They may not save the music industry, but this year rhythm games opened up new possibilities for how people interact with music. As game designer Jesse Fuchs has pointed out, Harmonix (which originally developed Guitar Hero, and created Rock Band) put out far more inventive games earlier. But since the GH/RB model has proven to be a hit, it appeared that we were stuck with a simple six-button interface that didn’t allow players to fiddle with the music itself awfully much.
In 2008 it was hard to find feel-good stories about the music industry—you know, the type that populate your local trade rags and second-tier business sections, or at least did until the world economy went kerplooey—which was probably why the popularity of the “vinyl is back” piece, in which a somewhat statistically significant jump in the sales of vinyl got turned into the latest harebrained scheme to save the music industry, remained high throughout most of the year.
A couple of weeks back, we asked if the success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band have been overstated—that perhaps in the media’s endless search to find the new “something other than albums will save the record industry!” story, some obvious shortcomings were being overlooked. Well, as it turns out, these concerns were not misplaced. Electronic Arts, publishers of Rock Band, has issued another profit warning, and reports “disappointing sales figures,” while Guitar Hero is expected to see a 50% drop in unit sales. It’s not surprising that $200 games might not be doing too well in a down economy. But, despite Activision’s claims that that games are good for artists, they’re apparently not good enough: Edgar Bronfman is demanding more money for licensing songs for gameplay, claiming that they don’t bring in enough money per track. And into this gloomy environment steps Metallica, who are getting their own edition of Guitar Hero.
“Can Guitar Hero Help Save the Music Industry?” asked a post to the New York Times‘ “Freakonomics” blog recently. And while our natural inclination is to yell “we hope so,” it’s worth examining the claims made before we go down that path—especially since the author of the piece is “the worldwide games portfolio manager for Xbox Live Arcade” and thus not really that unbiased an observer. While it makes logical sense that a massively popular video game would help increase the sales of the music featured within, the article throws in another claim to bolster its argument for the gaming industry’s eventual overtaking of the music biz: that the Aerosmith edition of Guitar Hero “resulted in more revenue for the band than any individual Aerosmith album.” Well! But how much revenue is that, exactly? And does it really make up for lost sales?
Retail sales fell by a record amount last month across the board, although for the most part, the video game industry did OK. But it’s the part of the video game industry that didn’t do OK that might cause some consternation among certain Idolator readers–none of the Guitar Hero or Rock Band titles landed in October’s top 10. “The performance of the broader music genre as well as key new music genre releases ‘Guitar Hero World Tour’ and ‘Rock Band 2’ were probably the most negative data points of last night’s release,” an analyst wrote upon reviewing video-game-related data from the NPD Group, and the stock prices for both Activision (which publishes Guitar Hero and EA (Rock Band suffered today. But is there more to that story? Another analyst thinks so:
Every week in the “Shhhh-it!” AnonIMous Super-Secret Music-Biz Interview Series (S-I!AS-SM-BIS for, uh, short) we interview a grizzled music industry veteran via the stream-of-consciousness power of instant messaging. We talk about the person’s job, the state of the industry, and whatever else comes to mind. This week, we bring you music/rhythm game programmer GeorgeTardasin. Tardasin worked with a big-time music game developer on an iteration of a big-time music game (hint: you use plastic guitars to play it). Tardasin worked as a Gem Author, which is the name for the programmer who encodes the songs into the program, aligning the colored circles, or “gems,” that correspond with the buttons on the controller. In this interview, Tardasin discusses the challenges of transposing the songs, how long the process takes, and the joys of lighting and animations:
StumpyPete1975: you did the lights and the animations?
StumpyPete1975: that seems to me like it would be lots of fun
GeorgeTardasin: yeah… you get to choose what animation is going to show…so if you have like a really dramatic part of the song… there is an option to flare the lights out on the crowd.
GeorgeTardasin: ha ha
GeorgeTardasin: Its kinda cheesy but in a really awesome way.
GeorgeTardasin: and change the colors of the lights and make the characters do funny tricks while they are playing.
The whole thing after the jump!
ARTIST: Smashing Pumpkins
WEB DEBUT: Oct. 13, 2008
Sure, Edgar Bronfman Jr. would like to figure out a way for the music business to make a little more cash from that Guitar Hero all the kids are talking about. The man running the company that makes the plastic-guitar-powered game must sympathize with the Warner Music Group head’s plight, right? Um, no.
Anyone who’s spent any amount of time around the Christian retail industry can tell you that the genesis of most ideas within that business come from the following formula: “Let’s make a Christian version of [fill in the blank]”. Which is why this generation of youth group children can now put down their Rock Band instruments and cleanse their ears of all that secular claptrap that game calls “music,” and instead start praising God while pressing buttons on plastic guitars hooked into the new game Guitar Praise.