The E3 Lull

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It's the pre-E3 lull. That dreaded time when nothing happens because everyone in the industry is too busy perfecting their poker faces and keeping their cards close to their chests. And us poor old journos are left twiddling our thumbs, apart from the preliminary E3 line-up press releases.

However, one gaming giant is keeping the rumour mills turning. I am of course talking about our old friend Sega. The home of Sonic has currently got more merger offers on the table than you can shake a proverbial stick at. Sammy, Namco, EA and Microsoft have all been mentioned and this week it looks like things are coming to a head. More news stories are coming in every day, so you'll have to bear with me whilst I try and tell you the story so far.

Way back in February Sega announced its plans to merge with Sammy, a big name in the world of pachinko (a kind of Japanese pin-ball machine). Unfortunately, this announcement sent investors' hearts aflutter and both Sega and Sammy saw their stock take a nosedive. Then Microsoft and EA got wind of things and both announced possible plans to buy all or parts of the struggling Sega.

And if that wasn't enough to send us all in a spin, former rival, Namco comes along and bloomin well decides to make Sega a merger proposal too! This time, the investors they say, "Yes!" and both companies experienced a boost to their stocks after the announcement. A merger of Namco and Sega would result in a gaming behemoth, creating Japan's largest video game maker with annual sales predicted at about 350 billion yen, that's 2.93 billion dollars (in Doctor Evil voice). And that's so big, it even surpasses Konami Co"phew!

Last week Sega confirmed that they received the Namco offer and will be considering it at a board meeting.

Meanwhile, Sammy is still planning to close its proposed merger deal in May"hmm. They went on to say that they were not aware of any talks between Sega and Namco. So, I guess they heard about it over the net like the rest of us"that must have been kinda embarrassing.

This week, Microsoft reappeared on the scene according to Japan's Yomiuri newspaper. Neither company has commented, but the mere whiff of interest from Microsoft has boosted Sega's flagging share price and opened up a can of debating worms – otherwise known as analysts and journalists.

Well, it would certainly not do Microsoft any harm to take the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog on board. We are all aware that Xbox is in dire need of a killer app and pilfering some Sega talent could be just the boost Microsoft needs to cement its place as the number two platform. It could also give its profile in Japan a much needed lift. And of course from Sega's point of view, they will get the financial support and stability they need.

Although these are all positive things, I just know that every gamer's heart sank and maybe even broke, when they considered the prospect of Sega being engulfed by Microsoft. Gaming is a very emotional pastime. A mere mention of a name like Sega and gamers past and present will recall moments of sublime joy with a misty tear in their eye.

In these bleak days of consolidation there is no room for emotion and nostalgia. Sadly, times are such that the only real question is – isn't it better to have a Sega than to watch its undignified demise? As the old Japanese giant begins to stumble and fall, the corporations are circling overhead like buzzards. Cue EA.

Now Microsoft is one thing, but EA!? Hopefully that's one merger that will happen over my cold, dead gaming body. A more soulless corporation I've yet to see. At least Microsoft brought us Halo (admittedly by nabbing Bungie, but fair point). What's EA done for us lately, Apart from produce second rate soccer games year on year, oh and ice-hockey and yawn? Not bad games, but not really in the same league as Rez, Sonic or Super Monkey Ball, are they?

The way things are going, the best we can hope for is that Namco can seal the deal. And then Sega and Namco can skip off into the sunset together, with the blessing of their investors.

There's no getting around it, the ever-increasing costs of software development are weighing heavy on development companies. It looks like consolidation is the future and it ain't pretty. But at least this way, one Japanese stalwart will be saved from the swirling vortex that is corporate America – and the likes of Vampire Night and Space Channel 5 will be safe.

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