E3: Beatles Rock Band Details Out, and GH5 Band List too

DJ Heroes, country tracks, sequels and spinoffs, the fall and winter of 2009 are sure to be a busy season for music-based video games (not to mention a big test of the genre’s staying power in the face of significant brand dilution).  On September 1st, there’s Rock Band 5 (see Artist list below), then there’s DJ Hero, Scratch: The Ultimate DJ, Lego Rock Band and more.  There’s something for different ages, and for fans of different genres, for everyone, maybe.  But far and away, on many lists at least, the most anticipated curiosity to grab the limelight and grace the marquee will be the Beatles: Rock Band.

First announced in November, the game was (in a way) years in the making, decades even, if you truly count the permission challenges necessary to get the Beatles song catalog authorized and approved for digital remastering and release. iTunes didn’t get it nor did Amazon Mp3. The first Beatles tracks to legally cross the digital divide will be in a game that EA, MTV Games and Harmonix managed to tie up.

Little by little details have been trickling out.  The producer’s behind it. Teasers about the concept. Images of instruments and a release date. Today, just before the official kick off of the gaming industries monster trade show, E3, Microsoft pumped up the buzz with the biggest data dump yet.

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April NPD Data Out: Gaming’s Monthly Report Card

You can chalk up April as a poor month in game sales (sort of).  Matching up to prior predictions, NPD reports the US video game industry returned a second month of double digit sales decline in year over year comparisons.  Revenues fell off 17% year over year.  The year over year growth rates don’t quite tell the whole story, however.

As was partly the case in March too, without the breakout success of hits issued during the same period last year (Mario Kart and Grand Theft Auto IV), the growth numbers were doomed to be weaker. 

Explains NPD’s Anita Frazier, “while April sales might appear soft on the surface, it’s important to remember that April is being compared against a month (2008) that realized nearly 50% growth over April 2007.  This year’s performance still represents the second best performance for the industry in the month of April.”   This year beat out the previously second best April, April 2007, by 26% percent.

Setting aside the year over year growth rate, overall, the month’s performance was reasonably sound.   NPD tabulated total sales of $1.03b.

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Pearl Jam to Get Video Game

pearl jam rock band. metueLast week, Activision Blizzard confirmed several rumors about its planned slate of music-based video games including verification that the next single-band installation of Guitar Hero would revolve around the 80’s superstar rockers, Van Halen. (The band had more Billboard Hot 100 hits than any other rock band in the decade).  Not to be outdone, today rival MTV Games, maker of Rock Band, countered back with news that they’re working on a game built around a band that helped to define the 90’s music scene: Pearl Jam.

Details about the game are scarce.  At this point its even a guess whether the Pearl Jam title will be a full fledged game, or simply a “track pack expansion” for the Rock Band series. All that’s been revealed is the game is scheduled for sometime in 2010.   That, and that fans will have some input on the game’s development. Through a promotion with Rhapsody, the band is asking fans to vote on songs for inclusion at their website.  More details on Rock Band: Pearl Jam are expected to come out at E3, the gaming industry’s big trade show, next month.

Whatever the game turns out to be, one thing to watch: how the marketplace responds to the new titles.  Click to Read More

Activision Details Upcoming Guitar Hero Editions

Guitar Hero Van Halen Metue RenderGuitar Hero has been a goldmine for Activision Blizzard.  The popular music game franchise has generated more than $2b in sales and pushed out 34 million song downloads.   Looking to build on the brand’s strength while expanding the franchise’s demographic reach, the company has confirmed a number of details about future installments.

First, three titles will debut this fall.  Guitar Hero 5 will expand on the prior offerings with a classic rock base and music choices aimed at the game’s core audience. 

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Activision Sued Over DJ Hero (UPDATED)

DJ hero lawsuitActivision Blizzard walked out of court victorious in early March after quashing an ill founded patent lawsuit that challenged its flagship Guitar Hero franchise. Now, barely a month later, the Santa Monica based game publisher is walking back in again to face yet another suit regarding its lucrative series.  This time it’s DJ Hero, a hotly anticipated, in-development Guitar Hero spin off, in the line of fire.

The suit, filed April 14th by Scratch DJ LLC (“S.DJ”), a joint venture owned by Genius Products and DJ equipment maker Numark, alleges Activision illegally interfered with the development of S.DJ’s competing game, and did it intentionally, violating several tort laws along the way,  in order to make sure DJ Hero has the advantage of being the first to market. 

S.DJ’s game, Scratch: The Ultimate DJ, has been in development since at least early 2008.  Artists ranging from the Gorillaz to Run DMC to  the Black Eyed Peas have been linked to it and the buzz factor is pretty high.   

The game was tentatively expected to be released for the Xbox 360 and PS3 in September.

That date may now be in doubt, however, and according to S.DJ, that’s because of Activision’s actions. 

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Staffing Report: Changes at EMI and Red Octane

When Guy Hands stepped out of the CEO role and become Chief Investment Officer at Terra Firma last week, the private equity firm characterized the move as an operational decision that would allow Hands to get more involved with existing portfolio companies and new investments.   He’s apparently not wasting any time. 

It was revealed today, Douglas Merrill will step down from his roles overseeing the digital business at the Terra Firma owned record label, EMI.

According to an internal EMI memo snagged by All Things D, the former Google Chief Information Officer’s departure was a consequence of reorganization.

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