Video games have been among the hot holiday items, with the industry gearing up to show just how recession-resistant it is in 2008 following the global economic slowdown.
PlayStation 3 and the
Wii consoles are compiling their holiday wish lists with a plethora of titles already on store shelves or being released before the holidays.
But with three major home consoles on the market and numerous games touting the title of "must-have," buyers will need to pare down their shopping lists over the next month to include only the cream of the crop.
The fourth-quarter holiday season is certainly a prosperous one for software makers as several video-game titles end up near the top of many holiday wish lists. Last year, U.S. retail sales of video games realized $8.6 billion across hardware, software and accessories, a 40% increase over the fourth quarter of 2006, according to NPD Group, a data collection and analysis company. Despite a rapid slowdown of consumer spending, analysts still expect a fruitful holiday season for software makers.
'Guitar Hero' Tunes Up for World Tour
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"Software sales growth has been extraordinary thus far in 2008, up 36% through September," wrote Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities, in a recent research note. "We continue to believe that the video-game software sector remains highly recession-resistant, but expect more modest gains in October to December due to difficult year-over-year comparisons."
Ricardo Torres, editor in chief of GameSpot.com, a video-game review Web site owned by
, says the biggest factor this year is value. "The video-game industry is recession-resistant but not recession-proof," he says. "This holiday season, you'll see more and more people trying to make smart choices. Whatever will get you more for your money."
Guitar Hero vs. Rock Band
Music-related software and hardware are at the top of most lists, much as they were last year. The top title across all platforms in the holiday quarter of 2007 was
Guitar Hero III
, with 5.9 million units sold across all platforms, according to NPD.
, which is published by
, also had a strong showing last year when it was the first music game to offer a full-band experience on home consoles with the addition of drums and a microphone.
It comes as no surprise that with new iterations of their software titles recently made available, music games will once again be the most popular again this holiday season.
Guitar Hero: World Tour
was released in late October and is the first in the series to feature guitar, bass, drums and microphone compatibility. Its counterpart,
Rock Band 2
, has already made its debut on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, and is slated for release on the other home console systems later this month.
"The music games are keeping their popularity after all these years," says Tal Blevins, vice president of games content for IGN.com, an entertainment review Web site under the
has really built up a big franchise name for itself. That one is still the big seller this holiday season."
Guitar Hero: World Tour
band kit is on the gift list of someone you're buying for, you had better act quickly. On the company's recent quarterly conference call, Activision CEO Robert Kotick said "the band kit launch quantities are virtually sold out across the channel, and we are likely to not be able to keep up with demand this holiday."
While the Nintendo Wii plays host to both
, the company has published its own music title, Wii Music, which promises players the experience of a music game without getting too technical with controls. Instead of pressing the frets of a plastic guitar or wailing on a fake drum kit, players can simply wave the Wii remote control and mimic the motions of playing one of several instruments.
"It's a new entry and it's not quite as hardcore as the other titles," says Blevins. "It's a little more about waving the controller around to make music, but that's definitely one that will appeal to the casual gamers and a lot of folks who own the Wii. The Wii has been a big system for mainstream and casual game players."
Sequels Set to Dominate
Outside of the music genre, the mega-hit of the holiday season is expected to be
Gears of War 2
, a shoot-'em-up sequel about a futuristic war between humans and violent underground beasts called Locusts. Don't let the fact that
Gears of War 2
is married only to the Xbox 360 console fool you in terms of the sales it's capable of. In 2007,
Super Mario Galaxy
, exclusive to the Nintendo Wii, was among the top-five best-selling games of the holiday season.
Gears of War 2
earned a score of 93 at Metacritic.com, an Internet site that amasses and averages reviewer scores from around the globe. The game received seven perfect scores from reviewer magazines and Web sites, earning what Metacritic.com calls "universal acclaim."
Gears of War 2
is going to be the blockbuster of the season, no doubt about that," says Blevins, adding that
, another Xbox 360 exclusive role-playing sequel that takes players into a mythical land, has also seen incredible interest.
has been a huge seller so far," he says. "It was the most popular game on IGN.com in October in terms of total page views and user interest. The sales so far reflect that, too."
The PlayStation 3 will also see its share of exclusive titles, with the best performer expected to be
. The game is a sequel to the very popular initial first-person shooter game that puts players in control of a heroic soldier fending off an attack from fictional beings called the Chimera in the 1940s. Already, the game has an 88 rating on Metacritic.com, with one perfect score on its resume.
"What's really awesome is the cooperative mode with
, which is super addictive," says Torres. "You have a team of eight players with different classes you can play as. The key to a successful group of eight is making sure you have the right mix of classes. And I really can't stress the powerful hook of having your character earn stuff and upgrade your performance. It's like having bragging rights."
Wii Fit Remains Hard-To-Get
On Nintendo's Wii platform, Wii Fit is expected to be the hot seller this holiday season. But unlike most software titles that have been released recently, the game initially came out nearly six months ago. Much like the Wii itself, it has remained a rare find on store shelves that quickly sold out after its initial release.
Also exclusive to the Wii is
Animal Crossing: City Folk
, a simulation game where players take control of a cartoonish avatar and interact with fellow townspeople. There is no winning or losing in games from the
series. Instead, players live everyday life with the aim of building and furnishing a house by running errands for other characters in the game.
The title originally debuted on Nintendo's GameCube platform and is expected to sell well among players who have waited for the Internet capability the Wii promises to bring to the game. "Everybody loves the game already, so it's a big deal you can now play it online," says Torres. "There was a lot of concern that it wouldn't succeed in the U.S. because it was too idiosyncratic for audiences. Of course, it hit like a bomb. Because of the connectivity, you can play with people all over the country. And because it seems everyone has a Wii, it's going to see a huge draw."
Little Big Planet's Big Success
Little Big Planet
, a community-based "platformer" game featuring lots of user-generated content and customization, is another exclusive to the PlayStation 3. Players take control of a character called SackBoy and dress the character up however they like. The software maker has bundled a level creator in the game, so players can construct and share their own creations for free.
Little Big Planet
is a breath of fresh air for the so-called platformer games, which are far less represented among newer games where graphics take precedence over game play. "From a gaming perspective, we haven't seen an adorable platformer in years," he says. "
you expect because he's a staple. But to see an original platformer come out in this day and age and succeed? It makes me happy to see."
Several games are expected to perform well across all platforms.
Call of Duty: World At War
is the latest addition in the very popular war-game series and is available on the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360. The game is the next chapter in the series after
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
, which was the second-highest-selling game in the fourth quarter of 2007.
Among other titles,
, a first-person action game set in a future post-apocalyptic United States, was recently released on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. As of Nov. 6, the software maker said the title had sold 4.7 million units for a sales total of over $300 million. Additionally, the perennial
WWE: Smackdown Vs. Raw
series has a new 2009 addition, which Blevins expects to "do well across every system."