Games Sell

Photo by Tonbabydc
This is how we interacted with David Bowie in the old days

This was only one of the interesting things I learned this morning through the “tech tab” on AP Mobile News Network, my favorite iPhone App.  To start things off, the December 19 story, Music Industry Drops Effort to Sue Song Swappers is a welcome and much anticipated indication that the music industry may be realizing that to survive in this new information landscape, they will have to adapt.

The next story that caught my attention provided more evidence — Music Sales Rise in Harmony with Game Appearances

Photo by Jon-Paul LeClair

The story speaks most directly to two video games that, if you have not heard of them, it can only be because you’ve spent the last two years sequestered in a monastery behind the tallest peaks of the Himalayas.  If you have spent the last 730 days in meditation, Guitar Hero and Rock Band are two games that come with plastic guitars and drums, connected to the game system, and programmed for you to play famous and gut-throbbing rock songs, by watching musical notes (so to speak), scroll your way.  You miss notes, and you lose points, to the disappointment of the other members of the band.

It seems that real performers, whose songs have been featured on either of these two games, have seen their record sales (downloads) increase, sometimes dramatically.  Here are a few examples of download increases:

Guns N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” (1987) released on “Guitar Hero III” up 153%
Pat Benatar “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (1980) released on “Guitar Hero III” up 180%
Aerosmith “Dream On” (1973) released on “Guitar Hero III” up 15%
Red Hot Chili Peppers “Suck My Kiss” (1992) released on “Guitar Hero III” up 200%
Nirvana “In Bloom” (1992) released on “Rock Band” up 543%
KISS “Detroit Rock City” (1976) released on “Rock Band” up 89%
David Bowie “Suffragette City” (1976) released on “Rock Band” up 55%
R.E.M. “Orange Crush” (1988) released on “Rock Band” up 256%
Smashing Pumpkins “Cherub Rock” (1993) released on “Rock Band” up 843%

There is no message in this from a direct instructional intent. But what it reminds me of is how important this world of video games has become.  It is being integrated into a greater economic engine, and it is a part of our children’s foundational experience — the good and the bad.

It simply means that we, as educators, young and old, need to be paying a lot of attention to this.

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14 thoughts on “Games Sell”

  1. I find the RIAA decision good news as well, but it doesn’t mean they have evolved to embrace the new technology. I have read in a number of places that they plan on targeting ISPs in hope they will shut down access for file sharers. It certainly means the end of silly lawsuits but the RIAA is resisting kicking and screaming!!

  2. Some of the biggest money generated in the music business is STILL ticket sales to concerts. There is no substitute.

    However, I’ve calculated that seeing live music (which I do 3-6 times per month on average), costs at least $50/hour and I’m not including a babysitter, gas, parking, tips, tolls, etc…

    What this REALLY means is that fewer and fewer people of modest means and children are likely to ever enjoy live music. Add to this the terrible state of music and arts education in our schools and the results are very bad for our culture.

    Another implication of the data you showed is that back catalog has always been where the slow and steady money is. Those songs are used in games because of their familiarity (and lowest-level simplicity). This too is cause for concern in a nation where most people have never heard a piece of music by Duke Ellington, John Coltrane or Elliot Carter.

    1. Gary,

      I am impressed and somewhat envious of your nightlife 😉 I’m afraid that I do not go out and see music nearly as much as I use to, and the expense and effort are the biggest reasons, though when we do go out, it’s to see the orchestra. I also have to confess that I didn’t know about Elliot Carter, though my son probably does. Now seeing his connections to Arron Copland, I’ll definitely investigate.

      But even though they may not know Duke Ellington or John Coltrane, or Tom Paxton or Phil Ochs, who were my influences, it seems to me that many of today’s youth have a broader grasp of musical tastes that was even possible when I grew up. I could be wrong, but they certainly have the opportunities.

      That said, I agree with your observation about few people being able to enjoy live music, and it’s not just because of the expense. Fewer musicians are actually performing. When I was in high school, all of the dances had live music, and there was never any shortage of local bands, many of them quite good. Back then we played music. How may of our students play music.

      I agree that much of this is owed to the pitiful state of music and art education, which appears to be of the prices for more basics and more science, technology, engineering, and math. This I agree, “ very bad for our culture.”

  3. I recently read an article about Rock Band and Guitar Hero that asked if these two games have saved Rock music. These games have made music fun again and introduced the idea of the performance arts to countless numbers of people of all ages. I must admits that I have gained a new appreciation for songs of my youth and decades earlier and admit having downloaded a few of them to my iPod since first playing Rock Band. For young people, these games are introducing them to music of a different time with different messages and connecting them with the music of their parents and/or grandparents. While these games are fun, they are also spurring community connections. These games are connecting youth with new forms of music (new to them at least) and connecting individuals of various generations through the love and appreciation of music.

    Interesting that it’s two video games that are doing this. Reflecting back, it appears that newer music has disconnected itself with experiences – just listening to music isn’t enough. It’s about creating community and building stories around the experiences of interacting with music or the messages inherent in the music. Rock music has always been about sharing stories about personal or generational experiences – these games are reconnecting people to the roots of rock music in a way that the music industry could never figure out.

    1. Rob,

      I get what you’re saying, though, as someone who actually plays the guitar (pretty rusty), I fail to see the connection between playing Guitar Hero has anything to do with “performance arts.” But that is just my perspective, and I think that you make a very good point. It’s about interacting with the music, connecting to it in some way. And I agree about the story. I remember the sudden interest that we all had in classical music, when 2001 A Space Odyssey showed in theaters in 1968.

    2. Two thoughts.

      1) I’m not sure that rock music needed saving or was saved by video games.

      2) Guitar hero is button-pushing, not music making. Alan Kay says that we went from playing instruments, to guitar, to air guitar to Guitar hero. This isn’t even music appreciation, we have devolved further.

      What is particularly tragic is that these music “sims” COULD have used traditional notation and interaction that mimicked the playing of actual instruments, but choose to do otherwise. Such interactions with musical notation are much easier than say simulating history or science in a game.

      The Best Buy store near me just created a musical instrument department across from Guitar Hero and Rock Band where they sell guitars, drums and keyboards. PERHAPS some kids will be motivated to move beyond button-pushing and learn an instrument. Too bad they’re unlikely to have access to formal instruction.

      1. It’s interesting to note the sentimentality in the comments in this post which is really not surprising if we consider the emotional power of music and it’s ability to unite people through the use of a common story.

        No one here, especially not I, have or will ever suggest that playing Rock Band or Guitar Hero will ever replace the experience of learning to play a real instrument. However, singing around a campfire or singing a national anthem is no substitute for vocal instruction either yet we never criticize that practice largely because this activity brings people together around a common story by ‘performing’ (in this case singing) a song together. I would argue that Rock Band and Guitar Hero are doing the same thing while introducing kids to a broader range of music styles. True, it’s not classical music nor is it music of high critical acclaim. However, like it or not, many of these songs are part of our collective North American pop culture and the games are proving to be a new way of building community in an era where community-building is becoming a lost art.

        As an aside, while playing these video game is not a good way to learn music, it’s a fun way to develop hand-eye coordination skills and in the case of playing the drum, a good introduction to rhythm, creating a beat, and timing. Not bad considering many kids who play these games would have had no other significant exposure to these musical concepts. Let’s look at these games for what they are – entertainment – and not pretend that anyone actually believes that these games in their current form could ever replace real music instruction.

        1. @Rob: What I keep thinking about, as I re-read these comments is that Rock Band, if it becomes a distinct genre of game, is only in its infancy. Imagine a game where you are the conductor, holding your electric wand, and as Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is being performed on the game, your waving of the wand controls the tempo, and the sections you point to accent themselves, so that you are controlling the band — not just copying the music, but re-arranging it, so to speak.

          1. @David: That would be amazing and not impossible to create right now if we consider the Wiimote and the fact that Nintendo as already created a game (Wii Music) where the movements of the Wiimote result in musical sounds.

            I guess the ultimate step for our purpose is trying to take these games and making them educational. I had a brief discussion in Twitter yesterday about using the Wii in general, and the Wii Fit in particular, in encouraging daily physical activity. In Ontario, all elementary schools must engage students in 20 minutes of physical activity everyday. It was once suggested to me that using a Wii Fit as a motivator and having students take a turn each day on the Wii balance board while the rest of the students follow along may be a nice way in making a potentially mundane activity fun.

          2. David (or should I address you as Sir David since the Edublog award?)

            Wii Music lets you do simple things like pretend you’re conducting, but you’re quite unlikely to ever experience anything akin to actual composition or playing an instrument for a very simple reason.

            Those things are hard to do to!

            Videogames depend on the quick and somewhat effortless simulation of expertise.

  4. This phenomenon disturbs and reminds me of just how addictive, damaging and expensive video games have become. Where have all the real guitar heroes gone? As an educator, I really do not see how Guitar Hero is helping kids solve real social and economic problems in their future or how it is expanding their skill set in meaningful or useful ways. Does it help them explore and appreciate the proportional harmonies and truth in the real worlds of art and music? A team “Rock Band” game is probably better than simulating violent enemy scenarios that glamorize fighting to death. I challenge the game makers to include in the next version of this game (in and effort to reconnect and reflect back as Rob suggests), Jimi Hendrix’s improvisation or his Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, some vintage Dylan or a live version of the Grateful Dead’s St. Stephen. Maybe they can figure out a way to provide an electric shock to the “gamer” who misses “notes” to reinforce the memory of the over produced riff we all seem to remember and to help sell the corporate recording. Is there a live jammin jazz hero game I can buy my kids for Christmas or should I just take them to a concert, or better yet, a real live jam session somewhere in Shangri-La?

    1. “Addictive, damaging and expensive?” Care to provide some proof with that?
      Also, your woeful plea for more “real guitar heroes,” is premature. While not every child who picks up a plastic quitar shaped controller will learn to really play, I’m sure many will. And I’m almost positive that rock band/guitar hero will not stop any child from learning to play the real thing.
      As for whether the kids learn anything about music, I think they do. As someone who plays Rock Band, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the songs in the game, including songs I already knew well. I listen to the different instruments and hear different guitar licks and effects.
      And if you are worried about “corporate” music, take a look at the list of songs availiable for download in Rock Band. The list is suprisingly diverse, and yes, includes some Grateful Dead (although I didn’t buy it).
      Above all, Rock Band and the newest Guitar Hero are team games. You don’t do well unless you work together. If nothing else, this is something our kids need to learn more about.

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