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MTV, Beatles come together for new game

MTV and Harmonix have a ticket to ride. The Beatles catalog, that is, in an exclusive partnership to make a "Rock Band"-like game out of the Fab Four's music.
Image: The Beatles
The Fab Four's music will be coming to a game platform near you, courtesy of Apple Corps, Harmonix and MTV Games. Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives

MTV has a ticket to ride. The Beatles catalog, that is, in an exclusive partnership to make a "Rock Band"-like game out of the Fab Four's music.

The partnership, between Apple Corps, keepers of the Beatles archive, Harmonix, creators of "Rock Band" and MTV Games, is the first time that the band’s music has been presented in an interactive format.

The forthcoming game will not be titled “Rock Band: The Beatles.” And it’s not “just a ‘Rock Band’ song expansion pack,” said Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos during a teleconference Thursday morning. The game will take advantage of the “Rock Band” platform, but will be a stand-alone product.

“This is a game that is entirely focused on, and about the Beatles,” he said. “It’s not a ‘Rock Band’ game, it’s a Beatles game.”

If you’ve dropped $200 on “Rock Band” (or “Guitar Hero,” for that matter), though, you’re in luck: Rigopulos said that peripherals— the plastic guitars, microphones and drum sets — that currently work with the existing “Rock Band” platform would work for the Beatles game.

Rigopulos said that the game would be an "experiential progression” through the entire Beatles catalog, from “Please Please Me” to “Abbey Road."

The game has the full blessing from the remaining members of the band, Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, along with Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, the wives of John Lennon and George Harrison.

"The project is a fun idea which broadens the appeal of The Beatles and their music. I like people having the opportunity to get to know the music from the inside out," McCartney said in a statement issued on Thursday.

The partnership is also a coup for Harmonix and MTV Games, which make and publish the "Rock Band" games. Executives from MTV and Harmonix wouldn't discuss whether rivals Activision Blizzard, makers of the "Guitar Hero" franchise, had also attempted to woo Apple Corps into a similar exclusive partnership.

Both franchises have players use plastic instruments to play along to musical cues seen onscreen. Activision released a full-band version of its mega-selling “Guitar Hero” on Oct. 26.

“I think the timing was deliberate. (MTV) certainly wanted to get into people’s heads that if you want to play the Beatles, you need to get ‘Rock Band,’ not ‘Guitar Hero,’ ” said UBS analyst Ben Schachter.

The Beatles are potentially a huge draw for older consumers, but traditionally, video game buyers are young males between the ages of 15 and 35. Music games like “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” have expanded this demographic significantly in recent years, but Schachter isn’t sure that the Beatles will do much to sway people to buy one game or the other.

“There are a lot of pieces that will decide the winner,” he said. “Music is a critical piece, but so is the hardware, the ability to market effectively, the ability to meet hardware demand and the installed base. Having a good band is important, but it’s not the end-all be-all."

To date, the “Guitar Hero” franchise has sold 22 million units, and generated over $1 billion in revenue. Since its release 11 months ago, the “Rock Band” franchise has sold 4 million units, and generated $600 million in revenue, which includes downloadable songs as well as software and hardware.

Details about the upcoming Beatles game are scant. Rigopulos confirmed that the game, as yet untitled, would be out by the 2009 holiday season. But no word on price and no specifics on gameplay.

Giles Martin, son of the Beatles’ longtime producer, Sir George Martin, will be the music producer for the game. The goal, he said, is to make people feel as though they were playing the original Beatles songs. “We will be adhering to the original mixes that my father and the Beatles did back in the day, and trying to preserve the sound quality as much as possible.”

The surviving members of the band and Apple Corps have been extremely protective regarding digital distribution of the Beatles' music. Much to the chagrin of the fans, Beatles songs are still not available on Apple’s iTunes, or other digital download services.

But Jeff Jones, chief executive of Apple Corps, offered a glimmer of hope to those fans Thursday, saying that the company was “working out the details.”