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Creative COW Magazine: The Games Issue.

Bigger than The Beatles. Big opportunity.

(This is an expanded version of my column at the beginning of The Games Issue.)

Normally, Creative COW Magazine is heavily production-oriented. We typically talk about high-end cameras and other cutting-edge hardware. So why a games issue, and why now?

Because while other parts of our business may be cooling down, games are hot. If you've ever tried to pry your kid (or your boss) away from video games long enough to eat supper (or sign your paycheck), then you know how compelling video games are.

Re: hot, here are some numbers. Best opening day for a movie: "The Dark Knight," $67 million. For a console game? "Grand Theft Auto IV," $310 million. This shattered the previous record for first-day sales, Halo 3 and $131 million ??" which was still nearly DOUBLE the all-time best movie opening day! Holy console, Batman!

This year alone, the "World of Warcraft" franchise is expected to pull in well north of $1 billion. Last year, the number was actually $1.1 billion. "World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King" sold 2.8 million new copies in its first 24 hours. Then there were the upgrades. And then the subscriptions for this MMO ??" "massively multiplayer online" game: topping 11.5 million by the end of 2008. That's somewhere around double the population of Ireland, or half the population of Australia.

When people my age say, "Big," we mean The Beatles: 132 million albums in the US. Compare this to Nintendo's Mario franchise at 160 million units! "The Sims" and "Madden Football" are strong too, with 100 million and 75 million respectively.

And don't forget, The Beatles never got to sell you the record player that would only play Beatle albums: Nintendo has sold 100 million DS handhelds! The "other" handheld, the Sony Playstation Portable, is doing fine, thanks, with sales of over 50 million units.

On the console front, Wii is of course stampeding, with 74% growth (can that be right?), and is likely to achieve 50% market share by the end of the year. The most striking thing about console sales is that they're still growing faster than sales of games themselves ??" for now. This says to me that we're still a long way from finished laying the foundation for the growth of the games business as a whole.

A side note on The Beatles: they sold records in other places besides the US, of course, and, especially early in their careers, singles were a critical component in the world-changing impact that these 4 youngsters had. (Youngsters? It's easy to forget that the group was done by the time they reached 30!) It's impossible to overstate the effect of singles including "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You," and my favorite, the double A-side single of "Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane." Add them all to the mix, and The Beatles sold well north of 1 billion records worldwide. Nobody else is close.

(While the "nobody is close" observation is clear through every lens, it was harder than I thought to quantify Beatle album sales. There were many different versions, including some US-only releases like "Yesterday and Today." There are also a number of sales certifications vying for ultimate authority, but I feel very, very comfortable with the number 132 million US sales. If you want to dig deeper into the world of album sales ??" and why wouldn't you? ??" you need to go here.

All of that said, The Beatles agree that games are Beatle-sized big. Starting 09/09/09, they'll offer digital downloads of their music exclusively through "Rock Band," a video game where many artists are finding far more sales, and far more money, than anywhere else. Yep, games are becoming bigger than iTunes for music, too.

(Of course, this issue of The COW Magazine also includes a fantastic article on cutting-edge game development for the iTunes App Store.)

The Beatles Rock Band story is well worth a closer look for any fan of music, games, Rock Band, The Beatles and any combination of the above. Rolling Stone has a wonderful overview of the variety of packages that will be available, including a limited edition that will include both game software and a combination of instruments for actually doing the Rock Band thing.

So what does the growth of games mean for you? Jobs. Here at COW East in Boston, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick made the rounds of west-coast game developers like EA and Microsoft, , pitching the same tax breaks offered to filmmakers who create jobs here. He also noted the 60+ game development companies already in the state, including our pals at Harmonix, the developers of Rock Band. After its success with "Lord of the Rings Online," $40 million in venture capital has helped once-tiny Turbine expand to 250 employees. MIT is even partnering with the government of Singapore to develop new games technologies and new jobs.

As you'll see in this issue, not all game jobs are going to fast-twitch 3D animators. Many of them look like traditional post jobs - video is integrated into games, promos are cut - along with quite a few traditional production jobs, like greenscreen shooting and motion capture. Add the stampede of interactive developers- Flash, online gaming, iTunes games and more - into the COW, here for the same reasons that film and video producers have been coming to our communities for 14 years, and watch convergence explode before your eyes.

No story this big can be told in a single issue. We'll keep digging in deeper at more jobs information, interviews with industry leaders, and more of the games-related hardcore production (not just post) stories that you've come to expect from The COW Magazine.

From there, we'll also be exploring the ways that games are changing the landscape of technology. The demands of gamers for beefier processors, higher resolution monitors with faster redraws, surround sound, social networking, and, increasingly, stereoscopic 3D immersive experience, are all making their way into a world even bigger than the world of gaming itself. That's BIG.

In the meantime, there are indeed some production stories for this issue: Oscar-winner James Moll's new documentary "Running the Sahara," is about three guys who, well, yeah - and James has great stories about the shoot. And Bob Zelin will once again blow your mind, this time with Blackmagic's Broadcast Videohub, a distribution revolution. An upcoming expanded edition of Dustin Lau's article on advanced media management with FCP, using workflows he developed for a games review TV show in Singapore, will also include more production angles than our decidedly post-oriented print version. (Links to follow.)

Our detour into Games is an opportunity to remember that, whatever your field of endeavor, we're all playing for keeps, every day. Thanks, too, for helping us play to win at, as over 1.3 million monthly visitors help each other get to the next level of the game! In the meantime, have fun with this issue. We sure did.

Cow news from Ashgabat and Rangoon

So anyway, we've been pleased as punch to see that, according to Google, The Cow has passed the milestone of 2 million visits per month. Every week is bringing new records for both visits and visitors, so we're sure that many more milestones will be passed in due time.

I'm a bit of a stat geek, so I dug in a little deeper. Some of the details are headache-inducing even for me, but, for the less numerically-inclined, I'll start with a nice shiny picture:

The first thing I noticed is that a lot of the visits come from exactly where you think they would: the US, Canada, UK, Germany, India, and so on. Then I read the number: 223 countries and territories!!!

Which made me wonder 2 things. First, how many countries ARE there? Says Wikipedia, 203. There's a pretty complicated set of criteria for making the list, and worth noting that the UN only has 192 member nations.

In any case, both of these numbers are well under the 223 nations and territories that GOOGLE recognizes. But seriously, even with the UN and Wikipedia in one corner, are you betting against Google? Didn't think so.

I'm not such a stat geek that I wanted to find the two dozen or so nations and territories not recognized by the UN, but two jumped to mind that have considerable (if far from universal) recognition elsewhere: Vatican City and Palestine....both of which are represented among the Cow's monthly visitors! A handful of visits from Vatican City last month -- hey, it's just one city -- and hundreds from the Palestinian territories.

(No political statements intended by any nation's recognition of another, or the UN's recognition, or the lack thereof...I'm just saying. Other than here at the Cow Blogs on an irregular basis, we stay far away from politics. We focus on helping people with production problems, part of the reason why Bessie is clearly welcome virtually everywhere. I don't think that's an exaggeration. Bessie bigger than the UN? Read on.)

We have many, many more visits from Nepal, though. In fact, I noted that one Cow from Nepal just had a post tagged in the Motion forum, where he described how to create an animated GIF with that response to a question from Brazil. I LOVE THIS!!!

(By the way, the fella from Nepal runs a recording studio in Bagdal, Lalipur - the greater Kathmandu metropolitan area. Check it out. I've been writing to him, and he's both smart and hilarious. You'll be hearing more from him.)

After I was struck by how much of the globe is visiting the Cow every month, and the number 223, I just HAD to dig into those little white spaces where nobody appears to be visiting. Well, things aren't always what they seem. This, for example, is a closer look at Turkmenistan, the largest "blank" spot in central Europe.

See there? Cows from the sovereign state of Turkmenistan dropped by 9 times after all...and they all happened to be in the bustling center of Ashgabat.

Which of course made me wonder about Myanmar. After all, how could it NOT? Well, it turns out that Myanmar has enough visits to show as green on the map! Look for yourself - right there on the coast between India and Thailand.

We got a couple of hundred of visits from there, mostly from the capital city of Rangoon. More than Afghanistan, not quite as many as Iraq...none of which have quite as many as Nepal.

Add together Nepal, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ashgabat and you're getting into numbers north of Leicester (UK), Jacksonville (US), Studio City (bridging Hollywood and Burbank), and Quang Ngai Vietnam -- especially remarkable since this is a part of the country where virtually no English is spoken...and MORE visits than the Cow receives from its own headquarters in Paso Robles.

You get the idea. Go to other sites alone, but MOO and the world MOOs with you.

Posted by: Tim Wilson on Mar 21, 2009 at 4:12:41 pmComments (2) creative cow, internet, politics

Yet another reason to love Wikipedia

So Nora and I were listening to Rubber Soul the other day, and during the piano solo in the middle of "In My Life," she wondered who played it. She guessed George Martin. I have Wikipedia as one of the search engines in the upper right of my browser, so I typed in "In My Life," and voila, it went right to an entire entry on that song!

I figured it would take me, at best to the Rubber Soul best. My assumption was that I'd have to refine my search a bit. As Samuel Jackson said in The Long Kiss Goodnight, "Assumption makes an ass out of you and Umption." (A line written by Shane Black, who's written some great ones.

The story on the piano solo? There was a whole section of the article devoted to it! Still unsure what to do with the middle section, John left it empty. He settled on the idea of a piano solo, and asked George Martin to play it "like Bach." (Ahhhh, Nora's right again!) George wrote something he couldn't play fast enough, so he played it half-speed, and recorded it at double-speed! There was no way to get either of those precisely right, of course. The difference gave the piano a tone tending toward the harpsichord-esque, yet still unmistakably sounding like a piano.


It's a really complete entry, with other sections devoted to musical analysis ("It is a chromatically altered plagal cadence"...but you knew that), the composition process, chart position, and much more.

It's also got a complete set of links. I followed the one for "Fifth Beatle," wherein George Martin states firmly that the title should only be applied to Brian Epstein...if it's applied at all. He's not convinced there was any such thing...although I think it should be applied to GM regardless of his (genuine, I think) humility.

I was impressed! It reminded me that I go to Wikipedia repeatedly most days, so I took the opportunity to make it my default search engine.

In a way, it's not a website, and certainly not a search engine. It's more a community for a group of obsessives, self-organized by their interests. As a knowledge base, it's self-correcting. Sound familiar?

Posted by: Tim Wilson on Sep 13, 2007 at 1:55:04 am creative cow, music, websites

(Still) remodeling to serve you better

This is an edit of my post yesterday, noting the newest new interface. We think we're getting warmer. As The Cow's major redesign continues, there will be another tweak or two along the way.

One more update: following your requests, we're definitely working on adding support for YouTube, SWF, and more.

Note for you text entry folks: that box very slightly overlaps with the right nav, but you'll see that it doesn't get in the way of actually entering the text.

As always, comment away! 

Posted by: Tim Wilson on Aug 16, 2007 at 6:59:42 am creative cow, blogs

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