Video Game Cowboys
The NPD Group, a market research firm, recently released monthly figures detailing declining sales on consoles, accessories and video games compared to years past. Their research shows a consistent industry drop-off of about $1.7 billion a year through 2011. Game developers and their teams may have reason to worry. So might musicians and audio engineers.
Video game publishers have avoided risk and pumped out sequels of their already popular and ever more costly games. For example, there are already nine iterations of the Call of Duty series, not including handheld titles. A gamer might spend $100 for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 only to discover that the next version will be released within the year. In fact, as The Economist explains, disgruntled gamers are now supporting DIY teams of their choice and looking to fund them through crowd sourcing. Of the top ten most-funded Kickstarter projects, five are video games: instead of buying, gamers are pledging their money.
Dissatisfaction among consumers is slowing the industry. But it may also be the case that industry statistics are not telling the whole story. They don’t include ‘unconventional’ methods of purchase, such as used games, online download services like Steam, and, most troublesome of all, apps. The Entertainment Software Association’s 2011 Annual Report shows that when these alternative delivery formats are added, the value of the video game business goes up by $7.3 billion, a rise of nearly one half.
For musicians interested in working for the video game industry opportunities lie in app development. Smartphones and crowdfunding have become the new drivers of a trade that is increasingly becoming atomized into small teams, where the sound and music expert is essential. Moreover, it appears video gamers are trying to take used games out of the picture, which would reinforce the strength of the growing mobile game market and apps. Several used games require an additional payment to enable online play and, in the view of many, downloads will likely prevail over a used product.
An all-digital and online video game market is in the best interest of musicians. Less funding is required to make an app that could achieve Angry Birds-like success, and getting into the world of apps development could be a great pathway into the video game industry and a livelihood in music. Services could be rendered free to begin with, but a music graduate can expand his portfolio and demonstrate his ability to take a project to fruition.
Jobs for musicians, of course, follow closely developments in new technologies. One of the features of the economy today is that large corporations no longer hold sway to creative talent as they have in the past. There are many points of access for entertainment and new opportunities to use music. The video gaming industry seems to be duplicating the music industry in terms of the micro-transactions that are changing the financing of the trade, the rise of the DIY developer, and the productive unit of reference (a small startup versus a large company).
In its recent artist revenue survey, the Future of Music Coalition showed that, for the most part, teamwork rather than autonomy was a likelier predictor of musicians’ success and higher income earnings. Indeed, the idea of the self-sufficient musician, like a self-sufficient game developer, is perhaps a myth. Today, empowered by technology, individual groups of sellers are actually joining forces and meeting the needs of the marketplace head on—but not alone.
By Kenny Rosenberg