Following the runaway success of Activision's "Guitar Hero" franchise and MTV's newer "Rockband" game, bands, music labels and publishers are all trying to get into the next version of the game or into special downloadable song packs. That has made the game makers at "Guitar Hero" and "Rockband" very popular lately.
Suddenly in demand
"Three years ago with 'Guitar Hero' one, we had a lot of trouble licensing music and, in fact, had no original recordings on that game. Now bands are coming to us all the time and offering originals," said Charles Huang, who with brother Kai is the co-founder of the Activision-owned developer RedOctane and co-creator of "Guitar Hero." "[Now] when we put this in front of music industry executives, they quickly realize what a shot in the arm it is for the industry," he added.
Video games are quickly becoming a significant force in music marketing. For certain kind of bands -- in particular metal and rock groups -- video games such as "Guitar Hero" and "Rockband" are almost crucial to their music-marketing strategy.
That makes rock gods such as Aerosmith -- who last week got their own version of the game, "Guitar Hero: Aerosmith" -- very keen on the once geeks-only video-game crowd.
It has a lot to do with the numbers, too. Last December, in fact, Aerosmith sold 2,041 digital copies of its 1974 song "Same Old Song and Dance" -- which was on the then-new "Guitar Hero III" game. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it was a one week total -- the last week of the year (which included Christmas) -- and more interestingly was a 446% increase over sales the week before, according to SoundScan data provided by Activision.
They were far from alone. Alice Cooper's 1972 track "School's Out" sold more than 12,000 copies for an increase of 453%. Kiss' "Rock and Roll All Nite" from 1975 sold more than 18,500 copies for a 485% increase. Newer music did just as well, such as Senses Fail's "Can't Be Saved," released in 2006, which sold 8,600 tracks, jumping 386%. Sales of all but one of the 63 songs on "Guitar Hero III" jumped by more than 100% that week, with the bulk in the 200-300% range.
While a connection between the increase in digital sales at sites like iTunes and Napster and "Guitar Hero III" isn't definitive, the evidence strongly suggests that the game played a role in the huge increase in single sales.
And increased sales are just one reason why musicians want in the game. Established bands cite renewed popularity not only with original fans but also a whole new audience of players and fans who weren't even born when some of these classic rock tracks were recorded. Younger musicians cite the exposure and interaction from video games as key to their band's success.
"We are definitely a piece of the puzzle," said Paul DeGooyer, MTV's senior VP-electronic games and music. "If I were a manager of a band, I would make sure there is some sort of video-game connection. ... Our games are a great way for a new audience to engage with your music in a way that's totally different than, say, on an iPod."
Heavy-metal sales up
It seems worth the band's pursuit. Russ Crupnick, analyst with NPD Group, said that in the fourth quarter of last year and first quarter this year, the heavy-metal category saw an uptick in digital sales, likely due to the video games. Heavy-metal music sales in the first quarter of 2007 were just 3.9% of the total, but that number jumped to 6% in May.
"One of the real trends in music is to break out of being a band that just puts out CDs to [following] the Rolling Stone model of merchandising, games and out-tracks -- all those consumer touchpoints become incredibly important," Mr. Crupnick said.
It's also another revenue generator, as the bands are paid a royalty for each video game sold, similar to the financial deal they would receive if their music was sold on iTunes or via CDs. Bands also receive royalties for song downloads to the video-game console.
With metal and other rock bands getting in the game, will it be long before musicians of all stripes pick up on the growing marketing value of video games? Already, Jimmy Buffett has specially crafted songs for "Rockband," and Coldplay was recently added to the "Guitar Hero" download list (causing some groans among the game's rocker fans).
'Hit' written all over it
Growth of the music-gaming genre seems assured. "Guitar Hero" took in $820 million in the U.S. alone (a one-year record for any video game property), while "Rockband" has sold more than 15 million downloads in the eight months it has been around. Both have new games they're readying, including "Guitar Hero's" addition of vocals and drums in "Guitar Hero World Tour" later this year. Konami, with its "Rock Revolution," is just one of a handful of competitors ready to join the music-games fray.
Still, while some think it's possible the market could get too crowded, most agree the music-to-video-game crossover is a good marketing and sales move for both industries.
"The teaming up of the music industry and the video-game industry has been a match made in heaven. For the music industry, it's a great way to promote new bands and revive old bands while introducing them to entirely new, younger audiences. For the video-game industry, titles such as 'Guitar Hero: Aerosmith' can help to introduce gaming to entirely new audiences, especially aging Baby Boomers and the Gen X group," said NPD analyst (and avid music video gamer) David Riley, in an e-mail interview.