Beatles help boost music game biz

MTV's Fab Four 'Rock Band' game tops genre in September

DENVER -- The music game genre experienced a much-needed lift in September on the backs of new releases "The Beatles: Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero 5."

MTV's Beatles game, released Sept. 9, won the battle with total unit sales of 595,000, according to the NPD Group, making it the third-best selling game of the month overall behind "Halo 3: ODST" and "Madden NFL 10." Activision's "Guitar Hero 5," released Sept. 1, ranked fourth overall for the month with 499,000 in sales.

Both totals are on par with that of first-month sales for the flagship music offerings from both companies last year. Activision's "Guitar Hero World Tour" had first-month sales of 534,000 units last year, while "Rock Band 2" sold just over 238,000 copies its first month.

From a revenue standpoint, the Beatles game raked in the second-best totals for the month, driven primarily by the fact that the average game sold for 130% more than other games. This was due to the many different versions of the game that sold with more expensive custom controllers, such as the $250 premium edition that included replica versions of the Fab Four's instruments. Neither NPD Group or MTV would release specific figures on bundle sales.

Combined, however, both "The Beatles: Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero 5" drove a 72% increase in revenues for the music game genre over September 2008. From both a revenue and unit sales standpoint, the results represent good news for a music industry with vested interest in the continued popularity of the music game genre.

Year-over-year revenues for the genre had fallen 46% this year through August, sparking speculation that the category was a passing fad. However that decline was likely more a function of fewer and cheaper music games hitting the market this year over last until last month's dual unveilings.

And more help is on the way. Activision will release the much anticipated expansion of the music game genre into hip-hop with DJ Hero on Oct. 27, as well as the teen-oriented Band Hero on Nov. 3.

On the heels of these sales figures, MTV released the first full-album downloadable content update for "The Beatles: Rock Band" in the form of Abbey Road. For $17, owners of the game can download the songs not already included in the shipped version as a sort of "complete my album" purchase, or buy a select few tracks from the album individually for $2. Those tracks include "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Oh! Darling," and "Because."

MTV said the first downloadable single made available for "The Beatles: Rock Band"--which was "All You Need is Love"--has been downloaded 100,000 times. All proceeds for the sale of that single via the game will go to the charity Doctors Without Borders.

Overall, MTV says it now has 900 songs available to download to the Rock Band franchise, with plans to reach 1,000 available songs by the end of the year. It says about 60 million songs have been downloaded in the lifetime of the franchise.

Meanwhile, Microsoft unveiled plans to add a special section to its Xbox Live Marketplace dedicated exclusively to the purchase of downloadable music for games like Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and other rhythm-based titles. Gamers will be able to sample the tracks from directly within the Xbox Live dashboard.