THE GAME BOY ADVANCE DEBUTS
After teasing MCV in 2000 with pictures of a rendered ‘next-gen Game Boy’, Nintendo made good on its promise to upgrade its ten-year-old games format.
The Game Boy Advance and its interconnecting Game Cube sister were actually unveiled later that year – but it wasn’t until 2001 when the handheld was released, arriving as Nintendo overhauled its distribution strategy to start selling direct. At the time, talk of 750,000 units sold in a year and a super-low price of £79 seemed like madness.
But Nintendo knew what it was doing. When the handheld arrived in summer 2001, the GBA claimed the title of ‘most successful games hardware launch’ (ruffling Sony’s feathers – they firm had only just released PS2) with 81,000 sold in week one.
MEANWHILE, THE BATTLELINES ARE DRAWN
Of course, Nintendo’s dominance of the handheld market came thanks to the fact it had comprehensively cornered that part of the sector.
Things were different in console hardware. PS2 was still in the ascendance, and slow movement by Microsoft and Nintendo as they prepard for their European launches pretty much meant that the market was left wide open for Sony. So while the trade fretted about what Xbox might cost and when/if GameCube would arrive (and as Nintendo and Microsoft built their local teams) PlayStation forged on.
By the end of the year PS2 was at 5m units in Europe - meaning that whatever Nintendo and Microsoft did next year, their battle was always going to be for second place rather than supremacy. (More on that over the page.) Arguably it was here where format-holders were given the first warning that staggered territorial launches had stopped working.
In early 2001 Sega confirmed that it was calling it quits on games hardware, and that it would switch from being format-holder for the Dreamcast to a third-party publisher. It was a defining time for Sega’s business globally.
In Europe, numerous key staff left – including boss Kazutoshi Miyake – as the company shrank and regrouped. Not everyone lost hope, though. While Sega threw its weight behind Xbox, UK distributor Planet was convinced there was still a market for the console, and took over distribution of all the remaining stock for the following 12 months.
GRAND THEFT AUTEUR
This year also saw the launch of Grand Theft Auto III. As hype built for rival machines, Sony was quick to act: Previous releases had been a big hit on PC, PSX and Dreamcast, so it squirreled year-long exclusivity rights to the game. It was a good call.
GTAIII became one of the fastest selling launch games ever (for the time) – although the real success would be seen the following year with the quick release of sequel Vice City (turn over for more on that).
Regular weekly sales charts are the staple of every major entertainment sector – but in 2001 that all came under threat. Grumbling retailers said they were unhappy the weekly charts contained competitive sales data, and wanted them scrapped. Thankfully, crisis talks between ELSPA, publishers and retail hammered out a deal that saved the weekly list but dropped sales details. It might still jar a little today – given the free flow of information and values in the music, book and box office charts – but it’s better than nothing.
WHERE NEXT FOR ECTS?
2001 saw the cracks appear in the foundations of another industry staple, too – trade show ECTS. It had been running since 1988, but its 14th outing was met with mixed opinions. Despite a stronger international contingent, the lack of big product unveilings, poor ExCeL venue and weakened UK attendance sparked concerns over the show. Of course the real trouble wouldn’t start until ELSPA launched a rival show a few years later. These retrospectives still have that to look forward to. Yay…
LEND US A TENNER
Actually, don’t – just leave it right there. Continuing our trawl through games marketing’s weirdest moments, we’ve unearthed this gem. Well, if gems are able to melt human eyes with a single glance, that is.
Picture the scene: with software for the first PlayStation still selling quick at bargain prices, publishers were milking the market by re-releasing classic games at under £10. One such publisher was Codemasters, which was doing a roaring trade with cheap Colin reissues. So what better way to show all of that off – along with a bunch of other curiously smooth and hairless things, it seems – than getting Codemasters CEO David Darling to strip off?
2001: THE TOP TEN GAMES
1. Harry Potter: Philosopher’s Stone (EA)
2. Grand Theft Auto III (Take 2)
3. FIFA 2002 (EA)
4. Gran Turismo 3 (Sony)
5. Pokémon Gold (Nintendo)
6. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (Activision)
7. Pokémon Silver (Nintendo)
8. The Simpsons Wrestling (Fox Interactive)
9. Championship Manager 01/02 (Eidos)
10. Theme Park World (EA)