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Analysis: Guitar Hero Vs. Rock Band - Behind The Numbers

Gamasutra looks at the September U.S. retail showdown between Guitar Hero 5 and The Beatles: Rock Band, revealing that $373 million of the $720 million game revenue drop in 2009 is from the two franchises.

Matt Matthews, Blogger

October 23, 2009

3 Min Read

The September 2009 showdown between The Beatles: Rock Band and Guitar Hero 5 is perhaps the most direct competition between the two franchises the industry has yet experienced. The Harmonix-developed Beatles game launched on September 9th while the fifth major installment of the Guitar Hero franchise hit stores eight days earlier on the first of the month. At the end of the NPD Group U.S. game console retail reporting period for September (which ended on Saturday, October 3rd) the final tally showed a decisive win for The Beatles: Rock Band in both units of software sold and dollars of revenue. The Beatles moved a strong 595,000 software-only and instrument-bundled units across three platforms. The Xbox 360 versions accounted for 43% of those units while 35% and 22% were sold to Wii and PlayStation 3 owners, respectively. According to figures provided to Gamasutra by Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities and Anita Frazier of the NPD Group, the average price of a copy of The Beatles during this period was approximately $100. Total revenue for the title was around $59-$60 million or more than 9% of all software revenue for the month. Despite launching on four platforms and over a week earlier, Activision Blizzard's Guitar Hero 5 only sold 499,000 units through 3 October. Again the Xbox 360 was the lead platform with 42% of the total units while the PlayStation 3 version claimed 21%. The PlayStation 2 version and Wii collectively accounted for the remaining 37%, although precise figures were not made available to us by the NPD Group. Based on analyst comments, copies of Guitar Hero 5 averaged about $67 at retail during the game's launch month. With the 33% lower per-unit price and 16% fewer units sold, the revenue for Guitar Hero 5 during September was only $33 million, or about half of the revenue generated by The Beatles: Rock Band. The emergence of the Xbox 360 as the definitive primary platform for these games is a notable development. For example, during the launch of Guitar Hero: World Tour in October 2008, the Xbox 360 and Wii versions were 11th and 12th, respectively, in the monthly all-format top 20 software chart. Then in November 2008 the Wii version took a definitive lead over the Xbox 360 version and by December the Wii and PlayStation 2 versions both outsold the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero: World Tour. When Guitar Hero: Metallica launched in March of this year, the Xbox 360 version charted for two straight months while the Wii version never made an appearance. As we have pointed out previously, both the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises have seen revenue drop in 2009 relative to the same period in 2008. As of September 2009 the two franchises together (across all packages, including track packs) have generated $373 million less in revenue from the comparable period in 2008. For some perspective, the software category as a whole is behind by $720 million compared to the first three quarters of 2008. That is, the revenue drop in the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises accounts for more than half of the drop in revenue across all software from 2008 to 2009. Overall, however, the Rock Band franchise has taken the larger hit with revenues down by 55% year-to-date in 2009. (However, many of last year's sales may have been bundled with expensive hardware like guitars and drums which the consumer now owns.) The one part of the business that we cannot see directly is the revenue that comes in from the sale of songs and song packs through each game's online store. At the moment Rock Band has the larger catalog of songs and has recently touted over 60 million downloads since the launch of the first Rock Band. Even at $2 per song, the additional $120 million in revenue over the last two years doesn't come close to offsetting the drop in retail revenue just in 2009.

About the Author(s)

Matt Matthews


By day, Matt Matthews is an assistant professor of Mathematics. By night and on weekends, he writes for Gamasutra, Next Generation, LinuxGames, and on his personal blog, Curmudgeon Gamer.

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