Video game giant Electronic Arts isn't ready to let gamers download every title the company makes, but it does want gamers to download every song in those games.
EA's Worldwide Executive of Music and Marketing Steve Schnur flew to New York this week to announce that the company's video game music, much of it created by major artists and debuted in EA games, will now be available for purchase via EA Trax (EA.com/eatrax). Some of the music will be buyable through links to iTunes; the rest will be available straight from the games publisher.
"We pride ourselves on being ahead of the curve and being the first place you hear something. But so many times the music is unavailable," Schnur said before turning to discuss EA's future in video game music. "From now on, for any game — past, present and future — a gamer will know they can instantly go to this site and be linked to all the music they hear. They can purchase it."
Songs that Lily Allen, Aly & AJ and Black Eyed Peas sung in Simlish, the nonsense language spoken in "The Sims," will be available (see "Aly & AJ Aren't Speaking Gibberish — It's Just Simlish"),
as will Snoop Dogg's cover of the Doors' "Riders on the Storm." All those songs could previously be heard only withinthe EA games in which they appeared. Original scores from EA series such as "Medal of Honor" and "SSX" will also be on sale. In total, Schnur said a few thousand songs EA has commissioned or licensed will become available as the program rolls out over the next few weeks.
Schnur said those tracks made available for purchase directly from EA — the songs not carried through iTunes — won't be restricted with copy protection that prevents songs from being played on competing MP3 players. The move is consistent with Apple CEO Steve Jobs' recent call for the scrapping of such Digital Rights Management software (see "Apple's Steve Jobs Ready To Scrap iTunes Copy Protection").
Anyone downloading those songs will be able to copy the music with no restrictions, something Schnur sees as a "big statement" in the ongoing debate about DRM. "People want to be able to buy music, they want to move it from one place to another and we're not going to get in their way. If somebody wants a 'Sims' ringtone and then a few days later they want that same 'Sims' song on their iPod, and three days later they want to send it through a P2P network to their friends, so be it. The bottom line is they purchased it and we're thrilled that they're sharing it. "
As for pricing, the music will follow iTunes conventions for singles and albums. Asked if people purchasing a game would get a discount on that title's soundtrack, Schnur told MTV News, "I haven't thought about it yet, but I love the idea. As of this conversation, no, but frankly after this conversation, the answer will be yes."
Schnur wasn't just in New York to announce the EA Trax download plan — he was also visiting major music labels and scouting songs and bands to feature in EA's fall games. The biggest surprise? He heard more rock than hip-hop.
"I went to a major label this morning," Schnur said. "I noticed they played me 20 rock bands and one hip-hop artist. I'm not saying hip-hop is over and get rid of all your Jay-Z records ... I'm saying it certainly has become homogenized. ... I'm not going to ignore hip-hop — we will include it in 'Madden,' 'NBA Live' and other games — [but] it's not going to be the predominant genre in our titles, because we pride ourselves in being ahead of the curve."
Does that mean "Steve Schnur" is an alter ego for Nas, and hip-hop is dead? Not quite. Schnur said he's hearing innovative hip-hop, much of it in Europe. "I think the hip-hop in the U.K. is fantastic," he said. He's also impressed with hip-hop from the South, as well as artists like Sri Lankan-born M.I.A. and Canadian MC K-os.
As for rock, Schnur said emo is here to stay for a while and that harder sounds — from the likes of Trivium and Underoath — seem to be on the rise, which suits him just fine. "It's just great music to game to. Especially if you're pounding someone's flesh in or crashing someone's car, nothing beats heavy metal."
Where else might EA be heading in the future with music? Schnur said the company is looking into signing bands to digital record deals and thinks some deals will be announced in four to eight weeks. And for those wondering if EA is going to sit idly by while other companies prove that music-based games like "Guitar Hero" and "Dance Dance Revolution" become roaring successes, there's news coming.
"I've been pushing for a long time to be honest with you," Schnur said. "I think you'll see us breaking into the genre sooner than you think."