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BLOG: Are video games more 'popular' than music?

New report suggests so, but should we be worried?

Sales of video games will beat those of music and video for the first time ever in 2008, if a new report on UK retail figures is correct.

The prediction from Verdict Research sees this year's video game sales rising by a massive 42% to £4.64bn, compared to sales of music and video at £4.46bn. But should we music makers be worried, or is there more to the report than meets the eye?

The battleground

It's certainly no secret that music is losing out to games on the public's retail radar, as almost any trip to a Zavvi or HMV will testify. Major high street retailers are increasingly shoving music aside to clear shelf space for games and DVDs. Even MusicRadar's local HMV has relocated its music upstairs, as far away from the door as possible. Incredible for a shop that has its roots as a record label, but hey ho, it's a business.

It's also true that games and music do directly compete for the attention of the consumer's wallet, because people only have a fixed amount of disposable income.

But the fact that people are spending more on games than music and video doesn't necessarily mean games are more popular. In fact, the figures on Verdict Research's report are skewed by several factors, the most significant being the inclusion of hardware sales in the games sector but not in the music sector. If mp3 players and the like were included then the report would likely be different.

Games also tend to cost more than music. If you buy a £10 album and a £40 Xbox game, you've spent 300% more on the game than the album, even though you've only bought one 'unit' of each.

You can see, then, that revenue figures aren't an accurate measure of 'popularity'.

Can't we all just get along?

What happens if games are more popular than music anyway? Is this really a bad thing for the music business?

I'd argue that it's not. Figures aside, games and music are only competitors in a commercial sense. People will always want to listen to music and they'll always want to play games, and as such the demand for both will never go away.

Musicians who want to make a living from their art may sweat over the latest report, but the growth of the games sector will likely present new opportunities for increasing music revenue as well.

Several musicians are already wise to the phenomenon of 'playalong' games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, with Aerosmith, Metallica and now even The Beatles licensing their back catalogues and exposing their music to new, younger ears.

Some are going even further: the games are seen as such an effective route to market that bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and Guns N' Roses are putting out exclusive singles through Guitar Hero and Rock Band before any sort of physical release.

"From the Mario theme tune to the 'radio stations' of Grand Theft Auto, great games tend to have great music, and the more money the games industry makes, the more music licences it'll be able to afford"

And while Guitar Hero and its ilk are helping music's big boys make even more money, there are plenty of games championing smaller acts, too. EA's FIFA series of football games makes a point of proudly showcasing the freshest, coolest and most hip-hop-hapnin' bands around on its menu screens, and competitions such as the Burnout Bandslam give indie acts an opportunity to get their music heard by thousands of young gamers.

Music isn't just a throwaway luxury to the gaming world either. Just today I noticed a CD of the official Halo 3 soundtrack for sale in our local HMV (albeit upstairs) – the game was lauded for its accompanying music and as such, the featured artists get to see their tracks in the shops.

In fact, music within games has always been important. From the Tetris and Mario theme tunes to the multiple 'radio stations' of Grand Theft Auto IV, great games tend to have great music, and the more money the games industry makes, the more music licences it'll be able to afford.

Lessons

Today's report will likely spark another wave of whinging about the 'mentality of today's youth' who'd rather pick up a Guitar Hero controller than a real instrument, but games shouldn't be seen as a threat to music in the slightest. If Guitar Hero is popular then we should accept it; it is, after all, bloody good fun and may well inspire a whole new generation of musicians.

Instead of moaning, we in the music world should celebrate the success of video games as one of the UK's creative industries and try to learn, if we can, from its triumphs.


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