The Battle Over Guitar Hero

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Nobody's Leaving the Stage

Oh, sure, artists being considered for future games will doubtless set stricter parameters around how their likenesses will be used. But boycott music games, or even just Activision games, altogether? I repeat: not gonna happen.

Here's why: Appearances in music games are good for musicians. I mean, really good. A recent article in Variety claimed that having a single song in a music game can increase that song's sales elsewhere by an average of 300 percent; the article also claimed that sales of Aerosmith's entire catalog went up by 40 percent following the release of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith.

The New York Times reported similarly positive numbers, pointing out that after The Who released 12 tracks for download in Rock Band, sales of t

hose tracks nearly tripled elsewhere. And apparently, after showing up in Guitar Hero III, Weezer's "My Name Is Jonas" saw sales jump 1000 percent.

Activision's own Guitar Hero CEO Dan Rosensweig (who recently parted ways with the company) had said that the 81 artists featured in World Tour saw catalog sales increase by an average of 50 percent. Those are sales of the bands' entire catalogs, not just the songs in the game. A musician friend of mine has said the "halo effect" from music-game appearances is something like what happens when a band releases a greatest-hits compilation: People buy the anthology, hear a few songs they particularly like, and then buy the original album those songs are from.

The bottom line: Appearing in a music game translates to big bucks across the board, from album sales to merchandise to concert tickets. And that's in addition to whatever licensing fees the bands may get for the use of their song in the first place.

So, no, bands aren't likely to start backing away from music games anytime soon. More and more artists are beginning to realize that these games are a legitimate and powerful music-delivery system, one that forges attachments between the player and the artists that are far stronger than what comes from more passive media.

Now, will the bands take a bit of a closer look at their contracts in the future? You bet your sweet ass they will. But in the end, they'll sign. They know they'd be foolish not to.

This editorial first appeared in the March 2010 issue of GamePro.

Joe Rybicki is a freelance writer who's spent the last 13 years covering the video game industry. He currently runs Plastic Axe, a blog about music games. Follow him on Twitter here.

This story, "The Battle Over Guitar Hero" was originally published by GamePro.

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