Thursday, October 30, 2008

In which I take the Wall Street Journal to task for their "analysis" of the impact of the Beatles appearing in Rock Band

So the Beatles at long last are going to have some kind of digital distribution, and it will be in the Rock Band series. The WSJ's article on it is fairly good, written as it is for a general audience, but it contains two paragraphs that made me wince.

The first is an observation about the relative sales performance of the two games. It follows earlier portions that have made it clear that the two games are competing, and that the Beatles deal represents a big win for Rock Band. This is apparently offset by:
DFC estimates that Guitar Hero and its sequels have generated more than $1.5 billion in cumulative revenue so far, three times as much as Rock Band. However, the two games are competing neck-and-neck so far this year, with MTV's launch of Rock Band 2 and Activision's latest, Guitar Hero World Tour, this past Sunday. Guitar Hero has issued seven titles to date, while Rock Band -- distributed by Electronic Arts Inc. -- has put out just two titles.

The implication is that Rock Band is the upstart, coming from behind; that GH is more successful than Rock Band. But, since there are no sales figures for the period since Rock Band's release, or across the last two releases or really anything that gives you an apples-to-apples comparison, it's what we call a "factoid." That is, "fact-" meaning "fact," and "oid" meaning "something like." It's an ornament, but not particularly useful in helping you figure out which game is winning.

Look, if you want to compare the two games, compare them in a meaningful way. When one game has a two-year head start, lifetime sales figures aren't a very good yardstick. And since the creative team (Harmonix) that is making Rock Band was responsible for developing the first 3 Guitar Hero releases (GH, GH II and GH:Rocks the 80s), perhaps those should be counted on the Rock Band side.

The second maddening paragraph is the very next one in the article:
Beatles songs available on a Rock Band game are likely to be popular, but analysts point out that the challenge will be in reaching out to Beatles fans, many of whom are in their 50s and 60s, and marketing the game in a way that will persuade them to buy a videogame console and try the game.
The "analysts" mentioned are no doubt glad they are anonymous, because this is a dipshit statement, on multiple levels. First, it assumes that Beatles fans are mostly over 50. Hello? They're the BEST ROCK AND ROLL BAND EVER. Their appeal transcends age. Yes, lots of people over 50 like the Beatles. So do lots of people who are under 50.

Second, it assumes that you have to be a Beatles fan to be interested in their music. I'm not a Jimmy Buffet fan, but I bought the 3-song Buffet set for Rock Band. Iconic, distinctive music has general appeal. The music of the Beatles will appeal even to non-Beatles fans.

Third and most annoying, it assumes that Harmonix and MTV are interested in trying to drive console sales. They don't make consoles. They make software and peripherals, and trying to drive sales of those things is their primary concern. Adding the Beatles to their product line (especially if they do a standalone Beatles game) drives software sales to people who already own consoles.

It's one of those superficially smart-sounding observations that falls apart under scrutiny. It shouldn't have made it past the editors at the WSJ.

1 comment:

Chuck said...

One of the great pleasures of my NOT-YET-50 life was watching my daughter discover the Beatles at 15, 3 years ago. They remain one of her 5 favorite bands, right up there with Death Cab for Cutie. "Dipshit" was the *perfect* word to describe that comment.