News from the virtual world:
— NINTENDO THANKSGIVING: What's the hot toy this holiday season? TMX Elmo? Webkinz? Transformers?
If Thanksgiving weekend sales are any indication, video-game systems could eclipse all of those once Santa has received everyone's wish list.
Nintendo led the charge, selling more than 1 million consoles — including 653,000 DS portable systems and 350,000 Wii home systems — during the first week of the shopping season.
Nintendo is still having trouble keeping up with demand for the Wii a year after its launch, a situation Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime called "a missed opportunity."
Nintendo's competitors aren't exactly hurting. Microsoft reported that it sold 310,000 Xbox 360s during Thanksgiving week.
Sony didn't release specific figures, but said PlayStation 3 sales tripled during the holiday week (relative to the previous week) — no doubt helped by a $100 price cut.
Sony also pulled a bit of an upset in its home country.
In November, the PS3 outsold the Wii in Japan — perhaps indicating a reversal of fortune for Sony's struggling console.
— WELCOME TO THE BOOMTOWN: Video games are a big part of Christmas, and they're becoming a bigger part of our culture year-round.
So it's no surprise that the industry is booming. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the U.S. computer and video-game industry grew at a 17 percent annual rate between 2003 and 2006, compared with a 4 percent growth rate for the economy as a whole.
The ESA said entertainment software publishers in the U.S. directly employ more than 24,000 people, with an average salary of $92,300 in 2006. California has about 40 percent of those workers, followed by Washington state.
Virginia's computer and video-game industry grew by 552 percent in 2006 — odd, since the only major game developer I can think of in Virginia is Mythic Entertainment, producer of "Dark Age of Camelot."
— COMEDY GOLD: There's money to be made in games. And there are hundreds of TV and movie writers who need work while the Writers Guild of America strike is going on.
So, strikers — how about writing a game?
Victor Varnado, a stand-up comic and writer in New York, is doing just that as head writer of Super-Ego Games' upcoming PS3 title "Rat Race."
Varnado's team includes writers from "Saturday Night Live," "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," "Flight of the Conchords" and "Ugly Betty."
"Rat Race," set to debut this winter, is an interesting experiment for Sony.
It will be the first episodic PlayStation game; individual installments will be downloadable through the PlayStation Network. It's also a comedy, not a genre that's often seen in video games.
Still, the last successful episodic game — Telltale Games' "Sam & Max" — was pretty hilarious, so let's hope "Rat Race" can meet that standard.
— FREEDOM ROCK: Last week, I wrote about the gripes that gamers have had about Electronic Arts' and MTV Games' "Rock Band" — specifically, a variety of hardware issues that have popped up.
The good news is that Harmonix Music Systems, the studio that developed the game, is paying attention.
"Many of you have contacted us about the PS3 edition of 'Rock Band' — from issues with guitar compatibility to frustration that stand-alone guitars and drums for 'Rock Band' have not yet hit stores," a notice on the company's Web site read. "Please know that these issues have our full attention."
Harmonix also acknowledged "an imperfection with the strum bar in an early production run of guitars that were shipped at launch."
The problem has been fixed, Harmonix said, and anyone with a bum guitar can get a free replacement.
— NEW IN STORES: What's not to love about an armored polar bear? Here's "The Golden Compass" (Sega, all systems). ...
Atari drops a trio of Wii games: "Jenga World Tour," "Godzilla Unleashed" and "Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3." ...
Atlus mixes music and fighting in "Draglade" (for the DS). ...
And THQ opens up new frontiers in horror in "American Girl: Julie Finds a Way" (for the DS).