Rock Band goes platinum, song sales top 2.5 million

MTV exec Paul DeGooyer talks about what's selling, downloadable albums, and how the Vivendi-Activision merger will affect access to Universal Music Group artists.

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When Harmonix first announced Rock Band, it made it very clear that the studio would be pouring significant resources into the game's downloadable content. Nearly two months after the game first debuted on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in the US, it appears gamers have followed suit.

Harmonix and parent company MTV Games today announced that they have sold more than 2.5 million downloadable songs for the game through the Xbox Live Marketplace and PlayStation Network. The best-selling download to date is the Metallica pack, which features the original versions of "Ride the Lightning," "Blackened," and "And Justice for All." Combo packs from the Police, Queens of the Stone Age, David Bowie (two covers and one original), and Black Sabbath (three cover songs) follow Metallica on the best-seller list.

As far as individual songs go, Foreigner's "Juke Box Hero" takes the crown, trailed by Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son," Weezer's "Buddy Holly," and the Knack's "My Sharona." Of those, only "Buddy Holly" is a performance from the original artist.

Downloadable tracks aren't the only thing going platinum for Rock Band. The industry-tracking NPD Group has confirmed for GameSpot that the rhythm game has sold 1.1 million copies in the US, a figure that includes bundled and stand-alone copies of the game for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PlayStation 2.

To get a little deeper into what trends can be gleaned from the initial volley of Rock Band downloadable content (and to get updates on persisting issues like when stand-alone instruments and downloadable albums will be available), GameSpot spoke with MTV senior vice president of home entertainment, music, and games Paul DeGooyer.

GameSpot: Three of the four most popular individual tracks sold are covers. People are no doubt telling you they want original tracks instead of cover versions, but is the sales data really backing that up at all?

Paul DeGooyer: It's showing us first and foremost that the best product is great gameplay. Of course there are songs that everybody knows. You see leverage in Metallica, you see leverage in the fact that the Police [tracks] are masters. Also, [if the covers are] great songs, people want them. They want to play that song.

GS: Are there any songs proving more popular with the Xbox 360 audience than the PS3 audience or vice versa?

PD: That's an excellent question. Based on the data I have now, it's about the same.

GS: Lots of gamers aren't really familiar with the deeper cuts of Sweet or anything from 30 Seconds to Mars, and people can be very picky about cover versions of songs they know well. Where are the preview clips so customers know what they're getting before paying for it?

PD: Oh, I see, you mean in the store experience? We were just working on that yesterday and we hope to introduce that shortly.

GS: And on the official Rock Band site?

PD: I don't think we have that up yet, although I can confirm we have the rights to do what you're asking.

GS: Your announcement mentioned that the $.99 songs will only be that price through January. Will the $.99 price point always be a limited-time offer?

PD: I think you're going to see a combination of offers.

GS: And those $.99 songs will become $2 at the end of the month?

PD: Yes, they'll go to $2, which is what we call full price.

GS: It's interesting to see what's been selling for you so far. Will you be releasing weekly charts so we know at least what's popular?

PD: Yeah, I think we would like to do that, probably via RockBand.com.

GS: Can you make any generalizations about who are the most avid downloadable content consumers?

PD: What's interesting to us is that it's selling across the board. It's in the early days, but there's enough selling that there's a statistically significant sample. At first blush, I would say it really is across the board. I suspect that there's a family aspect to it, and I think you also have a bit of a "superfan" aspect going on.

GS: Is there anything that isn't selling, or isn't selling up to expectations?

PD: I would have to say no at this point. That might change as we put more content in. At some point, you really will be able to see what's selling tremendously well, what sells very well out of the gate to a core audience, and what sells consistently week over week. That'll be very interesting to see, but I think it's too soon to tell.

GS: Lots of players want all the downloadable content, regardless of what genres and styles are represented. So why aren't there packs each week that include all of the new releases? Why do you offer people a break for buying "I Fought the Law" with a few other songs, but not "Brass in Pocket"?

PD: Simply put, we are trying to create products that make sense [in] the way they hang together creatively. We've made commitments to our partners, artists, managers, labels, and publishers that will present the music in a certain way. I don't rule out what you're talking about, but it is a bit more complex. And in light of the success of the program, I believe it gives us the ability to continue those discussions. We're trying to deliver the maximum value to the gamers and we're trying to make sure that the music is presented in a way that the artist would like to see it.

GS: Activision just became part of the Vivendi corporation, which owns the Universal Music Group. The Who are a Universal Music Group act, and Who's Next was the first downloadable album announced for Rock Band. Does that merger have anything to do with why we haven't seen the first downloadable album yet?

PD: [Laughs.] I understand that there are conspiracy theories percolating out there about albums, but the process of getting tracks delivered--it's one thing if you're talking about one, two, or three tracks for a product. But if you're talking about a complete album, making sure that the stems are delivered, that we find the right versions of the masters... In some instances, the final two-track stereo version consisted of a couple of different takes cut together. We don't really know all of that, but I can assure you that it's not a Vivendi-Universal issue. Far from it.

GS: Do you expect your access to Universal Music Group artists to change in the future?

PD: I don't know. At this point I'd say no. They've been a tremendous partner to us. I think we've done a really great job on behalf of their artists, and I think we've made them a good amount of money. I expect that to continue.

GS: When will we start seeing albums, and how much will they cost?

PD: Very shortly. In fact, I hope the next time I'm speaking to you we're talking about albums. And I think you'll be very pleased with what we have.

GS: And no update on the cost?

PD: No, not yet.

GS: Can we get an update on when stand-alone instruments will be available?

PD: That will also be shortly, but that is a separate announcement. We're getting our ducks in a row for that.

GS: A lot of people have invested a lot of money into Rock Band downloadable content at this point. Will any kind of Rock Band spin-off or sequel be backward compatible with these libraries gamers are accumulating? Is that content future-proof?

PD: That's an excellent question, and I think that would be our preference.

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