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With retail brick-and-mortar sales of new video games down 30 percent year to date, few analysts — and even fewer investors — have much faith that things will rebound into positive territory this year.
Even with heavyweights like "Halo 4" and "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" hitting stores this holiday season — and the launch of a new Nintendo console system — the hole seems too big to escape. But when it comes to 2013, things are a bit more optimistic.
The video game industry will roll out some of its biggest guns next year — and the expected launch of new console systems from Microsoft and Sony could make a big year even bigger.
Here are some of the biggest games expected to hit shelves in 2013.
By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 6 July 2012
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive Software
Until recently, Take-Two had never posted a profitable year without a Grand Theft Auto in its lineup. And while the company has not confirmed a release date for this new installment, analysts expect it will be out before the end of March, due to the company's guidance. Virtually nothing is known about the game, as the only publicity to date has been an online trailer, but fans are already eager to play. The last "GTA" title sold 15 million copies. And some industry observers say Take-Two is vastly understating the amount the game could contribute to earnings.
The "Gears of War" trilogy has made more than $1 billion for Microsoft and developer Epic Games, a notable achievement for a single console series. As the franchise enters its next storyline, Microsoft is hoping it keeps up the pace. "Judgment" is expected out in the spring, and could be the last hurrah for the Xbox 360 before the next generation games steal the spotlight.
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive Software
Shares of Take-Two jumped nearly 20 percent in the week after the first "Bioshock" was released in 2007. It was more than a critical darling; it was a game with legs at retail. By March 2010, it had sold 4 million copies. A sequel by a different development studio did so-so, but with original designer Irrational Games back at the helm, fans are already lining up to get their hands on the game when it comes out in late February.
While virtually nothing is known about this title, which doesn't even have a formal name yet, it could be one of 2013's top-selling games, perhaps even beating that year's Call of Duty. The reason? "Destiny" (a codename) will be the first non-"Halo" game developer Bungie has made in over 10 years. Given the company's pedigree, every gamer wants to see what the team has up its collective sleeve.
Activision is hoping fans like it. It has agreed to spend up to $140 million to fund the game's development (though that is a maximum amount and includes marketing costs). The terms of the deal also allow the company to back out of future installments if the game doesn't sell 5 million units in six months.
Ubisoft stole E3 2012 with the introduction of this new intellectual property, which focused on action and the electronic age. The company declined to discuss which systems the game would be on, implying it would be part of the next generation of consoles, but gamers didn't care. The Watch Dogs buzz overshadowed the biggest games of this year and set it up as a title to watch next year.
Publisher: Square Enix
Lara Croft is an institution in gaming, so Square Enix's decision to reboot the franchise is not one without risk. This Lara is young, inexperienced and vulnerable, with nary a pair of short shorts in sight. Some have worried aloud that this Lara might be too vulnerable, and not the strong female character she has historically been, but interest remains high. The publishers recently pushed "Tomb Raider" back to 2013, giving developers extra time to polish the game — and taking it out of the blast zone of "Halo 4" and "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" this year.
Since its debut in 2005, this action/adventure series has become the flagship franchise for the PlayStation brand, with each game earning critical praise and topping the sales charts. The original trilogy sold more than 21 million copies. With the Spartan hero Kratos having defeated the Greek gods and their Titan forebearers, then disappearing, the studio decided to make the next installment a prequel, letting gamers see how he became an instrument of vengeance. Judging by reception to the launch trailer that debuted earlier this year, those players can't wait to try it out.
Pushed back to 2013, this action/adventure series is the latest from the developer behind the beloved "Uncharted" series, which has sold over 17 million copies. "The Last of Us" is untested, but early indications are good. Set in a plague-decimated world, an adult survivor and a 14-year-old girl fight for survival against infected, zombie-like creatures and hostile bands of marauders. Unlike many action games, though, ammo is limited and you'll have to depend on stealth and using objects in your environment to succeed.
The history of "South Park" video games isn't great, but the small bits of "The Stick of Truth" that have been revealed have excited players. The game is being developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a company with a track record of good products. And show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are writing the script. It's too early to tell if it will help reverse the fortunes of struggling publisher THQ, but it's some of the best buzz that company has seen in years.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
A long time before "The Sims," there was "SimCity" — and players have been calling for a new installment in the series for nine years. In 2013, they'll finally get their wish. Creator Will Wright has long since left EA, but early previews of "SimCity" are encouraging, and the game could give EA a long-term boost, since the audience for this sort of game is atypical of the rest of the industry, buying long after the initial retail rush is complete.