(Corrects game title in para 6, developer para 5)
By John Gaudiosi
RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters Life!) - Despite the sluggish global economy, video game sales remained recession-proof in 2008 as game sequels were snapped up by fans and music games struck the right note.
Sequels like MTV Games’ “Rock Band 2,” Bethesda Softworks’ “Fallout 3” and Konami Digital Entertainment’s “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” won over game critics and consumers.
“In uncertain economic times, gamers do what every other consumer does — focus on quality brands,” said Sid Shuman, senior editor at GamePro Magazine.
“If game purchases are limited, gamers will flock to core titles that are guaranteed to satisfy like “Call of Duty: World at War,” “Gears of War 2” and “Grand Theft Auto IV.” Think of them as gaming comfort foods.”
Rockstar Games’ “Grand Theft Auto IV,” which was released back in April, has sold over 11 million copies worldwide. The first next generation story in the award-winning franchise presented gamers with an open world sandbox to explore.
Xbox 360 gamers will be introduced to a new storyline come February 17 when “The Lost and Damned” expansion pack is released digitally via Xbox Live with the new episode introducing Johnny Lebitz and his biker gang, The Lost.
With the average age of a gamer today 35, mature-rated games like developer Epic Games’ “Gears of War 2” have risen to the top of the global charts. This sci-fi shooter that sent Delta Squad into the heart of Planet Cera to take out the monstrous Locust Horde sold over 3 million units in its first month.
In the battle between Microsoft and Sony in the sci-fi sequel department, Microsoft’s Xbox 360-exclusive “Gears of War 2” nudged Sony’s PlayStation 3-exclusive “Resistance 2” by an aggregate review score of 94 percent to 87 percent, according to GameCritics.com.
Activision returned to World War II after taking a year off in 2007 to introduce “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and gamers were eager to experience the Pacific Theater of War in “Call of Duty: World at War.”
The franchise has sold over 35 million units around the globe and remains a top draw on Xbox Live.
Although Electronic Arts’ “Madden NFL 09,” the 20th installment in that franchise, and “NCAA Football 09” once again attracted enough loyal gridiron fans in the U.S. to place high in the charts, the music game genre surpassed sports.
The one-two punch of Activision’s “Guitar Hero” and MTV Games’ “Rock Band” have achieved success with both hardcore and casual gamers. “Guitar Hero: World Tour,” “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith” and “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” helped propel the franchise to global sales of over 23 million, according to The NPD Group, Charttrack and GfK.
“In the aggregate, I expect “Guitar Hero” will sell through around $800 to 900 million at retail globally this year, while “Rock Band” probably will sell through half that figure,” said Michael Pachter, videogame analyst, Wedbush Morgan Securities.
“However, “Rock Band” appears to have a huge lead in the sales of downloadable content.”
Nintendo’s Wii ushered in a whole new gaming audience, and as a result, Nintendo sequels like “Mario Kart Wii” and “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” each sold over 4 million units through the end of November in the U.S., according to The NPD Group.
Nintendo creator Shigeru Miyamoto introduced a balance board that allows gamers to exercise and do yoga with “Wii Fit,” which has topped U.S. sales of 3.5 million
And Nintendo wasn’t the only one pushing creativity. Sony Computer Entertainment and developer Media Molecule delivered the first user-generated game experience with “LittleBigPlanet” on PS3. Gamers have already created over 100,000 custom levels, which have generated over 20 million plays.
“I think the very nature of the games industry has changed,” said Anita Frazier, videogame analyst, The NPD Group. “Yes, there is still a dedicated group of core gamers and the really great more traditional games will still sell a lot of units, but there is so much more possibility now imaginable with content for videogame systems.”
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith