MMW-127 -- Music games continue to be a hit in Japan

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J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
M U S I C M E D I A W A T C H
Commentary on Japan's music technology news
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Issue No. 127

Tokyo

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CONTENTS

++ FEATURE: More Thoughts on Music Games

++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS:
** Two men arrested for operating illegal mobile music site
** Yudo to develop music games for iPhone
** Roland releases updated sound modeling system for bass
** Sony unveils new line of Rolly robot music players
** YouTube signs agreement with JASRAC

++ FEATURE: More Thoughts on Music Games

Following straight on the heels of the Wii Music release last month and the announcement
of several new mobile music games from Taito, Japanese game developer Yudo came out
with a press release last week saying it will create its own set of instrument-simulation games
for the iPhone (see newsbrief below). Along with Plato's Hiite Utaeru DS Guitar M-06 and
similar releases last year for the Nintendo DS platform, these latest offerings from Japan's
music game developers mark a definite trend away from rhythm games and toward instrument
simulation using mobile devices and controllers.

One thing that all of these new music games have in common is that they put far more emphasis
on the music creation and performance aspects and much less on the competitive gaming
element. In fact, legendary Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto has been quoted as
saying 'I don't know if we should even be calling Wii Music a video game. I have been likening
Wii Music to something that's more along the lines of a musical instrument than it is a video game.'
One of the central ideas behind Wii Music is to introduce players to music making and musical
improvisation, by making it easy for anyone to start playing the virtual instruments in a matter of
minutes.

This leads to a dilemma that is familiar to developers of music-related games and software:
Without a competitive scoring element, many casual gamers will try out the instruments, but then
quickly lose interest and won't continue any farther. Obviously, it doesn't feel like Guitar Hero or
other games they play regularly, and it is hard for them to see the point. This group then goes
back to playing 'regular' games they do understand. On the other hand, people who play 'real'
instruments and have some understanding of music often find the virtual instruments to be a bit
limiting. Because the instrument sounds made by the player are adjusted on the fly to fit the chord
progression of the song, players cannot control the melody beyond a certain extent. So this group
too quickly loses interest and goes back to playing their 'regular' real instruments.

It's a difficult balance to strike: How do you make a game that appeals to both groups - musicians
with a casual interest in gaming, and gamers with a casual interest in making music? Rhythm
games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band are obviously aimed at gamers, and have very little to
do with real music making. Wii Music and other virtual instrument games, on the other hand, appear to
be slanted toward the (much smaller) group that already has a proclivity toward music-making.
These games try to lure players into the world of music-making by promising a shortcut: you don't
have to spend years and years practicing in order to play these instruments.

Ultimately, however, a large part of the joy of making music stems from the sense of accomplishment
that comes with achieving at least basic proficiency on an instrument. In particular, many improvising
musicians take great pleasure in the process of conceiving imaginative melodic phrases and musical
ideas in their heads, then quickly translating these to their instruments. To do this well requires not only
the ability to play an instrument, but also an understanding of musical structure and the underlying
patterns that make up chord progressions and harmony. This part of the fun can be lost if too much of
the actual music making is done for you by the game.

In the coming year ahead, we are likely to see more games that are targeted specifically at people who
play music, and that utilize the fundamental aural and music theory skills needed by improvising musicians.
While these games may not be promoted or sold on a scale like that of Guitar Hero, they will nonetheless be
welcomed by legions of music hobbyists who currently have no other way to learn these skills other than
performing the tedious drills and exercises found on most existing music training software. The various
virtual instrument games currently being created by the Japanese developers also have great potential,
particularly on mobile devices. The next iteration of these releases will probably not be marketed as
games at all, but rather as standalone synthesizers with their own distinct sounds and unique playing
characteristics.

++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS:

** Two men arrested for operating illegal mobile music site
In brief: The RIAJ announced last month that two men from Hyogo prefecture were arrested for running a mobile
music service called 'Daisan Sekai'. Considered by the RIAJ to be one of the most popular illegal sites in the
country for mobile music, Daisan Sekai had attracted over 1 million unique users prior to the arrest of the
operators.
Source:
http://tinyurl.com/6x9e88

** Yudo to develop music games for iPhone
In brief: On November 6, Yokohama-based game developer Yudo announced that it began selling iPhone
versions of the three instrument-simulation games it currently offers for the Nintendo Wii. Aero-Guitar, Aero-
Synth and Aero-Drums have all been ported to the iPhone/iTouch platform and are now available through t
he App Store for 350 yen (US$3.50) through the end of the year, after which time the price will go up to 840 yen.
Source:
http://it.nikkei.co.jp/mobile/news/index.aspx?n=NN002Y078%2006112008

** Roland releases updated sound modeling system for bass
In brief: On October 30, Roland began selling a new version of its multi-effect standalone unit for bass that
models the sounds of various bass guitars and amps. The updated 'virtual bass system' is called 'V-Bass 99'
and is currently selling for about JPY 130,000 (US$1,300).
Source:
http://www.roland.co.jp/news/0398.html

** Sony unveils new line of Rolly robot music players
In brief: At the end of November, Sony will begin selling a new series of its autonomous Rolly music players.
The new series feature several improvements, including a memory increase of 2GB, and the ability to dance in
sync with other Rolly players. In addition, the new units include software that allow the movement of the players
to be controlled via a PC or mobile phone. The new Rolly players will be priced at around JPY 40,000 (US$400).
Source:
http://ascii.jp/elem/000/000/183/183619/

** YouTube signs agreement with JASRAC
In brief: On October 23, YouTube and JASRAC signed a wide-ranging agreement regarding copyright fees for
videos of users performing their own cover versions of copyrighted songs. The agreement does not cover
distribution of music and video in its original form, and YouTube is still under pressure to block the uploading
of this type of content. The contract with YouTube follows a similar a similar agreement that JASRAC reached
with popular Japanese video sharing site Niko Niko Douga in April.
Source:
http://www.j-cast.com/2008/10/23029126.html

Music Media Watch is written by Steve Myers, president of Theta Music Technologies, a Tokyo-based
developer of music-related software (www.thetamusic.com).

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