(Image from Flickr user Dunechaser)
Das Intarwebs rumbled this morning with rumors that Activision and Viacom, current custodians of the Boston-born Guitar Hero franchise (from Cambridge’s Harmonix in partnership with CA’s Red Octane) and Rock Band (a Harmonix production) are in talks with none other than the Beatles.
Let me repeat that. The Beatles, the band that would not even enter the digital world deep enough to be on iTunes, are now considering their first digital music entry in the form of a video game.
Digital Media Wire and Wired’s Listening Post have the scoop. The players at the table are titans: representatives from the single most valuable catalog of music (Apple Corps), one of the largest record labels (EMI, which holds rights in many of the masters), a media conglomerate of the highest caliber (Viacom), and one of the largest video game companies (Activision). Millions of dollars will exchange hands. On a personal level, this excites me greatly as a consumer. I have been born and raised a Beatles fan. I recently played the self-titled album backwards on vinyl, just for kicks. When I put “Dear Prudence” or “Something” on a mix tape it means I really, really like you. I can’t wait to shred against my roommates on “Helter Skelter” or “Day Tripper.” I hope it happens, and soon.
On a professional level, and in the eyes of an artist, it’s hard to find an area more exciting and lucrative than video game placement. It’s hard to trace back where that movement began; I for one give much credit to the Tony Hawk series for starting the licensing trend, and of course Grand Theft Auto for making video game licensing such a big deal. Much of the talk at these tables is going to be about money. For an artist like the Beatles, now done making music and certainly not hurting for popularity, that will be the start and finish of the conversation.
However, there’s tremendous influence one could leverage by looking at relative prominence in a video game. The game’s story arc wields so much influence on the perception of the player. Just to have a song in Guitar Hero means you’re cool, and how fortuante was the Boston scene to have the first game set entirely in our town. Bands like Freezepop and Bang Camaro can take much of their success from the fact that they were featured early. Dragonforce has seen loads of success from being featured not only on the story arc of the game, but as the coveted last song.
Were I in charge of a young band that had some serious chops, I’d much rather take a $5000 license for a song that would be in the main story arc (or better still, in that last cluster of songs), than a $10000 license for a “bonus song” placement. The effect of prominence has been proven a number of times at this point.
Some criticize Gutiar Hero for overly commercializing an industry already so wrought with overcomercialization, or take umbrage with the rock star status some kids are getting from being really good at the video game overcompensating the true skills of musicians. To some extent, I do acknowledge that it’s a peculiar world where the Beatles enter the digital music age (finally!) through a video game. But artists should be proud, not angry, that the thrill of rock music has warranted video game idolization. Most significantly, it’s participatory, and it doesn’t judge. It’s going to encourage kids to crossover to the real world and pick up an axe like I did when I was a young teenager. It’s fandom, and that’s healthy for us. We should be proud.