Huge video game show kicks off

Event features most new titles ever as industry tries to beat global economic slowdown


CHIBA — Tokyo Game Show, one of the world’s biggest gaming events, kicked off Thursday with a record 879 software titles expected to attract 180,000 people during its four-day run.

Video game console and software makers are showing off their latest lineups, including the brand-new “Final Fantasy 13” and “Monster Hunter 3”, for consoles such as the Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

They’re trying to attract not only hardcore gamers but the wider population, including females and seniors.

The trade show is also an opportunity for makers before the Christmas shopping season because game lovers get to try out new games before they go on sale.

A total of 209 firms from Japan and 12 other countries have set up shop at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture.

The record number of game titles as well as number of participating firms indicate the industry has not yet felt the recent slowdown in global consumer confidence.

Game software makers are generally optimistic.

“People always have a mind that they want to play and share the fun with other people,” Haruhiro Tsujimoto, president of game maker Capcom Co., told a panel discussion held for the mass media and industry experts. “I’m not pessimistic because there will be demand for reasonably priced games that people can play together at the yearend season.”

“I don’t expect demand for entertainment to dwindle,” said Yoichi Wada, president of game maker Square Enix Co. “It’s not easy, but we’ll have a lot of (business) opportunities.”

Console maker Nintendo Co. currently dominates the gaming market with its popular Wii console and dual touch-screen DS portable machine. But the developer of the popular “Super Mario Bros.” and “Pokemon” series routinely absents itself from the event. This year is no exception.

Experts are anxious to see how the Nintendo DSi, an updated version of the DS that comes with a digital camera and audio player, will fare. The video game giant announced earlier this month that the DSi will go on sale Nov. 1 in Japan.

To catch up with Nintendo’s market share, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. said last month it will launch a new PlayStation Portable hand-held console, the PSP-3000, on Oct. 16.

Visitors to the trade show will be able to get their hands on the new machine, which features an advanced liquid crystal display.

Sony said Thursday it will start selling an updated version of the PlayStation 3 on Oct. 30. It will have an 80-gigabyte hard drive, against the existing model’s 40 GB, as well as a wireless “Dualshock 3” controller with force feedback, which enables the user to feel vibrations according to game characters’ actions, it said.

Microsoft Corp. also said last month it will upgrade the standard Xbox 360’s hard drive to 60 GB from the previous 20 GB and sell it for ¥29,800, less than the ¥34,800 price tag before the upgrade.

According to Tokyo-based market research firm and publisher Enterbrain Inc., the Wii has outsold both the PS3 and the Xbox in Japan, moving 6.8 million units as of Sept. 28. This compares with 2.36 million PS3s and 741,298 Xbox 360s.

As for the hand-held market, the Nintendo DS series has seen 23.5 million units sold, against 10.2 million PlayStation Portables, Enterbrain said.

“Nintendo will probably continue to be the key player in the market,” said Etsuko Tamura, an analyst at Mizuho Investors Securities Co.

The attention of some industry watchers is on possible moves by Sony to bring about a turnaround in its fortunes.

Tokyo Game Show is being held amid speculation the Japanese game industry will be no exception to the global consolidation trend.

The industry got of taste of this in September when game developers Tecmo Ltd. and Koei Co. agreed to launch merger talks. Tecmo also rejected a takeover offer by its much larger rival, Square Enix Co.