It has been a tough year for Tomb Raider heroine Lara Croft. After film and game sequels were poorly received, can owner Eidos save the brand?
For many, she was nothing less than the ultimate British style icon in the late-90s. But for Lara Croft, the game now threatens to be up.
The karate-kicking aristocrat propelled her way into 2003 full of hope with her first game release for three years and a follow-up movie to the original box-office smash.
But neither has lived up to its past glories. Games publisher Eidos eventually released Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness in July - eight months late and ridden with technical glitches.
Eidos' chief executive admitted sales would be up to one million less than hoped, at about 2.5 million.
Released last month, the film Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life has been panned by critics for being dull, plotless and lacking in warmth.
While the original grossed more than pounds 200m in the UK, the follow-up has brought in a third of receipts in a comparable period.
Croft took video gaming into mainstream society. Firms including Seat and Marks & Spencer have attempted to cash in on her appeal. But GlaxoSmithKline, which has used Lara to promote Lucozade, has just announced it is shifting advertising focus for the energy drink away from the character.
The next Lara game will have a key difference. In response to Angel of Darkness' shortcomings, Eidos has moved development out of Derby's Core Design, the team that invented the series, into Crystal Dynamics in the US. Once a lynchpin for Cool Britannia, an Americanised Lara may now be on the cards.
Despite Lara's decline, the performance of Eidos' other titles helped it to a pounds 17.4m pre-tax profit for the year to the end of June, up from a pounds 15.3m loss the previous year.
So what can Eidos do to woo back the masses to Lara Croft? We asked John Parkes, marketing director at games publisher Ubi Soft, whose franchises include Splinter Cell, and Phil Gault, managing director of Odiorne Wilde Narraway & Partners, which holds the ad account for games publisher Electronic Arts.
VITAL SIGNS Eidos 2003* 2002** 2001*** 2000*** 1999*** financials pounds pounds pounds pounds pounds Turnover 151,534,000 128,938,000 147,254,000 194,801,000 226,284,000 Profit 19,205,000 -30,711,000 -97,329,000 25,203,000 24,250,000 after tax Source: Eidos. *12 months to end June; **15 months to end June; ***12 months to end March.
Lara Croft is one of the biggest video games in the world in terms of both sales and brand awareness.
It is the only game to truly reach a mass-market audience, transcending the youth audience to …