The Christmas season this year will again be chock-full of car wrecks, threats from aliens, dueling Jedi knights and a construction worker named Mario. Only more so. Almost half of all parents in the US are expected to buy video games as Christmas gifts for their children this year, according to the Entertainment Software Association. The NPD Group, a market research firm, has forecast that video game sales will climb 7 percent this year, to US$12 billion.
Still, not all is fun and games in the industry. Retailing in general has been having a soft fourth quarter, competition has increased as more retailers enter the field, and critics have renewed complaints about violent games.
Jeffrey Griffiths, the president and chief executive of Electronics Boutique Holdings, the video game retailer that owns the Electronics Boutique and EBGames chains, says consumers are spending a lot more money on video games.
Sales for this holiday season are being driven by "Halo 2" and "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," both released recently.
"Nintendo just introduced the Dual Screen, which is a new portable system, which is a significant improvement over the existing Game Boy Advance. It really is targeted at an older gamer, which plays into our demographics. And the systems -- the Xbox and the PlayStation 2 -- are both at US$149, versus US$179 last year," Griffiths said.
The entry of the Blockbuster video franchise into the games market could affect Electronics Boutique's business, both in the sale of new games and in the sale of used games that you take as trade-ins.
"We pay close attention to what they're doing. We have a lot of respect for them as retailers. I think that we have certain significant advantages over them, primarily in the fact that we sell large quantities of new releases, and I think that's really what generates trades and that's what generates preplayed business," he said.
Based on its dubious subject matter, Electronics Boutique has decided not to carry the controversial "JFK: Reloaded," a game that invites players to re-enact the assassination of former US president John F. Kennedy.
"That's a game that's sold only online. We don't carry it, we haven't been approached to carry it, and we probably would not carry it," he said.
Griffiths maintains a firm policy on games with violent subject matter, choosing to sell only those titles that have been rated by the US Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
"We've been supporters of the rating system since it was first developed. We have stated that we will only carry games that have been rated by the ESRB, and we've supported all of the efforts to educate consumers on the rating system. We've supported the efforts of the industry; we are actually going to implement the carding process, beginning next year," he said.
As for the argument that there is a link between violence in video games and violence in society, Griffiths said he does not consider video games to be different from movies or videos in terms of how people react to them.
Although hand-held game devices, like the Game Boy Advance or the new Sony PlayStation Portable, are claiming an increasing share of the market, Griffiths says he believes that online gaming will soon start to take off significantly, as personal computers offer players greater functionality.