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

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


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

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

Comments () | Archives (10)

That's what happens when you turn out the same game over and over, and charge far too much for downloadable content. How many Rock Band and Guitar Hero games have come out in the last five years? 20?

Sorry, but when I read those numbers, I see the glass half full.
The Beatles are a fifty year old brand.
That they've done 1.7 in sales during a recession is AMAZING.
Also: how many full versions of the game (with instruments, etc) did they sell?
Unlike other versions of this game, The Beatles are forever evergreen and keep entertaining an charming generation after generation.
I predict the game will quietly continue to rack up sales year after year, quarter after quarter. Check back in five year and then compare.

Rock Band 2 was released under much better economic conditions. That is the main difference.

When a bands name is attached to these games, the consumer is under the impression that only that groups songs are the only ones on the game. Take for example, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Metallica and the Beatles. Next it's going to be Green Day. Same crappy songs by other artists that these kids have never heard of, save for these games.
Could they name on member of these bands without the game knowledge? Doubtful. Do they know which decade these bands, Green Day excepted, played in? Beatles- 60's- early 70's, Aerosmith- 70's til recently, Van Halen (pick your version) 70's- late 90's, Metallica- 80's til recently.
What gets me is that the kids nowadays don't have a genre of music of their own, unless you count the Jonas Bros, Miley Cyrus/ Hannah Montana, so they have to borrow stuff from MY generation.
Bottom line, these games are boring, they're expensive and I really have no desire for my kids to learn to play real instruments on fake platforms like drum pads and guitar controllers. If you want your kids to learn real instruments, go to a music store and rent one or have them learn in school. Who knows, maybe they'll get a music scholarship to college.
I haven't heard of a Guitar Queer-O or Rock Band scholarship to college. Just some food for thought in a world of excessive consumerism to placate kids.

How can Rock Band sell that many units overall, and not yet turned a profit? Activision is finding a way to make money on Guitar Hero. What is wrong with Harmonix's business model? It doesn't add up.

I'm not surprised.

Let's say that the average Rock Band player is 15 - 30 years old.

The Beatles main audience are older than that.

..."I'm not surprised.

Let's say that the average Rock Band player is 15 - 30 years old.

The Beatles main audience are older than that." --Smelly Dave

No, the *original* Beatles' audience is older. This is the only band I can think of (except maybe Led Zeppelin) that is re-introduced every few years to a new generation of fans who love the music just as much as previous generations.

I understand why these songs cost more to produce than the standard "Rock Band" DLC but at the same time, I play with people every day who would purchase more DLC for the game if it was a bit less expensive. The people who control the catalog need to ask if it is better to sell a hand-full of songs at a high price or many more songs at a more reasonable price. What the game offers right now (3 DLC albums) is great, but there is so much more content of this catalog to explore that it would be a shame to end it where it stands today.

I blame a lot of this on Activision for over-saturating the market with "Guitar Hero" titles. In 2009 alone, Activision released "Guitar Hero 5", "Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits", "Band Hero", "Guitar Hero: On Tour", "Guitar Hero: Metallica" and "Guitar Hero: Van Halen"

...their complete greedy, oversaturation of the marketplace has taken the shine off of any potential new game.

When you leave out classics like "Yesterday" "Hey Jude" "Let it be" and a host of other #1 hits in the intial game, sales will suffer. Maybe Viacom & MTV Games were saving those for downloadable content and to charge players for the additional content, but the that strategy seems like it has backfired if sales are sluggish.

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