A new Beatles release is coming! Only this time it’s coming to a gaming console, rather than a record player. In late October, it was announced by MTV Networks and Harmonix, the developers of “Rock Band,” that they are working with Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd on their own game. This would be an all-new, interactive video game based on the music of the entire Beatles catalog with the hopes of broadening the influence of the band, especially to younger generations. The acquisition of the Beatles catalog is considered thus far to be the biggest in the gaming world since the focus has shifted to music. Still, there is no deal in sight for putting the Beatles on iTunes or any other digital music retailer.
These details came out on October 30th, 2008 and the executives behind the project are still very stingy on providing many specifics in regards to the game. The project is still in early development. Rumors of the Beatles getting involved in the video gaming industry have been circulating for some time. More speculation occurred this past June when representatives of the band met with Activision, of “Guitar Hero,” and MTV. They are looking to broaden the licensing of the band’s catalog. Little is known about the structure of the deal. It has been implied that all involved with the project will essentially “own” a part of it. This appears to be anything but a typical licensing deal, but then again, it is the Beatles.
The title has yet to be determined, but a release date in the fourth quarter of 2009 has been projected. It is not under the “Rock Band” name, but will be based around that type of game-play. Several departures from the core “Rock Band” style of play have been discussed. Chief Executive of Harmonix Music Systems, Alex Rigopulos, says this will be a “full-blown custom game from the ground up.” It will include “new creative exploration” and a “music-making game” based on the Beatles music. It is unknown whether the new game will be compatible with existing “Rock Band” controllers, such as the guitar, drums, microphone, etc. It is possible that the new game will come with completely new instrumental controllers, too. Maybe even a plastic sitar will be included.
The game is designed to take players through a journey of the band’s career, music, and vision. Progressing through the band’s looks and sounds, it will start out with their career in the early 1960s, using black-and-white, then moving to the mod years of “Rubber Soul,” then “Yellow Submarine,” and ending in their hippie phase. It is still unconfirmed whether the actual likenesses of the band members will be used.
MTV has gotten the go-ahead from practically every individual and company involved with the Beatles. Surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have made input on the direction and vision for this game along with Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison, widows of John Lennon and George Harrison. All have given their blessings towards the project. Giles Martin, son of original Beatles producer George Martin, will serve as the music producer for the game. The tracks used will be the original UK master recordings and will not be remixed or remastered. Sony/ATV Music Publishing, EMI Music, and Apple Corps Ltd all have given their approvals, as well.
Choosing MTV/Harmonix over Activision could have been due in part to the “Rock Band” developers introducing the idea of a full-band interactive game, as well as MTV’s history of working with artists. “MTV was clearly the innovator in offering a full-band experience,” says Apple Corps CEO Jeff Jones. This deal comes at a time where more bands are looking to the video game industry to reach fans in new ways. “Rock Band” recently secured the catalog of rockers AC/DC in a “Rock Band Track Pack.” This game will be a Wal-Mart exclusive featuring live tracks. Guitar Hero has raised their competition by creating games featuring Aerosmith’s exclusive version and one in the works with Metallica. They have also newly released, “Guitar Hero World Tour,” which adds a microphone and drums. This puts Activision’s game in more direct competition with “Rock Band.”
This comes at a time when people in the music industry are looking for as many ways as possible to create some revenue. Licensing music has increasingly become a great way to expose new and superstar artists to different demographics. The video game industry has been booming, especially in an economy where people are more likely to purchase a video game and stay at home rather than go out on the town each weekend. In the UK, video games are projected to surpass music and video for sales in retail outlets by the end of this year. Sales of games like “Rock Band” are great for the industry because of their option to download digital tracks.
Viacom, MTV’s parent company, has been recording high profits coming from “Rock Band” over the past few quarters. 7 million units have shipped and 26 million songs have been downloaded, driving up ancillary revenues 36%.
Licensing the Beatles music to video games raises questions about why their music remains to be available on digital music retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, and others. You would imagine that if the Beatles are looking to find new and creative ways to reach current and newer fans using this new technology, wouldn’t they want their catalog to be available for purchase online? Maybe this will bring the Beatles to realize that the digital market is clearly the next step.
By Jack Goodall