Music’s always been about more than just listening. People dance, sing along, and, lately, play along too, through video games such as Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band. As CD sales decline and the music industry struggles to find new ways to make money, some companies are betting that games could be a key to getting consumers to open their wallets for music.
Music-oriented computer games now enjoy huge popularity–the Rock Band franchise made more money in 2008 than any other game, according to NPD Group, a games industry analyst firm. Sales of Rock Band have also turned into music sales. As of this March, users paid for and downloaded more than 40 million songs to use with Rock Band. Bands featured in the game have enjoyed increased sales, for example, Weezer, whose 1994 debut album features songs packaged with the game.
A number of companies are creating games that incorporate music into play, betting that Rock Band and Guitar Hero aren’t isolated phenomena. They believe that all sorts of games–including titles created for use on cell phones and the Web–can offer listeners a new way to discover music, become more involved as fans, and, ultimately, encourage them to pay for tracks. “It’s a much broader market than people are currently giving it credit for,” says Nabeel Hyatt, CEO and founder of Conduit Labs, which maintains a social network built around playing music-related games online, called Loudcrowd.
Hyatt says that games can more easily tap into the social aspect of listening to music, which has always drawn people out to concerts or clubs. Some avid fans already organize Rock Band parties, where they get together to play the video game. Hyatt envisions players getting together online, listening to music and playing along together. Loudcrowd simulates a club scene, allowing users to dance, hang out, and listen to a mix provided by an in-house DJ. Users can win music tracks and other virtual goods and, if they like what they hear, they can buy it with a few clicks.
A simple way of purchasing tracks is at the core of how the companies creating this new wave of music games hope to make money. Tap Tap Revenge, a game for the iPhone in which users tap or shake the device in time to a song’s beat, has prompted thousands of users to visit iTunes via the game to buy tracks, according to Bart Decrem, CEO of Tapulous, the company behind the title. Though it started out using music from independent bands, Tapulous has also created paid games featuring bands such as Weezer and Nine Inch Nails.