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The Ninth Annual Interactive Music Conference
brainstorming graphic

Rogue Group Report: PRAGMA (Pet Rocks and Game Music Alliance)

Participants: A.K.A. "PRAGMA" Pete Clare; Sensaura/Creative
Chris Grigg; Beatnik
Martin Puryear; Microsoft
Rob Rampley; Line 6 Jim Reekes; independent
Jim Rippie; independent Tom White; MMA
Guy Whitmore; Microsoft  

Our premise
A half hour bullshit session about how to get more people interested in audio and music making products eventually could not be denied as attaining "rogue group" status. We tried but succumbed. Accordingly, straws were picked and the loser had to capture and type up some thoughts… and another loser had to finish those thoughts later.

That half hour session was in fact preceded by another half hour session where we tried to figure out How in the Name of Great God Almighty some guy thought up the pet rock and retired early off that. We also tried to figure out what kind of experience s/he would have had writing up a "marketing requirements document" for the pet rock and defending that to management.

Clearly, some hugely winning ideas have no precedent, cannot be predicted, and will never be approved by the cowardly and risk averse. Still, we continued…

Our mission in life
Make the world a better place by selling music & audio things to as many people as possible so they can create great art and bring enjoyment and satisfied smiles to the faces of children of all ages everywhere.

One approach to this glorious mission, to be somewhat more specific, is to consider the game console as a potential music making device. We wondered, discussed, prophesied, and pontificated the reasons why this hasn’t been a seriously considered platform for musical applications. There seem to be a whole lot of game consoles out there with a whole lot of computing power inside them just waiting for us to make music with them. We must have missed something, because if this were really a good idea, someone would have done it already, right? Well, if it’s such a damn good idea, why isn’t anyone doing it?

The Supporting Truths
Two things we know for sure:

  • Large install base of game consoles
  • Large market of people interested in music

There may be a few problems in carving out an entirely new market segment in home entertainment, but a lack of people with compatible equipment is not one of them. We already sell products to musicians with dedicated studios and computers, here we have a complementary market opportunity with different applications and marketing requirements.

There are a few "game" titles that depend heavily on music, notably Harmonix's "Frequency" and CodeMaster's " MTV Music Generator 3" but these are lonely exceptions, and not tremendously successful in either financial or technical terms.

We concede that this is not a new idea, (refer to the Compellorheads report from BBQ 2001), what we wish to point out that building a music making device with a game console as not.

Game consoles install bases

(disclaimer: these are rough estimates for worldwide unit sales)

15 million Xbox
70 million PS2
15 million Gamecube
100 million PS1

Nice, big, sweet target market

50%+ of households report they have at least one musician (source: Gallup)

(the following are very rough worldwide guesses generated by the super duper group brain algorithm, thus this information still needs to be backed up with real market data.)

  • 50 million band and orchestra
  • 20 million describe themselves as fretted instrument players (eg. guitar)
  • 3 million - drummers
  • 2 million –keyboard players
  • 1 million – DJ/Electronic musicians

Required Platforms and Peripherals are Colocated

  • We believe the musicians, their consoles and peripheral equipment (guitars, etc.) are all collocated in living rooms, family rooms, and bedrooms

Consoles: not just for breakfast anymore
Current generation "game" consoles are quite capable running application that help people make and experience music in their homes.

Especially if developers sensibly bound the feature, authoring and music making apps can run well (and stably) on two major consoles with key host and co-processors for running input, user interface and audio processing tasks.

Sony PlayStation 2
The PS2 has:

  • Sony's "Emotion Engine" (a MIPS architecture by Toshiba)
  • 2 vector units usually for graphics but easy to repurpose for audio DSP
    (Note: interestingly, Peter Clare reports that most games leave at least part of one chip underutilized, it's often used for audio processing). and the IOP (I/O Processor), in some cases heavily (MTV Music Generator 3 published by CodeMasters (UK) uses 50% of the EE).

Microsoft Xbox
Xbox has:

  • 733 celeron
  • an Nvdia Nforce southbridge chip with two additional 56k DSPs cores, one of which is available to developers. The Nforce offers a 256 voice MIDI synth with DLS wavetable support, and that ouput can be routed through the 56k

Why aren't consoles used to make music?
Several reasons leap to mind:

  • There's no evidence it will succeed, so no one has tried
  • The channel is not set up for anything but "games"
  • Standard game controllers may not be the ideal input device
  • Gatekeeping in Title Certification
    Sony and Microsoft's teams must not only certify a titles before release, they must green light the start of your project and can kill it before you begin—they don' understand this segment and will most likely be slow to get behind it
  • Slow Adoption by Developers
    People likely to develop the title don't understand the segment and will most likely be slow to get behind it

Closed systems discourage innovation, and make it difficult to create viral, runaway hits.

Other Problems
We happily left some tough questions unanswered (even unasked). Among the unanswered: how to solve the audio input and user interface (and control input) problems.

Moral of the Story:

Moral A:
We have the Technology. We can utilize consoles to make music and reach musicians that have been adverse to creating music with the traditional home computer.

Have courage. Go make something. Don't give up.

Moral B:
It's just hopeless (and that’s plenty good reason to build it!)
- R. Rampley 10/16/04 14:51 PM CDT

In Closing
Choose A. Happy Trails from the Pet Rocks.

section 8

next section

select a section:
1. Introduction  2. Speakers  3. Executive Summary  
4. Mobile Phone Audio - Lessons Learned from Games and the Web
5. A Whole-system Testing Framework for PC Audio
6. The Stroke-a-phone: A New Digital Instrument for Troubled Times
7. MIFFED (Music Industry Foundation for Educational Development)
8. PRAGMA (Pet Rocks and Game Music Alliance)
9. Schedule & Sponsors