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Rock Band beats iTunes to selling The Beatles online

  • Source: Mike Kovacich &
Mike Kovacich: Yesterday I commented on what my thoughts were on this new Beatle rendition of Rock Band coming later this year. The article below confirms some of the obvious.

Rock Band beats iTunes to selling The Beatles online

It may not be inextricably linked to every iPod in the world, but the Rock Band console game has beaten Apple to the punch in selling Beatles music online.

by Angus Kidman

CES 2009 — You might be able to purchase more than 500 tracks to play along with on the hit console game Rock Band, but the games' developers don't want to take on Apple's iTunes — at least not yet.

One of Rock Band's distinguishing features amongst the growing ranks of sing-and-play-along console games is that extra songs can be purchased online for use within the game.

"As of the Roy Orbison tracks this week, it's up to 530 songs," Alex Rigopulos, CEO and co-founder of the game's developer Harmonix, said during an appearance at the Billboard Digital Music Live Conference at CES 2009 in Las Vegas.

Collectively, Rock Band has been responsible for the sale of more than 30 million tracks. "Everything that we've put up to date sells; there haven't been any kind of stiffs, but some songs sell better than others," Rigopulos said. "When we have songs from huge classic supergroups like the Who, they are going to sell better than most, along with more recent big acts like Blink 182."

However, that doesn't mean more obscure performers can't also make money, he noted. "The distribution curve of songs across all of the catalogue isn't as steep as you might imagine — it's not the classic 80:20 rule. People have more of a tendency or a willingness to try something out that they've never heard before. They might not care enough about to buy it as recorded music, but there's enough added value in it as an interactive thing."

While Rock Band and Rock Band 2 have sold more than 7 million copies since 2007, and Harmonix' Guitar Hero was also a best-seller, Harmonix toiled for some time on similar music-based titles that didn't do so well, Rigopulos noted. "There was about a decade that pre-dated Guitar Hero of us trying different things before we finally got it right. We were trying to invent new ways to help people who weren't musicians play with music."

"The critical thing is that we're selling many thousands of new units of Rock Band every week. There's this constant injection of new consumers looking at the entire catalogue."

While Rock Band has done much better in selling music than typical game expansion packs, Rigopulos said that wasn't entirely surprising. "Music games are not like other games; these are games that are about the music, and the value in these games is the way they connect people to the music more deeply. In the same way that people have an infinite appetite for music, there's going to be that same sensibility that consumers apply to music games."

While Harmonix is constantly badgered by artists who want to feature in the game, Rigopulos said it will be a long time before gaming represents a competitor to existing digital music sales channels. "Passing the 500 song mark is a huge mark, and we're very proud of it but the flipside is that from a music perspective it's just the tiniest sliver of this entire universe of incredible music."

Rigopulos wants to expand the available range, but that poses technical challenges. "We need to start thinking about how to present that content. As soon as it becomes a list of thousands of songs, we will have to face the challenges of organising and presenting that material. That's a reality of where we're headed. With that said, I don't think were going to be iTunes tomorrow. The number of artists who want to have music on the platform far outweighs our capacity to license it," Rigopulos said.

Nor does Rigopulos want to create links that allow people to purchase copies of actual music featured in the game for playback on other devices. "For the foreseeable future, that's not something we want to get into," he said, though simplifying that process in partnership with an existing retailer was always a possibility, he added.

While many consumers are hanging out for Rock Band 3, Harmonix this year is largely focusing on an officially licensed Beatles play-along title. While Rock Band 2 followed Rock Band within 12 months, Rock Band 3 isn't even an official project yet.

"There's this universe of things you know you want to put into a game, so there's always this very painful filtering process of sequencing and filtering. Obviously additional instruments including keyboards are in the mix, but I would say we haven't made any definitive decisions as far as what is in the next incarnation of the game yet," Rigopulos said. "Most of our creative energy this year is focused on the Beatles project."

"We really think about the Beatles game and Rock Band 3 as pretty different initiatives. Rock Band is pretty content agnostic. There's a certain type of neutrality that's needed to accommodate that versatility with tracks. In the case of the Beatles game it's not about that at all The principals of the Beatles are involved with it; it's going to be a part of the Beatles' canon. It's an art object unto itself," Rigopulos said.

When that project is completed, Rigopulos already has some ideas on where he's like to go next. "With the Beatles having been signed, there's one significant act that hasn't been signed yet, and that's Led Zeppelin."

Last Updated: 01/08/09 13:37 See Related MACCA-News Articles:

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News Summary

It may not be inextricably linked to every iPod in the world, but the Rock Band console game has beaten Apple to the punch in selling Beatles music online.