Education and Discipline in the Videogame Industry

By Hair, Ray | International Musician, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Education and Discipline in the Videogame Industry


Hair, Ray, International Musician


This month we will discuss recent developments in the scoring of videogames, the updating of AFM videogame agreements, the actions of a particular game publisher - Sony Computer Entertainment America - to undermine AFM standards established for the recording of videogame scores, and the placement of that company on the AFM's International Unfair List.

Unlike the sound recording, jingle, film, and television industries, where production is labor intensive and subject to established, decades-old union agreements, the mega-billion dollar interactive entertainment industry evolved from humble independent roots as an all-cash, coin-operated, amusement arcade machine business with the introduction of Pong by Atari in 1972.

If you were a musician making a living in the nightclubs and lounges in the 1970s and early 1980s, you saw first-hand how quarter-taking games like Pong, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and eventually Pac-Man came to dominate the arcade game business, nearly dealing a death blow to the venerable pinball machine industry. Growing popularity and consumer appetite led to the prevalence of videogame machines in mainstream locations such as shopping malls, restaurants, and convenience stores. With Atari's licensing of Space Invaders for home use during the home computing revolution of the early 1980s, the industry grew, without unions, in tandem with advances in personal computer technology.

Game development costs in the early days were minimal, some taking only a few months to create, and could generate enormous profits. Game audio tracks were rarely much more than synthesized sound effects. But as computing and graphics power increased, so did the size of game budgets, which eventually reached into the millions with production cycles requiring years of planning. By the early 1990s, game publishers sought to upgrade their products with big budget audio, including orchestrated scores and the licensing of popular recordings.

In 1993, the AFM tracked its first game score - Return to Zork - for Activision. From 1993 through the close of 2006, the AFM signed more than 60 videogames, doing business with every major game publisher. More than $1.6 million in wages and benefits were paid to recording musicians, primarily in Los Angeles, but also in New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Tulsa. And those agreements were good ones. They mirrored other AFM media agreements with protections for unauthorized use in other mediums. The audiovisual aspects and zooming popularity of games raised the unacceptable notion of forbidden use of scores in motion pictures or as library tracks.

The economic progression by the videogame industry has been mind-boggling. By 1982, arcade and home game revenue reached $11.8 billion, surpassing the combined gross revenues of both pop music ($4 billion) and motion pictures ($3 billion) that year. The game industry generated $20.8 billion in worldwide sales in 1994 and an estimated $30 billion in 1998. In comparison, movie box office revenue in the US was just $5 billion in 1994. A recent Forbes report forecasts that the global game market will increase from $67 billion in 2012 to $82 billion in 2017. Unfazed by worldwide recession, Activision/ Blizzard's Call of Duty: Black Ops, scored AFM, took in a staggering $650 million within 5 days of its November 9, 2010 release.

In late 2006, in an effort to encourage more AFM scoring, the AFM IEB approved revised game agreements that provided options for lower wages and relaxed use restrictions. But while these regressionary changes temporarily made AFM scoring more popular - 85 games, worth more than $3 million in pay and benefits, were scored from 2007 through 2010 - the AFM was soon pressured for additional concessions, even as industry profits soared.

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