Showbiz gets game on via portable platforms

There were few big announcements at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, which wrapped May 16 in Los Angeles, but showbiz companies that bank huge licensing checks from the vidgame business did find some juicy prospects.

The biggest deal was Sony’s surprise announcement of the PlayStation Portable, or PSP. Loaded with tons of features, an unknown price and a late 2004 release, the handheld would use an optical disc half the size of a CD with three times the capacity and strong anti-piracy protection. Sony Computer Entertainment topper Ken Kutaragi says the device also would play music and movies.

But it doesn’t take a visionary to see the opportunities such a device might hold for record labels and movies studios.

Think of hack-proofed music mixed with video content, portable DVD-quality movies (MPEG-4 compression software will cram far more information on a disc than DVD’s MPEG-2 format) and new cross-media combinations mixing games, video and music.

Other notable news:

  • Tiny price cuts. Sony will pack its $39 online adapter into slightly improved $199 PlayStation 2s beginning in June, clearing out older models for $179. Microsoft responded by cutting the $199 Xbox price to $179.

Many had hoped for cuts to $149, as slower reductions typically mean fewer bucks for Hollywood: Cheaper consoles generate more sales of games based on big entertainment licenses.

  • The burgeoning wireless game business.

Big companies such as Sony, Sega and Namco are partnering with cellphone makers and networks to create an increasingly profitable new media platform.

Wireless comprised a mere $300 million of the $10.3 billion game biz last year. But games based on pic franchises like “The Lord of the Rings” are increasingly showing up on cellphones, as are for-pay voting capabilities and other game-like functions for TV shows such as “American Idol.”

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