Metallica, Beatles Arriving In Saturated Market for Games

New music and versions can keep Rock Band and Guitar Hero selling, if not to new players

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The rock band Metallica has confirmed rumors that it will release its own version of the video game Guitar Hero next year. The Metallica version will follow on the success of a game from Aerosmith that was one of this year's hits. And it will precede a Beatles video game being developed by the same folks who produced Rock Band.

The news comes amid growing speculation that the market is getting saturated for the music-playing games. The genre has enjoyed rapid growth since Guitar Hero first hit the market three years ago. But it and Rock Band may not draw many new players, says Michael Pachter, a game industry analyst at Wedbush Morgan.

That doesn't mean the games won't remain big money makers. They can each sell several million copies a year to today's players, he says. That's the point of the continued updates and new versions, including this year's Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band 2.

Regular updates have kept other games going, including Madden NFL, a perennial best seller. "Madden is probably selling to the same 5 million people every year," Pachter says. "Or more likely, to the same 10 million people every other year."

New music for the games also keeps the money streaming, both for their publishers and for the struggling music industry. The added income has come at a crucial time for rock bands amid lagging CD sales.

For its part, Metallica said it will release 28 songs in its version of Guitar Hero. The package will include tunes from Alice in Chains, the Foo Fighters, Slayer, Machine Head and Queen. It will also feature an added "Expert+" setting that will allow for two bass drum kick pedals, as well as other modes for the multi-instrument version of the game, called Guitar Hero World Tour.

Little is known about the Beatles version, which is due by the 2009 holiday season. Apple and MTV, which distributes Rock Band, would only say that it will cover the band's entire career and include visuals from different phases, according to the Hollywood Insider blog. There is also speculation it could incorporate a keyboard, which so far is missing from the multi-instrument version of Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

Pachter says a keyboard is a natural addition to the instruments offered in the two games, which so far are limited to guitars and drums. That might help draw more players, but it's hard to imagine new technology that could dramatically expand their appeal, he says. The games already appeal to women, for example, which itself is unusual for the industry.

Wii Music offers a wide variety of virtual, onscreen instruments that are played with the console's existing controllers, unlike the plastic guitar and drum peripherals of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The Wii console's controllers sense a player's movements to measure a player's skill at everything from a violin to cowbells to a harmonica. But the game has proven a slow seller, with some players complaining of its complexity while others laud its depth.

By the way, a Guitar Hero game based on the music of Jimi Hendrix remains just a rumor, spread by none other than former Guns n' Roses guitarist Slash in a Rolling Stone interview.

Several Hendrix tunes were recently released for download to Rock Band. But members of Aerosmith and Metallica reportedly filmed clips to go with their games, which would obviously be difficult for Hendrix, who died in 1970.