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POTTER AND BECKS IN XMAS CRUNCH
Copyright 2001 www.tombraiderchronicles.com

[ November 13th 2001 ]

It's crunch time for the computer games industry. As high streets and malls begin to fill with seasonal shoppers, publishers and developers can do little but sit back and wait to discover if the hard work of the past 12 months has paid off.

Most publishers expect Christmas 2002 to be the next boom season in the gaming cycle, while 2001 will be more subdued. Nevertheless, being able to reach respectable sales figures this year will very much depend on how many of their titles they can get in stockings and under trees come December 25.

For some, success looks almost guaranteed. There is a suspicion that merchandisers could sell a million plastic dog faeces if they came with a Harry Potter logo attached, so Electronic Arts and Argonaut, the UK developer of the game based on the boy wizard, can probably relax in the knowledge that they have a winner.

Certainly Electronics Boutique, the UK's largest computer games retailer, knows a good thing when it sees it. Harry Potter features on the cover of its latest catalogue, which has a 1.5m print run. "I think Harry Potter will drive hardware sales as well, it's a real must have, and is a safe Christmas present," says Lisa Morgan, EB's commercial director responsible for the retailer's buying strategy.

Those who believe late October is a tad early for the Christmas nut selections to begin appearing on supermarket shelves should spare a thought for Ms Morgan and her eight-strong buying team, for whom Christmas began in May at E3, the industry's largest exhibition in California.

E3 offers EB and other retailers their first sight of the games that will make or break Christmas. And six months later, with much of the buying process complete, Ms Morgan believes the mixture of new hardware and strong software is a winning combination.

"We now have the PlayStation2 and the GameBoy Advance hardware in stores and a bunch of high quality titles," she says. Apart from Harry Potter, Ms Morgan sees Smackdown: Just bring it on, another title from the Worldwide Wrestling Federation franchise as another big winner, helping to drive sales of PS2 for Sony. Harry Potter may be tougher test for Becks than Germany. David Beckham may or may not end up on our screens modelling Marks and Spencer's Y-fronts, but he is about to star in a six-week TV campaign modelling a computer game.

Challenging Harry Potter in this season's games race may well be a tougher test for Becks than beating Germany in their own backyard, but Rage, the UK software group who are publishing David Beckham Soccer, clearly have faith in English football's messiah. Rage has ploughed 600,000 into a marketing campaign that will include an outdoor campaign and 1m postcards sent to schools. And it's not difficult to see why. Apart from the difficulty of gaining any sort of visibility over and above the boy wizard, competition in the football game market is cut-throat.

On Friday Electronic Arts published Fifa 2002, the latest generation of its hugely successful franchise, across PlayStation, PS2 and PC, while Sony's This is Football has already hit the top 10 in the UK. And for those who prefer a more leisurely approach to their football gaming there is Eidos' enduring Championship Manager 2002 - and a quiz version of the game, modelled on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? - as well as LMA Manager 2002 and Empire's Director of Football. While Becks is certain to help Rage stand out on the shelf, there must come a time at which football gaming has reached saturation point.

With ITV finding a lack of enthusiasm for the extra games it brought to an unappreciative public, surely publishers will find that the appetite for all other things football is diminishing also.

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Lara Croft and Tomb Raider are trademarks of Square Enix Ltd.
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