Driving music for vid games

Titles big on tunes fuel a record year in stateside software sales

Four major video game franchise titles with music tie-ins sparked a record year for U.S. video game and computer game software, representing more than 5% of the total 297.6 million units sold in 2008, according to the NPD Group.

Unit sales were up 11% from the prior year's record and represented $11.7 billion at retail, a 23% year-over-year increase.

Electronic Arts' "Madden NFL 09" sold nearly 5.3 million units, followed by Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto IV" with 5.22 million, Activision/Red Octane's "Guitar Hero World Tour" with 3.4 million and Harmonix/MTV/EA's "Rock Band 2" at 1.7 million.

In a rare success story on the economic front, U.S. retailers overall raked in $21.3 billion in sales of gaming hardware, software and accessories during the year (not including the PC market), up 19% from 2007.

"Madden NFL 09" launched Aug. 12 with a 26-song soundtrack for its 20th anniversary edition, with collaborations by Busta Rhymes featuring Linkin Park and Young Dre, the Truth featuring Good Charlotte and earlier Madden hitmakers Franz Ferdinand, Gym Class Heroes, All American Rejects, Shinedown, Senses Fail, Disturbed, the Offspring and Airbourne.

" 'Madden NFL' will always be recognized as the game that made the music matter in video games," said Steve Schnur, EA worldwide executive of music and marketing.

When Rockstar's "GTA IV" debuted in April on PS3 and Xbox 360, it featured a record 214 tracks on 16 stations playable from radios of cars in the game, with genres ranging from hip-hop and Latin to electronica and hard rock. A 16-track CD, "The Music of Grand Theft Auto IV," was included in the game's special editions, and all tracks were available as downloads on Amazon.com.

" 'GTA' more than any game helps people discover new music, become aware of old music and break bands and all that." said former DJ and label manager Ivan Pavlovich, one of two game soundtrack supervisors.

"Guitar Hero World Tour" was the first top-selling franchise title to feature playable drums and a microphone when it shipped in October for PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii, noted Activision head of publishing Dusty Welch. An avatar of Jimi Hendrix is showcased in the game, as is his "The Wind Cries Mary" and a live version of "Purple Haze." And Metallica's much-anticipated studio album "Death Magnetic" was available as downloadable content for "GHWT."

The "Rock Band 2" soundtrack featured more than 80 songs on the game disc plus an additional 20 bonus tracks available for free download when it shipped in September, with an exclusive Xbox 360 launch window, followed by PS3, PS2 and Wii versions.

Among exclusive tracks were AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock," Guns N' Roses' "Schackler's Revenge" from its Chinese Democracy album and Bob Dylan's first video game track, "Tangled Up in Blue."

Panic at the Disco and Dashboard Confessional were co-headliners on the 29-city "Rock Band Live Tour" that kicked off Oct. 5 in San Diego. "The timing dovetailed perfectly with the release of the game, and the events brought tons of interactive fun for families," said Paul DeGooyer, MTV senior vp electronic games and music.

Steve Traiman is a contributor at Billboard.
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