Let’s face it: 2004 was just an odd year for video games, a fact driven home by a joint report from the Entertainment Software Association and industry analysts’ NPD Funworld last week.
Until October, sales of video games were down in 2004 compared with the same point in 2003. Then two console titles made it the second-best year in the industry’s history – “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” on PlayStation 2 and “Halo 2” on Xbox.
Together, “San Andreas” and “Halo 2” sold almost as many copies as the rest of the top 10 games combined – 9.3 million – and pushed total console software sales to $6.2 billion for the year. (Sales of PC gaming software weren’t included; those totals are due out shortly.)
That’s actually up about 8 percent from 2003, but the total amount people spent on consoles, software and accessories dipped slightly because fewer people bought hardware, thanks in part to some severe console shortages over the holidays, NPD analyst Anita Frazier said.
Despite the dip, analysts have been surprised that sales of hardware and games are so high this late in the consoles’ life cycles. New models are coming, possibly as soon as the holiday season later this year, and that typically would mean fewer games and consoles sold as people wait for the new technology.
Not so in 2004, which was a good three to four years after the current generation of consoles came out. Total sales were about $9.9 billion, not including PC, mobile or Web games. That’s just behind 2003’s record-setting $10 billion.
This year is likely to be all about the shakedown in portable gaming devices between Nintendo’s dual-screen DS and Sony’s new PSP (for PlayStation Portable), which includes music and video playback, Frazier said.
By the way, one of 2004’s 10 best-sellers wasn’t a title from last year at all, but a game released in 2001. You probably guessed it: It’s the original “Halo,” which, thanks to a price drop and overwhelming interest in the sequel, managed to sell more than 1.1 million copies.
Woes of ‘warcraft’
“World of Warcraft” fans are already rabid – but are also ready to bite the hand that feeds them. The game broke additional sales records over the holiday season, selling more than 600,000 copies and hosting an amazing 200,000 simultaneous players during the season.
But the enormous demand has led to problems on some of the company’s servers. Blizzard issued an apology to its players after database issues caused more than 20 of its 88 servers to go down over the weekend.
Players are getting an extra 48 hours added to their accounts for free, but some are still up in arms about crashes, minor rollbacks that reset some game-play accomplishments and new log-in queues for some servers that have been experiencing problems.
Blizzard said in a statement that it realizes the situation is unacceptable, and that it is working “around the clock” to fix the problems.
In the meantime, Sony Online Entertainment’s successful-but-not- quite-as “Everquest II” will be expanded with new adventure packs, starting in March, which will sell for $5 each. Both games get a breather as the competition that was expected to come early this year from “The Matrix Online” and “Guild Wars” slips later into spring. Both have been delayed.
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