By Tim Hrycyshyn
The launch of Rock Band – developed by Harmonix Music Systems, published by MTV Games, and distributed by Electronic Arts (EA) – has been revolutionary to the gaming industry. Although similar games existed in the mid to late 90s, Rock Band opens up a new and uncontested market space by incorporating instrument controllers for each member of the band—guitarist, vocalist, bassist, and drummer. This augmented repertoire truly differentiates Rock Band from its main competitor, Guitar Hero.
MTV and its sister station, VH1, promoted Rock Band heavily in the months leading up to the game’s release. Rock Band was set up in the The Real World house, and it was featured on Total Request Live for a “battle of the bands” contest. Additionally, VH1 produced a brief spoof documentary in the style of Behind the Music titled “Rock Band Cometh: The Rock Band Band Story,” documenting a fictional band of gamers. In all, MTV invested an estimated $30 million in promotions for the video game.
Coming off the cusp of the Guitar Hero craze only a short while earlier, success for Rock Band was almost inevitable. But the launch exceeded all expectations with its bundle pack selling over 3.5 million units to date, and conquering the 2007 holiday season in the process. According to a January article of USA Today, Rock Band’s success is also raking in revenue for the music industry.
“Hopefully it helps evolve music to not just a linear art form but a more interactive art form,” says Van Toffler of MTV Networks. “You look at a lot of 20-year-olds who are reticent to plop down $20 for a CD, yet they don’t mind paying $25 for a DVD or $50 for a video game. We’re seeing the audience really embrace hearing new music for the first time or engaging with classic rock songs in a new way.”
Not only is Rock Band cleaning up in sales, the game play itself has been well-received by the critics. According to gamerankings.com, a Web site that tracks game reviews from other popular sites and combines them to present an average rating for each game, Rock Band has a 92% average rating based on 63 media outlet reviews. Its wild success resulted in a loyal fan base, and ultimately a spot on the MMNPL Survey.
What makes these games so popular? Will interest in these virtual music games spike interest in actual musical arts? Is this trend more beneficial for the music industry or the gaming industry?