GTA: Chinatown Wars jacks bargain bin

Best Buy now selling slow-starting handheld free-range crime simulator for $20, Amazon for $28; GameStop, Target, Wal-Mart, and Toys R Us still offering it at full price of $34.99; analyst says April sales "extremely important" for long-term prospects.

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Two weeks ago, the game industry was rattled by the release of the March sales report from the NPD Group. Besides the fact that the US game industry suffered its first monthly double-digit decline since 2006, the big shock was Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars' anemic launch. Despite being the debut of a multiplatinum franchise on a handheld with a 100-million-unit worldwide installed base, the highly rated game sold under 90,000 units during its first two weeks on the American market.

You can get 15 lottery tickets with the savings from Best Buy's Chinatown Wars discount.
You can get 15 lottery tickets with the savings from Best Buy's Chinatown Wars discount.

In the aftermath, both Take-Two reps and game-industry analysts said they were confident that, over time, Chinatown Wars would be successful. Now, though, it appears one major purveyor of games is not taking any chances. This week, Best Buy began selling the title for just $19.99, down from $34.99.

According to an employee at one of the retail chain's two San Francisco locations, the discounting is part of a larger company-wide game sale that sees many titles going for under $10. Available both online and at stores, the markdown is having its intended effect. The Best Buy in San Francisco's Mission district sold out of Chinatown Wars "right away," while its Geary Street branch had "only a few" left.

The sale will end this Saturday, but the Best Buy employee did not know if Chinatown Wars would then revert to full price. Best Buy's corporate headquarters had not returned requests for comment as of press time.

Amazon was offering a slightly smaller discount on the DS GTA, selling the game for $27.97. However, most other major game retailers are still selling the game at (GameStop, Target, and Toys R Us) or very close to (Wal-Mart) its full price of $34.99.

Electronic Entertainment Design and Research director of analyst services Jesse Divnich--the sole analyst to predict Chinatown Wars' stumble out of the retail gate--puts the discounting down to a simple case of supply and demand. "The unfortunate thing is that everyone thought this would be a breakaway hit, so that's what retailers ordered," he told GameSpot. "So retailers have a lot of inventory on hand, so they need to clear that out. They're very impatient, since having too much of one game in stock costs them sales opportunities."

Divinich feels that the April NPD report--expected on May 14--will either make or break the first DS GTA. "I think what's important now is how Chinatown Wars does in April," he explained. "If it does below 40,000 units, then it's following a curve much like topline PS3 and 360 releases which quickly tapers off. If it does above 40,000, then it will be more like a DS game and will see steady sales for months to come. So April sales are going to be incredibly important for this game."

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