Commentary > Game Over
Holiday's hottest toy?
Sony's EyeToy could take the family audience away from Nintendo.
September 12, 2003: 11:50 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's probably too early in the year to declare any particular item this holiday season's "must have" product. But Sony is about to release a sure-fire contender for those bragging rights.

It's called the EyeToy -- and it's already a bona fide sensation in the U.K. Hitting U.S. shelves on Nov. 4, the EyeToy is a small, motion-sensitive camera that sits on top of your TV and plugs into your PS2. Using your arms, legs or any other body part you'd like, you physically become a part of the game, with your movements affecting onscreen action.

Granted, the games aren't graphic marvels or rich in storyline. In fact, the 12 party games that ship with the peripheral are sometimes a little beyond what you might think of as a traditional video game. Take "Wishi Washi", for example. The point of the game is to clean windows by wiping away an on-screen soap film by waving your hands like mad. "Kung Foo" lets you swat away tiny ninjas as they fling themselves at you. Or "Beat Freak" takes the boogying dance moves of "Dance Dance Revolution" and flips them around, making you use your hands instead of your feet to keep time with the music.

"Wishi Washi" - a videogame where you clean windows - and it's fun. Really.

They are non-intimidating, though. And more importantly, they could help Sony steal away a slice of the kiddy market that has been Nintendo's bread and butter for so many years.

It's an innovative concept -- and innovation isn't always rewarded in the gaming world.

"Kung Foo", meanwhile, lets you swat away attacking ninjas.

But analysts, who speak regularly with retailers to gauge interest levels in upcoming titles, say the level of excitement surrounding the EyeToy is phenomenal.

"I think most merchants believe it's going to be in short supply," said John Taylor of Arcadia Investment Corp. "Retailers are excited about it in part because it demonstrates itself. All you need to do is set it up in-store and [the customer sees] what it does. And what kid doesn't want to see himself on TV? Its akin to video karaoke."

The EyeToy has spent four consecutive weeks as the U.K.'s top-selling game. Since its release in early July, it has spent five weeks at the top, only to be briefly knocked out of the top spot by the lingering sensation Pokemon. A second collection of games is reportedly in the works, which should keep the device selling briskly there through the holidays.

The European success has certainly bolstered Sony's enthusiasm. In May, the company said the EyeToy would retail for $40. It has since raised that price to $49.

Read previous Game Over columns

That increase is enough to provide an extra cushion of income revenue for Sony (and Logitech (LOGI: Research, Estimates), which makes the cameras), but it's not enough to scare consumers. The EyeToy and its related games is the sort of thing that could get parents (or others who otherwise might not care about video games) off the couch and playing games with their kids.

If that happens, Sony will have hit upon one of gaming's rare magic bullets -- a game series with wide mainstream appeal. And while it's had these before for teens and older gamers, the PlayStation hasn't had a lot of luck with younger gamers.

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That's a key market, since it helps establish brand loyalty early on. Think back to how many people swore by Nintendo during its heyday of the NES and SNES in the early- to mid-80s.

Nintendo slipped up by failing to offer a variety of games and franchises that escorted those young gamers through their childhood, to their teens and into their adult gaming days. As a result, it's at the bottom rung of the sales ladder in this generation. Sony (SNE: Research, Estimates), conversely, has that sort of catalog at its disposal.

That will be especially handy if the PlayStation 3 (and its competitors) don't make it onto store shelves until 2006, as now seems likely. Today's five-year old, who can't get enough of "Wishi Washi" will then be eight -- and ready to try out the latest installment of "Jax & Daxter."  Top of page

Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an e-mail.

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