Planned Guns N’ Roses Deal Underscores Power Of Video Games


July 13, 2008

Robert Levine of The New York Times reports that a decade and a half after releasing its previous album, Guns N’ Roses plans to put out a new song in September — on the video game Rock Band 2. MTV expects to announce on Monday that the sequel to its popular Rock Band game will include “Shackler’s Revenge,” a track from the Guns N’ Roses album that has been in the works for more than a decade, said people familiar with the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because the arrangement has yet to be announced.

The inclusion of the song on a game suggests that the Guns N’ Roses album “Chinese Democracy” will come out this fall, after years of delays. Axl Rose, who has selected replacements for the other original members, has said that the album is finished, but a release date has not been announced.

MTV and Universal Music Group, Guns N’ Roses’ label, declined to comment on the deal.

Guns N’ Roses’ plan to reintroduce its music to the public in a video game underscores how important to the music business games have become — especially Rock Band and Activision’s Guitar Hero series, which allow gamers to play along with songs on instrument-shaped plastic controllers. Rock Band 2 will also include songs from marquee acts like AC/DC and Rush; the game may also feature music by Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan, according to a track listing leaked online. Activision recently released a version of Guitar Hero dedicated to Aerosmith, and a game based on Metallica is due next year.

Both Rock Band and Guitar Hero have helped the ailing music industry by licensing songs and using online networks to sell additional tracks for gamers to play along with. Those tracks, which usually sell for around $2 each, are more profitable for record companies and musicians than iTunes sales.

MTV, which has focused more than Activision on selling additional songs online, recently announced that it had sold 15 million tracks, and sales are especially impressive for hard-rock bands. During the week in June when Motley Crue released “Saints of Los Angeles,” the first single from its new album, the song sold 14,000 copies on iTunes and 48,000 on Rock Band through Microsoft’s Xbox Live network, said Allen Kovac, founder of the group’s management company and record label.

Perhaps more important, Rock Band is introducing young listeners to older bands they might not know. Mr. Kovac said that Motley Crue’s exposure in the game helped it sell more albums because gamers spend significant time with the band’s music. “I credit Rock Band for bringing in the younger audience,” Mr. Kovac said. “The people who downloaded that song aren’t just listening to it, they’re interacting with it.”

Guitar Hero and Rock Band have become sensations in the video-game business, creating a product category that a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests could be worth $1 billion this year in the United States alone. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock has sold more than eight million copies since its fall release, according to the NPD Group, a sales-tracking company, while Rock Band has sold about 2.5 million in about the same period. Rock Band 2, to be released for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in September and other consoles later in the fall, will face off against Guitar Hero World Tour this holiday season.

Rock Band has been an especially important promotional vehicle for bands that no longer get the radio play they once did. “On the last tour we started seeing young people who had heard of the band from Guitar Hero and Rock Band,” said Andy Curran, an executive at Anthem Records, the record company for the band Rush. So Rush gave Rock Band an alternate version of its song “Working Man,” which proved so popular that the group is now thinking of making it available through Apple’s iTunes store. It is also talking with MTV about selling a full album through Rock Band, Mr. Curran said, as well as some other projects.

MTV also sells digital songs through its stake in the Rhapsody online music service, and it could eventually cross-promote new tracks for Rock Band. Activision — now Activision Blizzard after its merger with Vivendi Games — may be thinking along similar lines, since its chief executive, Robert Kotick, recently said that the company was considering starting its own digital music store.

Online stores could further raise demand for older rock at a time when physical stores are closing. “These games absolutely have an impact because the opportunity to hear these songs on radio is dwindling,” said Mike Davis, executive vice president and general manager of Universal Music Enterprises. “This is becoming an important piece of the marketing puzzle.”

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