In-the-works videogames cater to music fans

DENVER (Billboard) - With more than $1 billion in sales and 50 million tracks downloaded between them -- on a base of only about 350 songs -- the “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” videogame franchises emerged this year as serious moneymakers for the music industry. But are they bringing in enough per track?

British contestant George Boothby, 16, of Derbyshire practises "Guitar Hero 3" with technical director Lapo Matteoni (R) at the Gameland World Console Championships 2008 in Rome in this December 6, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

During a quarterly earnings call in August, Warner Music Group chairman/CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. said he wants more money from music games like Activision’s “Guitar Hero” or he’ll stop licensing music. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick fired back in an interview, suggesting that labels should pay his company for promoting their music.

Next year’s big-money showdown is between “Guitar Hero” and MTV Games and EA’s “Rock Band,” but there’s plenty of action on the undercard. Among the other titles competing for music industry support and gamers’ dollars are Nintendo’s “Wii Music,” Disney’s “Ultimate Band,” Acclaim’s “Rockfree” and XS Games’ “PopStar Guitar.”

The winner of this competition may be labels and artists, who will have opportunities to feature their music more prominently than they would be able to in the big two games. The Plain White T’s scored an exclusive spot on “Ultimate Band,” for example, while 3 Doors Down is a featured act on “PopStar Guitar.”


Amazon teamed up with the makers of the hit game “Grand Theft Auto IV” to let players tag any song on the soundtrack with a virtual mobile phone used by the game’s protagonist. Those who did received an e-mail with more information about the song and artist and accessed a custom playlist on Amazon where they could then purchase the track.

Almost 700,000 players tagged more than 2 million songs, according to “Grand Theft Auto IV” publisher Rockstar Games, although Amazon won’t divulge how many resulted in sales. But it’s the first time a console game has integrated digital music purchases, and it has given other developers plenty of ideas.


When Sierra Entertainment unveiled details of its “Brutal Legend,” online gamer forums went crazy with excitement. But the reaction among music executives was tepid at best -- perhaps because the game isn’t about music simulation but the story of a roadie sent back in time when heavy metal gods ruled the world.

Drawing heavily on Nordic mythology and metal imagery -- and featuring voice acting from the likes of actor/musician Jack Black, Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister and heavy metal singer-songwriter Ronnie James Dio -- the game has the names and the potential soundtrack to win big among hardcore gamers and metal fans alike. The game remains in limbo, though, as Sierra Entertainment parent company Vivendi Games and Activision complete their merger.


They’re not available on iTunes or any other digital music service. But the Fab Four made headlines when MTV announced that it would be making a videogame featuring the group’s music, history, images and characters.

Exactly what the game will look like or do is under wraps until its release in 2009. But it’s expected to be an interactive product similar to “Rock Band.” And the development will lay the groundwork for ways that iconic artists like the Beatles can work with games to introduce their music to new fans and let older ones experience it in a new way.