I've thought about this issue every once in a while but a certain catalyst (see end of post) brought it up in my mind again.
The earliest memory I can remember of actually paying attention to video game music is about maybe... 15-20 years ago. My first console was a Sega Master System that didn't work which lead to me (or rather my parents since I was a child) buying my first working console which was a Nintendo Entertainment System. Eventually I got the original Legend of Zelda RPG and inevitably, that lead to the situation where I left the game on the first screen just so I could listen to the super-catchy overworld theme. After doing what I would now consider impossible/very difficult (finishing that game), I noticed that although the names in the staff roll had English letters in them, they didn't sound English to me. That lead to the discovery that most of the games at the time that were even remotely decent were Japanese in origin, and similarly, if the music for a particular game was not shit (i.e. it actually sounds like music), then 99% it's Japanese too.
So began my foray into Japanese game music. Similar to the case of Legend of Zelda's Overworld Theme, I can recall leaving the game idle on Fire Man's stage of Mega Man 1 just to listen to the music. Then came the Super Nintendo and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, where I was impressed by the Overworld Theme which has now been upgraded to the SNES' sound chip. Similarly, Mega Man got upgraded into Mega Man X. I can also remember after finishing the introduction stage (the Highway) and reaching the Stage Select screen for the first time, the first thing I did was leave the game idle because the Stage Select theme was too awesome.
Like other people in this forum, I also recorded video game music onto a tape (if you don't know what a tape is, then I'm your senior) using the TV's speakers as the sound source. I think the first game I did this with was Breath of Fire 2. I was also a reasonably early adopter of the Internet and I attempted to find .mp3s of music from Mega Man X3 (Napster existed during this time) but all I got was .midis, which were good enough. Some of you oldies should remember that Video Game Music .midi collection site too. Interestingly, now that I think about it, Mega Man X, Breath of Fire 2 and especially Mega Man X3 have one thing in common: synth guitars. That's probably my earliest memory of liking anything remotely heavy rock/metal (probably my favourite genre today).
Then came the PlayStation 1 (even better sound quality), the PlayStation 2 (the point where I feel that video game music is no longer technically limited) and so on and so forth until now.
It's worth noting that back then and especially now, I listened to video game music to the exclusion of everything else. I could never get into mainstream music. Early on, I liked pop music, but that's stating the obvious since pop music is short for "popular music" which is intended to be "manufactured" to be likable by almost everyone. I also couldn't bring myself to consider the human voice (i.e. singing) as a musical instrument. There's nothing wrong with singing per se and I don't dislike it, but whenever I liked a mainstream vocal song, I get bored of it very easily and quickly. In contrast, I can still listen to good video game music that are 10 or more years old.
So now we're at 2012. From my point of view, not much has changed at all. Mainstream music is still boring mainstream music and video game music still doesn't get talked about on an individual level and doesn't get the respect it deserves.
From my understanding, video game music is considered niche even in Japan, the pioneers of good video game music. If game music is niche in Japan (and the game music market reflecting the nicheness), then what does that say about the video game music market in Western countries?
Until relatively recently, when it comes game music and the Western World, there seems to be four perceptions of the role of game music:
1) The game music is just there to fill the silence.
2) Licensed "game music" (just random mainstream songs copied and pasted onto games, instead of being specially composed for the game e.g. Need For Speed).
3) Custom soundtracks (a feature that started and was popularised with the original Microsoft Xbox)
4) Orchestral music (easily digestible yet extremely bland Hollywood-style music) (I'm excluding Kou Otani's Shadow of the Collosus obviously which I consider one of the few exceptions)
What all this indicates or might point to is that video game music isn't taken seriously. The "video game music market" or the number of video game music fans aren't large enough to warrant paying attention to. Some evidence that might support this view include:
1) People have complained about how Nintendo does not officially release their soundtracks for sale individually, instead opting to have them available for purchase via the Points system. A possible reason is that the video game music market simply isn't large enough to cover the costs of individual soundtrack retail releases.
2) People have also complained about how some soundtracks come as part of a set with the game (or anime in the case of anime soundtracks) "forcing" them to buy the soundtrack along with the game they didn't really want. Similarly, the most possible explanation is that there is simply not enough demand to warrant individual releases. Video game music is already considered niche, let alone that particular product, which is even more niche.
A recent occurrence to counter the above are digital download services like iTunes which I imagine, has significantly lower costs when it comes to putting a product out in the market. That's not going to ease the minds of people who desire physical products with cover art etc... but that's another story.
The topics in my mind are disorganised at the moment but what are your views on the "video game music market"? Are "they" (video game music fans) as numerous as they claim they are? Is this market going to shrink or grow in the future? What is the future of "real" video game music? And what is the future of how video game music is perceived by the general public? Feel free to answer any questions I didn't ask.
As someone who values and only listens to game music, I would like the market to grow, become mainstream and allow consumers to reward musicians like Nobuo Uematsu with lots of money because he deserves it. On the other hand, if the video game music market becomes mainstream, then inevitably, existing and future game musicians may consider composing "safe" and riskless music in order to maximise the amount of ears that listen to it either by their own volition or by being pressured by accountants/marketers, instead of using their own creativity to create the unique styles of music at present and past. In other words, game music as I know and love will become something I won't like.
Currently, I note the deserved or undeserved backlash against Japanese Role Playing Games and to a lesser extent (but still seemingly significant extent) Japanese-developed games in general. If less people are spending money on Japanese games, I can't help but feel that this will have an indirect negative impact on Japanese game music composers. This decreasing quantity of Western taste for Japanese games, rising costs in game development along with the perpuatual stagnant state of the Japanese economy (then again, pretty much every economy in the world is shit right now, so they're hardly unique in that aspect) possibly means a decrease in Japanese game market share which may lead to less projects for Japanese game musicians.
I also note the current practice of companies like Konami and Capcom "outsourcing" the development of their games to a Western company. In cases like Silent Hill and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, the music composition duties were replaced by Westerners too. Whether that is a good thing for long-time fans of Akira Yamaoka or Michiru Yamane/Konami's Sound Team can be debated. Musically, I would lean towards no.
In regards to the prospects of growing the video game music market, consumers and businesses can be blamed. The vast majority of video game music soundtracks on the Internet (especially eBay) are pirated bootlegs. Businesses are to blame for not actively seeking to remove those listings from eBay (eBay only acts when the original copyright holder makes that request). Consumer and consumer education are to blame for continually buying those goddamn bootlegs (just checked the eBay's completed transaction history). I genuinely find it infuriating. Having said that, I acknowledge that the reason those bootlegs exist on eBay (and the reason most Japanese soundtracks remain Japanese) is because, as I mentioned many times before in this thread, the Western video game music market is simply too niche, too small and too insignificant to pay attention to. It's a simple cost/benefit equation. And the reason customers buy bootlegs is because they can't exactly go into their local CD shop (or even online) to buy it, because they don't exist there. I guess it's a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Consumers buy bootlegs because Japanese businesses won't sell the soundtracks overseas. Japaneses businesses won't sell the soundtrack overseas because the quantity of consumers aren't enough to justify the costs.
Now, you may note that a community such as this is proof of the viability of the video game music market. Unfortunately, this is simply the Internet phenomenon of people with like-interests coming and congregating in the same location. In the end. it's alway the same old regulars posting with the occasional 3-post poster who registers, posts on the same day, and then leaves forever never to login a second time.
One exception to the above sentiments are game-related orchestral concerts which while they have existed in Japan for quite a while (Dragon Quest is an early one), only recently did they start appearing in the Western world.
My predictions are that video game music will continue being niche. Video game music will still be regarded by the general public at best "music to fill in the silence" or not regarded at all. The actual video game music market (people who buy video game music) will remain similarly niche and small. Those wishing to buy retail Nintendo soundtrack CDs or wishing to buy enclosure soundtrack CDs separately might as well give up and get them the hard way unless they can prove to businesses that their numbers are large enough to consider giving them what they way (individual retail soundtracks).
Unfortunately, CDs will probably become phased out and be replaced by digital downloads. Japanese game music companies have two choices when it comes to international sales: none (because the Western video game music market isn't large enough to cover the costs of distributing CDs) or digital download. So digital download it is. On the bright side, bootleg CDs sellers will no longer be able to make profits from game music CDs since consumers at this point have expectations of paid downloads and will not even think of buying a CD.
Assuming that Western developers continue growing and Western tastes for Japanese games decreases, and assuming the Japanese economy in general remains stagnant (which means there is less appetite for risk) then Japanese companies that are not big (e.g. not Konami, Capcom, Square-Enix) will give up the idea of trying to develop games for Western tastes (see the aforementioned risk) and simply develop for the established home market (less risky). Similarly, Japanese game musicians will continue doing what they are doing before and that is creating good video game music without any possible negative influence or impact from the mainstreaming of game music (which doesn't happen).
Again, I note that this entire thread is a mish-mash of topics yet inter-related but I hope you have somehow made some sense of what I'm trying to say. Take all of the above as you will.
Finally, here's the catalyst of this thread: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?Vi … 0792248687
If the video game music market was not small, then the ending price would've been much higher. I realise that game music is niche, and the Saga (Romancing/Frontier) series are even more niche, and that this might be a one-off freak accident, but that's too goddamn cheap goddamnit.