Those of us who remember the '80s (um, not me) might recall Sony introducing the first CD player in 1982. We've all come a long way since then, and nowhere was this more evident than at E3 Expo this week. West Coast Sound's "three is a trend" alarm went off when we realized that the plethora of interactive music related games was not an aberration, but evidence of a larger movement in the way music is experienced.
From Xbox's collaboration with Last.fm due to drop this summer, to Beatles Abbey Road Rockband, to the Eminem and Jay-Z branded DJ Hero, music-related social games are attracting major artists -- and, in the process, luring new users outside the "core-gaming" community.
While we're not necessarily "core-gamers," we know awesome when we see it. That's why we let out squeals of joy when first encountering Harmonix's Beatles: Rock Band, an interface that allows you to "perform" select songs from the Beatles catalog with up to three friends. On screen tracks have the potential to teach you how to play the drums and guitar on favorites such as "Here Comes the Sun," and "Paperback Writer." The group I demo'd the latter with (including the illustrious Shanon Cook from CNN.com) became instant friends.
In the same vein, Xbox's partnership with Last.fm functions as a sort of social lubricant centered around aural pleasure. Microsoft representative Letty Cherry explained the beauty of one of the most buzzed about products at the gaming festival: "You and your friends can have a party from 7 different living rooms." When consoles become so sophisticated that you don't have to be in the same place to have the same experience, are we basically dancing with ourselves?
Writer and Industry analyst Tameka Kee disagrees with the "glorified masturbation" decree when it comes to the partnership: "I'm tempted to get an Xbox so I can have music streamed all over my house instead of going to buy a separate receiver."
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With beautiful artwork, bios and the algorithm recommendation software already employed by social media sites, you're not just listening to the music but playing and interacting with it as well, an innovation in user experience that provides a ray of hope for the blighted music industry.
With the ipod, Zune and other MP3 players (many of which retain functionality with the new social media music games) having revolutionized the music industry it's a good bet that the current socially mediated music thrust will act in much the same way - combining the love of music and gaming with the intelligence and social interactivity now prevalent on the web.