Music in games

It is a little known secret outside the game industry that there’s a very good reason why you won’t hear popular music in most popular games. It’s not that game developers don’t want you to listen to great soundtracks – it’s the horrible situation with licensing. But why is that?

License holders such as the labels and associations like RIAA or GEMA think of games mostly as boxed units. This works fine for games like Singstar. You go to the store, spend cash on the game, and a (pretty big) portion of it goes back to the license holders and artists. That’s cool though, as it makes sense: After all, the game’s business value is dependent upon the music, so it is only fair a big portion is shared.

Welcome to 2011, where the largest percentage of gamers plays on Facebook, tablets and mobile phones. As much as you don’t “buy” Facebook or Google, you don’t “buy” a Facebook game. Games are becoming interesting consumer platforms more than ever. Some of them are always on, always engaging and a new layer of social interaction. The prior business model of adding music simply does not work any longer for these types of games.

Another proposal from the licensing industry has been pay as your customers listen, a.k.a the “radio model”. Yeah, pretty much what you think: Game developers are expected to pay as much for the usage of popular songs as if it would play on the radio. It’s important to remind that – again – the business model for radio entirely depends on the music – better music is directly proportional to more listeners! No, games are not radio channels.

Here’s a twist. Embedding popular music into games is a great privilege for the license holders and artists, not vice versa. It’s an unprecedented way to market music in highly interactive and engaging ways. They should be *dying* to get their newest music added to the most popular games on Facebook, and beg browser game developers to develop new interesting ways to integrate the music into their game worlds in smart ways. Hell, if I was running a label, I would not only give them my music for free, I would *pay* them.

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