Movie sequels click with consumers

Vidgame industry 'in a cycle of sequel-it is'

For Hollywood, 2003 was the year of sequels that shouldn’t have been: “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “Matrix Reloaded,” “Matrix Revolutions” and “Bad Boys II” either disappointed at the B.O. or were dogged by critics.

When it came to vidgames, however, sequels were golden. Of the top 10 sellers of the year, only three were original titles — and two of those has to be qualified, with one a console version of a long-popular PC game, the Sims, and another, Enter the Matrix, inspired by the movie.

“Unfortunately, we are definitely in a cycle of sequel-itis,” says Steve Smith, senior editor of trade pub Electronic Gaming Business.

Among the bestsellers of the year: Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL 2004, with more than 2.4 million copies; Nintendo’s Pokemon: Ruby, selling 1.5 million; Pokemon: Sapphire, selling 1.4 million; and Zelda the Wind Waker, also with 1.3 million sold, per statistics complied by industry analyst NPD Funworld.

The one true top 10 original release, the Getaway from Sony, sold more than 800,000 copies. Several years in development, the Getaway is a photorealistic “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”-esque crime game set in London.

“There are good, creative titles that are not getting enough credit,” Smith says. “There hasn’t been the same kind of marketing push behind them because they’re not part of a franchise.”

Much as studios do with films in Hollywood, videogame publishers put so much money into a successful title that it’s best to wring the dollars from the franchise while the wringing is good. This has resulted in what seems to be an implausible number of sequels: Final Fantasy X-2 is the 13th installment in the series from Square Enix USA, Nintendo of America released Mario Party 5, and Activision’s Tony Hawk’s Underground is actually the fifth in the series inspired by the pro skateboarder.

The majority of videogames are released later in the year to capitalize on the pre-holiday shopping crush, and may not register until January on the list of top sellers for 2003.

But Beyond Enter the Matrix, which sold more than 1 million copies of its PlayStation 2 version for Atari since its May release, titles based on established Hollywood properties didn’t make much of a dent last year.

“The industry is riding on a feeling that they can do no wrong, and everything is all up from here,” Smith says. “As it turns out, people might want to see ‘Lord of the Rings’ three times in the movie theater (rather) than play the game.”

After one month in release, Electronic Arts’ Lord of the Rings: Return of the King sold 233,197 copies for PlayStation in November, making it the 11th most popular game of that month. Vivendi Universal’s Simpson: Hit & Run sold 219,446 copies for PlayStation 2 since its release in September, and THQ’S Disney’s Finding Nemo for the Game Boy Advance sold 388,049 since its May release.

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