In the past, if a video game wasn’t selling well, there wasn’t much a publisher could do about it except slash the price. But in the age of web-connected game consoles, companies can try to juice sales by launching new downloadable content.
A case in point: Amid slowing sales of The Beatles Rock Band, the game’s publishers — Apple Corps, MTV Games and Harmonix — revealed today the availability of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album songs via download starting on December 15. Those songs can be played in the Beatles Rock Band game.
The full album, available for download via the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, will sell for $13.49 (or 1440 points in Microsoft’s MS virtual currency), while individual songs cost $1.99 (160 MS points).
Harmonix is also trying something new. In January, it will launch the Rock Band Network, currently in beta form, which gives musicians the power to create, upload, and sell songs.
During Wednesday night’s charity event Umloud! (an event where journalists and Rock Band fans play Rock Band on a big stage) in San Francisco, John Drake, program manager for Rock Band Network, said that Harmonic and MTV are “very happy” with overall sales and downloadable content (DLC) sales thus far, which he called “fairly impressive.” (But sales are nowhere near what was anticipated early on). Drake added he believes Rubber Soul, the third Beatles downloadable album — following Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — will be an interesting experiment.
“It’s not as marquee an album as Abbey Road or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in terms of their innate value, but it’s a really subtle album, so people who want that deep experience of playing through The Beatles’ whole career are going to really bond with the songs we have there.”
For the second straight month, The Beatles Rock Band missed the NPD’s top 10 list. And Harmonix itself laid off 39 people. Market researcher NPD Group reported yesterday that November’s top 10 best-selling games was dominated by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Assassin’s Creed II, Left 4 Dead 2, and Wii Sports Resort. Analysts such as Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan said that the overall music game category was disappointing this season.
The Rock Band Network is Harmonix’s newest experiment, and potential new revenue stream, in the over-saturated music rhythm genre. It offers bands the ability to create, upload, and sell their songs not already published elsewhere. Using a version of Microsoft’s indie game toolset, musicians can sell their songs, playable on Rock Band 2, for $1, $2, or $3 (80, 160, 240 MS points, respectively) in dozens of sub-genres on the network. New bands are required to purchase an XNA membership (Microsoft’s game tools) and an Xbox Live gold account ($49/four months, $99/year), a copy of Rock Band 2, and the $60 license for Reaper software to get started.
Artists make $.30 for every dollar on the network, with the remainder going to MTV and Harmonix as the “publishers.” To get a song approved, songs pass through two processes, Play Test, where creators receive feedback on their songs, which auto-generates a forum thread, and Peer Review, where people flag things additional issues before “publishing” them.
Harmonix already has 340-plus bands available via download, and “Rock Band Network could outpace Rock Band DLC if people really buy into it,” said Drake. “We have shown both anecdotally and with concrete proof that bands being in games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero sell more. So it’s not only direct revenue from the game that they’ll make, but halo revenue from getting really dedicated fans to follow your band.”
Confirmed indie bands to sell songs on the Rock Band Network include Evanescence (“Going Under”), All that Remains (“Days Without,” “Forever in Your Hands,” and “Undone”), Flight of the Concords (“Business Time,” “Demon Woman,” and “Most Beautiful Girl in the Room”), Ministry (“Let’s Go,” “Life is Good,” and “Watch Yourself”), and a handful of others. Drake’s own band is putting 17 songs on the network to start with.
When asked whether it would like to make another major label band such as Led Zeppelin, Drake said he expects Harmonix and MTV to make a major game announcement in the next couple of months. “Getting The Beatles was a huge coup and win for us. It really shows who the leader is in the music realm and who treats its artists right. I think we would be overjoyed at the prospect of working with Led Zeppelin. We’re all fans of the music.”