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 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 is...music 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."