Stuart Dredge from Music Ally is liveblogging from the MIDEM branding summit, starting with the panel session covering music and videogames…
Music games are big business, albeit not quite as big business in 2009 as in 2008, according to US sales stats. Even so, there’s still huge interest in how artists, labels and publishers can work with the games industry on new revenue streams.
Daniel Glass from Glassnote Entertainment Group (left) chaired this morning’s branding summit. The videogames panel session included (left to right) Paul DeGooyer from MTV, Didier Lord from Ubisoft, and Tim Riley from Activision/Blizzard.
Glass kicked things off by talking about the change in the way music is licensed for games – four years ago, games firms had to go to the major labels to license tracks, before it evolved to being more about independent artists and labels. And now, he says, the major labels are barely mentioned in the discussion about where games publishers get their music.
Activision’s Riley talked first. “It’s shifted a little bit as far as… we used to go to the labels and explain what we were doing, and it would be us requesting music from them, rather than the labels pitching music to us. A lot’s changed.”
He says in the early days, games firms were dealing with the TV and film licensing departments of labels, who didn’t quite know how to treat games, but that nowadays even independent labels have dedicated staff to work with the games industry.
“We’re sitting in on meetings with [major label]marketing people and they put us as a priority,” he said. “But we don’t just deal with the majors – we do a lot of business with the indie labels as well.”
Ubisoft’s Lord said there are still challenges though. Ubisoft has relationships with the various labels and publishers, but the issue can be that it needs to work fast when developing a game, and the clearances from labels don’t always come as fast as they’d like.
He says the relationship isn’t just about clearances any more – increasingly, it’s as much about marketing and promotion too.
MTV’s DeGooyer pointed out that games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero have “really led to a viable download business” within the games market. MTV is also working increasingly with managers as well as labels – and it’s sold more than 60 million downloads through Rock Band. “We’ve just broken the 1,000 song [catalogue]threshold, and that’s in just two years,” he said.
“Once you have a hit with games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, the conversations become a lot easier on one hand, and on the other they can become a lot more difficult – you have labels and publishers wondering if you’re making money at their expense.”
That’s where the download business comes in, generating new revenue streams for the rightsholders. “These games could become a permanent piece of the puzzle for artists,” he said.
However, DeGooyer thinks the music/games crossover is at an inflection point now: the latest versions of Rock Band and Guitar Hero sold half what their predecessors did last year, he said. The revenue decline is partly because people already own the necessary hardware – the guitars, drumkits and mics. But he also warned that the music game genre needs to keep evolving and growing its audience – beyond the point where it’s just about “plastic guitars”.
Moderator Glass asked about the demographics of the people who play games. Riley said it all depends on the game, and who the target market is – with the ESRB ratings having an impact too on what music is chosen for a game.
Where is the genre going next? Riley talked about DJ Hero’s differences to Guitar Hero – the way it mashes up pairs of songs for interactive remixes (“not mash-ups!”). He said it’s allowed Activision to work in a genre of music that it hasn’t previously been very active in – hip-hop, R&B and dance music – but that “we do have to go to the artist and actually get something that’s personal to them – the master recording – and in a lot of cases they don’t exist”.
How so? Masters can be missing or labelled incorrectly in the label’s vaults, he says. Activision managed to get the Sex Pistols to re-record some tracks for a game, because the original masters weren’t available, for example.
Looking to the future, Lord wondered whether music games could become broadcast TV entertainment in the future – pointing to MTV’s core business as an example.
A question from the audience focused on personalisation – when people have Last.fm on their consoles and their music collection on their iPhones, what’s the potential for gaming? “We would love to see a world where you’re able to – in your premium bundle for the next Muse album – also receive that album on your console of choice, and be able to play that album,” said DeGooyer, who also thought that the increasing use of consoles for “lean-back” music consumption (e.g. Last.fm) has “tremendous potential” for innovative games in the future.
Meanwhile, DeGooyer also talked about MTV’s new Rock Band Network initiative, where artists and labels can create their own downloadable content for the Rock Band games – turning their tracks into Rock Band downloads and choosing the price that they’re sold at.
The panel was also asked about localisation – for example, more Arabic music for gamers in that part of the world. Riley said that the move towards in-game download stores is helping that – games firms can sign more local licensing deals to make tracks available in different markets.