDs which have the words stripped out and if you have the lyrics you can create you own sing along.

For the PC Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 a century of flight will give you in the cockpit experience across aviation history from the Wright Brothers to the Leer jet and features six Kiwi airports. "It’s one of our big sellers used by aviation amateurs and professions for training as well as the game experience," says Mr Glancy.


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