On Sept. 9, the Beatles finally entered the world of digital music. This was an inevitable move, but what’s truly interesting is how they chose to do it. Well-known Beatles fan Steve Jobs has yet to secure the world-famous music catalog in a digital format for iTunes. So who did? MTV/Viacom and their video game studio Harmonix, which created “Rock Band: The Beatles” for video game consoles.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFxLmzlH8zg
Money is said to be one of the sticking points in the negotiations to bring the Beatles’ catalog to iTunes. I have no doubt that money influenced the Beatles’ decision to do a video game, but I’d also bet that they wanted to do something different and cutting-edge.
Although I’m hardly a big Beatles fan, I am thrilled to see video games taking a lead in the troubled music industry. There is no need to labor over the recent history of the music industry — CD sales are down, and digital downloads are on the rise. Digital is clearly the future for music, and I believe video games will play a significant role in the marketing, distribution and consumption of music.
Even before the release of the Beatles’ game , the numbers coming out of the “Rock Band” series were staggering. Since it premiered in late 2007, “Rock Band” has sold more than 50 million songs, including songs shipped with the game and downloadable songs. Still, some analysts say that music games have peaked.
With the sagging economy, that may be true to an extent. But I think the music game genre can continue to grow, and “Rock Band: The Beatles” is an example of a compelling new game experience. Instead of playing as a fictional character who is trying to make it big in fictional venues, in “Rock Band: The Beatles” you play as the Beatles themselves, following their career from the early touring days to later studio work. Paul McCartney even reviewed the game to make sure it was accurate.
The release of “Rock Band: The Beatles” will surely increase the number of people playing music games. I’ve heard stories about how excited people in their 60s are about this game. I’m not sure that releasing the Beatles catalog on the Amazon MP3 store would elicit the same response. The interactive nature of video games gives people a much more fun way to experience music. Throw a plastic Rickenbacker 325 into a 64-year-old’s hands, and he’ll soon be channeling a young John Lennon.
“Rock Band: The Beatles” is the biggest win for music video games to date. So, if you are Harmonix, where do you go after you’ve gotten the biggest band in history in your game? You go after the small bands. Harmonix is developing a platform for interactive music that is both a game and a way for bands to sell their music . There is no reason “Rock Band” can’t become just as viable a distribution platform as iTunes or the Amazon MP3 store. Look for a post from me soon about the “Rock Band” music distribution platform. Until then, I’ll be rocking in a virtual Shea Stadium.
Brian Johnson is a student in the MCDM program who is pursuing a career in the video game industry. He has had a lifelong involvement with video games starting with educational PC games in the 1980s. His favorite video game is “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.”