When a summer blockbuster movie scouts out an opening weekend to dominate, other studios quickly adjust their schedules so two titans don't collide, ripping into each other's profits.
Nowadays, what's regarded as common courtesy in Hollywood is simply survival business in video games.
This week, Rockstar delivered the third installment of its ultra-violent, next-gen "Grand Theft Auto" franchise, subtitled "San Andreas." With the last episode, "Vice City," selling more than 7 million copies worldwide, it's a very conservative estimate that the game will sell an easy 1 million units this week at $50 each.
So when Rockstar scoped out Oct. 26 for its release date, most other game publishers blinked. Microsoft's "Halo 2," which has been ready for a few weeks, is now not coming out until Nov. 9. Sure, "Halo" is on the Xbox and "GTA" is PlayStation 2 exclusive (for now), but many gamers own more than one system, and as much heat as the "Halo" brand has, "GTA" is still this industry's monster, its "sure thing."
However, while every unreleased tent-pole video game has cleared the arena, "GTA" is not the only game in town this week. Publishers are testing out some counter-programming efforts to cater to the niche audiences that may reject a game such as "GTA" as either too mainstream or too violent.
One outstanding entry, Sega's new "OutRun 2," also involves autos, but it's been a while since console gamers played a straightforward, "Point A to Point B" racer as well-crafted as this. The overdue sequel to Sega's classic 1986 arcade game, the four-star "OutRun 2" is a blazingly fast wheeler across 16 curvy lengths of track where, refreshingly, the only goal is to cross the finish line first. Of course, that's provided you aren't distracted by the stunning visuals that only the Xbox can deliver.
"OutRun 2" does have some mini-game features, including 101 racing challenges to unlock bonuses, but the real draw is the Xbox Live component. But is there still a market for pure, arcade-style racers that don't involve gunfire? Electronic Arts' crash 'n' bash racer "Burnout 3" just scored a million sales, and Sony's upcoming real-world simulator "Gran Turismo 4" is enjoying plentiful anticipation.
Namco has a double-header with "Ace Combat 5" and "Taiko Drum Master," both on PlayStation 2. Instead of performing drive-bys from a town car, gamers strafe their foe with the latest in jet fighter tech in "Ace." But Namco's real contender is "Taiko," a rhythm game that ships with its own digital drum, modeled after the traditional Japanese instruments. The game is a huge hit in Japan, and stands to make the same kind of in-roads here as Nintendo's "Donkey Konga," which also was developed by Namco.
Sierra is targeting role-playing game fans who would rather slip into chain mail than a pair of Timberlands with "Bard's Tale," a PS2/Xbox update of the classic Commodore 64 RPG series. This swashbuckler uses humor to distinguish itself from other fantasy fare, unlike Microsoft's serious-minded feudal sim, "Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders" for the Xbox, which is also in stores and has Xbox Live play.
Anticipation for the upcoming "SpongeBob SquarePants" movie is equally divided between its loyal child and adult fan bases, and THQ is hoping its movie game rides the wave on PS2, Xbox and GameCube. "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Movie" is probably the ultimate example of counter-programming; the game shares nothing in common with "GTA" save for the use of vehicles -- and it's doubtful you'll see a hamburger with wheels in Rockstar's 'hood.
Many gamers may also use this week to pick up last week's restocks. Nintendo's "Kirby and the Amazing Mirror" sold out in Japan earlier this year. Sega's "Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors" is another import from Japan, and its philosophy of "beautiful destruction" is a decidedly different experience than "GTA's" mass mayhem.