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Namco taps gentle licenses to hit family gamers

AS the current generation of gaming consoles reaches the end its life cycle, game studio Namco is setting its sights on consumers that are still at the start of theirs.
September 1, 2005

As the current generation of gaming consoles reaches the end its life cycle, game studio Namco is setting its sights on consumers that are still at the start of theirs.

Based in Santa Clara, California, the company has traditionally focused on M-rated titles including Tekken and Dead to Rights. But over the past year, business director Jeff Lujan has shifted gears to expand Namco’s portfolio with licensed games for kids. ‘Video games are becoming a family activity, and this is a deliberate decision to capitalize on where the gaming industry is moving,’ he says, adding that many people who grew up as gamers are now parents, and having a console is becoming a common component of the standard family entertainment system.

In fact, dollar sales for family entertainment games have grown by 120% since 2001, according to NPD Funworld’s Video Game Hits Monitor. And more than half of the 25- to 44-year-old owners of Mario Party 6 and SpongeBob SquarePants The Movie say they play these titles with their kids.

Namco’s new kids line will kick off when Hello Kitty Roller Rescue, Gumby vs. the Astrobots and The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree hit shelves this month, and Atomic Betty is set to follow in November. Namco has also picked up the vidgame rights to Universal’s Curious George feature film (due out in theaters this February) and Charles Schultz’s classic comic strip Peanuts.

The company’s merger with Bandai (expected to be wrapped up before the end of the year) will likely provide Lujan with a wealth of boys action properties, so he’s most interested in gentler licenses for the six to 12 demo that might draw in more girls.

Built-in brand awareness is definitely an element he looks for, but Lujan says it’s more important to find properties with existing story lines that can be easily translated into gaming plots. Peanuts, for example, boasts the highly playable and virtually inexhaustible narrative thread of Snoopy versus the Red Baron.

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