In what looks to be a busy fourth quarter for supermarket video, much of the action may be in its video game segment.
As usual, upcoming game platforms are fueling some excitement. But game specialists at supermarkets expect some existing systems also to perform well this holiday season.
Retailers are already reporting healthy performance for the PlayStation 2 (PS2), released last October by Sony Computer Entertainment America, Foster City, Calif.
"PS2 games are going very well for us," said Leith Haines, game buyer and hometown video manager, Reasor's, Tahlequah, Okla. "It has really helped us in that it has increased our DVD rentals as well."
The system is also mature enough to benefit from the extra time its software developers have had, said Craig Hill, video specialist, Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. "PS2 games are getting into a higher quality," he said. "There are a lot of good games coming out right now."
"We're now carrying PS2 games," said Mike Fuller, owner, Fuller's Supermarket, Greensboro, Ala. "The kids demand them."
"Food and drug are the last people who get on the bandwagon," said David Rosenbaum, president of game distributor Jack of All Games, West Chester, Ohio. "It has to perform before they jump on it."
With many grocers doing just that, specialists are enthusiastic about PS2's fourth-quarter potential in relation to upcoming competitors.
"PS2 is definitely going to be No. 1," said Haines. "It has such a big head start on the Xbox and the GameCube that they can't catch up right away."
Indeed, the systems will arrive so late in the year and in such limited supply that their fourth-quarter impact can't be substantial. The Xbox is scheduled to debut Nov. 8 from Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., at a $299 suggested retail price, while the GameCube is set for Nov. 5, with a suggested retail price of $199 from Nintendo of America, also based in Redmond.
"Nintendo and Microsoft are only going to produce a maximum of 1 million pieces each, so they're not going to go around very far," said Rosenbaum. "Just like the PS2 didn't go around very far last Christmas."
Nevertheless, the new platforms will be attention grabbers. And that means supermarkets will once again be deciding how soon to stock the latest, hottest properties.
Some plan to do so at the launches. "We won't buy any of the systems for rent, but we will buy the games," said Haines, even though she expects "they won't be making us any money until after the middle of next year."
"Games are renting very well right now, so I really think we'll get into both formats," said Hill, "even though we jumped into Dreamcast a little too soon. But I don't see us bringing in rental decks."
"We won't get into any new game formats in the fourth quarter," said Bill Glaseman, video specialist, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz. "We won't even consider it until next year."
Hill, on the other hand, favors the Xbox because "their marketing department is really creating a demand."
Meanwhile, another newcomer is proving to be a strong contender. Nintendo's handheld Game Boy Advance system, which debuted June 11, earned about $45 million in its first week at retail, capturing 76% of video game unit sales, according to marketing information provider The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y.
Beyond the hubbub of new systems, older formats remain popular. "We're selling a ton of budget-priced PSOne and Nintendo 64 games," said Hill.