Beatles, Stones go gaming

2009-09-01 22:20

New York - With a little help from the Beatles, Super Mario and price cuts from Sony and Microsoft, the slumping video game industry is hoping for a sales resurrection this autumn.

The season gets a late-summer start on Tuesday, with the release of Guitar Hero 5, a game featuring music from the Rolling Stones, Nirvana and other popular bands. Then on September 9 comes the launch of The Beatles: Rock Band, which marks the rock icons' debut in a video game.

Plagued by the recession and a lacklustre game release schedule for much of this year, the video game industry - which is bigger than the music business by some estimates - has fallen into a slump. It has been the first once since the latest game consoles - the Xbox 360, the Wii and the PlayStation 3 - were launched in 2005 and 2006.

The music genre has suffered in particular, though that's partly because it's been so popular in the past couple of years that it needs exceptional sales just to stay even. According to the NPD Group, US retail sales in the music and dance game genre were nearly $390m less at the end of July than at the same time last year.

Music games invite you to play and sing along to real tunes, offering on-screen cues about when to finger guitar-like plastic controllers or hit touch-sensitive drums. When the game is played well, the songs sound pretty good.

'More popular than Jesus'

"You just get into it - it feels like you're in a real band. It's like you're really on stage," said Marquez Alexander, 14, who bought two sports games on Monday at a GameStop store in San Francisco. He said he plans to pester his mother to buy him the new Beatles game - even though he barely knows the band.

"I never heard of them until I was like seven. It's just another game, another challenge," he said.

While John Lennon may have once boasted the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, time will tell whether today's video game fans feel that way. The Rock Band game will cost $60, which is typical for a big release, but there also will be a $250 version that comes with "limited edition" instruments resembling the ones the Fab Four used.

Video game industry analysts are cautiously optimistic that 2009 will end on a higher note than it began, not just because of the music games but blockbusters like Nintendo's upcoming remake of the classic Super Mario Bros for the Wii and Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

It doesn't hurt that two of the three console makers announced hefty price cuts in recent days. Last Thursday, Microsoft said it is slashing the price of the high-end Xbox 360, the Elite, by $100 to $299. A few days earlier, Sony rolled back the price of the PlayStation 3 by $100. That just leaves Nintendo, whose Wii has cost $250 since its launch. Analysts expect the company to bring down the price of the Wii, though it might do that by keeping the base price level and including more free games with it. 

Big launches delayed

One hurdle for the industry: Several game publishers have delayed big launches meant for the holidays. BioShock 2 from Take-Two Interactive Software Inc, Splinter Cell: Conviction from Ubisoft and StarCraft II from Activision have been pushed out to 2010.

It could also turn out that the biggest profits from the latest Rock Band game flow to the Beatles - and not Electronic Arts, which is distributing the game, or Viacom the parent company of the game's creator, Harmonix Music Systems. Though it's not clear just how much money it cost Viacom to license 45 Beatles hits used in the game - along with the band members' likenesses - that "doesn't happen for a little bit of money", noted BroadPoint Amtech analyst Benjamin Schachter.

As popular as the Beatles are, in many ways Activision is taking fewer chances and appealing to a much broader audience with its upcoming music games than EA and Viacom are with Rock Band.

In addition to Guitar Hero 5, Activision is also launching DJ Hero and Band Hero, each targeted at distinct gaming audiences.

Following the success of "Guitar Hero," Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said the company realized there were still unsatisfied audiences _ fans of hip hop, dance music and more family friendly tunes. He expects good demand for the Beatles game, but, he added, "It's a single category, it's a certain type of music." 

With the latest Guitar Hero, Activision is appealing to fans of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp. With Band Hero, it aims to lure younger gamers who are fans of acts like Taylor Swift and Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine. With DJ Hero, Activision seeks listeners of 50 Cent, LL Cool J and the Gorillaz.

"They are doing a smart job of really addressing every user base out there," said Signal Hill analyst Todd Greenwald. As for the Beatles game, "it's a big risk," he said. "It could be huge, it could be very disappointing."

Henrique Santos, a 22-year-old student from Brazil, tried a demo of the Beatles game at GameStop on Monday and said it was challenging but probably will be a hit.

"They're definitely not my favourite band," he said after banging away for a few minutes on an electronic drum set that's part of the game. "But for a game, the Beatles are the best party band, because everybody likes them."

Read more on:    activision blizzard  |  sony  |  ubisoft  |  electronic arts  |  microsoft  |  nintendo  |  viacom  |  technology

linking and moving

2015-04-22 07:36


Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Autobraking: See just how good they are!

Just how good are automatic brakes on cars these days? Two VW models have been praised by top UK research centre Thatcham. Find out why...


Stay safe

Pro's and con's of accredited driver-training
Juvenile pillion riders? Play safe...
Need a family ride? SA's top Mommy Cars
Mom's driving-school dream come true
Traffic Alerts

It may be hard to be light and jovial at the moment as the list of obligations and jobs are growing and your energy levels more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.