No Barrage Of Gulf-war Video Games Conflict's Uncertain Fate, Matters Of Taste Are Cited.

Posted: January 29, 1991

If you're waiting for something with a name like Gulf War or Saddam Slayer to reach the home video-game market or the video arcade any time soon, don't hold your breath.

The top four manufacturers of video and arcade games - Nintendo, Sega, Atari and NEC - say they have no plans to capitalize on the war in the Persian Gulf by introducing Desert Storm games.

"I don't think it's in good taste, personally," says Ken Wirt, vice president of home entertainment for NEC Technologies Inc. "Besides, it takes anywhere from nine to 12 months to develop a good video game." And by then, the war could be a closed and best-forgotten chapter in history.

"Nobody wants to run that kind of development into something that might ultimately be associated with so many casualties," says a video-game salesman at Compleat Strategist, a Center City store that specializes in all types of strategy games.

Cynics might argue that the video-game industry, which anticipates $4.7 billion in sales this year, is bypassing Desert Storm games primarily because of the financial risk. But manufacturers claim higher moral ground.

"Nintendo has pretty strict evaluation policies for standards of good taste," says Tom Sarris, a spokesman for Nintendo of America Inc., which controls 83 percent of the video-game market, or $3.4 billion last year.

But what about all those war games already on the market?

"Most of those are historical games," explains Al Nilsen, director of marketing for Sega of America, referring to popular home video games such as Battle of Britain. Britain ($29.95) is manufactured by TSR, a company that specializes in meticulously researched military maneuver games.

How to ensure historical accuracy - which serious fans of the games demand - is a problem for anyone hoping to develop a Desert Storm video game: No one knows how the Persian Gulf war will unfold.

"If we'd started designing a gulf war game two weeks ago, it wouldn't have had Scud missles in it," says Wirt of NEC. "And what about land battle simulations? The land battle hasn't even begun yet, so how can we simulate it?"

Jim Willcox, for one, believes some company, somewhere, will figure out a way.

"No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public," says Willcox, a columnist for Toy and Hobby World magazine. "I'm sure there will be companies that seek to take advantage of the situation."

Willcox wonders whether the companies' hands-off approach to Desert Storm doesn't have more to do with the economy than moral principle.

"You have a situation where there is a lot of software on the market and retailers have been buying cautiously," he said last week. "Most people think the war will be short, weeks or months at most. But the retailers don't really know and they have to gauge the market."

If it's simple destruction you want, plenty of games already feature Desert Storm weaponry. In video games, there is Afterburner ($29.95), from Atari Games, which simulates F-14 bombing runs. And Vindicators ($24.94), also by Atari, simulates a tank battle.

In computer games, which require much less development time and therefore reach the market faster, there are even more.

Jay Wallace, manager of the Egghead Software store in Center City, says the gulf war has spurred sales of several computer programs: F-15 Strike Eagle ($39.99) and F-19 Stealth Fighter ($44.99), both of which simulate bombing; and LHX Attack Chopper ($29.99), which re-creates helicopter battles.

If you prefer to fight your battles on the ground, Wallace says, there is still another graphic killing game, M-1 Tank Platoon ($44.99).

"I guess that'll be popular next week," Wallace says ominously.

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