With the release of Guitar Hero: Metallica last Monday, I got to thinking about just how much these so-called guitar games are really contributing to a rebirth of the music industry. If we just look at the numbers, someone is getting rich, and I would imagine the big record companies are recouping some of their losses from all the free downloads that they just haven't been able to stop. Some say the split isn't too good for the record companies on the game content, but the advertising it provides boosts sales incredibly.
Rock Band became a certified one billion dollar seller this month, a feat that Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock accomplished back in 2007 (becoming the first single game to reach that mark). Rolling Stone estimates over 40 million extra tracks have been downloaded for Rock Band. The numbers don't lie.
If you've turned on the TV at all this month, you were witness to a plethora of commercials for the Rock Band DLC version of Pearl Jam's Ten and the new Guitar Hero: Metallica. Now, the Metallica game is a stand alone so I can understand all the advertising, but Ten is merely DLC. I may be wrong, but I think this is the first time that DLC has had a legit television marketing campaign. I'll be interested to check out the numbers next month and see how well it paid off.
These games have turned in to great marketing tools. Just last year we saw new albums from Motley Crue, Metallica, and Guns 'N' Roses. All three of these bands are major players on the guitar game front. Realistically, one has to assume that the resurgence of what were once considered antiquated relics from a time that really passed them by has something to do with how prevalent they are in these games (maybe Metallica is an exception, but it ain't hurting them).
According to a December 2008 article by the Washington Post, once a song is available on Rock Band or Guitar Hero, the download sales increase dramatically, up to 843%. It is obvious that these games are one hell of a marketing tool. This New York Times article states:
Both Rock Band and Guitar Hero have helped the ailing music industry by licensing songs and using online networks to sell additional tracks for gamers to play along with. Those tracks, which usually sell for around $2 each, are more profitable for record companies and musicians than iTunes sales.
MTV, which has focused more than Activision on selling additional songs online, recently announced that it had sold 15 million tracks, and sales are especially impressive for hard-rock bands. During the week in June when Mötley Crüe released “Saints of Los Angeles,” the first single from its new album, the song sold 14,000 copies on iTunes and 48,000 on Rock Band through Microsoft’s Xbox Live network, said Allen Kovac, founder of the group’s management company and record label.
What's even stranger is that people are no longer listening to Crue and GnR to be ironic anymore, all of the kitsch has worn off and they are back to being legitimate, big name bands again. There is a lot more to the power of these games than meets the eye. Hell, my nine year old nephew asked for a Judas Priest record last Christmas, and he was dead serious about it. I, of course, obliged.
Now AC/DC has it's own game on Rock Band, and Metallica and Aerosmith have their own games on Guitar Hero. So, what's next? Well, Apple Corps inked a deal to lend The Beatles catalog to Rock Band, Guitar Hero has taken out trademarks on Guitar Villain, Drum Villain, Keyboard Hero, and Sing Hero, word is there will be a DJ Hero, and a Guitar Hero: Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix. This phenomenon has only just begun, and there is a lot of money to be made here.
This marriage of music and video games is nothing new. In our next volume of Guitar and Video Games, we'll be looking at the history of the joint venture of pop music and video games. Stay tuned.
- Jordan M.
Sulphur Springs, TX