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Battle of the Bands

posted on October 22nd, 2008 by christian

There is no question that music/rhythm games have become huge sellers across all demographics. In fact, they may just be as popular as Madden and company. With that success comes a small problem: retailers are stuffed to the gills with music games. Their boxes are often big and clunky, and there simply isn’t enough shelf and floor space for all of them.

As MTV blogger Patrick Klepek sharply points out, this issue may affect the games themselves. Walmart and other big retailers are very powerful in this industry. If they choose not to sell a niche game, no one is crying, but if you are trying to make something that could appeal to the entire market, you need to be everywhere. If Wallyworld and others decide to put a strict limit on their music games, then up and coming developers may find their chances squandered as they are denied shelf space. The MTV blog indicates that in a meeting with Walmart execs, XS games personnel were given the thumbs up for making the controller to their new Popstar Guitar game a Wiimote shell. Had they gone for something bigger, that meeting might have gone on quite differently.

This development is quite intriguing. Peripheral based games are old hat, but they have always occupied a nice space, so that retailers could get away with having one or two copies in stock at all times. In the case of DDR, Konami does very little to provide dance pads, since they have embraced the fact that the community is too large to accommodate every level of player. DDR fans find the pad that works right for them, and the community is old and dedicated enough to be quite pleased with this arrangement.

After Guitar Hero, the music game genre has broken all of these rules. The market for these games is now far from niche, so they cannot rely on a small, well networked community. Few music games come out without an instrument bundle, so that new players always have an easy point of entry into the genre. Just as big as the fanbase are the game boxes. Carrying a few DDR bundles means a few feet of space on the bottom of a Best Buy game shelf. Rock Band bundles are the size of a copy of Steel Battalion, and are stacked up like a massive pyramid somewhere on the store floor.

For the last few iterations, the bundles have made sense. GH1 demanded it, GH2 benefited from 2 player, and 3 introduced a good wireless product. Rock Band 1 and GH World Tour needed the bundles to start people off. From here on out something will have to give. The big players now ship games with multiple peripherals, while all the smaller guys want to fill the rest of the space fighting amongst each other with simpler games. Throw in space for single instruments and it seems hopeless. It will be an interesting challenge for both retail and the gaming industry to overcome. More controller shells will help, but only so much (after all, technically the GH3 controller is a Wii shell of sorts). Cross compatibility between games is also important, but this doesn’t stop publishers from still pushing out their own product. Limiting the quantity of bundles shipped to each store is unfortunately one of the most surefire decisions. I have seen countless stores with far more copies of Rock Band than they need. These games need to start being treated like big ticket items, where limited quantities may require a special order. I know it is a pain for the purposes of entertainment, but please send your complaints to the people who thought your guitar game experience can include a guitar, bass, drums, mic, Stage Kit, and Amplifier (cocaine mirror coming soon).


  1. Golden Jew said on October 22, 2008:

    Is it possible for them to accommodate the sizing issues by keeping display copies on the floor, and storing the equipment in the back? I always assume there’s a more extensive warehousing capacity, especially at a place like Best Buy where they sell refrigerators.

    Still, it’s an interesting post, because this is probably the first example of a big peripheral game gaining so much traction. If the game is good and broad enough, people will in fact shell out $200. Poor steel battalion.

  2. christian said on October 22, 2008:

    Retail storage would vary. I imagine that a place like Best Buy would have a lot of room. I know when I worked at Walmart, they have big cages that contain new products, expensive products that are taken out per customer, and games that have not yet met street date. These cages could not fit big bundle boxes. The solution then is to put them on the bigger shelves of the warehouse. With this solution, I wonder if they would want to give up the space that could store two or three flat panel TVs for six World Tour boxes. Its a question I cant’ well answer.

    I’ve actually seen Steel Battalion in a local game store. Impressive box.

  3. TrueTallus said on October 23, 2008:

    I’d also have thought putting a few boxes up front and stuffing the rest in the warehouse would be a way to solve the problem, Christian. I know ToyR’Us uses that solution already for normal games, and while it’s a bit irritating having to bring a little ticket to the storeroom, I don’t grumble too much becuase it allows the store to keep around a larger number of less known games longer.

  4. bruce said on October 27, 2008:

    Just taking a ticket to the counter to get the big box full of plastic fun from the back would require a bit more customer service than WalMart really cares to pay for. But it’s the most sensible solution. I mean, they’ve already got all the other expensive stuff in the electronics department locked up anyway (media players, GPS, etc.).

    Part of me thinks there should be standards(!) for music game peripherals, a common framework that scads of different games could employ. If those guys played nice at all, someone would be licensing the best controller tech and we consumers would get to choose the brand of controller we bought based on the quality of construction instead of just the game we want to play. The downside would be less innovation in the controllers as the tech would dictate gameplay instead of the other way around. But really, haven’t the guitar peripherals settled on five buttons and a whammy bar for some time now? At any rate, why can’t music game controllers fall into the same rut regular game controllers have been in for years?

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