Jae Min, a high school sophomore in Sunnyvale, Calif., and an avid video game enthusiast, knew exactly what new title he wanted at the local Electronics Boutique recently: Acclaim Entertainment Inc.'s NFL Quarterback Club '98 for his Nintendo 64 console.
Albert, the former television sports announcer, does the play-by-play for the Acclaim game. Jae Min said he was unconcerned by Albert's guilty plea in September to an assault charge in connection with a sexual encounter.
"Whatever may have happened with the trial, he's still a great sportscaster," he said.
That attitude is exactly what Acclaim is banking on in the next few weeks of holiday shopping.
The game is important to Acclaim because of financial troubles stemming from its failure to react quickly enough to the new generation of game consoles. But with new games like Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Quarterback Club, analysts expect Acclaim's fortunes to improve.
"Acclaim should be profitable this quarter, but the question is, can the growth be sustainable?" said Michael P. Wallace, an analyst at UBS Securities in New York.
Lawrence Marcus, an analyst at BT Alex, Brown Inc. in San Francisco, said Quarterback Club "is outselling the Madden title, and that has surprised a lot of people. So many people had written Acclaim off."
"The hype around Mr. Albert certainly does not hurt," said Marcus, but he said that what drives the market is "graphics, quality of play and licensing from important brands." There is no doubt that Acclaim has a key license for Nintendo 64: the National Football League signed an exclusive one-year deal with the company, allowing its game to use official team logos and colors.
Nancy Smith, executive vice president of North American sales and distribution for Electronic Arts, said it is too early to declare either the Madden game or Quarterback Club a winner, but acknowledged that the company expects to "minimally split the segment with our competition."
Still, according to Marcus, the Nintendo 64 football games represent less than 5 percent of sales and 3 percent of profits for Electronic Arts, compared with one-third of both for Acclaim for this quarter.
"In the coming year, Quarterback Club will remain an important part of our portfolio, but we hope it will be just one of several new hits," said Greg Fischbach, Acclaim's co-chairman and chief executive.
There has been little concern expressed by consumers about Albert's association with the Acclaim game. A buyer of video games for a major retailer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that his company had not received "even one customer complaint."
Acclaim said that Albert, who resigned from the Madison Square Garden network and was dismissed by NBC after the guilty plea, was signed three years ago to a multi-product deal. The first game to come out was NBA Jam Extreme in 1996; Quarterback Club is the second.
"We could have dropped him in May when the indictment first came out, but we believed him," said Bob Picunko, marketing director for Acclaim Sports, a division of Acclaim Entertainment.
The charges against Albert became public May 20; Acclaim had announced his participation in February and had already recorded his voice. The game was in production before the trial began; changing the voice would have cost millions of dollars because of production delays.
While the decision to stand pat seems to be paying off, Acclaim is learning that getting people to buy the game and getting them to like it are different matters.
Jae Min, the high schooler, who was drawn by Albert's voice,
said after playing the game, "The announcing is of low quality and
quite repetitive." He traded it in for Madden 64.