Dead Beatles Approve of Rock Band?

9 09 2009

OK, normally I’m skeptical of anyone who claims to have channeled the spirit of a dead celebrity, but this story out of Gi.biz has the ring of truth to it. According to this story, John Lennon and George Harrison would have approved of their music being translated into video game form in Rock Band. The beyond-the-grave quotes come from people with absolutely no financial stake in the success of the game — Sir Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison — so you know it must be true.

In all seriousness, though. I actually believe this. One of the things that gets lost in the Beatles status as hippie icons and early advocates for peace, love and flower power is that all of the Beatles were consummate marketers, savvy businessmen and technological pioneers. Many of their recordings, especially Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, were notable for the technological stunts they pulled during production — everything from back-masking to overdubbing to weird audio tricks they tried in the studio. They were also very good at anticipating trends in popular culture and making themselves over to appeal to what was hot in the zeitgiest. John Lennon took a notable left turn into the avante-garde when Yoko Ono attached herself to him like a lamprey but even on the albums they worked on together, Lennon’s pop music instincts never left him. That’s what making big chunks of Double Fantasy actually worth listening to and stuff by Ono not so much.

It stands to reason therefore that they would have approved of Rock Band. I don’t think anyone expects Paul McCartney to be a real gamer, but eventually he picked up on what it could mean for the Beatles’ music. The Beatles were ultimately a pop music band. In fact, the band practically defined what it is to be a pop music band in the modern era and they were multimedia before it even had a name. Pop music is meant to be spread wide and listened to by a broad swathe of the public. The broad swathe of the public is currently playing games.

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Are Music/Rhythm Games Doomed?

2 09 2009

Jeff Vogel over The Bottom-Feeder has an interesting post up wondering whether games like Guitar Hero are doomed. While Jeff makes a good case about why the current level of sales and popularity is unsustainable, I think he’s a bit negative about the actual prospects of the rhythm/music genre. What I think he misses is that the survival of the genre has little to do with $240 Beatles sets and the storage of drums and much more to do with the executive cadre at places like Activision and Harmonix. Put simply, this is yet another case of Dungeons & Dragons, the pet rock and Pokemon — it’s a fad.

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Fads begin because of — well, to be honest, nobody really knows how fads begin. Something neat comes and catches the public’s imagination for a while and then burns out. It takes a really smart group of business people to realize that they’re riding a wave, not presiding over a huge paradigm shift in our culture and given the astonishing stupidity of a lot of executives I’ve met in both gaming and the music business, I’m not sure that they realize that. The challenge for makers of music games now is to manage the shift from fad crest to the eventual crash — and mark my words, it’s coming. They need to figure out how to sustain an audience — who their hard-core is– for these games because if they keep pumping out overpriced garbage, they may find themselves with an audience turning away in disgust rather than what they want — a steady stream of income and a new channel for artists to release music to the public.

If they start planning for the crash now, music and rhytm games can be steady money-earners for a long time. If they assume that the fad will last forever, they deserve what they get.

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