By all accounts, 2007 was a great year for the video game industry, driven largely by the rising popularity of music-based titles. Total video game sales (hardware and software) through October was $10.5 billion, compared with $7 billion for the same period last year, according to data from NPD Group.
Much of the growth can be attributed to a more stable market for the new-generation game consoles: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii. But another factor is the “casual game,” a segment that includes significant music-based titles. The rise of casual games — those that virtually anyone can pick up and play without training — fueled the surprising emergence of the Wii as the dominant game platform: It outsold the Xbox 360 and the PS3.
And with big hardcore gamer titles being pushed back until 2008 or running into ratings disputes, music games are set to make a real difference for this holiday season and beyond.
A breakdown of the year’s biggest music-based games:
‘Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock’
Xbox 360, PS3, Wii (Activision/Red Octane/Neversoft)
Activision’s first shot at a new “Guitar Hero” title with new developer Neversoft at the helm (MTV bought original developer Harmonix), “Guitar Hero III” is poised to be the best-selling music game of the year. It sold 1.4 million units in the first six days after its October 28 release, and analysts expect strong sales through the holidays. Along with the more than 60 songs that ship with the game, Activision added the ability to buy and download more songs online for 500
Microsoft Points (about $5).
‘Guitar Hero II’
Xbox 360 (Activision/Red Octane)
Activision created this version of “Guitar Hero” for the Xbox 360 shortly after acquiring publisher Red Octane. The game has sold more than 2.8 million copies for the year, with only “Madden NFL 08” and “Halo 3” selling more.
The game also introduced the concept of downloading new tracks, allowing gamers to buy three-pack songs from the previous “Guitar Hero” titles. More than 650,000 packs, or 2 million individual songs, have been purchased, according to Activision.
One downer: In November, the Romantics filed suit against everyone associated with the “Guitar Hero” franchise for using, for one song, a cover band alleged to sound too much like them.
Xbox 360, PS3 (MTV/Harmonix)
“Rock Band” ups the ante from “Guitar Hero” by enabling gamers to play not only the guitar track but also bass, drums and vocals. Each requires a different controller, which bumps the price up to $170, compared with $70 for “Guitar Hero.” The game debuted November 20 and has shipped more than 1.3 million copies. It ships with 58 tracks, and gamers can download new songs weekly, for $5.50 a three-pack or $2 per song, at the game’s online store.
“Rock Band” had a slight stumble early on when its guitar controller proved a bit buggy, but MTV/Harmonix honored all warranty requests.
PS3 (Sony Computer Entertainment America)
The “SingStar” franchise gets an updated interface and offers the ability to buy and download new songs with its evolution to the PS3. The karaoke game ships with wired microphones that gamers use while attempting to sing along to studio tracks from major artists. The game also lets players upload videos of themselves to the “SingStar” online community site, where others can view and rate their performances.
It includes 36 songs on the disc, but also allows gamers to purchase up to 40 additional titles via the SingStore, accessible via the online section of the game menu.
The game hits stores December 6 in Australia and the United Kingdom, but won’t make it to the United States until early 2008.