Some interesting developments this week in the music game space points to a potential rebirth of the genre as a new form of social gaming.
Making the most headlines was the shuttering of JamLegend. JamLegend was a Guitar Hero-like rhythm game that had fans paying a monthly fee to upload the tracks they wanted to play. Artists could get involved and upload tracks as well. Interesting concept, and while it claimed some 1 million registered users, it just never really took off.
TechCrunch then reported that social game powerhouse Zynga-the company behind such hits as CityVille and Mafia Wars-acquired the JamLegend team for itself. Shutting down the service was a precursor to moving the team to Zynga where they could "move on to new ventures," according to the JamLegend blog.
This is Zynga's second music-related acquisition. Last year, it bought Conduit Labs, which made music-focused games such as Music Pets and Super Dance. But so far, we've not seen anything music related from Zynga. There's been no real music outlet yet developed for its more popular games (CityVille claims more than 100 million users), and it hasn't released a music-specific game along the likes of Booyah's NightClub City or even the new ClubWorld from Tapulous.
In our conversations with Zynga, the subject of music is a very cryptic one. Something's in the works, but they're being cagey about details either because a) they're ramping up to a big launch announcement or b) they're still not sure what direction to take.
But music is certainly an area to expect them to enter. Earlier this week, a far smaller company called MXP4 expanded its social music gaming plans with the launch of Bopler Games-it's first branded gaming platform. MXP4 previously provided the technology behind several artist-branded interactive music apps for Facebook, such as David Guetta and Big Boi. Bopler Games is a consumer-facing app not tied to any one artist. The beta version of the game includes music from KT Tunstall, Norah Jones, Culture club and much more. The platform includes four different types of music games, all of which require users to buy the songs they want to interact with.
Guitar Hero may be dead ( or on indefinite "hiatus"), and MTV may have unloaded Rock Band from its roster. But those were console-based games that carried huge costs and significant time investment from gamers.
Social games are the tip of the casual gaming spear which is expanding rapidly. A recent Parks Associates report predicts social games will generate $5 billion in revenue by 2015. Virtual goods is a big driver of that, and some artists have already dabbled in that space. But music itself as the product for music-specific games could have great potential, if correctly handled.