RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Electronic Arts Inc's creature-building game "Spore" offers players a chance to develop new worlds -- and maybe even new lines of business for the video game maker.
The new game, which lets players guide the evolution of their creatures, is from Will Wright, the man behind the Sims series of games. The Sims let players guide virtual people and cities, spawning spin-offs, sequels and expansion packs to the tune of more than 100 million units sold worldwide.
Billy Pidgeon, video game analyst for IDC, believes "Spore" is a going to be huge globally, eventually eclipsing the Sims.
"This title has billion-dollar potential," he said. He expects spin-off games and a host of fan-oriented websites and products, such as custom T-shirts of players' creatures, that should boost the value of the game.
Already players trying out early releases are sharing their creatures, adding complexity to the game at no expense to EA.
Gamers have been waiting five years to get their hands on "Spore," which will finally launch in North America on September 7, and EA has spent $50 million to develop it, estimated Michael Pachter, video game analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities.
Pachter estimates EA will ship 3 million copies of "Spore" at $120 million wholesale, and expects it to sell through 2 million this year. With a break-even point of 1.7 million units, EA should be well on its way to a strong new franchise.
"Economically, it's not that big of a deal this year, since it cost so much to make, but they made a big bet that this game would pay dividends for years, so they care a lot," he said.
REAL CASH FROM VIRTUAL WORLD
EA CEO John Riccitiello said at a Citigroup conference in New York that the "microtransaction potential for 'Spore' is huge," referring to selling gamers new virtual creature parts, vehicles and even planets online for real cash.
Creator Wright calls Spore the world's first "massively single-player" experience because every new "Spore" creation can be uploaded to EA databanks and then used to populate other players' game worlds. Wright said one of the next challenges is how EA can we make the most of gamers' creations.
EA gave a taste of the game with the June 17 release of "Spore Creature Creator," a $10 mini-game that has led to the building of 3.3 million creations uploaded to Spore.com.
Of course evolution could hit a dead end.
"Obviously, gamers that waited this long for 'Spore' will probably love every second of it," said Chris Buffa, senior editor at AOL GameDaily. "These are the people that'll spend hours creating monsters and plundering space.
"That said, few games that take this long to make live up to the hype, and there's a possibility that what these people think 'Spore' should be, based on all the hype, will fall way short of the final product."
EA is offering an assortment of "Spore" choices, aiming for the largest audience possible. As well as the standard $50 PC game, "Spore Galactic Edition" ($80) comes with a poster, two documentaries on the game, a 128-page hardback book on the art of the game, a collectible case and a Galactic Handbook.
EA will tap the many users of Nintendo Co's DS with "Spore Creatures" ($30), designed for the portable. Rounding out the launch options is "Spore Origins" for mobile devices, allowing for short spurts of creativity on-the-go. Console versions of Spore are expected in the future.
"Casual gamers will likely play 'Spore' in short bursts," Buffa said. "It's always a matter of whether they'll 'get it,' since they're used to more digestible games that aren't as deep. As for the Sims fans, this is the next evolutionary step for Sim games."
Spore has shipped in Australia, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Finland and expands to the rest of Europe and South America on September 5.