NOTE - I originally wrote this post in 2009 - walk with me.
Video games and music are BIG business. The "Guitar Hero" series hit $1 billion in retail sales in January 2008 after only 26 months on the market while its "Rock Band" counterpart had moved 1 million units and sold 2.5 million downloads as of January 2008. The popularity of these games is so enormous that in '07 Vivendi, the parent company of the Universal Music Group, purchased a controlling stake in "Guitar Hero's" publisher Activison for billions.
And Hip-Hop hasn't been left out either as this Spring will bring the release of "Scratch: The Ultimate DJ", a "Guitar Hero" like game that will allow players to assume the role of DJ and cut up some of their Hip-Hop favourites. The music industry has a unique opportunity to grab hold of the video game industry and use it to prop up its sales and take its industry into the future in an exciting and profitable way. The following are 3 ideas, some game specific, some not, as to how the music industry can further monetize video games.
"GRAND THEFT AUTO"
Judging by the sales of the most recent installment of "Grand Theft Auto", the series isn't going anywhere anytime soon. "Grand Theft Auto IV" brought an in-game feature that allowed players to type a number into their virtual phone, a service called "ZiT", that would text them the name of the song and the artist they were hearing on the in-game radio station. Players would then receive an email and instructions on how they could purchase the song on Amazon.com. A very cool feature no doubt, but still somewhat a drawn out process and not really all that revolutionary when it boils down to it. Here is an idea that would be cool, revolutionary and would probably result in triple the sales this Amazon model did:
Picture this..."Grand Theft Auto V." You're walking around the streets looking for that car to jack when you pass someone in a tricked out old school ride who is bumpin' this crazy new track. You hear it faintly from the window...you get a little closer and jack the ride. In the car you check out the guy's MP3 player to see what was playing. Oh shit...it's new Method Man. Do you download it from your in-game smart phone? Do you hit the in-game record store and cop it at one of the kiosks? (where you can also browse thousands of other songs to purchase) Do you "illegally" download it from your PC back at the in-game crib?
Keep the in-game radio stations on GTA and equip the people in the game with MP3 players, the cars with CD players and systems...if they wanna rock the radio let them tune in the radio...if they wanna rock their MP3 player...let them do it. All of the in-game downloading of music could be hooked into your real world PC so when you download it in the game to use you get it in real life as well. Oh and the "illegal" downloading? Well...GTA is all about being ruthless (stealing cars isn't legal last time I checked) and while users would technically be "illegally" downloading the music in the game, the catch is they wouldn't get the songs in the real world and the "illegal" downloads would be of a lower, more grainy quality and only be a snippet preview thus enticing people to purchase the real thing. It keeps that ruthless GTA feeling while enticing people to purchase the full song. The in game music aspect could even be taken so far as to allow people to create MP3 mixes to share in the GTA world with other players. The possibilities are endless when the actual downloading and listening of music happens in-game and in the real world simultaneously.
Let me preface this idea by saying yes I know it's totally off the wall...but it just might work. How many times have you been listening to an album or song and thought "the story on this song is so dope" in reference to how the artist has painted a picture with their words? I'm sure it's happened many times. My question then is, why can't we play out these stories? I mean wouldn't it have been cool if a feature allowed you to play out the story told in 50 Cent's "Many Men" or A Tribe Called Quest's "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo?" Sure, the stories would need to be exaggerated a little bit to make it worth playing, but man...talk about added value. I really feel one of the reasons people have stopped buying music is because you can't do much with music once you have it other than play it...and most current music gets old REALLY fast. You can buy a pair of jeans and rock them for months and months, you can buy a TV and use it for years...but most music gets old after a couple of weeks, especially in the age we are in now.
Now you're obviously not going to make all music playable (I mean I'm not really sure what the "This Is Why I'm Hot" game would entail), but songs with vivid lyrics telling compelling stories could be turned into short video games that might carry an additional fee or be included for free as a means to propel single and album sales. The logistics of this I haven't worked out yet (I'm not gonna do all the work for the clueless) but it would involve a deeper partnership between the record companies and the game developers which would of course bring everyone more money in the end plus provide the consumer with a little more bang for their music buck.
MUSIC INDUSTRY SIMS GAME
I don't know if this necessarily needs to be under the "SIMS" brand (although they do these games very well), but you can't tell me that 80% of music fans don't they think can run a record label better than the fat cats up in the offices. So why not turn it into a game? Let players build up their label by signing artists, hiring staff, managing budgets, coordinating tours, choosing singles, securing press etc. You know...handling ALL aspects of running a record label. The way the music industry could monetize this would be to allow actual artist names and music to be used in the game while still letting players create their own artists. There could be a huge online mode incorporated as people compete to be the most successful label. It would also be a unique opportunity for interaction between the labels and the fans as the labels could peek in and see what songs fans think should be singles and see if the games players are taking any unique avenues for press and budgets. Think of it as a farm team for the record labels while a fun, enthralling and unique experience for the players. Oh and don't forget the loads of cash it would bring in via retail sales, extra downloads, extra features, etc.