EA leads game stock rally

NCAA Football 06 maker closes above $60 for first time since February, as other publishers post less-robust gains.

One day after EA sent PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of NCAA Football 06 to stores, its stock rose 4.17 percent to close at $60.66, up $2.43. Today's spike follows yesterday's speculation that Jamdat was an acquisition target of the publishing giant.

It was just a month ago that EA saw a similar price jump--after speculation that it was about to make a major announcement concerning the National Basketball Association. In fact, the announcement turned out to be less-than-spectacular agreement to stage several NBA exhibition games in Europe. By then, however, EA shares had already climbed more than $4. The last time EA closed above $60 was in February.

Other game stocks enjoying an up day in the markets were: THQ, which closed up $.82 to $33.60, up 2.5 percent; Activision, up 1.71 percent to $17.84; Atari, up 1.06 percent to close at $2.87; and Take-Two Interactive, which posted a 2.66 percent climb to $27.81, up $.72.

Take-Two proved fully able to withstand ongoing debate, curiosity, and an ESRB investigation surrounding the "Hot Coffee" mod, which purportedly unlocks sexually explicit minigames in the PC version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Last Tuesday, California assemblyman Leland Yee denounced the game's M for Mature rating, spurring the launch of an ESRB investigation. This, in turn, led to the self-outing of the mod's creator, a jab by The National Institute on Media and the Family, and an investigation of the game by the Australian government.

However, the controversy has actually boosted Take-Two's share price. The stock has risen steadily since last Wednesday, closing today $2.31 above last week's price of $25.50.

Why aren't traders shedding Take-Two stock? "I think that the street is skeptical [of allegations], because this is one of those confusing digital issues where the accuser could be working with a doctored file," Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter told GameSpot today. "Investors are paid to be skeptical."

Still, if the investigations find Take-Two in violation of ESRB regulations, the tide could turn. "I agree that if the sex scenes are really there, someone at TTWO should take one for the team," Pachter said. "If the original game included the locked scenes, and someone figured out how to unlock [them], Take-Two should be punished. If the mod actually loads the scenes in, the modders should be prosecuted."

Speaking of punishment, the stock of Infinium Labs, the "makers" of the yet-to-be-manufactured Phantom PC game console, today hit a 52-week low of nine cents a share.

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