Analysis: Data Suggests Band Games Aren't Declining After All
Is the band game genre a fad, or isn't it? This Gamasutra-exclusive ComScore analysis goes in-depth on metrics of user interest and suggests that it may be too soon to peg the day the music died -- details within.
Looking at video game software sales over the past few months, one of the most closely-watched genres has been the band games -- analysts, retailers and other industry-watchers just can't tell if it's still the hot cash cow it once seemed to be.
Suspicion that the band game genre is "softening" began when the sales pace of Guitar Hero: World Tour was not as brisk as its predecessors'. GameStop CEO Dan DeMatteo recently told Gamasutra that the music genre appears "softer" than in previous years, and EEDAR's Jesse Divnich went so far as to call band games a passing "fad."
DeMatteo and Cowen Group analyst Doug Creutz agreed that the slow pace of World Tour band kit sales might have to do with supply constraints and not lackluster demand, but Gamasutra decided to check in with Edward Hunter, director of gaming solutions at ComScore, for another metric.
ComScore tracks internet user behavior to perform trend analysis, aggregating search results from its observed panel of about 2 million U.S. consumers. And an initial look shows that in October 2007, Guitar Hero and Rock Band together were searched 4.9 million times by 1.4 million people.
And this year, in October 2008, that number saw a huge spike -- 12.4 million searches by 3.08 million users. So in as far as search metrics are an indicator of consumer interest, the popularity of the sector is almost three times as high this year over last.
"It’s been proven that one of the leading indicators of consumer interest is search," maintains ComScore's Hunter. "In fact, search has even been attributed to ‘view-through’ lift in brand and category awareness; studies show that exposure to ads during and even latent after ad campaign flight still drive search on trademark and brand."
Not quite so fast, though -- although year over year, band game searches are way up, the sector has actually declined slightly since its peak this summer. In July 2008, data showed 14.56 million searches by 3.86 users, ComScore says.
"It’s a dip in the trend," acknowledges Hunter, "but hardly a harbinger of the game type's demise."
ComScore's month-to-month data demonstrates a trend line over the third quarter of 2008 for reference, where the dark blue bar represents searchers, while the light blue represents the number of searches conducted:
There's clearly a decline since summer, but not a marked one. And to an extent, Hunter says, it's normal for interest metrics to rise and fall periodically along with the natural seasonality of a popular product as new IP creates new demand. Familiar franchises do tend to see periods of reduced sales during a season crowded with many new choices -- which is precisely what late 2008 has been.
"If I had noted a substantial drop in searchers or search volume, I could attribute this to something other than normal, perhaps seasonal changes in the search trend," says Hunter. "I’m not seeing that here."
"Nearly 12 and a half million searches is a fairly hardy stat for only two specific games -– expand to searches against the entire genre, and the picture would get even clearer."
Much of the analysis around Guitar Hero: World Tour's band kit reflects a tapering in the average sales price for the kit -- but excludes disc-only sales to consumers who already own instruments. "Without the hard accessory cost involved, it makes sense that the prices would fall," Hunter notes.
And it's unclear yet how Rock Band 2's downloadable songs affect the picture -- that option could reasonably boost searches without having any impact on retail behavior at all.
Still, says Hunter, "There's no clear indication that at these types of games are experiencing a significant decline in search activity."
"Does this mean that they will remain popular in perpetuity? Probably not, but for now, calling them a trend appears premature – unless of course you mean a trend of fairly wild popularity."