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Beatles: Rock Band sales slow over holidays as music video game genre bombs

January 14, 2010 |  6:14 pm

BeatlesRB Sales of The Beatles: Rock Band game during the holidays turned out to be less than fab.

The costly music game sold 357,000 units in the U.S. in December, bringing its total since launching Sept. 9 of last year to 1.18 million, according to new data from the NPD Group.

Including foreign sales, The Beatles: Rock Band sold more than 1.7 million units worldwide.

In contrast, 2008's Rock Band 2, which was significantly less expensive to produce, sold 1.7 million units in the U.S. alone in its first four months.

Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Viacom's MTV Games unit, said he was pleased with the holiday sales, though he noted that some European markets performed below the company's expectations. 

He said that while overall sales were down, profit margins on the Beatles game could be higher than for Rock Band 2 because fewer people bought instrument controllers, on which Viacom was losing money, and more bought the game by itself. Guthrie also noted that players purchased more than 1 million Beatles song downloads to play in the game.

Viacom, the owner of Paramount Pictures and MTV Networks, guaranteed at last $10 million to various Beatles rights holders, including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison, EMI Music and Sony/ATV Music Publishing, in order to produce and promote the game.

The Beatles: Rock Band debuted with a solid 595,000 units sold in its first month. At the time, Guthrie said he expected a strong boost over the holidays as MTV invested in marketing in November and December aimed at Beatles fans who weren't experienced gamers.

Viacom had hoped that the Beatles game would help bring its Rock Band franchise, which has consistently lost money over the last two years, into the black. Guthrie declined to comment on financial specifics before Viacom's next earnings report, but said his division was "turning the corner" toward profitability.

The Beatles: Rock Band was far from the only music video game to experience disappointing sales last year. Activision's Guitar Hero 5 sold only 996,000 units. By contrast, 2008's Guitar Hero: World Tour sold 3.4 million.

Overall, sales of music video games plunged 46% to $1.06 billion last year, according to NPD. It was the largest decline of any genre, indicating that the once red-hot music gaming trend, which took off with the original Guitar Hero in 2005, is losing steam. Part of that drop, however, is because in 2008 more music games were sold with pricey instrument controllers than last year.

For more on overall sales figures for the video game industry, which saw revenue decline 8% last year, check out the story on the Times' technology blog.

-- Ben Fritz

Related:

Viacom hopes the Beatles: Rock Band game sets stage for rebound

Photo: The Beatles: Rock Band. Credit: MTV Games.

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