Week in video-game news: Nintendo gobbles up holiday bucks; game industry booming

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NINTENDO SEASON: 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 sold 350,000 Wii consoles during the first week of the holiday shopping season. The company is still having trouble keeping up with demand for the system.  Nintendo
Nintendo
Nintendo sold 350,000 Wii consoles during the first week of the holiday shopping season. The company is still having trouble keeping up with demand for the system.

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 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 an upset in its home country. In November, the PS3 outsold the Wii in Japan.

WELCOME TO 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 during the Writers Guild of America strike. 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 . His team includes writers from Saturday Night Live , Late Night with Conan O'Brien , Flight of the Conchords and Ugly Betty .

Rat Race , 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 often seen in video games. The last successful episodic game -- Telltale Games' Sam & Max -- was pretty hilarious, so let's hope Rat Race can meet that standard.

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