Everything to play for in the world of computer games

With some pounds 6bn in annual worldwide sales, computer games are a very serious business indeed. As developers gear up for Christmas, Ian Grayson gets a preview of the titles you might find under your tree
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The Independent Culture
Christmas is a long way off, but for computer games developers the battle for space under this year's tree is already raging. With annual turnovers estimated at more than pounds 6bn worldwide, the industry is enjoying growth levels not seen since the early Eighties.

Fed by an expanding stable of software developers and advances in technology, this growth is expected to continue well into the next century.

At the ECTS trade show held in London last week, electronics retailers and industry watchers were treated to a preview of new games and other software scheduled for launch in the run-up to Christmas. But the show also served to highlight a difficulty facing many consumers keen to experience the world of computer gaming - which platform to choose?

As little as 12 months ago the decision was clear. To experience arcade- standard graphics and sound in the home, a dedicated games console from companies such as Nintendo, Sega or Sony was required. But now the playing field has changed. Advances in the graphics performance of personal computers means the latest generation is now a match for the consoles.

The situation is being watched closely by console manufacturers, wary that the PC will eat into their market, and it appears their fears could be justified. According to the research company Datamonitor, the games console market is expected to peak at $2.4bn in 1998 and then begin to decline. At the same time, PC games software is growing rapidly. At the end of 1996, it was estimated to be worth $1bn and Datamonitor predicts this will grow to $2.5bn by 2002.

Determined to maintain its leading position in the console market, Sony mounted a huge display at ECTS, giving visitors the chance to view forthcoming titles for its PlayStation product. Nintendo countered with previews of its new Lylat Wars game, which, it claims, became the world's fastest- selling computer game when launched in the US earlier this year.

Microsoft displayed a varied range of games for the PC platform, including a new version of its popular Flight Simulator and a driving game called CART Precision Racing. Also opting for the PC platform was Microprose, which launched a new version of its Worms game, and BMG Interactive, which demonstrated an innovative quiz game called You Don't Know Jack.

It is clear that computer entertainment is big business, and if the crowds of people entranced by the latest offerings at ECTS were any guide, that business is going to get a whole lot bigger l