Arguably the most popular band of all time, The Beatles have remained one of the few high profile music groups whose songs have yet to appear for sale online. The group’s digital holdout, however, is over: The Beatles will be featured in a new version of the video game Rock Band dedicated entirely to the Fab Four.
Set to be released in September for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii, The Beatles: Rock Band will allow gamers to play along with 45 different songs from the group’s extensive catalogue. According to the press release, the new game will be backwards compatible with previous versions of Rock Band, allowing veterans to continue to use the same guitar, drums or microphone.
The idea for an entire music video game centered around one band isn’t new – the Guitar Hero franchise already released an Aerosmith game last year and is currently putting the finishing touches on Guitar Hero: Metallica, which will hit stores on Mar. 29.
With music sales gloomy and profits falling, the popularity of video games like Rock Band represents an unexpected bright spot for the music industry.
Mike Barthel, a writer for the music blog Idolator.com, said that music video games signify something more than a mere fad.
“With Rock Band, [the genre] has expanded and grown in some really interesting ways,” he said in an e-mail. “Things like the Beatles edition are, I think, a perfectly natural step in [the genre’s] development.“
The possibilities for future games of Rock Band are wide open, Barthel said. He pointed to the fact that developers could make the instruments even more elaborate and realistic or begin to include further downloadable content for players.
“It’s useful to think of [Rock Band and Guitar Hero] as part of the larger genre of rhythm games, a very vital and expanding field,” he said. “It seems weird that skateboarding games are a genre, too, but they are, and the evolution that happened over the lifespan of the Tony Hawk franchise … shows that video games can find gold in some unexpected places.“
Barthel said he is skeptical, however, of the games‘ ability to become a highly profitable “outgrowth of the music industry.“
“It’s a very bad idea to look at [these games] as anything other than just another kind of merchandise, no different from band T-shirts or KISS action figures,” Barthel said. “It is never going to be a significant revenue stream [for the industry] because it is not a new way of listening to music.”
Rock Band represents an interesting venue for interacting with music, much like its predecessor karaoke, said Ari Y. Kelman, an American studies professor.
“I adore the idea of Rock Band,” he said in an e-mail. “Rock ‘n‘ roll is, to a degree, all about play and performance and participation, so why not make it really look like play?”
Bob Ostertag, a technocultural studies professor, posed a similar question in an e-mail.
“What is more interesting about playing Guitar Hero than about playing guitar?” he said. “Why aren’t all those kids putting all those hours into actually learning those licks? They are not that hard. If one practiced for all the hours that many play the game, they would become quite expert. And yet the game has more allure.“
The amount of realism involved in music video games like Rock Band remains up for debate. And while some might argue that music video games remove the desire to play a real instrument, Kelman said he sees Rock Band as a vital first step.
“There are some grouches out there that think it will keep kids from joining ‘real‘ bands,” he said. “But as anyone who has ever played an instrument can tell you, everyone starts by playing covers – so why not start [with Rock Band]?”
Barthel said he thinks the next music video game might replace guitar rock with pop music like Britney Spears, perhaps replacing drums with dance mats.
“Maybe the next big thing will be an integration of Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero,” he said. “Call it Dance Hero, maybe? Package it with a sequencer and a keyboard and I’m sold.“
ZACK FREDERICK can be reached at email@example.com.