Video game makers woo the battle-averse

By the time the E3 Media and Business Summit ended on Friday in Santa Monica, California, top video game software designers had shown off scores of creations aimed at everyone from young girls to senior citizens.

"Absolutely the casual market is where it is at right now," Peter Rosky of Majesco Games told AFP in a Santa Monica airport hangar where companies were demonstrating new titles.

"It's not just about 18 to 35 year old males any more. The new gamer demographic is anyone 6 to 60."

A Majesco game based on Nancy Drew books lets an animated heroine solve mysteries and "Zoo Hospital" players win by healing ailing animals.

"Smarty Pants" by the world's top-selling video game maker Electronic Arts lets families compete at trivia with questions tailored to the ages of the players.

A "Scene It" game tests players' knowledge of films.

French game giant Ubisoft lets children care for virtual pets and is coming out with games that teach English and French words as well as coach people in ways to improve their lives.

"Last year Nintendo put the focus on non-tradition games with Wii and titles like Nintendogs and Brain Age," research analyst Edward Woo of Wedbush Morgan Securities told AFP.

"It's working and everyone is piling in. You have a lot of games that aren't the tradition sports or shoot-em-up."

Video games are on course to be the next big form of entertainment.

More money was spent on video games than at movie theater box offices in 2006, according to Wedbush research.

US sales of video game hardware and software this year are expected to top 12 billion dollars, eclipsing music industry revenues in the country.

"The business is doing well and everyone wants a piece of a very fast growing pie," Woo said.

Woo and Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter say video gaming will lead the entertainment industry in growth for the next five to 10 years.

Pachter and Woo contend that "compelling trends" include increasing popularity of video games among teens, "twenty-somethings," female players, and people older than 40.

"We see continuing expansion of the age demographic for at least another 20 years as the oldest gamers stay interested in games well into their 60s and children continue to embrace games," Woo said in a Wedbush report.

Game makers are eagerly churning out titles intended to appeal to what they refer to as "casual gamers" that prefer non-violent play.

Action games are increasingly being designed with puzzles or mysteries to solve during breaks from killing virtual aliens, monsters, warriors or other animated adversaries.

Take-Two Interactive known for brutal "Grand Theft Auto" and "Manhunt 2," the release of which was delayed after it was banned in Britain and Ireland, makes unraveling mystery part of grisly play in its new BioShock fighter game.

"Every game needs a story," Rosky said. "The point is to not pigeon-hole the audience."

Game makers are generating countless titles for handheld devices ranging from mobile telephones to Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS.

Rival console makers Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are beefing up online features to entice people arcade, multi-player and social-networking options.

"The introduction of casual, arcade, and mobile phone games has made video gaming ubiquitous, with gamers in airports, offices, bus stops, and everywhere else," Woo and Pachter contend in their report.

Game makers are also expected to cash-in on titles based on blockbuster films such as such as "Harry Potter," "Shrek," and "Spider-Man."

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Video game makers woo the battle-averse