Are video games recession-proof? Epic Games is about to find out.
The sequel to the Cary company's blockbuster “Gears of War” game for the Xbox 360, which has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide since it debuted two years ago, hits store shelves today.
Alexander Macris, president of Themis Group, publisher of the online video game magazine The Escapist, calls “Gears of War 2,” “probably the most anticipated game of the season.”
To stoke that anticipation, Epic's marketing and distribution partner, Microsoft, debuted a 60-second TV commercial for the game last week on NBC's “Sunday Night Football.”
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Macris thinks the game's appeal will trump the economy's travails, predicting that sales ultimately will surpass 10 million units.
Video games have proven to be resistant to past recessions, Macris said.
“You spend $60 on a video game and you get 100 hours of entertainment,” Macris said. “You spend $10 on a movie you get two hours of entertainment. …Video games are a great way to stretch your entertainment dollar.”
And although every recession is different, he figures the typical gamer – a 33-year-old male – isn't really affected by the stock market or declining home equity.
Epic, a privately held company with 110 employees in Cary, has devoted two years to creating the game. Epic's president, Mike Capps, estimates development costs might exceed $10 million.
The company has planned 20,000 “Midnight Mayhem” events worldwide at stores and other venues, featuring giveaways of “Gears of War” merchandise.
Epic staffers and others associated with the game will be on hand at sites across the country.
At the FYE store in Concord Mills mall, assistant manager David Rodgers said he expects the game will do quite well. But the store was not planning any special activities for it, and had not taken any reservations for the game before its release.
Just as “Gears of War” hero Marcus Fenix must face the dreaded Locust Horde, the game company is confronting a hostile economic downturn and a competitive landscape that has ratcheted higher since the original “Gear” hit the scene.
As with most video games, it's not cheap. The standard edition has a $59.99 price tag; the limited edition is $69.99. The game is rated “Mature” for blood and gore and intense violence.
Just like a Hollywood sequel, the popularity of the new “Gears of War” installment will affect other streams of revenue. Today, Gears of War is a franchise that has spawned action figures, a comic book published by DC Comics and a paperback, “The Official Prequel to the Award-Winning Video Game,” published by a division of Random House. A movie version of the game is in the works.
Capps says he's not sure how the dismal economy will affect sales. But he is confident the game will resonate with fans.
“I know it's a better game” than the original, he says.
The early reviews have agreed.
Metacritic.com, a Web site that compiles reviews of video games and other entertainment, gave it an aggregate score of 93 out of 100 as of midday Thursday.
“It's not as emotionally deep as other games on the market; it's not a 30-hour-plus epic and it's not art in video game form, but (it) is arguably the greatest action game ever created,” wrote videogamer.com.
Staff writer Adam Bell