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Ode to joysticks

'Star Wars' vidgames click in 2005

In a grim year for the videogame biz, it was a great time to have “Star Wars” in your title.

Mirroring the B.O. success of “Revenge of the Sith,” games based on the sci-fi franchise accounted for four of the five top-selling Hollywood licensed games of 2005 in North America. Those four were also the only games with a studio tie-in to break into the overall top 10, according to data from industry tracker NPD Group and publishers.

Activision’s adaptation of DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar” was the other game to make the top-five movie-based list.

“Star Wars” has proved one of the most successful franchises in the vidgame world and got an added boost in 2005 from release of “Revenge of the Sith.”

LucasArts, which published three of the four “Star Wars” games and licensed the other to Eidos, is one of the few publishers with something to brag about in 2005, when sales of console games fell 12% to $4.6 billion.

Most industryites expected the vidgame biz to be down somewhat in 2005, since it was the end of a console cycle just before new hardware like Sony’s PlayStation 3, Nintendo’s Revolution and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 launched.

The Xbox 360 was expected to spur end-of-the-year sales with its November release, but due to manufacturing snafus, Microsoft sold only about 1.3 million units worldwide, according to reports, well short of the company’s prediction that it would ship nearly 3 million. Microsoft’s new target is to sell 4.5 million-5.5 million Xbox 360s by June.

Year’s shortfall caused major publishers including Electronic Arts and Activision to miss their guidance during the crucial holiday quarter (Daily Variety, Dec. 21).

News was somewhat better in the portable market, where launches of hardware Sony PSP and Nintendo DS helped boost game sales 40% to $1.4 billion.

Notably, there were no major hits in 2005 that came close to sales levels of 2004 mega-successes “Halo 2” and “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”

“Star Wars” games that topped the year’s Hollywood tie-ins included action game “Battlefront 2,” which sold 2.1 million units, and its predecessor, 2004 release “Battlefront,” which sold just over 1 million. A poorly reviewed “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” adaptation sold 1.5 million units, and Eidos’ kids game “Lego Star Wars” sold 1.7 million.

“Madagascar” sold 1.36 million.

VU Games’ “50 Cent: Bulletproof,” which came out simultaneously with Paramount pic “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” starring the rapper, sold some 750,000 units.

While sales were available for only some of the multiple versions of the game for different consoles, Ubisoft’s highly touted “King Kong” adaptation looked like a solid performer as well.

Among the many movie-based games that carried big expectations but didn’t break into NPD’s top 100 were EA’s “Batman Begins” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”; Buena Vista Games’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Chicken Little”; and classic movie tie-ins “The Warriors” from Rockstar and “The Matrix: Path of Neo” from Atari.

Relative lack of success for games like “Batman” and “Potter,” both of which garnered so-so reviews, demonstrate that boffo B.O. doesn’t necessarily translate into big sales for a vidgame tie-in.

Though it’s the most comprehensive available in the tight-lipped vidgame biz, NPD data doesn’t include sales of PC games and covers most, but not all, retailers.

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