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Video Games: Shooters Thrive As Court Case Looms

Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
Thursday, 1 Jul 2010 | 11:13 AM ET

With the Supreme Court scheduled to hear arguments later this year about whether states should be allowed to regulate the sale of violent video games, you might think game makers would consider dialing down the number of shooter titles.

Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images

You’d be wrong. Despite the pending case, which could dramatically redefine the industry, developers and publishers have a full slate of action games lined up forlate 2010 andearly 2011.

Action and shooter games are a big part of the industry’s profit center. Together, the categories made up nearly 32 percent of all games sold in 2009, according to the Entertainment Software Association. That makes them the industry’s most popular genre. Only sports games, which made up nearly 20 percent of sales, come close.

Core players particularly enjoy action titles—but despite the controversy that surrounds these games, they’ve proven popular with mainstream audiences as well.

Last year’s “” from Activision set sales records not only in the video game industry, but in the larger entertainment industry as well with the $401 million it took in on its first day. The “Grand Theft Auto” series stirs debates with each new release, but audiences can’t get enough of it.

This holiday season will be filled with action games, including a new “Call of Duty” installment, “Crysis 2” from Electronic Arts and “Homeland” from THQ. Next year, though, is lining up to be a banner year for the genre.

The tent pole title for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in 2011 will be the third and concluding chapter in the current “Gears of War” saga (though make no mistake, the franchise will go on). The game pioneered the duck and cover method of gameplay in action games, encouraging players to take defensive positions as they advance on the enemy, rather than running into battle with guns blazing.

Sony will focus on vehicular combat with a new “Twisted Metal” game—letting up to 16 players compete online in this demolition derby with weapons (with characters including an evil clown with burning hair riding a motorcycle and wielding a chainsaw).

id Software, which created the first person shooter genre and is the company behind such seminal titles as “Doom” and “Quake,” is working on its first new franchise in 14 years. “Rage,” technically, is not set in stone for 2011, but many expect the game to release next year. (id, it’s worth noting, also developed the “when it’s done” theory of game release windows, so there’s definitely uncertainly surrounding that date.)

The new game is set on a near-future Earth, which was ravaged by an asteroid hit. Mutants and raider gangs roam the countryside now – and government is an oppressive force. As with all id games, the graphics on this title are stunning.

The big question, of course, is will Take Two Interactive Software roll out a new “Grand Theft Auto” title? Analysts are expecting it, but the publisher has made no announcements so far. If it happens, the game will almost certainly be the top selling title of 2011.

Of course, Supreme Court justices aren’t likely to be swayed one way or the other by the content or frequency of upcoming action games. But the slew of such titles could put the spotlight on the industry once again.

Game publishers note that action is a legitimate genre in every other form of entertainment—including film, book and television. To target the gaming industry for its exploration of the medium is ridiculous, they claim.

“We’re living in a time where there seems to be an overt political correctness,” says John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts. “We don’t want an industry where we’re only allowed to make to make games with fairy princesses and ogres.… The best entertainment often touches a nerve.”

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