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Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Force is with sequels

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Lucas Film Ltd & TM / Keith Hamshere / Album / Newscom / File

(Read caption) Star Wars: The Old Republic video game is built on the success of Star Wars movie sequels like 'The Phantom Menace,' which starred Liam Neeson (right) and Ewan McGregor. The sequels give new video games and toys a built-in market to sell into.

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The video-game industry is in a slump that might be reversed by new technology – 3D games, for example. But it's hard to argue with the industry's tried-and-true formula for generating continued sales: sequels and still more sequels.

The latest entry to gain attention is "Star Wars: The Old Republic," which gamemaker BioWare showed off Monday at the E3 2010 video-game show in Los Angeles.

The game, which is expected to be launched in 2011, takes up the Star Wars story about three centuries after BioWare's earlier series of games, "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic," and long before the Star Wars movies.

IN PICTURES: 'Star Wars' droids

The game has some new twists. It allows a massive number of gamers to compete against each other online as the Galactic Republic and Sith Empire square off. Each player can customize his ship in dramatic ways.

These software improvements help expand the market, of course, but it's the incredibly successful Star Wars movies that created the market in the first place.

Since the first Star Wars movie more than 30 years ago, toys, games, and other paraphernalia have perpetuated the franchise and created a marketing juggernaut that rivals the annual economic output of small African nations.
In late 2008, Forbes estimated the Star Wars franchise at a little under $20 billion, most of that coming from sales of toys, board games, and video games.

That fortune has only grown since then.

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The recession has slowed the video-game industry. In 2009, unit sales of video games fell 8 percent across the US, United Kingdom, and Japan compared with a year earlier, according to a report from NPD Group, a retail research firm. Sales this April saw their biggest plunge in nearly a year.

Some analysts hope that hardware improvements, such as new motion controllers for Microsoft and Sony consoles, will boost sales. The prospect of Nintendo's no-glasses-needed 3D has also created a lot of buzz.

But don't count out the power of the sequel to rekindle the industry's future.

IN PICTURES: 'Star Wars' droids


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