Guitar Hero is playing our song

One of the most popular video games this year is Guitar Hero, in which players flail away, Van-Halen-style, at a guitar-shaped controller and try to replicate the moves of the guitarist playing a popular song. Think of it as guitar karaoke. The original came out in 2005, and there is now a Guitar Hero II and a Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, as well as a Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s (a new game called Rock Band adds drums and a microphone to the mix).

Harmonix and RedOctane, the companies that developed and marketed the original Guitar Hero game for the Sony PlayStation2, reportedly had some difficulty getting the rights to certain songs that it wanted to use (most of which are performed by “soundalike” musicians). But they may not have as much trouble in the future.

According to a story at the tech blog Ars Technica, sales numbers from Soundscan — an industry tracking firm — show a fairly strong correlation between the music included in Guitar Hero III and sales of that same song through retailers and other outlets.

As an example, sales of the song “Reptilia” by The Strokes climbed by 127 per cent in the week the game was released, compared with the week before. A track by the band Slipknot saw a similar type of increase after being included in the game, with sales up more than 70 per cent in the first week after the game’s release, and up by triple digits the week after that.

The connection between Guitar Hero and higher sales is hardly black and white, of course. Some songs that were included didn’t see much of an increase. In some cases, the increase seen in album or CD sales could have been a result of conventional marketing campaigns or other influences that Soundscan and Ars Technica didn’t take into account. Nevertheless, there appears to be a fairly strong relationship between the game and sales.

At least one band seems to see the value of having their music included in Guitar Hero, to the point where they would like an increase in compensation for it: The Romantics, a 1980s band whose hits included “What I Like About You“, is suing Activision — which distributes the game — claiming that the soundalikes who recorded their song are too similar to the original band, and therefore they should get extra compensation.

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