Video game developer Harmonix has announced that it will stop releasing track downloads for the game "Rock Band" in the first week of April. The company has released more than 4,000 songs over 275 consecutive weeks -- in five years -- and will now focus resources to other projects. It's a symbolic moment for the download.
The company will host a “Rock Band” show on March 21 in Boston to coincide with PAX East, an annual gaming expo. No name for the final track was given, but the company said it would be an appropriate song. Harmonix added it does not have another “Rock Band” title in development but will continue to support the existing titles and song library. Rock Central servers, leaderboards and the Music Store will run "for the foreseeable future."
The greater meaning behind Harmonix's decision is not the financial impact, SONGS Music Publishing founder/CEO Matt Pincus says. He says a publisher used to make $15,000 or $20,000 from a "Rock Band" game but royalties from video games are "not that significant" to his overall revenue these days. Music-themed games like "Rock Band" sputtered not long after Viacom purchased Harmonix for $175 million in December 2006. Viacom sold Harmonix in December 2010.
Pincus tells me the greater implication here is the loss of downloads at the margins of the marketplace. He believes the download market is "highly uncertain" and says cannibalization "is something everybody is thinking about" with today's robust streaming market.
A little skepticism about downloads isn't uncalled for: single track downloads are flat compared to the same week in 2012, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which means the big gains tracks had the first few weeks of the year have already been erased.