CANNES, France -- There are plenty of individual examples of artists who have experimented successfully with social games. But is there a model here that all artists can follow? Or is it like the mobile app space -- something a handful of artist have thrived with, but hasn't yet developed into a template that all can follow?
That the question that remains with us even after much discussion on the subject at the Opportunities in Social Music Gaming panel here this week, led by Mobilum Advisory Group CEO Ralph Simon. The session adequately set the stage for the activity taking place today, and left the crowd with a few tips for smart social gaming strategy. But it didn't touch on the larger issue outlined above.
First, the successes. Nightclub City from developer Booyah is an early hit for music acts. It now counts 20 million overall, with around 1 million playing the game on any given day. While artists like Kiss have partnered with the service to boost their Facebook cred, the game mostly caters to emerging and unsigned artists due to the rights issues involved with streaming music inside the virtual venues in which players spend their time. Those artists on average generate between 30,000 to 100,000 "likes" on Facebook as a result of being discovered in the game, and there's room to make a little extra scratch selling virtual good.
MXP4 is another company gaining traction. It's a music remix game that lets fans of participating artists create different versions of their songs and post them for other users to hear and rank. CEO Albin Serviant said David Guetta's version of the game on his Facebook page generates about 1 million active users a month who on average interact with his music for 20 minutes per session. Some tracks get played by the same user more than 200 times. Driving this engagement is not only the addition of new tracks to remix, but also to see how one's remix stacks up against others.
"That's why people are coming back on a daily basis," Serviant said. "They want to compete."
It's a reccurring theme for social games, all of which seek a mixture of game-style rewards (badges, rankings, and head-to-head competition) with fan-based rewards (new content, exclusive content, and interaction with a favorite artist).
A new social game launched late last year, SongHi, lets users create their own music. It's free, but lets users buy new instruments to add to their mixes (i.e. a Fender guitar rather than the default guitar) and offers artists a way to participate. Artists could, for instance, contribute vocal tracks to the game that users can buy and download, then add the vocals to their own instrumental mixes. So far the game has 40,000 registered users without a shred of marketing behind it, with 70,000 songs created generating over a half a million streams.
"Games are just one example of a reward loop that is really powerful," said Charles Hudson, co-author of Inside Music Games and CEO of developer Bionic Panda Games. "It makes sense that consumers would respond to that ability to get recognition and get access to premium content. The ability to stand out and show that 'I'm the biggest David Guetta fan' is rewarding."
But most of the panel cited the licensing roadblocks as the primary reason more artists haven't engaged in these platforms. Social game developers would like nothing more than to get label-wide licensing deals, including publishing, that would allow any covered act and manager to immediate get to work on initiatives for a given game.
"We're startups. We have to move fast," said Serviant.
Moderator Ralph Simon put it more plainly: "Tell the publishers to get off their ass and be really aggressive" about approving deals with social game developers.
However things may soon change for the better. After the panel, MXP4 advisor Tuhin Roy (former founder and CEO of the Digital Rights Agency, which The Orchard acquired a few years ago) hinted at a big announcement coming soon from MXP4 on the licensing front.
"I've been doing this for 10 years, and I think this is the best environment we've had yet," he said.