ZELDA'S BACK, AND GAMERS FLOCK TO ADVENTURE: LAVISH GAME FROM NINTENDO SETS STANDARD

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It has been six years since Princess Zelda last had a new Nintendo adventure.

But fans remain loyal. In fact, pre-sales for the Nintendo 64 role-playing videogame indicated fans couldn't wait to meet the fifth and newest incarnation of Zelda, Link, and their friends and enemies.

More than half a million people plunked down a $10 deposit for the 1998 software "The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time" in the months before its launch last November.

George Harrison, Nintendo's VP-marketing and corporate communications, says Zelda has been "the fastest selling title we have. I think over time, Zelda will probably outsell Mario Brothers."

Mr. Harrison has seen promotions for dozens of videogames come and go. But the wizardry of the Zelda program demanded a new approach. His program called for seeding the effort earlier than usual, using Internet marketing and stoking interest from the trade press.

INCENTIVES ADDED

Historically, Nintendo says it usually sells about 80,000 to 90,000 copies of a videogame before it is launched -- the previous record holder was 1997's "Diddy Kong Racing," which sold 130,000 games before its debut.

For Zelda, Nintendo heightened the excitement by offering an extra incentive -- a gold-painted collectors edition cartridge.

But sales figures after launch seemed to indicate the pre-sell wasn't just hype. Last month, the $69.95 Zelda game was on track to sell 2.5 million copies for a total of $175 million in retail sales.

The $14 million marketing effort surrounding the launch of the latest Zelda began several months before the game went on sale. The launch benefitted from an Internet buzz generated even before Nintendo's official efforts, Mr. Harrison says.

But the company's first efforts focused on PR. That was followed by a paid effort with print ads, TV spots and a first for Nintendo -- a 60-second movie trailer, all created by Leo Burnett USA, Chicago.

RICH GRAPHICS

The ads, with rich graphics and colorful characters, also carried irreverent taglines and messages. The movie trailer described the game's action, including Link running through the forests and obstacles of Hyrule. As the zinger, the last narration of the spot intones, "Will ye succeed or will ye suck?"

Part of the reason Zelda fans had to wait so long for the "Ocarina of Time" was its complexity, Mr. Harrison says. This prequel to the original Zelda took more than three years to develop -- almost twice the time of most Nintendo videogames -- because of its richer, deeper 3-D graphics and story, plus its extended playing time of 50 to 100 hours.

While Mr. Harrison wouldn't estimate the development costs, he says it was "several million," but adds jokingly, "We're not quite at the [cost of a]

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