Data Filter: The News You Need in Easy-to-Swallow Gel Cap Form

Data Filter: The News You Need in Easy-to-Swallow Gel Cap Form

News-o-Matic

Whassup?: THQ Wireless launches Madtap.com, a European multi-lingual portal

for purchasing and downloading mobile Java-based titles. Users buy games by

sending an SMS message and receiving a download link in return. Madtap will

feature THQ titles but also carry games from other publishers. Madtap

provides the back end fulfillment and billing system. THQ Wireless

anticipates expanding offerings to include ringtones, screensavers and

multimedia messaging.

So What?: THQ shows the mobile carriers how it should be done in this

excellent portal that lets users quickly find games that are compatible with

their handsets and tastes. While it doesn’t allow for online demo

play, the portal gives liberal screenshots and matches users with the right

games for their hardware in an efficient interface. Take that, Cingular and

AT&T! The portal is a nice end run around the carriers and their

abysmal sites. Despite THQ’s promise, we saw no sign of other

publishers yet at the site, and who knows how Madtap will handle

competitor content.

Whassup?: Microsoft partners with online digital music service Eatsleepmusic

to provide downloadable karaoke music to the Xbox’s upcoming Music

Mixer karaoke/music library product. Users can purchase any of 20,000

voice-less popular tunes from www.XboxKaraoke.com, download the files

to their PC and transfer them to their Xbox. Special song packs will be

available directly through the Xbox Live service as well. Music Mixer

goes on sale on Oct. 18.

So What?: With the PS2 EyeToy gaining momentum (UK sales are through

the roof), and EA throwing in with the Sony online strategy, MS needs a

win for its upcoming gadget. This partnership makes the Music Mixer much

more attractive, since XboxKaraoke.com offers a wide range of familiar

pop songs for download at $1.99 each, although we would prefer that

users didn’t need the PC as a go-between. The EyeToy is cooler.

..for a couple of days…but the Music Mixer is more likely to be used

as a credible MP3 library and playback device.

Whassup?: IBM gave a dry run for its GameGrid in late August in an attempt

to stress test a distributed computing system that is designed to handle

massive multiplayer gaming more efficiently. IBM invited students to download

and play a customized version of id’s Quake 2 to show that hundreds

or thousands of players could be handled simultaneously in an arena on

relatively simple hardware.

So What?: What if they gave a beta test and nobody came? IBM netted only

80 participants of the GameGrid in this first try, after fewer than 900

people downloaded the software. IBM is going to try a re-test using bots

instead of unreliable students. Nevertheless, the relevance of distributed

style processing to online game play is undeniable. IBM is deliberately

trying to run server- and network-intensive tasks on Neanderthal

hardware to demonstrate the efficiencies gained by a grid approach.

As MS and Sony console networks already approach 1 million users,

the cost of maintaining a robust online gaming network could be

monstrous in years to come, and techniques like IBM’s could

make available to publishers and hardware makers more flexible

revenue models.

Whassup?: Xbox.com relaunches. According to Microsoft, the site is in direct

response to user requests for more streamlined access to more game

information. In addition to feature stories about the platform, upcoming

titles promos, etc. the new site also gives Xbox Live players easy

access to online friends lists, high score info, and head-to-head

competition. The site also sports an accessible, and massive,

message forum for most Xbox topics and specific titles.

Some forums have tens of thousands of entries.

So What?: Gamers will need to bring their enthusiasm with them. So clean

and well-lit, Xbox.com looks downright bland. Partners will enjoy an

oversized frame for promo animations, and the re-design puts lists of

upcoming titles in clear view. Otherwise, the site does little to

merchandise the platform or offer any unique selling points or even

embody any of the excitement of gaming. Alluring media assets are

fairly well hidden, aside form some trailers, and the site asks you to

sign in with Microsoft’s Passport system but never tells you what good

it does. Also, and this is inexcusable for a Web site, some prominent areas

of the site list as “upcoming” titles that have been out for

weeks.

August Sales (Sort of) Meets Expectations

* $334.4 million (up 4.1% over same period 2002 and up 21.8% over July 2003)

* YTD software sales at $2.7 billion (+5.7% over same period 2002)

* YTD PS2 game sales +19.9%

* YTD Xbox game sales +23%

* YTD GameCube game sales +38%

* YTD PS1 game sales -56.3%

* YTD GBA game sales +10.3%

* Aug. PS2 console sales 291,000

* Aug. Xbox console sales 144,000

* Aug. GameCube console sales 100,000

Sources: NPD/Piper Jaffrey/Reuters

According to Piper Jaffrey analyst Tony Gikas, the strong performance of Xbox software is surprising and puts the platform on track to enjoy 20% to 25% growth in 2003 overall. Nevertheless, with overall YTD game sales up 5.7% and slightly behind expectations, Gikas now thinks the industry will be lucky to achieve 14% growth in 2003. He also warns that the substantial console/game bundling expected to dominate this holiday season could cut into game sales among companies that do not have placement in these deals because bundles “automatically take that first software sale away from the market. We view double-software bundles as a risk to market-wide sales of video games.” Harris Nesbitt Gerard analyst Edward Williams told Reuters that PS2 sales were softer than expected and on track to sell only 8.5 million units in 2003, 1 million below his own initial expectations and about .5 million below Sony’s own target for the year.

Top Amazon Game Pre-Orders (as of Sept. 22)

Title Platform Publisher Expected Release

1. Halo2 XboxMicrosoft 4/18/04

2. Final Fantasy X-2 PS2Enix-Square 12/5/03

3. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 PS2EA Sports 9/25/03

4. Mario Kart Double Dash GCNintendo 11/20/03

5. WWE Smackdown: Pain PS2THQ 10/30/03

6. Super Mario Advance 4 GBANintendo 10/21/03

7. DDR Max Dance Revolution PS2Konami 9/26/03

8. Socom II PS2Sony 11/7/03

9. Jak II PS2Sony 10/17/03

10. NHL 2004 PS2EA Sports 9/25/03

The dominance of Halo 2 pre-orders more than six months before the game’s release is a pyrrhic victory for Microsoft. Xbox has no other titles in the top ten, and only one other title in the top 20 – its version of Tiger Woods at #12. This suggests that the lateness of some of its marquee platform-specific games may arrest the strong momentum Xbox has been gaining this year. Also notable is the popularity of Konami’s DDR Dance Revolution, the sort of unique, non-core title that expands the gaming franchise into new audiences.

Top 20 Online Game Destinations (9/7/03 – 9/13/03)

Site Market Share*

1. Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football 11.73%

2. Yahoo Games 9.81%

3. Pogo 8.91%

4. Yahoo Fantasy Sports 6.45%

5. Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball 3.65%

6. Neo Pets 3.02%

7. ESPN Fantasy Games 2.61%

8. MSN Gaming Zone 2.59%

9. Gamefaqs 2.26%

10. CBS Sportsline Fantasy Sports 1.55%

11. GameSpot 1.01%

12. Fanball.com 0.89%

13. Pogo.com Solitaire 0.89%

14. Lycos Gamesville 0.83%

15. Pogo.com Whomp 0.79%

16. Gamewinners.com 0.71%

17. Sportingnews.com Fantasy Sports 0.69%

18. Pogo.com Puppit 0.68%

19. Uproar 0.65%

20. Game House 0.57%

* Indicates share of total category traffic visiting this destination.

Source: Hitwise

While neither EA Sports, Sony, nor Microsoft show up on this record of games-related traffic in the U.S. in mid-September, the numbers tell us why these three giants have their eyes focused on networked sports play. The massive popularity of fantasy league sports online cannot be understated. All of the major fantasy league hubs are represented here and their dominance of game traffic is awesome. In fact, according to Hitwise’s tracking of overall traffic patterns for game sites, the entire category spiked noticeably every Sunday in the last month. Any console game publisher that can tap into that energy with the right revenue model could make EverQuest look like a quaint niche play. These numbers also show where the game companies should be marketing both sports and other titles, the portals, which continue to funnel into the Web the lion’s share of casual gamers. To wit: EA’s Pogo is reaping a massive benefit from its AOL deal, while Yahoo remains one of the major gateways for sports enthusiasts. Even portal also-ran Lycos is a significant aggregator of casual gamers. Gee, when we browse over to many of these sites, we rarely see any promotions from relevant game companies.

[Copyright 2003 PBI Media, LLC. All rights reserved.]

COPYRIGHT 2003 PBI Media, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group