meandering creativity, symbols and emotion

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Beatles: Rock Band - OK Game, Not Great Numbers and Why I'm Not Surprised

In August I predicted that Beatles: Rock Band would not do "all that well" - my thesis was that there wasn't enough of a gamer/Beatles fan crossover for it to gain the same amount of traction as the previous Guitar Hero/Rock Band games.

Considering that The Beatles: Rock Band's developer Harmonix just laid of 13% of it's staff I decided to take a look at the numbers and according to everything I'm seeing my prediction was true.

Sales numbers:
Guitar Hero 1 - 2.14 million
Guitar Hero 2 - 6.1 million
Guitar Hero 3 - 15.22 million
Guitar Hero 4 World Tour - 8.61 million
Guitar Hero 5 - 2.12 million

RockBand - 5.39 million
Rockband 2 - 3.69 million
The Beatles: Rock Band - 1.97 million

All of these numbers are from

No video game that sells a million copies could be considered a failure by any stretch but when you compare that to sales of previous Guitar Hero and Rockband games it's hardly a breakthrough.

My reasoning is pretty simple:
  • young gamers are more interested in rock songs
  • old rockers are less interested in games
  • that leaves an apparently narrow margin in the middle with folks who appreciate the Beatles and Video Games
The Nintendo Wii has gained a ton of momentum among non-gamers - but most of that success has been due to the bright colors and simple controls of Wii Sports. I told my mom and 3 year old nephew how to play Wii bowling by saying "Hold down this button and swing your arm."

Rockband on the other hand has fairly complex controls that would be a lot more difficult to explain. "Hold down one of those five buttons on the guitar while strumming in time to the music."

Also when you add the fact that the royalty rates for the songs are higher than any other game - it's hard to view this as more than just ok. Unless of course you hold the rights to the music and likenessess of the Beatles.


  1. Why are you are comparing sales for games that have had more than a year to sell to a game that literally came out 3 months ago. 2 million is pretty good for 3 months.

    Also, those laid off at Harmonix were primarily QA which I believe isn't a guaranteed position at any game company. They come and they go.

  2. Since the beatles game is a derivative title based on the main franchise I would compare it to similar games:

    Beatles Rock Band: 1.97m... 21.7% of RB "user base" (RB1+RB2 only)
    Rock Band AC/DC: 0.55m... 6% of RB "user base"
    Guitar Hero Metallica: 1.62m... 4.7% of GH "user base" (sum of GH1-GH5)
    Guitar Hero Aerosmith: 3.3m... 9.6% of GH "user base"

    So currently the Aerosmith game is the leading band-based game in terms of sales numbers, but it is a lower number when comparing to how many guitar hero games are sold. Another factor in favor of Aerosmith is that it was released for the PS2 - a system with a high user base. My assumption in this is that those who own the controllers are more likely to purchase another game. So as a band only game the beatles game is either selling better or about equal as other games of its type depending on how you look at it.

    I think that there is a decline in sales overall also because this type of game is getting old. Playing rock band at parties was fun for awhile but I do not see it happening as frequently anymore. And as far as guitar hero goes Activision is taking their usual approach and "Tony Hawking" the series into mediocrity.

  3. Bastion: You're right - QA positions are typically entry level positions reserved for those trying to break into the gaming industry. It stands to reason they'd be the first to go.

    Two million is good for just several months and with the holidays coming up we can imagine those numbers will increase.

    Which is why the layoffs are so troubling. If you anticipate selling well during the holidays AND you've just confirmed Rockband Green Day then why the large layoffs?

    I think it's probably because Harmonix knows that the music market is fairly saturated and they might not expect a huge holiday spike in sales. I'm not sure I do.

    stray cat: I think it's important to mention that most of the band-based games you've mentioned have not included full band hardware. NOTE: RB Beatles can be purchased without the hardware.

    I think it makes perfect since that GH:Aerosmith is leading in the number because they were band crossover when the market was not nearly as saturated as it is now.