NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Given the manifold horrors of the world today -- plunging markets, terrorists, the Anna Nicole Smith show on E! -- it's easy enough to understand why many people might prefer to live in a fantasy world. And that might explain why purveyors of fantasy are doing so well.
While investors search in vain elsewhere in the tech world for fledgling signs of recovery, video game publishers are enjoying a bang-up year. They're having little trouble pitching their wares to a growing audience of game addicts, many of them relative newbies lured into the market by price cuts this past spring on next-generation games consoles like Sony's Playstation 2 and Nintendo's Game Cube.
Shares in leading game makers Activision (ATVI: up $0.19 to $29.83, Research, Estimates) and Electronic Arts (ERTS: down $0.52 to $64.18, Research, Estimates), while off from their highs this spring, are actually up in this down year. And Take-Two Interactive Software (TTWO: up $0.32 to $25.60, Research, Estimates), publisher of the bestselling gangster game Grand Theft Auto III, is up an astonishing 60 percent year to date -- despite an ongoing SEC investigation and persistent questioning of its numbers by some analysts and short sellers. (Click here for more details.)
Investors have evidently decided that Grand Theft Auto III's continuing sales success -- it's number two in the game sales charts some ten months after its release, with a sequel due to launch this October -- matters more than anything the SEC might dig up.
With the game console price cuts of last spring fading into memory, some might wonder if the good times in the game business can possibly last. Most analysts seem to think they can.
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Indeed, Soundview analyst Shawn Milne argues that we're still in the early innings of a sector-wide upswing in sales and profits driven by strong sales of next-generation game consoles. The analyst is especially fond of Electronic Arts, the number one game publisher, known for its sports titles and for its bestselling Sims games on PCs; with new versions of popular football and hockey games set to launch this fall, he thinks the company could beat his third quarter estimates.
The analyst also likes Activision, whose Spiderman game has been topping expectations. He thinks both companies look "attractively priced" given their prospects. (That's debatable: EA trades for 32 times estimated earnings for the year ending March 2003; Activision trades for 23 times (March) 2003 earnings. Analysts expect both companies to achieve long-term growth rates of some 25 percent.)
Hi, my name is Turok!
Some more, ah, adventurous investors, bored with the big names, have begun looking at the smaller players in the business. Well, actually, not just looking: shares in Acclaim Entertainment (AKLM: up $0.20 to $2.67, Research, Estimates) soared an eye-popping 38 percent on Tuesday alone after Investec analyst James Preissler suggested vaguely in a research note that the game maker might be "poised for a strong fall (season) due to the release of key products."
At the very least, the company has shown itself adept at the art of garnering free -- or nearly free -- publicity. Acclaim UK (the company's British branch) recently announced it was seeking five game fans fanatical enough to volunteer to become "walking, talking, living, breathing advertisements" for the company -- by transforming themselves, for a year, into Turok, the time-traveling, dinosaur-killing hero of a series of games from Acclaim.
While the gig won't pay much -- less than $800 -- a company spokesman told the Associated Press that "you'd be quite proud to call yourself Turok if you knew who he was." For all the (bizarre) details, or just to send in your applications, check out the site.
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