Transition was the name of the game for players in all realms of the new media industry this year. On the console side, video game consumption took a nose-dive as hard-core gamers hung onto their cash in anticipation of next-gen system launches like Sony’s PlayStation 2, Nintendo’s Gamecube (due in summer 2001) and Microsoft’s X-Box (due in fall 2001).
As teenage gamers abandoned their old systems in favor of new-and-improved ones, younger siblings were increasingly drawn into the video game industry. ‘Most hard-core users have already moved on to Sega’s Dreamcast or PS2, but there are more than 25,000 PlayStations out there that have to go somewhere,’ explains Evan Stein, brand director at Acclaim Entertainment. ‘They’re being passed down to a younger audience, and we’re definitely seeing an increase in titles for these younger casual gamers.’
The proliferation of these first-gen console games for younger kids-coupled with the presence of Sega’s 200-title software library for Dreamcast and PS2′s 52-game year-end tally-put a downward pressure on pricing this year, as well as making it more difficult for new product to stand out at retail. On-line gaming apps designed for the new-age consoles are being pegged as the component that will increasingly make or break software titles. Sega got a head start over the rest of the pack on September 7 when it launched SegaNet, its Dreamcast-compatible web-based gaming network, but PS2, X-Box and Gamecube also have built-in broadband network functions that will likely link up to similar on-line hubs in 2001 or 2002.
This melding of the console and web gaming industries is an exciting prospect for Shockwave.com senior producer Eric Oldrin. ‘We get a lot of traffic for our on-line games now, but console-based web games are a whole other ball of wax because the console is the portal kids use the most,’ he says. Oldrin predicts that once these gaming hubs develop a large enough audience, big portals like Yahoo and Excite will likely ally with Sony, Sega, Microsoft and Nintendo to bring the games to their sites.
Players in the Net community are certainly scrounging for new hooks moving forward in light of the failure of so many teen- and youth-targeted entertainment websites this year. Some on-line companies that joined the dot.com dead pool in 2000 include: Pop.com, DEN, Boo.com, KIBU, MXGOnline and Pseudo.com. Sam Register, VP and creative director of Cartoon Network Online, views the shakeout in a positive light. ‘The hype is finally over, and that’s a good thing because there was so much crap out there,’ he says emphatically. ‘Now that venture capitalists and big media brands have become more serious about the medium, we can expect much more creative content of a higher caliber.’
Most promising new digital platform
Wireless technology improved by leaps and bounds this year, and burgeoning markets for cell phone programming in Europe and Asia quickly attracted the attention of several entertainment companies looking for the next new media bandwagon to jump onto. Fox Kids Europe was first out of the gate with a summer-launching WAP service distributed by mobile portal Mviva. Hot on FKE’s heels were: Marvel Entertainment, in a content development deal with Finland’s Riot Entertainment; Turner Broadcasting International, also with Mviva; and Warner Bros., which has hooked up with California-based PacketVideo.
Most lucrative video game franchise
Despite a flagging performance in other licensed categories, the Pokémon franchise continued to monopolize the interactive market this year, snapping up the top four spots on PC Data’s best-selling console game list for 2000 with Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Blue, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Pinball respectively. All told, the property has generated a whopping US$600 million in U.S. interactive game sales since the 1998 release of Pokémon Blue on Game Boy. The latest titles in the Game Boy Color line-Pokémon Gold and Silver-sold 1.4 million units during the week following their October 16 State-side debut, smashing the 600,000-copy first-week record of sister title Pokémon Yellow.
Most publicized entertainment dot.com failure
This was, without a doubt, the year of dot.comeuppance, and many youth-skewing entertainment hubs didn’t survive the Internet shakedown that played out. Such was the plight of Pop.com, which laid off 65 people and closed its doors in September after a buy-out deal with ifilm.com fell through. Announced in October 1999 by a consortium of big names like Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, Pop made early headlines by inking a flurry of webisode agreements with leading Hollywood comedy talent. However, it made even bigger headlines when it folded without even having launched.
Best console launch marketing plan
Sony PlayStation 2
While a computer chip shortage pumped demand by limiting the initial supply to 500,000 units, credit must be given to any marketing plan that results in almost all units being sold out within hours of hitting store shelves. The buying frenzy netted Sony about US$150 million from console sales, plus an additional US$250 million in software and peripherals sales on the launch day alone.
Some of the more interesting viral elements of the marketing plan included sponsorship of the Raveworld tour, a 68-foot traveling demo truck that appeared at heavily-attended teen events, and a million-dollar on-line ad spend spanning hubs from Farm Club and ifuse, to Rolling Stone and Shockwave.