Video games have come a long way since "Pong" bounced into arcades with its primitive blip-blop sound effects. Now they're a major cultural and musical force, capable of luring Top 40 artists, breaking new bands and luring A-list Hollywood composers for original scores.
Even so, there hasn't been a consistent way for consumers to transfer these musical backdrops out of the games and into their music players. Until now.
The world's largest independent video game publisher, Electronic Arts, in partnership with Nettwerk Music Group, began offering digital downloads of some of its most popular scores this week.
Available through dozens of digital service providers, including Apple iTunes, MSN, Yahoo Music and Rhapsody, the soundtracks to Medal of Honor, composed by Michael Giacchino, and Sims 2, by Mark Mothersbaugh, are kicking off the new service.
Tracks from the James Bond, Command & Conquer, Need for Speed, Harry Potter, NBA and NASCAR game series will roll out over the next few months.
"The one thing that comes when you have wonderful composers and great themes is people want those themes to be in their iPods or on their phones," said Steve Schnur, EA's worldwide executive of music and music marketing. "They want to pull it out of the game and take it with them."
EA began testing the digital downloading waters in 2003, releasing CD soundtracks to NBA Live 2003 and SSX 3.
But Schnur said the recording industry's data prompted his company to pursue this new revenue stream: A midyear analysis of digital music shows sales have risen 170% over the last year.
"The way people hear music has changed," Schnur said. "The way people buy music has changed, and music composers want their music, and consumers in general want their entertainment, digital and mobile. We felt a digital-only environment was a smart move."