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The gig's not over yet for music video games

An image from the new "Green Day: Rock Band" video game.
An image from the new "Green Day: Rock Band" video game.
  • There was a 46 percent year-over-year drop in 2009 sales of music games
  • But music is still a unifier that transcends age, gender, ethnicity, religion and culture
  • The industry's growing pains may be a sign that the party's just getting started

Editor's note: Scott Steinberg is the head of technology and video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, as well as the founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV. He frequently appears as an on-air technology analyst for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CNN. His most recent book is "Get Rich Playing Games."

(CNN) -- For those about to virtually rock, we salute you.

Following a 46 percent year-over-year drop in 2009 sales of music games like "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero," some would argue that it's time for the entire genre to take a final bow.

With game makers suddenly looking to predictable fan-service pieces (the new "Green Day: Rock Band") and bizarre fantasy crossovers ("Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock") to buoy bottom lines, just how desperate is the industry to turn the beat around?

It's a troubling sign when even collaborations between the field's most critically-acclaimed games and the world's biggest bands fail to achieve multi-platinum status. I'm speaking of last year's much-hyped but underperfoming "The Beatles: Rock Band."

But dig a bit deeper and the reasons for the music games' recent financial troubles quickly become evident. Not only did last year find cash-strapped gaming enthusiasts pinching pennies more than ever, it also saw software publishers, convinced of the industry's "recession-proof" nature, increasingly attempt to milk popular franchises for all they were worth.

Witness the multitude of music games released in the past 12 months, ranging from "Band Hero" to "DJ Hero," "SingStar: Queen," "Lips: Number One Hits" and "Guitar Hero: Van Halen." Each incongruously not only played to an increasingly limited subset of fans, but also required the use of expensive plastic instruments that often ran upwards of $100.

With more titles to choose from and consumers' reluctance to buy pricey accessories in these troubled times, one might argue that a sales decline was inevitable. Never mind that fans can stomach only so many faux Stratocasters crowding the living room.

Is it really a surprise that so many promising launches have recently hit a sour note?

But don't be so quick to write the industry off just yet. Music doesn't just touch the life of every human being on the planet. It's also a common unifier that transcends age, gender, ethnicity, religion and culture.

Supporting games further tend to be highly social or party game experiences, known for bringing people of disparate interests and backgrounds together. In addition, they're quickly becoming the new karaoke or happy hour activity of choice for an entire generation of listeners.

From a retail standpoint, upcoming outings like "Rock Band 3" and "Def Jam: Rapstar" may face an uphill battle. But each new day brings heightened acceptance and growth for the field, whether through the endorsement of the world's most acclaimed musicians or legions of additional fans' being introduced to these titles.

As such, we aren't seeing record labels feeling threatened by the rise of music games, which offer aficionados additional options to interact with and enjoy favorite tracks. Or, for that matter, the debut of groundbreaking virtual distribution services such as the "Rock Band Network," which allow independent and unsigned bands the chance to be discovered by millions overnight.

We're also reaching a crucial cultural tipping point, where the greatest acts of yesteryear and today are increasingly embracing music games as a way to bridge the gap between generations.

Knowing this, perhaps you shouldn't be so hasty to dismiss the concept of screeching or strumming away to your favorite chart-topping singles in front of your iPad, PC or next-generation video game console just yet.

Instead of an indicator that it's time to say goodnight and leave the building, the music game industry's current growing pains may rather be a sign that the party's just getting started.


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