Miércoles 28 de Mayo de 2008, Ip nº 231

For gamers, the craving won’t quit
Por Matt Richtel

San Francisco — The troubled economy and rising prices for food and gas won’t keep fast-twitch video gamers from splurging on their latest must-have diversion, Grand Theft Auto IV.

During the next two weeks, some five million couch jockeys are expected to plunk down $60 to buy Grand Theft Auto IV, a violent and episodic game that hits stores Tuesday.

The release is expected to be one of the biggest video game debuts ever, extending a franchise that has already sold 70 million copies since its arrival in 1997.

But customers’ intense desire for video games extends beyond Grand Theft Auto. Despite pressure on consumers’ entertainment budgets, they keep spending more money on games. Over all, the industry is having a banner year. Software sales were up 63 percent in March compared with March 2007, according to NPD Group, which tracks sales. Equipment sales were up 46 percent over the same period.

“People say that if consumers are down to their last $50, the last three things they’ll buy are milk, eggs and video games,” said Colin Sebastian, a video game industry analyst with Lazard Capital Markets.

Avid fans of the Grand Theft Auto games acknowledge that buying the new Grand Theft Auto — and spending hours descending into a free-for-all of crime and punishment set in an animated facsimile of New York City — can require some financial sacrifice. But for many, the purchase of the game is justified by its entertainment value. Finishing the game can take more than 40 hours, turning a $60 investment (tax not included) into entertainment that costs $1.50 an hour (food and bathroom breaks not included).

Ryan Holt, 21, a student at the University of Northern Colorado, plans to spend $90 to get the collector’s edition, which comes with a duffel bag, art book and soundtrack. It pinches his budget, but he said there are things he would sacrifice before a great video game.

“I’d probably give up my cellphone,” he said. “Probably not food. That’s really tough. I like food.”

Demonstrating the industry’s strong growth, Nintendo announced late last week that it would increase its monthly production of Wii video game consoles to 2.4 million, from 1.8 million. In January, the video game retailer GameStop beat its own projections for quarterly sales growth, even as many other retailers struggle, Mr. Sebastian said.

“It’s hard to see that there is any effect of economic distress affecting industry sales. In fact, the industry is thriving despite woes elsewhere in the economy,” Anita Frazier, a video game industry analyst at NPD Group, said.

To some extent, the growth is no surprise. The industry is in the middle of a predicted upturn related to the recent introduction of three new video game consoles: the Wii, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3. New consoles mean new games and motivated consumers.

Video game industry executives and analysts — and, more important, consumers — say the devotion to the hobby is driven by a peculiarity of games: they can be addictive.

“When gamers are in it, it’s like a druglike state. It feels so good,” said Jennifer Aaker, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. She said players face constant challenges and receive instant feedback, a superstimulating artificial environment.

Not only is the play experience emotional, but the purchase is emotional, too, Professor Aaker said. Players want to be the first to buy the game and master it, sweeping aside the matter of affordability.

“The last thing that comes to mind is: ‘Can I afford it?’ That question isn’t even on the radar,” Professor Aaker said. “The question is: How fast can I buy it?”

In tough times — and in good times — playing games offers a chance for escape, devotees say. That goes double for the Grand Theft Auto series, according to J. R. Jobe, 27, of Lawton, Okla.

“You can go along with the stories, which are pretty good, or you can just play around and blow stuff up,” Mr. Jobe said. “If you don’t feel like blowing stuff up, you can jump in a cop car and run over criminals.”

Mr. Jobe, who works as a floor manager in a local tribal casino, said playing is a kind of relief from day-to-day drudgery. That’s why he has been saving a bit from each paycheck for Grand Theft Auto IV. It is a mild sacrifice, given the cost of gas and the need to pay the rent and buy school lunches for the children, but he said he needs some entertainment, too.

“My wife wants me to go shopping or go to P.T.A. meetings, and sometimes I don’t want to do that,” he said. He thinks he is entitled to something in return. “I explain to her: When I get off work, it’s my way to calm down. It’s like my cigarette.”


  29/04/2008. The New York Times.