Video games industry to buck credit crunch woes

Electronic Arts, one of the world's top two video game publishers, expects industry revenue to grow by at least 20 per cent this year in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, a top executive told Reuters.

Jens Uwe Intat, EA's regional head of sales and distribution, said in an interview on Thursday he was confident of strong sales growth even as the European economy slows down.

"What we definitely expect for this year is 20 per cent-plus growth for the industry in EMEA for software. For the years going forward I'd see substantial growth," he said.

Video games offered relatively inexpensive entertainment when consumers' budgets were stretched, he added.

"When you come into more difficult economic times you have people saving on big-ticket items, things like houses and cars and even travel. People still want to have fun, and spend time at home with their games and their friends."

Intat was speaking before the gaming industry's biggest European conference next week in Leipzig, eastern Germany.

Attracting more casual gamers would be a big theme, as would the expansion of gaming on mobile phones such as Apple's iPhone.

Ultimately, these trends should make industry revenues less dependent on the cycle of games console development by Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, he said.

But for now the consoles were in the mid-point of their lifecycles when games companies find it easiest to generate sales, Intat said.

EA publishes major franchises like 'The Sims', a kind of virtual doll's house which has sold over 100 million copies in the past eight years, racing game 'Need for Speed' as well as a series of sports games such as the official FIFA soccer title.

It is duelling for top place in the global games industry with Activision, which recently took over Blizzard, makers of online role-playing game 'World of Warcraft'.

EA is bidding for Take-Two, best known for the gangster-themed 'Grand Theft Auto' series, but Intat said that despite consolidation in the industry, he expected the absolute number of games companies to rise as the market expanded.

"You will see companies making acquisitions for growth. At the same time we'll see a lot of new companies being started. The overall number of companies is going to increase as well as the size of the sector overall," he said.

On September 7 EA launches 'Spore', a new game by Sims creator Will Wright which has been four years in development.

Intat said the company had high hopes for the game but that its exact success was hard to predict.

"We learnt from the 'Sims' that a real innovation that goes into a broad market is hard to forecast. We underestimated the 'Sims'. It's hard to say if it's going to be in the same order of magnitude or a little smaller as it's less well known. But the ball park is that it should be in that realm."

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