If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join the Soundtrack

Soaring oil prices and tough economic times? Don’t tell the growing video game industry. Some analysts have even gone so far as to say that the video game industry is “recession-proof.”

Consumers keep shelling out $60 per game, but with less expendable funds, they’re cutting back on other forms of entertainment, such as movies and music. Naturally, we’d expect those industries to fight back by attempting to slow the gaming boom. However, many music companies are trying to play alongside the game instead of beating them at their own game (all puns intended).

The best example of the music and video game industry striking a partnership involves music-based titles such as “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.” The recent success of these games has created a new revenue stream for current and historical songs.

Anyone who has spent time with these games realizes you can’t just walk away after one song. Regardless of your gaming experience, you’re instantly hooked and want to play through as many songs as possible until your hand becomes locked into a carpal tunnel-induced knot.

Activision and MTV Games took note of this and created custom downloadable music packs from specific artists. The packs can even be more popular than the real albums. For example, MÖtley Crüe sold more than three times the copies of their recently released album “Saints of Los Angeles” through Xbox Live for “Rock Band” than on iTunes during its first week of sales.

In addition to custom music packs, these publishers are partnering with the biggest names in the music industry to create custom versions of the game. As an example earlier this year, Activision released a version of “Guitar Hero” dedicated to Aerosmith. The formula must have worked as Activision has announced plans to do the same with Metallica later in the year. This marks a significant change in the music industry’s position considering that Metallica stood out as one of the biggest proponents against digital distribution in a lawsuit against Napster, filed in 2000.

Not to be outdone by their archrival, “Rock Band 2” will feature “Shackler’s Revenge,” an exclusive track from Guns N’ Roses highly anticipated album, “Chinese Democracy.” Obviously, Guns N’ Roses is banking on the popularity of “Rock Band” to help drive sales of their first album in over a decade.

Other music video games that don’t require the mastery of a plastic instrument look to continue the music-based game recipe for success. At this year’s E3 conference, Microsoft officially announced its anticipated game “Lips,” which brings karaoke right to your living room. In addition to built-in game music content, gamers will be able to sing along with their own library of music found on their Zune or iPod. While “Lips” isn’t the first sing-along console game, the ability to play your favorite songs from your library and custom microphones offer added incentives to pick up the game later this year.

The partnership of music and video games isn’t limited to music-based games. It was reported that Electronic Arts (EA) received more than 4,000 submissions for this year’s “Madden 09” soundtrack. Both emerging and recognized artists see the opportunity to be included on EA’s blockbuster title as a way to get new music in front of hard-to-reach consumers.

Larry Jacobson, manager of Avenged Sevenfold, credited the band’s inclusion in “Madden” as a contributing factor to their success: “The impact on the band’s career was immense. There was no other way to explain the sold-out shows and kids singing every word to songs not yet on radio.” “Madden 09” will include established bands such as Linkin Park, along with new artists like Kidz in the Hall.

As marketers explore branded marketing opportunities in the video game or music industry, look for partners working across each industry to maximize the potential of an executed program. The right opportunity could insert your brand into the consumer experience for a significant portion of the game’s life, depending on the execution.

Imagine your target consumer interacting with your program for 10 to 15 hours, which is realistic considering the sticky factor of most games. Also, the likelihood that same consumer will seek out the selected music outside of the game goes up as well, which gives your overall program more exposure.

There hasn’t been an example of an advertiser working with a video game and music partner simultaneously to create a valuable consumer experience, but it’s merely a matter of time given the increased partnership between music and games.

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