Monday, December 14, 2009

Green Day: Rock Band

From the official press release:
LOS ANGELES / NEW YORK – Dec. 12, 2009 – Multi-platinum selling and Grammy® Award winning group Green Day, along with Harmonix, the leading developer of music-based games, MTV Games, a part of Viacom’s MTV Networks (NYSE: VIA, VIA.B), and Warner Bros./Reprise Records today announced at the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards that they are collaborating on the standalone title Green Day: Rock Band™.

My first impression: WTF?

My second impression: WTF?

After thinking about it this weekend, I think I understand what MTV/Harmonix are trying to do here, so let's take a look.

First, a little history. Originally, expansion packs served as an additional serving of content for the primary game audience. The Aerosmith, Metallica, and Van Halen expansions were, for lack of a better term, the original "Guitar Hero" model. The AC/DC expansion for Rock Band follows the same model.

At some point, though, it was determined that the original market had suffocated (maybe when somebody noticed that there were fifty-foot high stacks of little plastic instruments sitting unsold in retail stores). Well, if the original market has been crushed, just find a new one, right?

That "find a new market" gave us Lego Rock Band (Harmonix), Band Hero (Activision), and DJ Hero (Activision) this fall.

In a sales sense, I think we can sum up those titles in three words: bomb, bomb, bomb.

DJ Hero was a spectacular, epic fail in a sales sense, because it was so heavily promoted, but at least it reviewed decently. Band Hero and Lego Rock Band failed both commercially and critically.

That's the problem with trying to open up a new market: sometimes it doesn't exist. Or rather, it exists, but not in the way (or the numbers) that you thought it did.

The Beatles: Rock Band was a different approach--a premium product based on a band that was both incredibly popular and absolutely unique. That's the perfect combination for a dedicated game, and The Beatles are still (incredibly, after forty years) regarded as the best rock band of all time. Harmonix was hoping that the universal appeal of The Beatles would both open up a new market (people who love The Beatles but had never tried a music game) and reinforce an existing one (all the people who already play music games).

Other bands who might both reinforce and expand the audience: Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones. Bands who do not fit into both categories: Green Day.

However, Green Day does represent an attempt to serve an underserved genre (punk, at least for their early albums), while not straying too far from the Rock Band formula. And since the songs are exportable into Rock Band, the possibility of people buying the game later at a reduced price as a glorified track pack should extend sales.

Will it work? In a commercial sense, there's no way to tell, because we have no idea of the licensing fees Harmonix is paying, so there's no way to calculate a break-even point.

In a musical sense, though, if there is nothing but Green Day songs in this game, then no, it won't work.

Please note that I'm not saying Green Day isn't a damn good band. They are, without question. It's just that there are lots of damn good bands out there that don't have their own version of Rock Band, and it's impossible to argue that Green Day is the best choice here.

However, and this is a big however, if Harmonix uses this as an opportunity to explore punk music as a genre, then I think it could have much more meaning in a musical sense. As a salute to punk, then yes, that could kick ass.

Harmonix has always been made up of the smartest guys (and girls) in the room, so I assume they're going the kick ass route.

I hope.

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