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BIZ’S CONSOLING THOUGHTS

Other gaming platforms vie with CD-ROMs for studio attention

When it comes to making money through movie-based interactive titles, the commonly held belief these days is that it’s an unlikely prospect. Long gone are the days when studios developed CD-ROMs based on one of their current films just because they could. (How many people remember the CD-ROM versions of “Rob Roy,” “Congo,” “Gettysburg” or “Johnny Mnemonic”?)

But overlooked in discussions of the death of “shovelware” — the pejorative term coined about two years ago to describe the CD-ROM version of a film — is the way some studios are capitalizing on interactive media by creating content for so-called dedicated console platforms, such as Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation and Nintendo N64.

Not all the studios have entered the world of console gaming: Sony, through its Psygnosis division, has met with success in creating titles for PlayStation; Universal New Media created a PlayStation title, “Crash Bandicoot,” which is selling well; and Disney licensed “Toy Story” to Nintendo.

Fox forges ahead

But the studio that’s paid the most attention to console as opposed to PC games is Fox. Its interactive division, headed by president Jon Richmond, currently has “Die Hard Trilogy” on the bestseller charts, and the company is developing nearly all its properties for the consoles.

“I have always been very focused on the dedicated platforms,” said Richmond, who was in London on Wednesday for the European launch of “Die Hard Trilogy.”

“Our main development focus is PSX (as the PlayStation is also known) and Sega. The PC, I wouldn’t say it’s an afterthought, but it’s an additional skew. But typically we develop on PlayStation, then take it to the other platforms.”

Universal New Media, which also went directly to the PlayStation with “Crash Bandicoot,” has thus far taken a different approach than Fox. UNM is creating new characters, whereas Fox is capitalizing on its existing properties. Among studios, only Disney has put interactive versions of existing properties on the bestseller lists.

Richmond said “Die Hard Trilogy,” which launched outside the U.S. Friday, has this week been the No. 1 PlayStation title in the U.K., Germany, France and Australia.

While the studios are undoubtedly carving out a slice of the console market, vidgame industry analyst Ed Roth of the NPD Group said the studios’ market share should be viewed in context.

“I wouldn’t say that the Hollywood people have taken over the videogame business,” he said.

As to whether Hollywood should take more notice of that booming industry sector, which some analysts estimate is worth more than $14 billion worldwide, Roth said it would depend upon an individual property.

Skewing young

“Videogames have a younger appeal than PC CD-ROMs, so what works for one property wouldn’t necessarily work for another. But if I were at a studio interactive division, I would be thinking multiple platforms, not one or the other,” he said.

Mike Yocco, an analyst at Paul Kagan & Associates, pointed out that the installed base of PCs is far greater than that of consoles. In the U.S. alone, PC CD-ROM units number close to 40 million, whereas only about 2 million PlayStations have been sold worldwide.

On the other hand, the profit margins for vidgames are much higher than for CD-ROMs, which should provide incentive for studios to look carefully at the format, said Yocco.

Console games tend to generate more buzz among gamers than do CD-ROMs, he added. “When you get a hot console game, you can reach a smaller, more targeted community. Word about a good title spreads like wildfire. But a PC game doesn’t have that equivalent.”

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