Did The Record Labels Kill The Golden Goose In Music Video Games?

from the of-course-they-did... dept

For the last decade or so, every year the major record labels seem to bet on some single “magic bullet” to fix all that ails them. They go through phases. There was their own crappy DRM’d and locked-down music stores. There were ringtones. And… there were music video games like Guitar Hero and Rockband. And, of course, as soon as those games actually started helping the recording industry, the industry decided to suck them dry. Edgar Bronfman kicked it off by declaring angrily that those games had to pay much more to license the music — even though the music in those games tended to lead to much greater sales of albums for those artists.

And now it looks like the labels may have succeeded in bleeding those types of games dry. With Activision announcing that it was dumping Guitar Hero, one of the major reasons given is the high cost of licensing music. Yup, the labels priced things so high that they made it impractical to actually offer any more. Yet another case of the labels overvaluing their own content. Now, it’s also true that these games haven’t evolved that much, and people haven’t seen the point of buying new versions, but part of that lack of evolving is because so much of the budget had to go towards overpaying for music, rather than innovating.

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Companies: activision

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Comments on “Did The Record Labels Kill The Golden Goose In Music Video Games?”

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Hephaestus (profile) says:

Great joy !!!

I always hated Guitar Hero its no real loss to see it go. But I would like to say …

Take Gun, Shoot Foot.

This seems to be the pattern for all content companies. Overvalue the content, then keep pushing for a greater piece of the pie. We see it here, we see it with all the record label and website deals that caused bankruptcy, we see it with the TV networks charging ever higher rebroadcast fees.

Great Joy!!! I might have to downgrade the lot of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s not how much they made, it’s about the profitability of product they are making.

In this case, the “bang for the buck” factor for Guitar Hero was greatly reduced due to the genre dieing off AND the higher cost of music licensing now.

I have friends that were working on Arcade products based on American Idol and other music-related arcade games and they were scrapped because the music was such a PAIN IN THE ASS to license. Detailed book keeping needed to be done, did the person make a video? Did they burn it to DVD? How many times did a song play each day? How much did the operator charge? The Music industry wanted to know *everything* about how the music was consumed.

This was even after test units were made, deployed into test markets and were producing great returns, but ultimately, it was all dumped because it was easier to go make race car games instead of dealing with the hassle of music licensing.

Allan R. Wallace (profile) says:

Re: choice

There’s nothing wrong with having choice. The cream, and occasionally the shit, will still rise to the top.

Enough vampire books for you? How ’bouts garage bands? Maybe there are to many inventors and entrepreneurs working in garages?

If you are unable to discern excellent from mediocre, read a forum filled with people who can. Don’t limit my choice because you can’t make a decision.

Which Kazoo band is your favorite?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: choice

I’m with you, choice is key. But let’s be honest, the Guitar Hero franchise got exceptionally stale and that’s a big reason people stopped buying it. I think that people are interested in the game overall, but one poor release after another really stunted sales.

Look at the latest from both sides, GH released a version with some kind of poorly thought out “return to our roots” scheme and a crappy looking guitar that looked like an axe. Meanwhile, RockBand adding a keyboard and pro mode which made playing instruments in the game very real AND they went added a tutorial that will actually teach you to play real instruments. Which one sounds more interesting?

Plus, seeing the GH brand all over clothes and whatever else they could get people to pay them to put it on really made it seem ridiculous. They stopped focusing on the game a long time ago. Licensing fees likely added to their problems, but not changing the game really at all in the 5 years since it first appeared didn’t help any.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

God, Guitar Hero and Rock Band we totally awesome in exposing kids to new (and old) music. Take Eye of the Tiger, for example. Every school kid in north America knows that song. Because they’re fans of the Rocky movies? Nope, because it’s included in both games.

Metallica, AC/DC, and plenty of others are finding an entirely new generation of fans. Well, were finding an entirely new generation of fans.

I’ve said it before, if radio was invented now, it would have been sued and priced out of existence. And the whole era of selling tons of overpriced music etched on vinyl and plastic never would have existed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Seriously, as a culture, we should do everything we can to avoid buying content that’s not released under some reasonable license.

Perhaps to curve the 95+ year copy protection lengths, people should start writing content that either enters the public domain or is permissibly licensed after 5 years or so. It’s copyright for the first 5 years, and then it’s not. The license should come with the content so that there is no opportunity to later change ones mind. Otherwise, we are buying content that will be lost to history with future generations being unable to access it.

So much popular content, like the Beach Boys and the Beatles, should have been in the public domain a long time ago but it isn’t (it’s been like 40 years or so). Sure, this content (because of its extreme popularity) might survive copy’right’ oppression, but a lot of less popular music may not. To preserve our cultural history, we need to ensure to adopt a culture that is preservable, not one that can easily vanish in history due to oppressive laws.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Probably not.

While the music is not the leading factor in these games (as shown by the sales of the games) it is certainly important. Sadly, though, the record labels missed the point that could have helped them a lot. They gave fans a way to be part of the band. Talk about the best way to connect with your fans…put them in your band? While that was not very scalable in the past, these games could give kids the feeling of being in a band they liked.

That’s BIG and should have been the record label focus. Play really well and we send you some mp3’s (just give us your email address). Hey – wouldn’t you look cooler wearing the same shirt as your favorite drummer? Score a spot on stage or in our next video. The possibilities of connecting are endless and scale to millions of people.

They really botched this one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That would have been a brilliant marketing plan from the labels. So, it’s no surprise they didn’t do it :/

As for the music, I don’t think the popularity of the songs matters as much as people expect. Look at how many bands came up from obscurity thanks to these games. Almost all of my favorite songs from the franchise are from bands and music I never heard of before, and I doubt I’m alone here.

Dragonforce is a great example; nobody knew who they were, but that song in the game was awesome and super fun to play, and as a result, they became a band that most people now know about. The Sleeping and The Fall of Troy were the same deal; amazing songs that were really fun to play and nothing I’ve ever heard before exposure from that game.

Had Activision had their decent own music for the games (with some label tunes mixed in for the kids), they could have released that music as free downloads or mail-order CDs and people would have eaten that up if the songs were enjoyable and fun to play in the game. They did have some stuff, but it was mostly there for show, lacked vocals and were just like 1 minute tracks that nobody cared about. If they spent real time and money developing their own content, I really think it would have been successful, and still likely cheaper (and definitely more profitable) than licensing it all from someone else.

Allan R. Wallace (profile) says:

Guitar Hero - stuck in the 1400s

Another opportunity for indie artists. Do you think Activision will sell me the code and rights?

Businesses like music or book publishers still think virtually unlimited information can be priced like scarce resources. The illiterate monks in their scriptoria need to discover Gutenberg. Things have changed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Guitar Hero - stuck in the 1400s

True. The real money would come from licensing access to the gaming systems. Frets On Fire is pretty cool, but it’s not the same as popping it in your Wii/Xbox/Playstation and rocking out with friends on real instruments or via multiplayer. But you also don’t need Activision’s code to make that happen.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

What I was hoping for

What I was hoping for was that they would come out with a version that had all music that artists agreed to waive a licence fee, just to have their music heard and promoted. There are a lot of great indie bands out there who would jump at the chance. Then let Activision release a version of just that music and reduce the price to reflect the lack of licensing. It would probably be an eye-opener.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: What I was hoping for

“I always wanted to see a Tom Waits edition, where you had to build your own controller from stuff you found in your garage.”

Actually, this I think is an aspect of where the music game genre will eventually go. Instead of being a simple game for kids, eventually someone (Rockstar?) will come out with one of these music games that actually includes a social storyline. Think back to skateboarding games and what happened when the Tony Hawk series finally stuck something in their games that at least had a modicum of interactive story behind it. And that was SKATEBOARDING!

How much material could be generated behind a game based on being a rock legend? I’m picturing some strange mix of Guitar Hero, The Sims, and GTA. I don’t know what it would look like exactly, but it would GLORIOUS. Think of the things that could be included:

1. Fighting with your corrupt band manager/label
2. Infighting within your bandmates
3. Drugs/Sex
4. Evolving into a mega-band that headlines progressive type concerts like Woodstock
5. Getting into trouble with the law and having to do a concert in prison like Johnny Cash
6. Getting caught w/multiple girlfriends
7. Having the cops/govt. after you because of your band’s message
8. Building your awesome megastar house and furnishing it
9. Dealing with stalking fans
10. ???

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What I was hoping for

Don’t forget:

11. Working as a waiter while trying to get the attention of a record label executive.
12. Working as a waiter while trying to get the attention of a record label executive.
13. Working as a waiter while trying to get the attention of a record label executive.
14. Working as a waiter while trying to get the attention of a record label executive.
15. Working as a waiter while trying to get the attention of a record label executive.
16. Working as a waiter while trying to get the attention of a record label executive.
17. Working as a waiter while trying to get the attention of a record label executive.

72. Being turned down by a record executive
73. Working as a waiter while trying to get the attention of a record label executive.

storm says:

Re: What I was hoping for

I totally agree! why activision would choose overpriced major label re-re-re-re-engineered noise is beyond us all. why not have just one or two major label tracks & fill the rest with excellent new independent material? games like guitar hero etc are an amazing new revenue stream for everyone involved, denying or not developing that income stream is not business savvy, it’s ignorant & stupid!

Matthew (profile) says:

I don't think so...

The labels are definitely trying to maximize short-term profits at the cost of long-term success (a problem that seems endemic to all of business nowadays. e.g. the bank bailout) but i don’t think they can bear the burden of blame for this. They aren’t doing anything to help, but the staleness of the genre is the biggest factor imo.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, despite your usual attempt to make all the world’s problems a result of the music and movie industries, licensing is not the reason Activision dumped Guitar Hero. They did it because wait for it: No one’s buying music games anymore! The last two Guitar Hero games and both DJ Hero games have sold terribly and because of the high cost of producing plastic instruments, they take massive inventory based losses when they don’t sell. Why do you think MTV dumped Harmonix for a song recently? Because Rock Band 3 bombed!

Sometimes there are failures in music not relating to the (albeit definitely evil) labels. Sometimes products just don’t sell anymore. Your cherry picking of the facts to suit your agenda is becoming more common and frankly, I thought you were better than a cable news outlet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Activision said that the decline of the genre, plus the high cost of licensing music and producing the games, led it to close the business.”

The article itself said that the high cost of licensing is hurting them. Mike is just drawing attention to it, not cherry picking. Frankly your slanting is worse than the cable new outlets you chide mike for being like.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The high cost of licensing is relative to a shrinking market and shrinking margins on the product.

Activision had no problem signing up and paying the fees when the market was good. The fees haven’t changed, the market did. Blame the high cost of raw materials is cherry picking. Perhaps you want to read an unbiased version of the story:


Guitar Hero and True Crime are the first two major franchises to feel the bite due to lacklustre sales and less than promising development respectively

Lackluster sales.

The flagship Guitar Hero franchise has been struggling in what CEO Bobby Kotick calls a “declining” music game genre

Declining genre.

Perhaps you could read their actual press release:


At the same time, due to continued declines in the music genre, the company will disband Activision Publishing’s Guitar Hero business unit and discontinue development on its Guitar Hero game for 2011. The company also will stop development on True Crime: Hong Kong?. These decisions are based on the desire to focus on the greatest opportunities that the company currently has to create the world’s best interactive entertainment experiences.

In a sampling of about 20 different stories plucked from Google news results, I couldn’t find a single story that directly quoted anyone about the licensing costs. The Wired story very specifically doesn’t use quotes. Yet the direct quotes from their own statements don’t address licensing. In each case, they cite a declining market place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

It isn’t infinite. In fact, it’s quite limited. Most artists produce only a small collection of songs in their lives. The right to use that precious and very limited resource as part of your product is very valuable.

You need to learn where the the scarcities are. There will be no more Beatles songs. There will be no more Ronnie James Dio. There will be no more Led Zeppelin. Those things are finite, rare, and truly valuable.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In fact, I’ll add that if unlicensed music is the way to go with these music games, then in addition to having lots of rights holders offering their music for free to be used in the games, the games companies could have commissioned music for the games and owned that music outright. Why it is necessary to deal with the labels in the first place? Really, I sincerely doubt that licensing fees did in this industry. The marketplace has a short attention span. It’s more fun for many users to use mobile apps and then move on to something else when they get bored.

Complaining about the major labels is last year’s news. There are far more creative ways to make music these days than Guitar Hero and Rockband.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It doesn’t matter. What do you think would sell better: Guitar God Beatles Edition or Guitar God Some Guys You Don’t Know Edition?

The reason people buy the game is for the game, and that includes the music. Crappy music, no matter how good the same play, would still be crappy music you don’t know. There is a great cool factor in pulling of a major riff from well known song, not so much in pulling off what some dude you don’t know just did.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

What do you think would sell better: Guitar God Beatles Edition or Guitar God Some Guys You Don’t Know Edition?

If you are saying that the music game has little or no value unless it is associated with famous musicians, then it’s reasonable for the famous musicians to feel they should be paid a sponsorship fee for lending their names to the product.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

What I am saying is that without the music, the game is a blank. We aren’t talking background tunes while you shoot up some aliens or drive a car at insane speeds. It is literally a game about the music, front and center.

The artists are paid fees for their likeness as used in the games. They are also paid fees for the use of their music. It’s pretty normal.

Without the music, it would be “silence hero” or “why did I buy an empty game box”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It also hits on the idea that the market was saturated, more than enough Rock Band / Guitar Hero has been played, everyone who every wanted it had the controllers and the games they wanted, and they had a very hard time to justify buying add on packs beyond that point.

Just like almost any fad, it has come, it has peaked, and is now in decline.

I also agree, cherry picking facts or trying to line things up with an agenda is a real problem these days.


The labels may be evil, but being dishonest or misleading about them doesn’t really help the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Much of what you said maybe true, and Mike doesn’t deny all that. But he still has a valid point in saying that some of the money that went to the record labels could have gone to creating a better future product instead, which could have meant that people would have continued to buy future releases. While your points are valid, Mike doesn’t dispute them. But that doesn’t make his point any less valid. and you should stop dishonestly calling Mike dishonest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“The labels may be evil, but being dishonest or misleading about them doesn’t really help the case”

Are you not very good with the word “or”?

dishonest or misleading. That is sort of important.

As I mentioned elsewhere, without the music, the game would have been, well, “Musak hero” or “Musak Band” or something like that, and would have sold remarkably well. They could have made a ton of money off of people wanting to play elevator music renditions of 95 year old music.

It is a basic invalid point, because without music, there was nothing.

The reality is the marketplace for this sort of thing is dying. The buzz has come and gone. It isn’t a label issue, it isn’t an Activision issue, it isn’t a licensing issue – it’s an issue of a market that has been satisfied with what it has, and no longer expresses any interest in buying further in that market.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The labels overvaluing their product (and believe me, this isn’t art, it’s product, these days) is still an issue, here. No matter what you say, you cannot HONESTLY deny that the rising prices of licensing had nothing to do with the games’ failures.

I agree with previous posters. They should have gone after the artists willing to offer their music at low/no cost for promotional purposes.

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Activision said that one of the reasons was the cost of licensing music. Not the whole problem, just a percentage. Imagine if radio was told it had to pay the labels to promote Rihanna’s new song today that’s due out in a few weeks. How many of the stations do you honestly think would pay to promote an artist, instead of being paid?

MY guess is that they would be laughed out of the station and told never to darken their doors again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I read it. It isn’t an actual quote. What you are doing is quoting the part of the article that specifically does not quote the spokesman. In every other piece I can find, he does not mention licensing.

The Wired writer added opinion, not fact. The spokesman did not say that. What Mike then did was use it as fact, when it is not supported by what was actually said, what was in the press release, etc.

Unless you have an actual quote of the spokesman, it sort of didn’t happen. What it means is the entire rant Mike went on against record labels on this one isn’t supported by what Activision said.

It’s shocking that you can’t understand that basic idea.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I suppose Mike could simply re-publish articles by copying them word-for-word (strange that you would want that), or he could comment on articles, point out parts of them he finds interesting, and add some of his own knowledge.

Or, I guess he could flip burgers or something, but he seems kinda good at this interweb stuff.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I don’t mind that he has a slant on things, that’s fine, it’s the intellectual dishonesty that’s ridiculous at times.

AJ, your inability to comprehend what I have to say does not make what I say intellectually dishonest.

That you blatantly misrepresent what I say to try to make me look intellectually dishonest? That’s intellectually dishonest.

Grow up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

God, I’m starting to get the feeling that everyone who disagrees with Mike’s opinion and/or his childish attitude is accused of “misrepresenting” him. After monitoring this site for some time, it’s alarming how much he misuses that word. And, despite his claims to the contrary, I have never seen Mike admit a mistake or recognize a valid point from a commentator who disagrees with his stance.

average_joe says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

God, I’m starting to get the feeling that everyone who disagrees with Mike’s opinion and/or his childish attitude is accused of “misrepresenting” him. After monitoring this site for some time, it’s alarming how much he misuses that word. And, despite his claims to the contrary, I have never seen Mike admit a mistake or recognize a valid point from a commentator who disagrees with his stance.

That’s exactly right. Mike doesn’t want to be called out or corrected, and the last thing he ever wants to do is admit that a view contrary to his own has merit. Yet, he claims to have an open mind. It’s rather quite amusing.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

That’s exactly right. Mike doesn’t want to be called out or corrected, and the last thing he ever wants to do is admit that a view contrary to his own has merit. Yet, he claims to have an open mind. It’s rather quite amusing.

I regularly admit to errors and regularly make corrections. I also quite frequently change my mind on issues based on discussions in the comments.

What I do not do, is agree with ridiculously wrong statements from people who misrepresent what I say because of some childish desire to puff up their own egos. I’m sorry if I can’t help you there.

average_joe says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Citation Needed. A link to a recent comment or article would be very helpful. Thanks!

You won’t get one, don’t worry. You’d think with his super-open mind there’d be plenty. The fact is, he only admits he’s wrong if there’s just no possible way to continue standing his ground–and even then, he usually just remains silent rather than admit fault. If there’s the least bit of gray area, he exploits it. He’s rather good at being crafty, I’ll give him that.

Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Look back at the Sony rootkit article. After it was posted, he went back and said that after reading what others were saying and digging into it further, it appeared not to be as bad as originally portrayed.

There are other examples, that one was the most recent that I remember off the top of my head.

But I suppose you really didn’t want an example, did you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

Nope I do, and that is an example of a retraction. Thanks Joe.

However, can you remember a single time, ever, where Mike has conceded to the argument of someone who disagreed with him in a comment? Printing a factual correction to a story is one thing. Admitting that another has the stronger argument is entirely different, and something that is exceedingly difficult to do if you have a bloated ego. To me, there is nothing more mature and intellectually satisfying than when someone says “gosh, you are right. I never thought about it like that. Excellent point!” Needless to say, in all my time posting here I have yet to see Mike ever come close to a comment like that in the face of an intellectual challenge (and I can’t imagine that a good point is never made despite the “trolls”). He usually resorts to childish name-calling, a claim that someone is “misrepresenting” him or outright lying or intellectually dishonest. A good example here and here. It really is one of the most frustrating aspects of this site. I think Mike provides much-needed commentary in the copyright debate. It’s unfortunate that he feels the need to resort to such levels in the comments.

average_joe says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

I’m still grinning from the other day when Mike referred to Terry Hart as a law student. I called him out on it since he knows for a fact that Hart is not a law student. Mike said that he was only using “shorthand,” and despite the fact that he was admitting that he intentionally misrepresented the truth, he refused to admit that it was a lie. LOL! The intellectual dishonesty is astounding at times. Since when is intentionally misrepresenting the truth not a lie?

From now on when Mike claims he’s not lying, I’ll just assume he’s still intentionally misrepresenting the truth.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Actually, it more seems like your powerful need to be right and show him to be wrong is at issue, here. He links to the articles he is commenting on. In this post, he is asking a serious question, and delving into a part of the article that he found interesting. This is an opinion blog, not a news source. You want news? Go find news. You want open and frank discussion on the parts of the news that interests the rest of us? Then discuss. But throwing around your laughable weight and trying to call Mike out for stating opinion makes you somewhat less in the discussion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

What I think you miss is that Mike tends to play both sides. He isn’t stating only opinion, he is building facts. His opinions today are his facts tomorrow. You know, the old “we have already shown that” bull crap. More than once this week along, Mike is punted something badly.

Corrections? The only corrections I see are spelling and punctuation errors, and about once a month a correction when the story changes. Otherwise, few admissions of perhaps getting it wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It isn’t a question of copying word for word, Mike has an opinion and I have no problem with his opinion, right or wrong. I can discussion opinion any time.

What is annoying is when he intentionally mis-represents things, or carefully leaves out things that would undercut his opinion. In this case the quote on licensing isn’t even a quote in the original Wired article, it is an non-quoted attribution from the writer.

When you look at the press release from Activision (which is what I would have expect Mike to do) they don’t mention licensing at all, just a market that is disappearing. Since other “music game” companies are seeing the same results, it would appear to be about the market, and nothing else.

With hundreds of people on the payroll and a product who’s last update only pushed out about 60,000 copies, you can tell which way the wind is blowing.

Market forces are like that. Playing games to try to attribute it to something else is only because it meets up with Mike’s view of the universe, not the facts as presented.

techflaws.org (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

What is annoying is when he intentionally mis-represents things, or carefully leaves out things that would undercut his opinion

You nailed it. By acurately describing you and other’s shilltards way of commenting here. Good thing people can see through it. Just don’t become so depressed as Average_Joe for being shut down every time he tries to pretend Mike did say something he didn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

That just traces back to Mike playing word games and dancing around reality. Mike thinks piracy is a great business model. But he also thinks it is not okay. He supports all organizations who want to pirate, but piracy is not okay. Pirating is bad, but TD tends to take torrent freak posts as god’s own words.

When you play both sides of things, it is very easy to weasel out of being pinned down. The last thing Mike wants to do is get pinned down to anything, because it would limit his ability to jump in front of a bandwagon and act like the leader of the clan. If his opinions and ideals were hard and fast and clear, he might actually have to defend them. Instead, he waffles and weasels and plays both sides.

Average Joe doesn’t get it wrong, he just gets shot down because he is trying to pin the tail on the weasel, who has just changed sides when you weren’t looking.

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think if you try to learn to read things without filtering it with your own bias and context, you might not feel that way.

If you can’t recognize your own bias as part of the conversation, then you’re going to spend every moment of your time on this site being frustrated and making silly, bitter-sounding comments like this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Mike admits bias, but also claims to always be right. For those who disagree with him or show the flaws in his logic or approach, they are quickly labeled as “childish”, they need to “grow up” or they “don’t know anything”.

It is remarkable to think of a site that has about 2000 posts a year, and they guy making them is never wrong. It’s a freaking miracle, call the Rabbi!

Christopher (profile) says:

Karaoke for non-vocalists

Like it or hate it, Guitar Hero and Rock Band are/were instant party mixes for spanning generations. I’m mid-40s and remember when many of the songs were first aired on radio, and it’s fun to play drums behind some 13 year old going perfect on the plastic guitar. The golden goose — more songs to play on existing hardware — is definitely dead now. It’s really just as simple as that; any intellectual contortions and guesses are red herrings or pure conjecture. The dev costs are sunk, and only greed by the music industry got in the way of a continual stream of updated versions.


duane (profile) says:

Re: Karaoke for non-vocalists

I also think there was the added negative that since the licensing costs were so much, somehow the game execs became convinced that licensing different music was the key to making future games successful.

Realistically, that’s a low energy way to make a “new” game and thanks to cognitive dissonance, execs couldn’t help but figure the new music would make the games sell like hotcakes.

Without all the music industries jedi mind tricks, the execs wouldn’t have lost sight of the need to innovate.

Matt (profile) says:


Same reason I refused to buy WKRP when it finally came out on DVD: the relicensing fees for the small snippets of music in most of the episodes meant the episodes had long ago been butchered for syndication – most of the commercial music replaced, and some of the dialog even altered, which in at least one case, completely ruined the punchline. I mean, this is probably my favorite sitcom of all time, but I won’t buy the DVDs, because most of the episodes have been spoiled.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: S.O.P.

That isn’t the music industry’s problem, that is a problem of the original producers cheaping out and not paying for the rights at the time, which would have had little effect on their bottom line. WKRP was made in a time when syndication was still a new idea, and DVD / video sales of series were unheard of. They failed to secure rights (which likely would had added very little to their initial costs) and instead decided to save a few dollars.

The end result is that when they want to buy those rights later, the cost structures are different, and their total market too small to justify them.

It’s all about people making poor choices up front. Ask Nina Paley about that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: S.O.P.

It’s all about people making poor choices up front. Ask Doug Morris about that.

Morris insists there wasn’t a thing he or anyone else could have done differently. “There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”

Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn’t an option. “We didn’t know who to hire,” he says, becoming more agitated. “I wouldn’t be able to recognize a good technology person ? anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me.” Morris’ almost willful cluelessness is telling. “He wasn’t prepared for a business that was going to be so totally disrupted by technology,” says a longtime industry insider who has worked with Morris. “He just doesn’t have that kind of mind.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 S.O.P.

Actually very relevant here: Nina is a member of the Techdirt staff, and she got famous for basically making an error on licensing issues for her movie. She made a poor choice up front, not realizing where she would land.

You went off on someone for not knowing about technology or hiring a technologist. That doesn’t have anything to do with copyright, does it?

If you want to troll, at least try harder.

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 S.O.P.

WRONG. She actually approached the rights-holder over wanting to use a song in her film. She was given an exorbitant price for the license AND a demand of a cut of all the profits should any occur.

And knowing about technology, at least the basics, should be an essential on the resume of anyone who is working in content creation.

And as for your earlier citation needed request:


Look at the section about third-parties. Then ask yourself how it’s relevant to my assertion. Because it is relevant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 S.O.P.

WRONG. She actually approached the rights-holder over wanting to use a song in her film. She was given an exorbitant price for the license AND a demand of a cut of all the profits should any occur.

Actually, if I understand the story, she made the entire movie and THEN approached the rights holders.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 S.O.P.

Actually, if I understand the story, she made the entire movie and THEN approached the rights holders.

This is definitely not the way to do it because the lawyers know they have you. But if you approach rights holders first and say you don’t have any money to pay them upfront but could perhaps work out a deal where they get something if you make something, often they will agree. I’ve dealt with filmmakers that way.

And MTV, for example, has a standard contract where they ask for permission to use your music but they don’t offer to pay anything. Many rights holders agree because they want the exposure.

So get permission first if you are making a movie.

Rich says:

Re: Re: S.O.P.

No, it is about companies having more “rights” to culture than they should. A right or this use, another for that.

Paley used songs that were in the PUBLIC DOMAIN, expect that each state has their own individual, bizarre “rights” tacked on. It was legal for her to sell CDs of the music, but to show an image at the same time is somehow different and requires payment.

The whole system is ridiculous. The idea that you should be continuously paid for work done many years again is beyond illogical. They expect to be able to sell you something and still have complete control over how you use it. You can do this with the music, but if you do that, you owe us more money. I don’t owe Subaru money every time I give someone a ride or loan them my car. I don’t have to get their permission to paint it a different color or put bigger tires on it. I don’t have to pay a “performance fee” to drive it in public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: S.O.P.

Actually, they start out with 100% of the rights. They don’t get multiple rights, they have one big right.

After that, they slice the rights down into slivers to allow them to be sold, transfered, or marketed. The right for music CDs, example. The right for radio play. The right for use in a movie, or a commercial. The rights for the underlying song, the lyrics, the music, etc. The sheet music versions of same.

They are all slices of a single right, chopped up into finer parts to fit the various marketplaces.

You can also end up in a situation with partial rights. As an example, an artist records a song in the public domain. They don’t get the song writing or lyrican rights, but they do get performance rights, and rights to sell the CD, play on radio, use in movie, etc “for that performance of the song”.

Where many people make a mistake is assuming that a song is in the public domain (say like Beethoven’s 5th), and miss that a performance, recorded this year, is actually copyright. Not the underlying music – the performance.

It’s pretty simple, unless you are trying to make it complicated, or if you fail to get information before you start spending money, aka making poor choices up front.

Rich says:

Re: Re: Re:2 S.O.P.

You completely miss the point. There ARE multiple rights. You are arguing my point talking about Beethoven. The song has certain rights, the performance has certain rights. I assume you bring up mistaken assumptions about the public domain because I mentioned it. NO, I was not mistaken or confused. BOTH the songs ARE their performances used by Paley were in the public domain. It is just that music is somehow special, and the individual states in the US add MORE rights to the mix. Copyright laws, especially dealing with music, are not simple by any stretch of the imagination.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 S.O.P.

Actually, they are remarkably simple: Don’t assume something can be used without checking, completely. You are best in assuming you don’t have the rights, and work to secure the rights from there.

I think it is more a question of music that she feels should have been in the public domain but for various reasons is not. I wouldn’t be shocked if much of it has been remastered and reissued.

Rich says:

Re: S.O.P.

They even ruined it during syndication. Remember when Johnny Fever had to play something “mellow” so he play “Thank Heaven for Little girls.” It was insanely funny because it was so unexpected and the look on his face was priceless. During syndication they changed the song to The Carpenters “Long ago.” That was NOT as funny. The bizarre look on his face now made little sense.

Johnny5k (profile) says:

They should have mimicked iTunes

I don’t understand why, rather than killing off the games completely, they didn’t transition them to be more downloadable-content-centric. I’m not going to buy a new version of the game for $80 every year, but that’s all they were marketing. They should have concentrated more on marketing the new music that was available to add to the game people already owned. They could sell new guitars with a smaller sample of songs, say 10, to keep the price down by not paying so many song royalties right off the bat – and allow users to download whatever songs they want to build their own library. Activision wouldn’t get buried in song licensing fees, and we users could get the songs we wanted to play.

As for the labels – I already have most of the songs on iTunes, but I’m willing to buy them again so I can play them on Guitar Hero. Why in the world would you over-charge for that? That and the fact that guitar hero songs lead to more purchases outside the game. It just seems like a missed opportunity on both sides.

Michael says:

Re: They should have mimicked iTunes

It’s probably better – from a PR standpoint – to kill off a game series rather than scale it down to a something many people will view as a piece of garbage compared to the previous versions. Rock Band 11 – now with less music, cheaper instruments, worse graphics, AND A LOWER PRICE! It’s a tough sell.

Old Fool (profile) says:

RE Ima Fish

I have seen old interviews from recording industry spokesmen saying radio was killing recorded music.

I can clearly remember when cassettes were killing the music industry.

I remember when CD’s were killing the music industry.

Now the internet is killing the music industry.

Seems odd their profits are increasing exponentially, I bet a lot of other industries wish they were being killed off as much.

Anonymous Coward says:

The real laugh in all of this is that Mike is working so hard to spin the story, that he can’t even keep his own stuff straight.


Now, if licensing fees are so high, why would EMI be going broke?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, considering EMI was one of the big licensees to the Activision product, and that product has sold well over the years, you would think that all that licensing revenue would be keeping EMI afloat.

Apparently not.

So the question is this: Was the licensing that good? Or is it a red herring being played up by people who hate record labels and copyright?

Anonymous Coward says:

Not to hijack the inevitable Mike bashing this thread has turned into but I’m surprised that there is something that no one has mentioned — this was all foretold.

When the original developer of Guitar Hero left to create Rockband, everyone cried that Activision was going to run the franchise into the ground. This was reinforced by the announced business models – Harmonix wanted to rely on an infrequent game disc supported by new downloadable material every week. Activision paid lip service to the idea of downloads but put out very little, prefering to flood the market with more frequent new games. Like the music industry when downloads became available, users wondered why they had to buy a whole new $80 game to get the 5 songs they liked.

Now that the predictions have come true, it’s amusing that Activision is trying to justify it by claiming that demand has slowed – as show by Rockband 3’s weak sales. Rockband 3 had issues of it’s own – a new play mode promoted to the minority “power users” and a lack of supply of their promised new instruments. They made one bad move, and the parent company panicked and ran.

As far as the “licensing costs sank the franchise” line goes, I don’t buy it. Rockband has been putting out 3-10 tracks a week since RB1 was released, in a pay-per-song business model. If the costs were as high as they say, that whole model would have been yanked long ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ummm… Did anyone (including Mike) even finish reading the article?

“Although Guitar Hero is a goner, games built around music ‘will never die,’ Divnich said. ‘Harmonix has [Kinect game] Dance Central, and that took off huge.’

I’m pretty sure Dance Central contains music, and the creators are paying equivalent licensing royalties. So… how is it again that licensing royalties are killing off these games?

What a misleading article, Mike.

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Dance Central is an unknown game, time-wise. Guitar Hero was almost ubiquitous in the music-game industry. Have you considered the possibility of variable royalty rates for established games?

The existence of one circumstance does not automatically preclude another, unless they are mutually exclusive (as in, a coin flipped heads cannot be flipped tails at the same time without going into beyond-freaky physics).

Jay says:

Free alternatives

We now have Dance Central so there’s more of a push to do dance moves.

However, I doubt ANYONE here has understood that the game music industry started elsewhere.

So tell me… If Konami could make a game that was built around a gaming experience, why not Harmonix or Guitar Hero?

They did it on a smaller scale. Still, the music industry killed this. The licensing is sure to kill it where the games could have truly diversified and exposed more gamers to the artists involved.

Further, think about how the Drummania games have gone on for 10+ years due to possibly less stringent licensing.

Activision also does one other thing that really hurts them though, which is releasing a new game (at $60 a pop) every year.

So it is that Activision saturated the market, there was less variety, and the game industry truly lost some great game makers.

Should be interesting to see what comes out afterwards… I’m sure with the patents on dance moves, Harmonix may just have to move on to virtual drums next.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Here's a good explanation of the market

Activision Blizzard to Close Guitar Hero Unit – NYTimes.com: “‘In retrospect, it was a $3 billion or more business that everybody needed to buy, so they did, but they only needed to buy it once,’ said Michael Pachter, a Wedbush Morgan analyst. ‘It?s much like Wii Fit. Once you have it, you don?t need to buy another one.'”

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

This is where it is all headed

There are far more exciting things happening in music than worrying about whether or not major labels are going to make music available to video games. There’s really no need to tie your business to content where the rights are hard to obtain.

Music Hack Day NYC: ?Strings? Draws a Playable Harp in Thin Air | Evolver.fm

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Missing the forest for the trees

If you focus too much on major labels, I think you’ll miss the more important trends in gaming.

DICE Video Game Conference Considers Gaming?s Future – NYTimes.com: “After years of consistent growth, retail sales of core console games, which often cost around $60, are at best flat these days. Though an improving economy could change that, the major growth in the game business is on social networks and cellphones.”

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