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Big Bets Placed on Game Discs

February 06, 1994|DEAN TAKAHASHI

Though Virgin Interactive Entertainment in Irvine isn't a huge company, it has the backing of the world's biggest toy maker and the world's biggest video rental company.

Hasbro Inc. and Blockbuster Video Entertainment have invested more than $55 million in the video game publisher in the past few months, so Virgin has plenty of money to spend on its next-generation CD-ROM titles.

Virgin Interactive President Martin Alper predicts that compact discs will be one of the fastest-growing segments of the video game business, mainly because profits on CD games can be much higher than on Nintendo or Sega cartridges. Floppy disk games, which can require 10 disks, cost about $12 apiece. Nintendo game cartridges can cost $25 to produce. But a single CD-ROM costs less than $5 to produce and stores more than 600 times the data of a floppy disk.

"The 7th Guest," a game developed by Trilobyte Inc. in Oregon and published by Virgin, ranks No. 1 on Computer Gaming World's list of top CD-ROMs.

Alper said "The 7th Guest" will have sold more than 500,000 copies through retail outlets and in bundled software packages by spring. And he has even greater expectations for "The 7th Guest's" sequel, "The 11th Hour," to be released in May.

He also has high hopes for a CD-ROM interactive drama that is being written especially for the medium by best-selling horror novelist Clive Barker. That title, "Ectosphere," is scheduled for a release as early as Christmas, 1995. And in the interactive music disc genre, Virgin expects this year to release "Virtual Graceland," a computer-animated trip through Elvis Presley's home.

Such titles can generate more profits than Nintendo games that sell 1 million copies, Alper said, largely because of lower costs.

The market is sure to get a boost, too, when Blockbuster begins offering CD-ROMs in its video rental stores. Blockbuster is already testing CD-ROM software and hardware rental in its San Francisco area stores.

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