The Fab Four did not set the video game world on fire with the launch of The Beatles Rock Band. The game was one of the most overhyped in game history, with a buildup that was similar to last year’s Spore, which sold millions of units but was still a disappointment.
The Beatles Rock Band sold just 595,000 units across the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii, according to market researcher NPD Group. That made it the top music game, beating out Guitar Hero 5, which sold 499,000 units. But it ranked fourth place in the month of September and was far behind a bonafide hit, Halo 3: ODST, which sold 1.5 million copies on just one game platform.
Given the huge amount of PR and advertising the Beatles game got from Electronic Arts, MTV Games and Harmonix, the result is a disappointment. Back in September, Seth Schiesel, game critic for the New York Times, wrote, “By reinterpreting an essential symbol of one generation in the medium and technology of another, The Beatles: Rock Band provides a transformative entertainment experience. In that sense it may be the most important video game yet made.”
It’s a reminder that video games is a hit or miss business. There are no guaranteed hits. It’s just too bad that this game set the whole industry up for the expectation that September would be a blow-out month, with sales as much as 20 percent above year ago numbers. Instead, software sales were up only 5 percent.
It’s also a reminder that this is a business of expectations. The Beatles Rock Band had a better debut month than Rock Band in 2007 and Rock Band 2 in 2008, but analysts had anticipated much more out of this game. If the companies poured too much money into marketing and advertising, based on those expectations, it’s easy to see how the profit margins on a game with this level of sales can evaporate.
“I am flabbergasted by how low they were, given the hyperbole spewed out by the respective companies’ PR machines,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan. I had $210 million combined in my model ($120 million for BRB and $90 million for GH5), and they did less than half that. ”
Pachter thinks in retrospect that the music genre is hitting a saturation point and these games are now only tempting to new console purchasers. The Los Angeles Times reports that Viacom, owner of MTV Games and Harmonix, guaranteed at least $10 million to the rights holders of the Beatles music.
Jesse Divnich, an analyst at EEDAR, said sales of the music game were respectable, though he had a Beatles Rock Band estimate of a million games sold. He said that Viacom outspent Activision Blizzard, giving the Beatles game an edge over Guitar Hero 5. But he suspects Activision Blizzard was saving its ad budgets for its other music games, DJ Hero and Band Hero.
The sales cycle for the Beatles game isn’t over yet. And the game could also benefit from paid downloads of Beatles songs, which can be added to the game via digital downloads. MTV said All You Need is Love was downloaded more than 100,000 times for the Beatles Rock Band game. The game comes with 45 Beatles songs. The 3-D graphics feature animations of the Beatles in some of their most famous venues. In the game, you can pretend to be John, Paul, Ringo or George, playing instruments and singing songs while trying to match the beat of the music.