Music games boomed in 2010 but 2011 could be much shakier

Music-related games saw an increase of 13.7% in sales last year to generate over £100m at retail, but wider forces could compromise its growth potential for this year.

Figures given to the BPI from GfK’s Chart Track reveal that platforms such as the Nintendo Wii, drove a large amount of sales (up 123% for the platform itself) in the gaming sector. The findings demonstrate that motion-based titles such as the Just Dance franchise were key to the market over the past year, arguably taking up the slack from the decline in peripheral-based titles such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

The uptake of PlayStation’s Move and Xbox 360’s Kinect motion-sensor technology are also, alongside Wii, helping create a new category of music-based gaming.

BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said as labels diversified their revenue streams, licensing music into games titles had become a core part of digital business.

“Music is no longer a mere background feature in music games but a driving force behind their development and popularity. Motion-sensing has breathed new life into music games on consoles and record companies are finding new ways of engaging with fans through mobile and social gaming platforms,” he noted.

While the market performed well in 2010, events at the end of the year and the start of 2011 suggested the console gaming business was running out of rail.

And although there are a few marquee acts which are predicted to dominate this category in 2011, such as Ubisoft’s Blacked Eyes Peas Experience and the Glee-branded Music In Motion, the real boom is happening in social gaming, as Zynga’s IPO – which could value it at $1bn (£0.62bn) – illustrates all too obviously.

The company has managed to tap into a demographic which would never have previously considered themselves gamers, using Facebook to reach hundreds of millions of users.

However, the problem here, and it will become an increasingly larger one for labels and publishers as social gaming scoops up more and more users who will never engage with console games, is that music is pushed too far the side.

FarmVille dominates the genre and Zynga’s other major titles are primarily music-free. It did partner with Lady GaGa around her recent album launch, unlocking tracks and promotions during the campaign, however research by AllThingsDigital found the impact was fleeting – with user figures spiking around track unlocks but falling back when there was no activity on the site.

MXP4 has also recently moved into this area with its Bopler range of titles – and although these are all built on music, it remains to be seen what market and revenue impact they will have.

There have been moves by labels, notably EMI and Universal, to use social gaming to reach new audiences but they have tended to be used as marketing channels rather than adding in a commercial element to the equation.

This is the fundamental problem facing the sector; as social games piggyback on social networks, there is an inherent assumption from the users that – just like the social networks they use – they should be free at the point of entry.

There are monetisation routes of course, through options like virtual goods which even track and merchandise sales. But margins are becoming tight as organisations such as Facebook adapt their usage terms to insist that games developers go through the Facebook Credits payment system and hand over a 30% commissio.

Console gaming and its new motion-based future, spells good news for a handful of mega acts with enough fans for a developer to spend two years and millions of dollars building games around them.

And, for the rest of the acts, social gaming will grow in importance. But those hoping for a financial windfall for such titles will have a long wait ahead of them.

2010’s Top Ten titles in the UK (title/format/publisher):

1. Just Dance – Wii (Ubisoft)

2. Just Dance 2 – Wii (Ubisoft)

3. Michael Jackson: The Experience – Wii (Ubisoft)

4. Dance on Broadway – Wii (Ubisoft)

5. Dance Central – 360 (Microsoft)

6. The X Factor – Wii (Koch Media)

7. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock – 360 (Activision Blizzard)

8. We Sing: Encore – Wii (Nordic Games)

9. We Sing – Wii (Nordic Games)

10. Grease: The Official Video Game – Wii (505 Games)

Source: http://www.musicweek.com/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=1045818&c=1

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