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MTV Exec: Music Game Decline 'Not As Steep As You Might Think'
MTV Exec: Music Game Decline 'Not As Steep As You Might Think'
January 25, 2010 | By Chris Remo

January 25, 2010 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC

Music game sales were down 46 percent at U.S. retail in 2009, but Paul DeGooyer of Rock Band publisher MTV Games says that, when considering multiple revenue streams and hardware trends, "itís not as steep a decline as you might think."

In an interview with paidContent, DeGooyer, who runs the Harmonix-developed franchise for MTV, did admit that "music games have cooled substantially" before explaining that even as retail sales drop, download sales to the now-substantial user base have continued to increase.

The Beatles: Rock Band is the latest game in the series to launch, and earlier this month it was confirmed to have sold 1.7 million units worldwide so far.

"The download side continues to grow for us," DeGooyer stressed, pointing to a total count of 60 million paid song downloads over two years.

An even less obvious mitigating factor is the change in consumers' need for new instrument hardware. As games across the Rock Band franchise and the competing Guitar Hero line have moved towards controller interoperability, and as the overall segment matures, players can increasingly rely on existing controllers to play new games.

And as analysts have observed in the past, the bulky and expensive peripherals tend to offer lower margins than disc-based software and digital downloads, meaning that, when they sell fewer controllers, publishers are likely increasing their average profit margin, even though the overall take is lower.

Of course, MTV Games doesn't want the music segment to stop growing, even if its current incarnation may have roughly found its target demographic's size. DeGooyer said there are plenty of potential customers out there who desire interactivity in music, but may want something less cumbersome.

"The challenge for us in the space fans overall would love to interact with music in this way but may not be able to get over the plastic instrument," he said. "The category needs to break out of that core constituency and go beyond that."

Speaking separately, Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos remains bullish on music gaming overall. He calls Harmonix's Rock Band Network, the user-generated content service that just went into wider beta, the studio's next "defining moment."

"2009 was a tough year with the recession, which especially affects music games given the relatively high price point of instrument bundles," he said to Edge.

"But in the long term, peopleís passion for music isnít going away, and rhythm gaming will continue to provide people with a deeper level of engagement with the music they love. So, yes, I do think that future music games will exceed the sales success of the last generation."

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Jamie Mann
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Interesting article, and I think he makes at least one good point: with the "hardware" side having reached saturation, the dollar value of the music-game market will have drastically dropped - one "band in a box" setup pretty much equals 4 software sales.

(also, at least in the UK: with the hardware having reached the discounting stage, it's noticable that a lot of the local game shops have started to shy away from stocking the big boxes...)

60m "paid" downloads is fairly impressive, though I'd be interested to know if that includes the 20 free tracks which were given away with RB2 - after all, they were technically paid for! Either way, with a total userbase of around 14 million (according to an Edge online article, there were 10 million RB games sold up to Feb 2009, so add the Beatles and round up), that's not too great: 4 songs per user?

In truth, I'm actually surprised that neither EA nor Activision have gone down the Singstar route, with cheaper, themed retail bundles (e.g. Rock Band Nineties, Rock Band Grunge, etc). I'd espect something like "20 songs for 20 dollars" to offer a higher revenue margin than individual DLC - people are likely to view the compilations as better value for money and the console owners aren't taking their DLC-hosting cut!

In any case, the key element for band-based games is the ability to have a single access point: one of the things I like about Rock Band 2 is that I've been able to add Rock Band 1 and Lego Rock Band to the built-in song list. Together with the DLC, that makes for around 300 tracks, all available from one interface!

Admittedly, the interface for songs is in need of a severe revamp, but it's still far nicer than having to keep swapping disks and re-building the band inbetween songs...

Adam Flutie
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@juice - I agree with what you said. Cheaper DLC, or better, DLC disc bundles seem to sell better to those just looking for a lot of songs. Personally I would like them to do 20-song DLC bundles, where you can pick any 20 you want for a boxed price. The problem is $2 a pop is too much still. Sure I have dabbled in it enough and spent the price of the game two fold, but I've come to the point I don't bother. They need to improve their main interface. Drop in drop out play, difficulty changes on the fly during the song. A better way to sort songs, favorite songs, and play songs in Jukebox mode (teamed with the drop in / out play)...

Instead it looks like they plan on pulling an Activision and releasing a bunch more band specific games instead of giving us a revamped RB3 hub where they all play from.

Robert Marney
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Rock Band does sell DLC disc bundles as "Track Packs", priced at $30 for 20 songs, but I haven't heard about any sales numbers for them.