Major software publishers at this week's Electronic Entertainment Expo here are almost unanimously hedging their bets: They are creating games for multiple formats in hopes of establishing a foothold with whatever game console happens to become the market leader a year or two from now. And they're counting on the huge marketing budgets that the console makers will use to fight each other this fall to lure hordes of new customers, greatly expanding their potential customer base.
"We don't care who wins," said Brian Farrell, CEO of THQ, which has titles in the works for Microsoft's Xbox, Sony's PlayStation 2 and Nintendo's GameCube. "We're platform agnostic--we love everybody equally. And the harder they fight, the better off we are."
Evan Stein, vice president of marketing for Acclaim, offered a similar view.
"We are going to support all three platforms. It makes sense because each platform is going to favor a different type of consumer," Stein said. "The kid-friendly nature of the GameCube makes it a natural for such Acclaim franchises as the 'Mary Kate & Ashley' series of girl games."
"I think we're hedging our bets like everybody," said Luc Vanhal, CEO of Vivendi Universal Interactive Publishing, a collection of publishers that until now has mainly focused on computer games. "It became clear to us that you need to be there across the platforms. You can't be a top game company and afford to ignore 60 percent of the market."
While publishers are officially agnostic, most have favorites. Vanhal is particular to the Xbox because its Intel processor and much of the underlying Microsoft software are familiar territory for developers used to working on PC games.
"We've found it much easier to move from the PC to the Xbox," Vanhal said.
Farrell has high hopes for the GameCube, partly because of THQ's strong relationship with the Nintendo's Game Boy handheld device. The new Game Boy Advance will connect with the Game Cube to swap content, potentially helping drive sales of both devices.
"I'm making people side bets that by this Christmas, the installed base of Game Boy Advance is going to rival PlayStation 2," Farrell said. "We think they can sell around 5 million units in the U.S. by year's end."
As to the possibility that the video game market can support three consoles at once--a notion the demise of Sega's Dreamcast earlier this year helped discredit--publishers are optimistic.
"The competition is going to be fierce, but I think there is room for three platforms," Stein said. "You're talking about a much bigger market. These new consoles are going to bring in a lot more mainstream consumers, which will really expand the universe of gaming."
Farrell agreed. "We don't know if the market can support three platforms--it never has," he said. "But this is a different market."