home  previous   next 
The Thirteenth Annual Interactive Audio Conference
brainstorming graphic

Group Report: "PRAGMA" Rebooted
(pet rocks and game music alliance)
A Project Bar-B-Q 2008 rogue group updating a Project Bar-B-Q 2004 rogue group


Jim Rippie, independent

Guy Whitmore, Microsoft
Brian Schmidt, Brian Schmidt Studios, LLC Simon Ashby, AudioKinetic
Todor Fay, New Blue Inc.  

Original Members, 2004:
Pete Clare (Sensaura/Creative)
Chris Grigg (Beatnik)
Martin Puryear (Microsoft)
Rob Rampley (Line6)
Jim Reekes (Independent)
Jim Rippie (Independent)
Tom White (MMA)
Guy Whitmore (Microsoft)

Our premise

“Clearly, some hugely winning ideas have no precedent, cannot be predicted, and will never be approved by the cowardly and risk averse”
— PRAGMA Report, Project BarBQ 2004

At the 2004 Project BarBQ, the PRAGMA (Pet Rocks and Game Music Alliance) group explored the issues and potential of creating and enjoying music in the living room using non-traditional, powerful computing devices: game consoles. A lot has changed in just four years.

An old generation of game consoles has nearly rotated out of the retail market in favor of a new generation of even more powerful consoles on store shelves and in millions of households world wide. New game applications using music appeared, ones that challenge the basic notion of what a “game” is when the musical experience predominates.

In 2004, the original group took its name partly from the unprecedented success of 70’s phenomenon “Pet Rock.” It sold in the millions, challenging the notion that every great success can be predicted with market research, business planning and enough pie charts. The group imagined what it might have looked like if the “inventor” of the Pet Rock had to plead his/her case to venture capitalists in order to launch the business and start production. The group imagined a lot of laughing.

But you can’t argue with millions of sales and early retirement, even if you wanted to debate the actual value to the customer. Back in 2004, the group gritted its teeth in poisoning envy of the undeniable success of selling boxed rocks and said loudly in its report, clearly, some hugely winning ideas have no precedent, cannot be predicted, and will never be approved by the cowardly and risk avers.” And the group set a stake in the ground identifying game console music creation as just such an idea.

In 2008, there’s precedence aplenty telling us that musical experiences on game consoles have a market. Many “music participation” games exist, some in their second or third generations, though the vast majority stops well short of being a truly creative experience; more specifically, these games don’t help the home musician/composer spontaneously create new music. We don’t yet know exactly what a new generation of creative products will look like, but the potential is clear—certainly there’s potential for more than using music in a pattern matching game the player follows along (singing or “playing” an instrument) to someone else’s music. When the products eventually appear, millions of people will live somewhat happier, more creative lives, and some companies will enjoy success selling a product that brings more joy to the world than a boxed rock.

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.”
                                                            — 2004 PRAGMA Report

“Convince somebody. The opportunity is obvious and most of the technical hurdles are historical footnotes. If this report prompts someone to take action, we’ve achieved our mission.”
                                                            —2008 PRAGMA Rogue Group

The recent successes of games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero now leave us optimistic that the notion of a game controller as a musical instrument may be even larger than the
2004 group imagined.

The Supporting Truths

The ground is already well plowed and richly fertilized, ready to plant the seed of a new generation of creative products. More innovative games using music having only just arrived, like Lips, Sing Star, Guitar Hero World Tour, etc. New developments in existing franchises like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have broadened the scope beyond “pattern matching” play to actual musical training; even so, they still fall far short of a spontaneously creative experience.

Key market factors affect the likelihood of success:

  • Large install base of equipment
  • 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 baseline equipment is not one of them. (Many past BarBQ participants work for companies that already sell products to musicians with dedicated studios and desktop computers…this is a different market opportunity with different application marketing requirements.) Success with a new generation of create products may be easier to achieve if it builds on the success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band and the musical controllers they’ve put in millions of hands.

Game consoles install bases
[Note that we’ve chosen not to break copyright and re-post proprietary sales reports that may be available to our companies.)

According to certain Wikipedia pages that quote sources, by approximately 4th Quarter 2008 there were, worldwide:
~25 million Xbox360
~17 million PS3
~140 million PS2 (older, and with slowing sales, but still the largest selling console in history)
~17 Nintendo Wii
Source: Wikipedia Jan 10, 2009 [wikipedia.org/wiki/Console_wars#Worldwide_sales_figures_5]

Nice, big, sweet target market
Over 50% of U.S. households report they have at least one musician; 40% have two or more.
Source: NAMM 2006 [http://www.wannaplaymusic.com/gallup_poll]

Required Platforms and Peripherals are Collocated

  • The musicians, their consoles, and a minimal set of necessary peripheral equipment (like electric and acoustic guitars, etc., Rock Band and Guitar Hero controllers, Lips microphones) are already in the right place in the home: living rooms, family rooms, basements and bedrooms.

Consoles: not just for breakfast anymore

Current generation "game" consoles are quite capable running applications that help people make and experience music in their homes. In many cases, these systems are more powerful than the computing equipment audio professionals used less than ten years ago for multitrack music production in recording studios.

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

Sony PlayStation 3
The PS3 has powerful processors available:

  • 7 SPU’s (1 restricted for system use)

Microsoft Xbox 360
Xbox has fewer but even more powerful processors:

  • 3 3.2Ghz CPUs

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

  • There's no evidence it will succeed, and it takes many $$ to find out, so no one has tried
  • Standard game controllers may not be the ideal input device
  • Gate keeping in Title Certification makes it very difficult to create a market based on a new application paradigm
    • Sony and Microsoft's teams must not only certify a finished title before release, they must green light the start of your project and can kill it before you begin—the recent huge success of music related titles make it likely this barrier is much lower than it was in 2004, but there is no evidence yet to support our assumption
    • Note: for opportunities on Xbox 360, see Other Positive Factors below
  • Slow Adoption by Developers
    • Console game development is a specialized skill, and these specialized developers may well not understand the segment and will most likely be slow to get behind it

Other Problems

  • MIDI is unlikely to enter scope for musical input on these consoles without a very large investment from the console vendor
  • Driver development is tightly regulated and technically difficult
  • Audio In is not very well supported on the consoles, and is problematic on 360’s XNA development program (see Other Positive Factors below)
  • From what we can tell, the Wii doesn’t have the processing resources available to support a broad range of music creation products, though it might be suitable for a subset
Other Positive Factors
  • Existing input peripherals for Rock Band and Guitar Hero might solve some of the problem of getting musical gestures (and even audio) into the computer, even if they do not have the complete expressive range of traditional instruments like real guitars and piano-style keyboards
  • Microsoft’s XNA program democratizes the ability to develop for that platform and establish proof of concept applications
  • Guitar Center already represents a possible sales channel to reach consumers interested in making music (since Guitar Hero and Rock Band are and consoles are available there)

Remaining Questions

We happily left many tough questions unanswered (even more unasked). Among the topics:

  • Fully defining the sales channel
  • Creating a vertical product line, from beginning to experienced level
  • Issues related to user interface, particularly:
    • Navigating to and controlling a broad set GUI elements (such as recording controls in an ordinary “four track recorder” product)
    • How to design GUI widgets for “10 foot” interfaces (the distance from the console display to the user) versus “2 foot” interfaces (the distance from a computer digital audio workstation computer screen with higher resolutions)

Moral of the Story:

There are a lot of people who like making their own music and they’re willing to buy products that help them achieve creative satisfaction and bring them pure enjoyment. The moral from 2004 still applies, and still represents an untapped opportunity:

We have the Technology. We can make consoles better than they were before.
            - or -
Have courage. Go make something. Don't give up.

section 10

next section

select a section:
1. Introduction  2. Speakers  3. Executive Summary  
4. Wrap It Up -- Creating a New Middleware Marketplace for Digital Entertainment Platforms
5. The EduMusiTainersT
6. So you want to work in game audio?
7. Smart Ambient Sound Sensor
8. New Creators and New Creative Tools – Understanding the New Ways to Make Music
9. Working as a Creative Professional in a Corporate Environment
10. "PRAGMA" Rebooted (pet rocks and game music alliance) A Project Bar-B-Q 2008 rogue group updating a Project Bar-B-Q 2004 rogue group
11. Schedule & Sponsors