I like videogames, and I also like music, which makes it a good week for me with all of the music-game developments that have occurred. My favorite included the introduction of "Guitar Hero World Tour" and Konami's "Rock Revolution."
"World Tour" is basically Guitar Hero 4, and is taking on a very "Rock Band" appearance by adding drums and vocals to the mix. Will it make anybody who already owns the "Rock Band" instruments buy a whole new set? We'll see. It's a bummer that the game likely won't support its competitor's controllers, so it will have to have some seriously advanced features to get those who already shelled out almost $200 for "Rock Band" to double down on this new game. (Maybe Xbox/PS3 should just standardize the controllers and be done with it.)
Now Konami is the new one entering the game, pun intended. While offering the same spectrum of instruments as the other two, Konami's offer is decidedly drum-focused (with six drumheads to bash on to the others' four).
Even the mobile version of "Guitar Hero" is doing well. Despite getting panned by critics, it sold 1 million copies, which for a mobile game is pretty incredible.
All games feature licensed music and downloadable songs. And, as we've already seen, these games have the potential to make more sales than iTunes. What I'd like to see next is a bundled offer to buy the downloadable song for the game with a DRM-free copy sent to your computer for subsequent use (or better yet, to your mobile phone. How's THAT for jump-starting the floundering mobile music biz).
Add in a ringtone, a music video and you've got a whole menu of stuff to work with here.
Will the fad still be alive this time next year? I think so. The addition of downloadable music makes these games pretty much evergreen once the initial investment of the controllers are made. I'm not sure the market can support three incompatible game systems, but the music industry doesn't care much... as long as the winning franchise keeps selling those tracks.
Taking an equity stake in a digital music service in return for licensing is one thing. Investing $20 million in a company that changes its business model on a yearly basis is something else altogether.
Now I don't want to come down too hard on Warner Music Group for its $20 million investment in Lala -- an investment we all know had occurred but only recently learned the skinny on the exact amount. Labels need to take some gambles if they're going to weather this digital storm and that means there will be some hits and some misses.
But Lala doesn't seem like a particularly safe bet to me. Granted it's got an impressive management team, particularly in the form of CEO Bill Nguyen, who I know from our days in the mobile industry. He's one of those eccentric technology geniuses with a proven track record of successful startups under his belt. He's also a former used car salesman who could probably sell Les Paul a guitar.
But I don't get the fascination with his company. The company changes business models like Van Halen sheds band members, and each one is anointed the "Next Best Thing In Digital Music," only to be discarded a few months later.
The latest is to let users stream 50 full songs, for after which it costs 10 cents to "buy" the track, which will let you stream it forever but not download it. You can also buy and download the MP3 as well.
Now Lala's technology is certainly pretty slick and easy to use. And I like the idea of MP3 download replacing the portable subscription angle. (Portability on subscription services still a major weakness from both a technology and user expectation standpoint, and people want to own the music they bring with them.)
But really, how does this move the needle at all? Lala is a virtually unknown entity outside of the digital music blog circles that have followed it over the years. It has zero brand impact on mainstream music fans (i.e.: the people in the music industry need to engage with digital music) and doesn't have the catalog to retain them even if it did.
So I'll continue to watch how the company progresses and even wish for its success. But for now Lala is just so-so to me.