Videogame struggle is mortal combat

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Videogame marketers are readying their ammo for what's shaping up to be the industry's most viciously competitive holiday sales season yet.

An unprecedented number of videogame systems--all of them incompatible with one another--are scrambling for dominance in the diverging $7 billion industry, and a post-Christmas shakeout appears inevitable.

Videogame marketers altogether will spend as much as $100 million this holiday season to win over the unpredictable, hard-core audience of males ages 13 to 30.

PC software developers, online services and the Internet are adding to the chaos by offering up more electronic gaming options, creating further dilemmas among consumers weighing hefty investments in dedicated videogame systems.

"There isn't room for all these systems to survive, but they all have to go to war because none is willing to back down yet, said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison, New York.

The limping Jaguar system from Atari Corp. is expected to be out of the game by yearend; 3DO Co., whose systems and game titles were the hottest high tech option last year, is also losing steam.

Fading sales are anticipated for various portable videogame systems, and the prognosis is dim for Nintendo of America's $179.95 tabletop 3-D Virtual Boy system that was introduced last summer as an alternative to competitors' more expensive, elaborate hardware systems.

The agonizing choice now for hard-core gamers is deciding between one of the new 32-bit hot-rod gaming systems selling for $299 this holiday season, Sega of America's Saturn or Sony Corp.'s PlayStation, vs. waiting for Nintendo's spring release of its $250 64-bit system.

By all accounts, the PlayStation is winning so far, outselling Saturn at most retail outlets since its introduction last month when it sold an impressive 100,000 units in the first week. TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., handles a $50 million TV and print campaign, which broke in August. New TV executions are expected next month.

Despite PlayStation's paltry introductory library of only 15 titles (50 are expected by yearend), it has a leg up on competitors through an exclusive six-month deal to produce the only 32-bit version of the hotly anticipated Mortal Kombat 3 game, which arrived on store shelves last weekend.

But Saturn retaliated last week by slashing its spring introductory price of $399 by $100, putting it into head-to-head competition with PlayStation.

There are already 25 titles available for use with the Saturn, and each system comes packed with game samples, while PlayStation comes with no free games. Game titles for both systems are sold separately for about $50 each.

Nintendo is still hoping to stave off enthusiasts' hunger for the next generation of videogame machines until next spring by unveiling a raft of compelling new titles for its 16-bit Super NES game system for the holidays.

The 500-plus games available for play with the Super NES system will be backed by an estimated $10 million to $12 million in holiday advertising support via Leo Burnett USA, Chicago.

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, and the Mednick Group, Culver City, Calif., are Sega's agencies, and they're keeping the heat on Sega Genesis games with an estimated $15 million TV and print campaign for its more than 500 titles, including the hot-selling Sega Sports line.

Sega also recently redesigned its World Wide Web site to give Internet surfers a taste of its new games and systems.

Not to be overlooked is the growing threat to videogame marketers from computer software developers, who recognize home PCs as a fast-growing channel for electronic entertainment, especially for younger kids, women and men.

"It's a decision that households are going to have to make in committing to a dedicated videogame system vs. the sophisticated new software available for home computers, and it's sometimes a tough choice," Mr. McGowan said.

Viacom New Media, New York, is one software developer that's decided to tackle the holiday platform confusion by hitting as many targets at once: On Oct. 16 it's releasing its lead game title Zoop on an unprecedented 10 platforms.

A Tetris-like puzzle game, Zoop is backed by an estimated $5 million integrated marketing and advertising campaign including TV and print ads via Fallon McElligott Berlin, New York. It's playable on Sega's Saturn, Genesis, and handheld Game Gear systems; the PlayStation; Nintendo's Super NES and handheld Game Boy; the Atari Jaguar videogame system, along with PC and Macintosh versions plus a low-cost Tiger Electronics unit.

Copyright October 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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