GDC in San Fran launches this week

Top seller so far!

GDC, get your game on in San Francisco this week!

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The videogame sector is looking for a resurgence this year through casual users and programs for mobile phones, themes that will be underscored this week at one of the industry’s most closely watched events.

Because videogames cost less than $50 but provide hours of entertainment, analysts and industry executives expect them to show strength even in a severe economic slump that has punished the entire consumer technology sector.

They say videogames are expanding their reach beyond a traditional base of young males to a wider audience of “casual users” through products like Nintendo’s blockbuster Wii console and mobile games on such devices as Apple’s iPhone.

This week’s Game Developers Conference — which has 300 exhibitors and bills itself as the industry’s largest professionals-only event in the world — will again attract independent developers showcasing cutting-edge technologies in console, PC, mobile and online games.

Organizers say the show, which kicks off on Monday, lured 18,000 attendees last year and has provided a platform for the launch of what became the Wii, now the world’s best-selling console.

“The phenomenon that’s driving sales this year is that a big chunk of sales are to a much, much more casual audience than we have historically seen,” said Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter.

U.S. sales of videogame hardware, software and accessories are up 11 percent so far in 2009, according to researcher NPD.

“We’re in a hot category that’s growing,” said Michael Howse, chief executive of privately held Bigfoot Networks, which is launching the next generation of its gaming network card this week.

“Our general view is that we’re certainly impacted on the consumer spending side,” he said, “but for some reason, consumers have a few extra dollars in their pocket to play games.”

Some game publishers have struggled as retailers cut inventory, forcing job cuts and delayed releases. Electronic Arts, which expects a loss in 2009, is eliminating 1,100 positions — 11 percent of its workforce — and closing 12 facilities.

But gaming shares have fared better this year than last, with Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, Take-Two Interactive and game retailer GameStop all in positive territory.

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