The long-buzzed-about Beatles video game, from the creators of the Rock Band franchise, made news this past week with some pricing details and an official release date. The Beatles: Rock Band, coming September 9, 2009, will be available as a $59 stand-alone game, a $99 bundle with a guitar, and a $249 bundle which also includes a drum kit.
While this is about as big a coup as a video game publisher could hope for, and we'll be the first in line to jam along with "Hey Bulldog" (which will hopefully be included), there's still reason to be concerned that as long-time holdouts to any form of digital distribution, the Beatles are showing up too late to make a real splash.
The most important factor is that consumers may have already reached a saturation point in terms of music rhythm games. We're on the fourth generation of guitar-bundled music games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and the second generation of the full drum/guitar/microphone versions. Even though both franchises continue to be popular, they're not selling as quickly as they used to--after all, once you have one set of plastic drums and guitars--do you really need another?
Viacom recently saw, "lower sales of Rock Band than we originally hoped," and Activision says sales of Guitar Hero games are down 22 percent year-over-year. When we visited a local Circuit City to check out its liquidation sale, one of the most striking images was the stacks and stacks of discounted, but unsold, music games.
Also worth considering is that the Beatles (and their heirs and business partners) have largely sat out the most recent trends in music distribution, ignoring digital download opportunities such as iTunes and the Amazon MP3 store.
While surely gaining new young fans every day, this is still a band that broke up in 1970. Other longtime MP3 holdouts include Metallica (now available on iTunes) and AC/DC, but both those bands have continued to tour and release new material--and both have already climbed on the guitar game bandwagon. By keeping the music in the walled garden of physical CD sales for so long, there may be an entire generation of digital natives (a key video game demographic) that have missed out that particular Magical Mystery Tour.