View from City Road: MMC in mortal combat with Super Mario

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The one surprise about yesterday's monopolies referral of the computer games industry is why it took so long for the competition authorities to tumble to Sonic the Hedgehog and his less savoury but equally profitable pals.

Two years ago, while on a business trip to the United States, a colleague bought the latest version of Nintendo's Super Mario for his son since it was not yet available in the UK and was considerably cheaper than it would be when it did arrive here.

On his return he discovered the game would not work because the software was not compatible. Nintendo agreed to tweak the software for a charge of pounds 14 but said it was not policy to do this since the game, as sold in the US, differed marginally precisely so that it was impossible to import into the UK.

Aladdin, who lends his name to Britain's second-biggest selling game, would doubtless be impressed by such jiggery pokery. The Office of Fair Trading obviously takes a different view.

For that reason a million long- suffering parents, resigned to shelling out exorbitant sums for the dubious delights of Robocop versus Terminator, have reason to give thanks.

The video games industry is dominated by two players which between them control 90 per cent of the market and seem intent on using that monopoly to squeeze every last penny of extra profit out of consumers before the competition arrives on the scene.

The argument that it is somehow justifiable to sell video games for half price in the US because the same applies to compact discs and footwear is spurious. The cost of development and manufacture is the same and the UK is rapidly becoming a mature market.

If prices do indeed reflect the number of man-hours and intellectual endeavour that the publishers put into these games, then they ought, if anything, to be more expensive in the US since the latest and most sophisticated appear there first.

Doubtless Sega and Nintendo will fight their corner ferociously. But they have been warned: this is Mortal Kombat. The MMC may not be Super Mario but it cannot afford to lose.