Holiday Central

Shoppers face a glut of big video games this season


Here's the good news: If you've got a fan of video games on your shopping list this holiday season, it's virtually impossible to go wrong.

The number of top-tier titles coming out in the fourth quarter of 2015 is arguably bigger than any previous year in the industry's history. And that's critical, since this is the year that game console manufacturers Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo really start the heavy push to get owners of older consoles to swap those in for an XboxOne, PlayStation 4 or Wii U.

(It's also critical since the fourth calendar quarter represents more than 40 percent of the industry's overall sales, according to The NPD Group.)

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"This is holiday number three for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, which means that all the early adopters are taken care of," said John Taylor, managing director of Arcadia Research Corp. "[Publishers] are going to have to start broadening the audience into more households with kids. They need to figure out what girls want to play on the new platforms and how we're going to keep the hardware momentum going."

There are certainly plenty of games available that target families. Activision is betting on "Skylanders: SuperChargers" — the fifth installment in its billion-dollar "Skylanders" franchise — to continue to woo kids. Disney, meanwhile, is trying to turn heads with "Disney Infinity 3.0," which features characters from the "Star Wars" universe. And, for the first time, Warner Bros. and Lego are also wading into the toys-to-life field with "Lego: Dimensions," a game that mashes up a number of well-known franchises, ranging from "Back to the Future" and "Lord of the Rings" to "Batman" and "Doctor Who."

Got older kids who aren't interested in real-world toys that can be used in conjunction with video games? A dueling pair of music titles are ready to vie for their attention. Both "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" are back, four years after the category imploded.

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That's a short hiatus, especially when you consider that one of the chief naysayers at the time was the person responsible for greenlighting this year's "Guitar Hero Live": Activision CEO Bobby Kotick.

"It's just not a category that's getting consumers enthusiastic right now," said Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision told CNBC at the time. "I think you need to focus your resources on the things that get consumers really excited."

But it's hard to keep a $3 billion franchise down. And Harmonix, the makers of the competing "Rock Band 4" said they've regularly been asked by fans to bring the franchise back. They were just waiting for technology to get to a point where they could do what they wanted.

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"We have a bunch of ideas for where we want to take the franchise," says Steve Janiak, CEO of Harmonix. The [older] consoles weren't powerful enough. The new engine we've made for this generation will offer new functionality and allow personal expression."

Of course, the games that will get the most attention are the action games, and there are plenty to choose from. Many top franchises, including "Halo," "Tomb Raider," "Fallout" and "Call of Duty" all have new installments hitting shelves this year.

Of those, it's "Call of Duty: Black Ops 3" that seems poised to put in the strongest performance. The latest entry in the juggernaut franchise was ranked the most-anticipated multi-platform video game of the holiday season by Nielsen (based on factors such as consumer awareness and intent to purchase).

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Bethesda's "Fallout 4," the follow-up to 2007's roughly 5 million unit selling post-apocalyptic role-playing game, ranked second on the list of multi-platform games with a 95 percent rating.

The game to really keep an eye on, though, could be Electronic Arts' "Star Wars Battlefront." More than 9 million people played the game during its five-day public beta test in October.

That number — and the overwhelmingly positive response to the test/preview — has prompted some analysts to upgrade EA. Eric Handler of MKM Partners raised the stock to a "buy" and upgraded MKM's price target to $82.

"We believe EA can sustain 6 percent-7 percent top line growth in FY17 fueled by the continued strength of 'Star Wars Battlefront,' " he wrote in a note to investors.