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Analysis: Which  Guitar Hero  Package Do People Buy?
Analysis: Which Guitar Hero Package Do People Buy?
March 9, 2009 | By Matt Matthews

March 9, 2009 | By Matt Matthews
More: Console/PC

[Rhythm games' full band kits retail for high, high prices -- but are consumers really buying them? Gamasutra's Matt Matthews checks out how well they're selling, how much Activision's making, and implications for Rock Band: Beatles.]

This week's announcement for The Beatles: Rock Band and its $250 price tag got me thinking about the exorbitant prices we've already seen for the full band packages of Guitar Hero: World Tour and Rock Band 2 (and Rock Band before that).

Are consumers really buying the full band kits? The Guitar Hero: World Tour full band package retails for $190, a full $90 more than that guitar bundle and $130 more than the standalone game.

Consumers have to really want the full band to jump up that much over the other versions. What do the sales figure say about this?

According figures from Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities, based on data from the NPD Group, we can estimate the following about Guitar Hero: World Tour sales in the United States from October 2008 through January 2009.

I'll confess that I was impressed with just how well the full band kit is selling, especially given its premium price, economic conditions, and the sheer number of plastic guitars that are already out in the market.

Of course, the situation is more dynamic than the picture above shows. The full band kit was exceptionally popular at launch and then lost some of its importance through November. December and January saw increases in the popularity of the full band kit, with nearly half of all packages sold in January being the full band.

From Activision's perspective, the full band kit is even more of a money maker. We can get a measure of this by making a coarse revenue estimate based on $190 for the full band, $100 for the guitar bundle, and $60 for the standalone game.

Guitar Hero: World Tour Revenue by Type

The standalone game has been reduced to a mere 11 percent of the Guitar Hero: World Tour revenue stream, while the full band has jumped to over 60 percent.

What does this mean for The Beatles: Rock Band? That's hard to say. We don't know precisely what kind of hardware will be bundled with the $250 version, and that may well determine how attractive it is to consumers.

At this moment, however, we can see that a $190 full band package is not only the dominant choice for music game consumers, but is also the lion's share of the revenue for such a game.

[This article was originally published as an Expert Blog written by Gamasutra analyst Matt Matthews.]

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Jamie Mann
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For whatever it's worth, Wikipedia states that TBRB will be released both as a standalone title and a bundle. The standalone title should retail for around $60.

I'm also not sure how a 41% market share counts as being a "dominant choice". It's worth bearing in mind that GH:WT is a special case as it's the first iteration of a full-band GH setup.

A more interesting query would have been: what's the breakdown for the sequels and track packs? How many people are playing the newer releases with older hardware? For instance, I own GH3, GHWT, RB and RB2. However, I only use the Rock Band (plus the GH3 wireless guitar) Band-in-a-box setup - and I've no intention whatsoever of purchasing any further hardware iterations: it's simply not justifiable.

Looking at the above stats, up to 59% of GHWT users have done the same - a percentage of this may have bought the game for solo guitar-play, but I'd expect the vast majority to have decided that their existing RB drumkit/mike to be good enough.

A third, and most important question: how large a segment of the current Rock Band demographic will actually be interested in a Beatles-only release?

For instance (according to the infamously inaccurate vgchartz - but when it's all you've got...), Rock Band 1 and 2 has sold a total of approx. 7.9 million units across all platforms. Quite how that breaks down in terms of unique users is anyone's guess, but I'd guess it'd be somewhere in the region of 5-6 million.

The AC/DC trackpack has sold a total of 200k units. In other words, it's reached less than 4% of the existing user base - and this is for a long-established, highly popular, current and MTV/air-guitar friendly band!

The Beatles may be the biggest band ever, and Harmonix have certainly gained a significant publicity coup, but I don't know if this will translate to sales. In any case, I'd predict that the Wii is likely to see the highest figures, given that the Wii has done an excellent job of making inroads on the non-gamer, older generation demographics.

Overall, I can't help feeling that there's something of a mini-bubble formed around the music-game genre. The music labels are pushing for more cash, the two dominant parties are busy snapping up exclusive deals and the market is being flooded by both software and hardware. Something will go pop sooner or later - probably the hardware side, as the market gets ever closer to saturation.

Tray Epperly
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Juice uk, you said, "It's worth bearing in mind that GH:WT is a special case as it's the first iteration of a full-band GH setup."

How is this a special case? Up to GHWT's release, Rock Band was the only full-band setup on the market. Rock Band was pretty darn successful too, so one can't say that GHWT's release as a full-band box set is unprecedented.

Personally, I'd be more interested to see how much crossover there is between franchises. As in, how many people bought BOTH full-band box sets, etc? Granted, this data can't be gathered through sales and a poll would potentially be biased toward the hardcore - unless the poll was posted on, say,

One last thing for juice, I think you may be underestimating the power of the Beatles' name. I've had people who typically don't follow game news ask me about TBRB.

Chris Remo
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It would be interesting to see that second pie chart in terms of actual profit margins, though. Obviously we don't have access to those figures, but revenue being such a huge percentage isn't in and of itself isn't necessarily quite as meaningful if profit margins are thin.

Jamie Mann
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I did explicitly state that GHWT was the first *GH* full-band setup! I was trying to avoid spinning off on too many tangents earlier: there's brand loyalty/awareness to consider - plus Rock Band is a new franchise and there's been a lot of confusion around cross-game hardware compatibility, so it would be useful to know how many people waited for GHWT (where they had a choice: as far as I'm aware, Australia never got Rock Band at all: they had to wait for the sequel!)

It would be great to get a similar bundle/unbundled breakdown for RB1 and RB2: given that the drumkit is effectively a unique key, it should then be possible to get both a count of full-band setups and a count of games sold: fiddling with these should then give some idea of how many people are sticking with old setups.

Either way, the question remains the same - once people have bought a set of equipment (GH or RB), what do they do when the sequels are released? My interpretation is as follows:

Approx. 40% of buyers fall into the following "buying new hardware" category:

1) An existing player buys the new game and new hardware while keeping the old hardware

2) An existing player sells the old hardware (and possibly the old game) to buy the new game and new hardware

3) A new player buys the new hardware and new game

Approx. 60% of buyers fall into the following "not buying new hardware" category:

4) An existing player buys the new game but continues to use the old hardware.

5) An existing player buys the new game and a subset of the new hardware to be used in conjunction with the old hardware.

6) A new player buys a subset of the new hardware plus the new game

Personally, I originally fell into category 5): I bought RB when it came out, and then picked up GH3 to get the additional guitar. Since then, I've been in category 4): I buy the games, but not the hardware. The above numbers suggest that I'm in the majority, not the minority!

My question then is: how will the sales break down for future software/hardware releases? Will Harmonix

shift ten copies of The Beatles for every one Beatles Band-kit sold? Will people rush out to buy the drumkit for GHWT2, or will the ratio drop even further?

On the final point: I don't doubt the power of the Beatles name. What I do doubt is whether or not that will translate into high videogame sales: what's the intersect between "Rock Band fan" and "Beatles fan"?

For myself, I won't be buying RB: Beatles. I'd be happy to grab Hey Jude and L.S.D., but I'm not particularly interested in the rest of their back catalog. Similar with AC/DC: I'd be likely to purchase 2-3 of the songs off the tracklist, but I've no particular interest in the rest.

Unfortunately, there isn't much information on DLC sales figures - has a try, but is both out of date and limited to gathering information from XBL scoreboards, which mean that there's a hard cut-off at 100,000 sales. There does appear to be an unsurprising correlation between "chart hit" and DLC sales, which follows the general iTunes model: when given a choice, people tend to cherry-pick the singles.

(also, the older the band is, the lower the overall sales appear to be. I'd prefer to get some harder numbers before pondering further on this, however)

At least on iTunes, people have a choice between buying the album or the songs, but the current business model for GH/RB for these band-specific releases is a lot more stark: you fork out $60 for everything, or you get nothing. Looking again at AC/DC (just 4% of the userbase), I'd say that most people are opting for "nothing". But I'll be more than happy to be pleasantly surprised :)

Adam Bishop
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I agree generally with what Juice is saying - it will be much more interesting to see how the various band bundles sell for future versions of these games now that there are three bundles on the market that contain the peripherals. I know that personally I have no intention of ever buying another music peripheral, and when these games cease to become backwards compatible, I will stop playing them. I know a number of people who have said that they're only interested in playing the Beatles game if the songs will be importable into RB1 or RB2, and I think if they try and push it and make it non-compatible they'll have trouble with sales. I really don't think the market for the RB Beatles game is so different from the market for the other RB games that they can afford to treat the customer base as seperate.

Tawna Evans
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They should make a Michael Jackson instrument peripheral game.