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Comment: Videogames grow up in the public eye as San Andreas smashes records

The videogames industry is fond of comparing itself with the movie and music industries - as long as the figures show it in a positive light, of course. For years, a host of slightly dodgy statistics have been dragged out at the drop of a hat to prove that videogames generate more revenue than rival mediums, usually missing such crucial points as the fact that movies generate both box office and DVD/video revenues. Recently, though, the statistics have been tweaked less frequently, because videogames are actually on track to surpass rival mediums on a level playing field, thanks to a stellar rate of growth which has been sustained over several years.

The comparisons were never really about the financial figures; they were always more of an attempt to point out to the world that videogames really do rub shoulders with its older sibling industries, much like a kid pointing out how much taller he's grown so that his older brothers will take him seriously. From that perspective, it could be argued that games still have some distance to go, with most of the remaining hurdles being of a creative and artistic nature rather than financial - but most importantly of all, there's always been a huge question mark over the public perception of games as compared with films and music which no amount of number-crunching bragging was going to anwer.

Last week, the videogame industry provided an answer to that question - or at least, the start of an answer.

The fact that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas eclipsed the sales of every other videogame in the UK on its launch weekend is important, but only to the games industry. The fact that revenues from the opening weekend of the game narrowly beat the UK's biggest ever movie box office opening weekend (Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban, if you're wondering) is a lot more relevant; and combined with the fact that the buzz and media coverage generated by the game has touched the hallowed levels reached by a new movie release, it provides more proof of the growing importance of videogames than could be provided by a mountain of figures.

Everyone was talking about San Andreas last weekend, from people in offices to customers in supermarkets to kids on skateboards who were patently too young to have played it - but that's another discussion. A stranger on the street spotted my Nintendo freebie t-shirt and asked if I'd played San Andreas. Radio stations talked about it, TV shows mentioned it, newspapers commented on it, and people for whom games are nothing but the most casual of pastimes got caught up in the excitement.

This was truly the kind of buzz that is generated by the arrival of a new Harry Potter film, a new Lord of the Rings or just about any other major movie franchise, and in fact, it utterly put in the shadow the sales of, and excitement surrounding, any other 18-rated product ever. Quentin Tarantino can't match these numbers, and Martin Scorcese can't touch them - only a team of largely anonymous developers in Edinburgh can generate this sort of excitement about a product with anything other than a PG sticker on the front.

Later this month, it's hoped, the industry will do it all over again with the arrival of Halo 2 on the Xbox - a game which will unquestionably sell in smaller numbers due to its target platform, but which is already generating similar levels of hype, an incredible feat for a science fiction first person shooter which should, conventional wisdom says, be a niche product.

But that's videogames for you - rewriting the rules laid down by other industries as it gradually reaches maturity as a medium. Our best-selling titles of the year, the ones that we can hold high and compare favourably to those championed by any other creative industry, are likely to be three internally created intellectual properties (not licensed from other industries, in other words) which include science fiction shoot 'em ups and a crime simulation so 18 rated it hurts. If nothing else, this is a clarion call to those with their hands on the creative reins in the games industry, and more importantly, to those with their hands on the purse strings that fund development. Stop looking to other industries, and tear up the rule-book that you inherited from movies or TV. We're playing a whole new game here - and when we get it right, the world is playing it with us.

Rob Fahey is GamesIndustry.biz' editor, and can be reached at [rob@gamesindustry.biz].

This editorial originally appeared in the GamesIndustry.biz News Digest, a free email news bulletin which is distributed to subscribers every day of the week and features a round-up of the key headlines of the day, the latest major share movements from industry companies, and the day's new job postings. Each Thursday afternoon, this digest is presented in a special omnibus form with the week's game charts and an editorial focus piece.

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Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.