Video-gamemakers allow game players to fight goblins and play football with the pros. Lately they have bestowed one more power upon consumers: the power to buy.
Prices of state-of-the-art systems keep dropping. The three major video-game-console manufacturers cut the prices of their systems significantly this month.
Microsoft and Sony each lowered the cost of their consoles to $200 a $100 price drop. Nintendo soon followed, reducing the cost of its GameCube by 25 percent, to $150.
Each of the major gamemakers has released a new system in the past two years, and they are now vying for control of the $9 billion industry, which has grown steadily for decades. Even in a sluggish economy, Americans are buying systems and software in record numbers.
Sales jumped nearly $3 billion last year, up from $6.6 billion in 2000, according to market-research firm NPD.
Most of the boost resulted from dedicated gamers choosing to upgrade their systems. The new consoles play more sophisticated games with faster action and richer graphics.
The new games, manufacturers realize, are also attracting players who had little interest in engaging the storybook characters and simplistic themes of earlier games. Increasingly, they play almost like interactive movies.
"Games now offer ... more realistic environments in terms of graphics," says Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Media Metrix. "They are not just simplistic run, jump, and shoot anymore."
Some games are being designed to appeal specifically to women and girls. One example: "Britney's Dance Beat," in which players audition for a Britney Spears concert tour.
While most game players are between 18 and 35 years old, more older adults are playing compared with previous years. In 10 years, 60 percent of current computer- and video-game players expect to play as much or more than they do now, according to a poll by the Interactive Digital Software Association.
The consolemakers are willing to lower prices now in hope of winning gamers' long-term allegiance. More than 30 million people own Sony's PlayStation 2. Nintendo has sold 4.5 million GameCubes, while sales of Microsoft's Xbox has reached only 4 million units.
This year, each company will attempt to make up profits on software sales, which are rarely discounted. New games normally cost between $30 and $50.