Now to keep this as simple and organized as possible, I will first talk solely about licensed music, how it’s been used this generation and then what I feel are the pros and cons of it. Then I will do the same for the next section, just obviously talking only about composed music. Then I will finally render my verdict as to what I feel is more appealing and appropriate in this day and age!
As most if not all of us probably know, licensed music implementation in games is becoming more and more of a frequent trend. It can be seen in almost any game genre nowadays. Sports titles are obviously the most heavily saturated with them, as the developers of them try to give them that “sports” atmosphere by providing a unique soundtrack that will emphasize the mood and energy level that the real sport normally tends to bring.
Now it almost seems like the influence of licensed music is spreading in ways that we couldn’t have possibly predicted. Now it’s showing up in other genres in which we normally wouldn’t see that kind of thing. Action games like Prince of Persia: Warrior Within features a song written by metal band Godsmack in “I Stand Alone.” It’s showing up in racing titles, as we’ve seen in the Need For Speed: Underground titles from EA featuring songs like “Get Low”, and even some of the Colin McRae rally games for the PS2 and XBox! What has surprised even myself and my friends in recent years is that it’s become a huge part of GOLF games! That’s right, in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 and 2004, there is licensed music! The scary part about that is that a heavy dose of it is the rap genre, which is TOTALLY unsuited for golf based on all standards of the sport! I don’t think if you asked a regular fan of golf who doesn’t play videogames what kind of music he would think to hear on an actual golf course that he would end up saying something like “Party Up” by DMX!
I don’t know what really caused this dramatic and sudden increase in the use of licensed music in games, but it sure has seemed to have made an impact so far. Some developers like EA have even gone all out so as to have professional singers like Mya write and sing the very theme song for one of their most recent Bond games! “Everything or Nothing,” just like the game title states, is the theme song sung by Mya, and it’s used mainly in an attempt to make it a game that seems just like a Bond movie.
Does licensed music featured in a game give it a better chance on the market for overall sales? I really don’t know. All I do know is I would truly feel sorry for someone that buys a game and one of the main reasons for doing that is it has a particular set of some songs that person truly enjoys listening to. I mean, weren’t CD’s invented for that reason? Does licensed music appeal to the mainstream gamer? As it stands today, I would probably have to guess a “yes” answer to that question. I think a lot of games that have licensed music featured in them that have sold well is because of people loving that sort of thing. Does licensed music enhance a game’s overall experience? Well, that really depends on the game. Some games, like sports titles, normally have the music suit them well because it can allow you to possibly relate to any experience you might’ve had at an actual sporting event. They always tend to play some kind of music inbetween timeouts and breaks in regulation, so normally it tends to fit quite well. However, I definitely think it’s safe to say that many other games, ESPECIALLY the Need For Speed: Underground titles, definitely take it a little bit too far and overdo it. I can understand they are reminiscent of “The Fast And The Furious” movies and all those “gangsta” stereotypes, but I think it drags down the overall experience rather than actually enhancing it.
Licensed music, while it can be a good thing at times and make a game more entertaining than it might’ve been, tends to be overused by developers for many different reasons. I almost think that developers rely on it a little too much sometimes to make it successful and appeal to a certain audience, and hopefully the choices developers make for future titles they make will be more careful ones!
• Can appeal to the mainstream gamer
• Tends to work well in sports titles
• Can make a game sell better than it might’ve
• Can provide a more entertaining atmosphere if the music suits it
• Can possibly help a newer or not-as-well-known band/singer get noticed
• Tends to be overused
• It costs developers much more $$$ to make it since they have to pay for the music license
• Music choices tend to not suit a game well, makes the experience seem out of place
• If the lyrics of a certain song or songs are explicit, it can do some serious damage to a younger gamer
• A lot of times there’s only a few decent tracks in a game, causing the player to only want to listen to those, and then it comes repetitive
Now THIS has certainly been around pretty much since the start of the console gaming industry. Whether it be the NES, Atari, SEGA’s systems, SNES, N64, Playstation, WHATEVER……composed music has been with us since pretty much day one!
More and more we are seeing and hearing the quality of composed music in games increase, REALLY doing a great job of creating the overall atmosphere of emotion and expression in our games. Whether it be an action game where the themes are always upbeat and have a fast tempo to keep the experience alive, an adventure game that has both happy sounding themes, serene themes, and fearful themes, or even puzzle games in which you can always enjoy hearing those kooky tunes as you attempt to defeat the computer or your friends, composed music has been an integral part of gaming for as long as anyone can remember!
The genre that has definitely gotten the nicest boost when it comes to overall quality in composed music is the role-playing games (RPG). RPGs more and more are getting high and frequent doses of true music masterpieces! I think it’s safe for me to say that games like Tales of Symphonia, Baten Kaitos, Final Fantasy VII – X, Crystal Chronicles, and even the now defunct MMORPG Earth & Beyond have featured truly epic scores of composed music that have caused all of us gamers who might love these particular games to love them that much more!
When it comes to strictly Nintendo and their most popular franchises, I would hold no reservation in saying that almost all if NOT all the Mario and Legend of Zelda titles have featured truly thought-provoking and stimulating musical presentations. Koji Kondo, the composer for Ocarina of Time could not have done a better job piecing together some of the most emotional, upbeat, and suspenseful themes I’ve ever heard presented in a game.
It seems like no matter where we turn, except for maybe the sports genre, we will bear witness to musical compositions that have a chance at either making or breaking a game. As for me personally, I’m a gamer that has the mindset that music could either make or easily break a game. Music to me is what makes the games atmosphere grab you and keep your attention, and if that doesn’t happen, then what the heck are you playing it for? Now I can’t honestly say that I haven’t played many if any games that really caused me to hate it because of poorly composed music. That’s actually a good thing, because that’s something I never actually want to experience. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear from any of you out there that have played games in which you despised everything you heard and were caused to hate the game because of it. Hopefully that isn’t actually the case, but I’m sure there is a small library of games out there that really aren’t worth playing because of the terrible music.
So it’s like I said, composed music has been around as long as console gaming has been. It’s pretty much still the most common type of music when it comes to most genres, and it seems like it’s continuing to get better and better in quality each time a new game is released! I think more developers are beginning to realize that gamers want quality composed music in their games that will draw them into the atmosphere and almost cause them to believe they are a part of the overall experience!
• Can do a great job of bringing a game to life
• It can be rewarding to a developer knowing it implemented quality composed music
• Most composed music suits the situation, whether happy, calmer or suspenseful
• It can cause gamers to respect who actually composed the music and want to find out who the composer really is in the credits
• If it’s been around this long and still going strong, someone must be doing something right!
• It can either make or break a game
• If music isn’t as good as it could’ve been, the experience won’t be as rewarding
• It could cause gaming apathy in someone that strongly dislikes the music in a game and cause them to lose respect for the particular developer
• If the sound quality of the music is noticeably sub-par, it won’t have the same effect if it were done correctly
• Sometimes composed themes may seem to be noticeably drawn out and bland if it’s too long
Based on my personal opinion and preference, I will take composed music over licensed music any day. I personally am not a huge music listener and am actually quite picky with what I choose to listen to and enjoy. Composed music, however, is something that is always fresh and new, no matter what the genre or game, you can almost never get sick of it. Someone can never as easily remember how a composed song sounds like rather than knowing the rhythm and tunes of a licensed song. Licensed music can be good if it’s implemented in the appropriate situation, but based on all of my experiences, it never really has been. I will always love composed music, and hope the current trend of true quality never ceases, because I’m always drawn in that much more into a game when it features composed scores rather than already well-known licensed music.