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 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.