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Can a Video Game Save the Music Industry?

Probably not, but the Intellectual Property Office are trying.

af Dan Wilkinson
14 februar 2014, 10:00am

It’s been drilled down your throat for about a decade now but just to really ram it home, the music industry is being killed by online pirates. Sure, people are still making money, and last year Britney Spears made a music video that cost $6 million, but everyone must learn the error of their ways. Step in Music Inc, a new down with the kids approach / anti-piracy propaganda vehichle that's been dreamt up by UK Music and the Intellecutal Property Office in the hope of helping “young people” realise “the value of music”. An extremely outdated notion considering literally every single person now downloads or streams anything they can get their hands on, but furthered by their choice of spokespeople; Rebecca Ferguson and the second most memorable guy in JLS.

Essentially, they’ve created an app called Music Inc that puts you in charge of a record label. You can spend money on stylists and branding, eventually releasing your music to an unsuspecting public before getting dropped because you’re too successful and no one wants to pay an extortionate advance.

With all the mistakes that I’ve learned from watching 24 Hour Party People on repeat, I tried out the game. Here’s what happened.

You start out with a stable of artists that are available to sign. I went for Beninem, a guy who looks like Mac Miller wearing an Eminem Halloween costume. During his brief career, I constantly pushed him to tour and record, much like a record label, but without the whole exhaustion issue to deal with.

When it comes to choosing how to release the music, you have several options. You can put it out physically, digitally, or through a streaming service. A chart then appears showing how many people bought the record and how many pirated it. After emotionally investing half an hour in Beninem (more than my Tamagochi ever got), I was pretty pissed off that someone would steal a record that I spent £40,000 of imaginary money on. I suppose it made me view downloading in a different light but then I realised that as long as I was making enough of a profit, it didn’t really matter if a small amount of people were pirating music.

I then decided to try with a new band. I called them Parachute, and they were a grime rock act who suddenly decided to do a Klaxons and abandon everything to find a new sound in the desert. I had the chance to attack their illegal downloader’s with court action, but it came with the price of losing a lot of fans.

After prising myself away from the game, I called up the head of UK Music, Jo Dipple, to find out why anyone would make an app about the music business, why Kim Dotcom may not be the hero we deserve and how your decisions in the game can help UK Music find out all your dirty secrets.

Noisey: So Jo, what's the idea behind the app?

Jo: The main idea behind the app is to teach young people more about the British music business. One of the main objectives for UK Music is to encourage young people to value what they love and educate them about the jobs available. In the app it exposes the player to a lot of jobs that they might not know about in the industry. You get to follow an act composing the songs, playing live and releasing the songs through a combination of PR and marketing.

Have you played it yet?

Yeah, it’s really addictive, I played it non-stop on the tube. There’s a lot of strategy within the game.

Piracy plays a big part in the game, do you think it has become the norm?

I don’t think so, though illegal downloading is still challenging to the income and the growth of the industry as a whole. The investment figures for the music industry in 2012 was about £450 million. In the game you see that the impact of piracy is harsher at the beginning, I hope that’s one of the effects anyway. Throughout the game there's these wildcard options - like the “would you prosecute pirates?” question - and by using metrics we can look at the way people make decisions in the game and I think it'll help inform us about young people's relationship to music.

Have you ever illegally downloaded?

No, I download all my albums from iTunes; I’m of the generation that bought CD’s. We went to a school in East London at the Isle of Dogs and talked to children of about nine and ten and it was interesting because I asked if anyone had ever bought a CD and no one put their hand up. But then again there’s also the rise in the vinyl market, so I do think people still want to own music.

Ok. It sounds like you’re slightly out of touch. How do you think we can fight piracy?

I think about this a lot; education is a big part because people do love music and if they knew about how the consumption of unlicensed content damages the industry that they love most. The people who benefit most from all this unlicensed content are those making advertising revenue from the visitors to their downloading sites and none of that money comes back to the musicians who made the music. Musicians who’d be able to reinvest in their marketing and tour and get heard by so many more people. A different approach should definitely be taken with businesses that upload unlicensed content.

What are your thoughts on the glamorisation of megaupload founder Kim Dotcom? He’s turned into an internet hero.

If you look at the way he’s made money he’s literally made money by exploiting music content at the expense of artists putting their time energy and talent into the music. I think if he is glamorized then it’s wrong. He’s exploited a very delicate eco-system for his own profit.

What do you imagine the future of music listening to look like?

The advent of the digital world has only been around for a decade. It’s not like any other business, where else would you have to give away your digital assets?

Follow Dan on Twitter: @KeenDang