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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Beatles finally go digital for MTV's Rock Band

By Frank Caron


Full coverage of the announcement that the Beatles will be the subject of an all-new, standalone title.

Original story

The battle between Activision, makers of Guitar Hero, and MTV-Harmonix, makers of Rock Band, has been a battle for the bands, quite literally. The two have for years now been engaged in a war for exclusivity with some of the world's all-time greatest musicians in an effort to build the ultimate set lists for their respective music-based video games. But the most sought-after and coveted trophy in music, The Beatles, lay unclaimed. That is, until now. MTV, wielding the power of its parent Viacom, has claimed the Liverpool legends for itself, meaning that Rock Band will be the exclusive platform for the advent of the first ever digitally-distributed Beatles tracks.

Ars was one of many outlets that received an invite to an announcement scheduled for Thursday morning at 10am EDT. In advance of the press conference, however, the Wall Street Journal confirmed the industry-rattling news.

The importance of this event vastly transcends gaming. This is the first time that the Beatles music has been licensed for release in a digitally-distributed format; the songs have never before been officially licensed for release online, even through popular services such as iTunes. The implications of what this could mean for Apple Corps' business decisions moving forward could be staggering, but at this time only the deal for Rock Band has been announced.

Needless to say, Beatles exclusivity is a astronomic win for MTV. Activision and Harmonix, the two premiere corporations behind the plastic instrument revolution, have been butting heads over musicians for quite some time now. Beyond the inclusion of contemporary favorites like the Foo Fighters, both Activision and Harmonix have been vying to sign some of the biggest labels in rock music, including the likes of The Who, Guns n' Roses, Metallica, and AC/DC. This war peaked at this year's E3 event, when the two battled head to head with exclusive deals for Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour.

Part of the appeal for Apple Corps here has to be the fact that the music in Rock Band has been selling in record numbers. As the music industry has come upon tough years, Rock Band and its full digital distribution model shines as a beacon of hope for an industry that has struggled to catch up to the times. With the video game platform only growing by the day, Apple Corps can rest easy knowing it can sit idly by and collect the income from both old fans dying to play the classic tracks in their video games as well as new, young fans who will come to know the Beatles music through the game rather than the radio.

How exactly MTV and Harmonix will utilize this newfound property is not yet certain. Previously, stand-alone games have been released for big bands: Guitar Hero: Aerosmith focuses on the award-winning band almost exclusively. Whether this is the strategy that Harmonix wants to use, or whether it will continue with its strategy of offering downloadable tracks for its suite of Rock Band games is unclear. Meanwhile, Activision is on the outside looking in as the most popular musical act in history signs on with its competitor. Might we see Guitar Hero: The Monkees edition in response?

This news comes following word from former Beatle Paul McCartney, who prophesied that the Beatles would be going digital by the end of 2008 and was rumored to have signed a deal with Apple at one point. It also puts to rest previous rumors which suggested that a Beatles-branded Guitar Hero game was in the cards.

More details about the deal are expected to arrive at the joint MTV and Apple Corps press conference. Ars Technica will be listening in and readers can expect follow-up coverage on the specific game-related details on Opposable Thumbs following the call.