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Plugged In

Music-based videogames losing fans

Plugged In

Reuters

DENVER (Billboard) - A fresh batch of music-based videogames is hitting stores in the hopes of generating strong year-end holiday sales despite the difficult market for the once-booming gaming genre.

"Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock" arrived in stores September 28, hip-hop karaoke game "Def Jam Rapstar" came out October 5, and "DJ Hero 2" and "PowerGig: Rise of the SixString" were released October 19. Coming up are two other key titles, "Rock Band 3" (October 26) and "Dance Central" (November 4).

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Power Gig

The fourth quarter typically accounts for about 45% of annual videogame sales, according to the Entertainment Software Assn. But sales data ahead of the final three months of 2010 do not bode well for a cheery holiday season. Overall videogame sales totaled $614 million in September, down 6% from the same period last year, while sales through the first nine months of the year totaled $4.9 billion, down 8% from a year earlier, according to NPD Group.

Meanwhile, music games are plunging this year at a much steeper rate, totaling just $152 million through September 30, down 50% from a year earlier, according to Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter.

Music games racked up U.S. sales of $875 million in 2009, but this year the category will be lucky to break $500 million, Pachter says. He observes, "Everybody who wants a music game has one."

Against this gloomy backdrop, here's a look at the prospects for the newest music game titles.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

"ROCK BAND 3" (MTV GAMES)

MTV Games and developer Harmonix keep the innovations coming in the music game genre. For the third installment of "Rock Band," they take a big leap with the addition of a 25-key keyboard controller. It opens up both increased revenue through the sale of a new peripheral and an expanded catalog of songs that includes keyboard-heavy tracks from the Doors ("Break On Through") and Dire Straits ("Walk of Life").

"DANCE CENTRAL" (MTV GAMES)

The motion-based dance game is considered a "must have" for anyone buying Microsoft's motion-based Kinect controller for its Xbox 360 console. Microsoft is projecting worldwide Kinect sales of about 3 million units through the end of the year. Analysts like Pachter expect almost anyone buying the Kinect to also pick up a copy of "Dance Central," one of the most anticipated game titles using the controller.

JURY'S OUT

"DJ HERO 2" (ACTIVISION)

The first "DJ Hero" generated decent sales but still fell short of expectations, given that it helped expand the music game category into a new music genre. The sequel features tracks by Lady Gaga, Deadmau5, Kanye West and Rihanna and has earned high scores for improving on the original title. But it's still saddled with a high price tag due to the turntable controllers needed to play the game.

"DEF JAM RAPSTAR" (KONAMI)

A new entrant to the field, this hip-hop karaoke game has the benefit of the Def Jam brand and an innovative social networking element that lets users record their performances and post them to a dedicated website for peer review. An in-game store will be stocked with new downloadable tracks every week. It's received positive, if not glowing reviews. One common criticism: lyrics that have been heavily edited to achieve a teen rating.

DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH

"GUITAR HERO: WARRIORS OF ROCK" (ACTIVISION)

The franchise that virtually invented the music game genre came close to killing it during the last two years by saturating the market with too many editions and too little variety. While "Warriors of Rock" returns to the series' roots, critics have slammed its new "Quest" (storyline) mode for being confusing and too limiting.

"POWERGIG: RISE OF THE SIXSTRING" (SEVEN45)

Among the titles adding instructional elements to their game play this year, "PowerGig" goes further than others by featuring an actual six-string guitar. But upstart developer/publisher Seven45 will face challenges stocking the game against titles from larger rivals. It will also have to fight the perception that "PowerGig" is an instructional title rather than just a game, despite featuring music by Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews Band and Kid Rock.

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