Bandai "virtual pet'' still windfall for toymaker

09:12 a.m. Nov 18, 1997 Eastern
By Miki Shimogori

TOKYO, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Japanese toy maker Bandai Co Ltd , buoyed by runaway sales of its Tamagotchi ``virtual pet'' toy, on Tuesday announced an interim profit nearly four times higher than that of last year.

Bandai said its parent current profit for the six months to September totalled 6.83 billion yen ($54.2 million) against 1.82 billion yen ($14.4 million) last year.

It forecast that the profit would rise 28 percent for the full year to 11 billion yen ($87.3 million).

Current profit is pretax and includes gains or losses on non-operating activities, such as investments in stocks.

A spokeswoman for Bandai said accumulated sales of Tamagotchi toys reached around 13 million units by the end of September. It debuted in November last year.

``We also hope to see good sales during the upcoming Christmas season,'' the spokeswoman said, adding that the firm expects sales to reach 23 million units by the end of March.

In the six months to September alone, sales totalled about ten million units, she said.

Tamagotchi, which first captured the hearts of Japanese schoolgirls then spread to become an worldwide craze, begins life as a bird-like image on a tiny liquid crystal display, encased in an egg-shaped key-ring device. It develops from a chick into a fully grown adult in about 10 days.

The owner must feed, groom and play with the digital creature or it will waste away and die from neglect.

The toys, priced at 1,980 yen ($15), have continually sold out immediately after appearing in shops in Japan and Bandai raised output in April to meet soaring demand.

But question remains over how long the stunning sales of Bandai's Tamagotchi toys will last, as game giant Nintendo Co Ltd's Pocket Monster game software is now rapidly emerging as the newest craze in Japan.

The sales of the Pocket Monster, or Pokemon, adopted for Nintendo's Gameboy player totalled 6.94 million units since its first launch in February last year and Nintendo said it plans to launch a new series of the software on Friday.

Players capture various kinds of monsters hiding in towns and other places and train them to fight each other. The captured monsters can also be exchanged with those of other players through the Gameboy hardware.

In an attempt to win the heart of more potential buyers, Bandai also said that it plans to launch a software version of the Tamagotchi toy in the middle of December for Nintendo's cutting-edge 64-bit home game player Nintendo 64.

The new version will be priced at 6,800 yen ($53).

In late June, Bandai launched in Japan a version of its pet toy adapted for Nintendo's portable Gameboy series. The software, priced at about 4,300 yen ($34), also scored robust sales. The company sees sales of the software totalling three million units by the end of this year.

Bandai said it was also developing Tamagotchi game software for other players like Sony Corp's PlayStation.

In May, Bandai, also known for its Dragon Ball and Power Ranger character toys, caught the stock market by surprise by abruptly calling off a planned merger with Sega Enterprises Ltd , maker of the Sega Saturn 32-bit video game player.

The merger was intended to create a global entertainment giant rivalling Walt Disney Co of the United States.

Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited

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