Metal Gear set for Solid success

Video games market likely to hit $40bn by 2005
Click to follow
The Independent Online

If Pop Idol Will Young thinks he knows about selling new releases at record speeds, he could learn a few things from the video games market. Last Friday saw the UK launch of Metal Gear Solid 2, a game so eagerly anticipated that its opening weekend takings are on target to beat those of the Hollywood blockbuster Monsters Inc.

Rarely has a game received so much hype. It is the sequel to a title that sold six million copies worldwide, and has been touted in the ultra-critical internet discussion forums as "quite simply the best game ever made".

Since the game involves stealth, killing and industrial sabotage, that description will remain a matter of taste. What is not in doubt is that Metal Gear Solid 2 is just about the best thing that could have happened to Sony this year. Continuing its theme of sabotage, the game, which can be played only on the PlayStation 2, has been timed to hit the shelves a few days before the grand release this Thursday of Microsoft's Xbox.

It is no coincidence that the video games industry is now able to make direct comparisons between itself and the rest of the entertainment world. The global market for video games has been growing by double-digit percentages since the early Nineties, and is facing an even sharper surge in value. The PlayStation 2, the Xbox and Nintendo's GameCube, to be released in a couple of months, take the industry into a new era. By 2005, say analysts, the international video games market could be worth $40bn (£27bn), more than twice what it is today.

Despite the almost guaranteed success of Metal Gear Solid 2, Microsoft believes it, too, has a game that deserves to be ranked among the greatest. Halo, already selling like hot cakes in the US, is one of only three games to have been given a 10/10 rating by the influential Edge magazine.

The battle may be tough on the promotions budgets of the console-makers, but it is superb news for the hundreds of small companies dedicated to making the games. It is particularly good news for the UK, where the games industry is widely acknowledged as the strongest in the world, a supremacy that dates from a period in the Eighties when young programmers cut their teeth on the ZX Spectrum home computer. Companies such as Eidos, Argonaut and Warthog are all tipped to make fortunes.

One of the oldest of the home-grown games makers is Codemasters, and it remains a shrewd reader of the market. Its plan is to release, on all consoles, a unique line of "affinity" games aimed at football fans. The company will package its soccer game in 16 formats tailored to the European clubs with the biggest fan bases. If you buy the Arsenal version, for example, you get to control realistic versions of Patrick Vieira and his pals.