Every Autumn ECTS produces its buzz products. As buyers cast their expert eyes across the vast quantities of dross that still make it to the shelves, the gems shine out heralding a healthy Christmas for 1996.
Meanwhile the publisher's PR men bang on about "cutting back on the B titles." "Just between you and me," they say, "In the past we were probably guilty of putting out too many products. This year is different. I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say that there's not a single game in our line-up that I lose sleep over."
No-one had a bad word to say about Virgin's follow-up to Command & Conquer, Red Alert. Simon Jeffery, marketing director of VIE, announced the publisher's biggest marketing campaign to date, which will feature cinema, radio, and billboard suppport. "We're looking at a first day ship of 100,000, with 200,000 having already bought Command and Conquer," said Jeffery.
Promising that VIE would break even in Europe this year, the publisher announced it was fleshing out its range of licences by signing up RPG specialists Sirtech.
Tom Stone, vice president of marketing at Electronic Arts, unveiled the company's biggest ever licence deal: exclusive rights to the 1998 World Cup. The licence will bear fruit as early as next year accompanied by a multi-million pound marketing spend. Boasting a projected 20% market share in Europe for this Q4, EA gave buyers an added incentive for turning up at the EA stand by showing FIFA 97 for the first time. A pan-European u1.5 million marketing support for the publisher's traditional cash churner was also promised including TV advertising on Channel 4 and Sky. A generic TV campaign in support of EA Sports is in the pipeline along with super sites on London's Cromwell Road, the busiest strip of road in Europe.
HMV Level One shop floor section leader Lloyd Gee La Pierre was struck by EA's Die Hard Trilogy: "Normally film licences never work," he said.
"But I was well impressed this time. I've read all the good reviews and having seen the game I think it's worth every single mark."
Although a couple of buyers did hint that Ocean's Tunnel B 1 wasn't the triple A title the publisher would have us believe, Gee La Pierre is convinced the game will do well. "It'll do the numbers. It's like a cross between Quake and Wipeout." Lloyd was less impressed with Sega's new arcade version of Virtua Fighter 3. "It was downright cack - not much different to the previous version."
While few denied the overall strength of EA's line-up, which includes Soviet Strike on Playstation, a number of buyers raised a slight question mark over FIFA 97 with some feeling that it bears an excessive resemblance to last year's smash hit. "We have slightly reserved judgment on FIFA 97," said Joe McNicholas, senior product manager at Virgin Our Price.
But most agreed that improved commentary and a strong licence would still have the cash tills ringing.
Big Joe was impressed with the overall quality of titles at the show, especially on the Playstation and PC. EA's Soviet Strike, Gremlin's Realms of the Haunting, Tomb Raider from Eidos Interactive and (you guessed it) VIE's Red Alert all got the thumbs up from Joe. But McNicholas echoed the perennial retail concern about games meeting their release dates.
"Our campaigns will support supp-liers who can guarantee product when we want it," he said.
Joe's sidekick Lawrence Cox was impressed with the Playstation sequels, Wipeout 2097, Destruction Derby 2 and Tekken 2, but was disappointed that Command & Conquer won't arrive on Saturn before Christmas. Virtua Cop 2 and Fighting Vipers were Cox's Saturn top tips. Megadrive has Sonic 3D this Christmas. "Megadrive software is increasingly dominated by a younger audience and that's reflected in the software," said Cox.
The dour Gerry Berkley, games manager at HMV, was uncharacteristically upbeat about the show. "Overall there was a very strong line-up," he said.
He was particularly impressed with Saturn's offerings, singling out World Wide Soccer.
When BMG Interactive first moved into the games and multimedia arena at Spring ECTS 1995, they were the talk of the town, scooping up Lemmings supremos DMA from under VIE's nose. More recently, having a pop at the German giant's interactive wing has become like shooting fish in a barrel.
Simon Butler, head of Interactive at BMG, hit back at BMG critics at the show: "It's always been a three year plan and there's never been any requirement to ship product until we're happy. The thing that pisses our critics off is that we're a $13 billion company that's not driven by financial years."
BMG's line-up has even acquired admiring glances from the specialist press. PC Zone editor Jeremy Wells described the DMA-designed Tank Ticks as "a wonderfully animated Command & Conquer-style game." Other games to catch the new editor's eye were Epic's Unreal on the GT Interactive stand, which "looks even better than Quake," plus Mindscape's Dark Earth.
Many independent retailers expressed their frustration at the lack of PC accessories and peripherals suppliers at the show. A CRN survey prior to ECTS canvassing a random selection of store owners revealed that the absence of relevant product was the biggest reason for indie non attendance.
"We want to see product from the likes of Kodak and Casio," said Richard Gandy, Network's games buying director. "If you want innovation you're better off going to Live 96."
Others, like Dave Philips of MCM Video, agreed that independents were better off getting infor-mation elsewhere. "Eighty per cent of my business is on Playstation and I get a lot more feed-back from the Sony Roadshows."
Those at ECTS commented on the increasing availability of quality budget multimedia software from the likes of CD Imports. "Shame about the name," said Will Copeland, owner of One Step Beyond.
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