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The games begin to drag me down

posted on October 30th, 2008 by golden jew

Apple Corps (Not to be confused with Pretentious Hipster Apple Computers) and MTV, announced today they are teaming up to create an all new music game featuring the Beatles. The Beatles have long been viewed as a gold standard of music, both because their music is awesome, and because their licensing situation is complicated, therefore making awesome music more desirable due to lack of availability.

Unfortunately, by creating a whole new game to accommodate a single band, the announcement has a sellout tinge to me. The whole point of building a phenomenally successful platform like Rock Band is to bring content to it and sell the hell out of it, while leveraging the core platform, guaranteeing huge margins – a model that has worked phenomenally well for Harmonix to date.

But when it comes to a band like the Beatles, selling even 20 million tracks at $2 per is far outshadowed by selling 2 million games at $60 per, especially after licensing fees. My guess is the only way Harmonix could get in on the deal was to accept that they’d be building a new platform to guarantee Apple Corps more money.

This is an economically sound decision, don’t get me wrong. However, whatever “new game” they make will inevitably leverage the hell out of the RB2 engine, making the “new game” concept a joke. I can’t help but notice that Harmonix is starting to trend into becoming a big huge company more interested in commercializing everything they can at the expense of their vision — similar to Activision (which is working on 378 Guitar Hero games over the next three years).

Keep in mind that this is the second deal Harmonix has made like this. I gave them a pass on AC/DC because you can export the tracks and they are clearly using the RB2 engine. This is how it starts: a company makes an exception to their business model for the “right deal,” makes a killing, and then starts compromising on the next deal, and the one after that, and before long they’re on to Dynasty Warriors XXV: PF Changs Delivery Challenge.

All I can hope is that RB2 secured the rights to release Beatles DLC after a period of exclusivity with the “new” game. That would make sense, allow me to give them a grudging pass for selling out, and accept this move as a necessary evil for bringing one of the greatest bands ever (and to be honest, I actually don’t like the Beatles, but I understand that you plebes do) into music game content. But if this ends up being the beginning of the end of Harmonix as a scrappy innovator and the start of sell-out studios, it’ll be a shame.

3 Comments

  1. christian said on October 30, 2008:

    We are going to trade roles here, wherein I defend HMX and say things should work out.

    Two points:

    1) I’m not sure how much of this discussion should include the word “Harmonix”, as opposed to “MTV”. It seems to me that this was a case where HMX would be willing to make a game, but MTV execs would be needed to strike the deal, and HMX would have to work with whatever they got.

    2)The three hardest bands to work with when it comes to games are AC/DC, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin. Only one of those is left now. AC/DC has the second best selling album of all time, and The Beatles are the most successful band ever. They made special exceptions for two exceptional bands.

    Not only that, but this deal is the first time The Beatles have released any of their catalog digitally. Before any online music store gets a shot, video games are getting the Fab Four. That is tremendous. The details also indicate a pretty big project. AC/DC is just a standalone game with Rock Band’s engine and the band’s tracks. This thing looks to be an entire tour of The Beatles history, and will surely be made to Pauly Mac’s exacting and bloody standards. I get the feeling it is going to be much more special than AC/DC or GH:Aerosmith.

    I have a feeling that getting the rights to the songs in RB2 may not happen, depending on whether the band is cool with it. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. But holy hell, this was a great piece of news.

  2. jay said on October 30, 2008:

    I hope Christian’s right but will not be at all surprised when the U2 music game is announced.

  3. chris said on November 2, 2008:

    I would probably buy Dynasty Warriors XXV: PF Chang’s Delivery Challenge.

    That said, I really do hope that this does not become a slippery slope. Branding in video games has been done before, but I’ve seen a good deal of it in both Rock Band and Guitar Hero. It may only be a matter of time before execs from various companies start asking their marketing departments why they aren’t getting in on that “free money”.

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