How in-game radio immerses us in the atmosphere of video games

Since the 1990s, some video games have been dissatisfied with quality soundtracks – though these are increasingly being pushed to vinyl. Many sports games, racing games, or more generally open world games offer players a variety of radios that compile licensed music tracks. Return to phenomena that do not run out of steam, even those that develop.

From gamer to full-time DJ

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater would it have had the same indelible imprint if it had happened without Goldfinger, Papa Roach or Rage Against the Machine? It doesn’t seem like it. Mainly because Activision games, like many other games that delegated their music to radio playlists, contributed a lot to the development of the music culture of gamers at that time.

From Radio Jet-Set to recently away 6, the history of video games in the 2000s was marked by the freedom of action afforded to the person holding the controller; whether it’s moving through space or music preferences. Example of the saga GTA perhaps the most obvious: since the first opus was released in 1997, the licensee has made the treatment given to its in-game radio a marker of its identity.

One of the radios from GTA V hosted by the producers of Flying Lotus.

Originally conceived internally, they have always found a very natural place in Rockstar’s game diegesis. Led by reporters, sometimes punctuated by odd interviews that add to the impertinence of their universe, they above all allow the player to choose the genre of music he likes best.

But doesn’t such freedom undermine the narrative homogeneity of the game? How can you take a dramatic moment seriously if, in the background, a fun piece of ska beats the beat?

Freedom and editorial line

“I wouldn’t say that open world games rely on licensed music, but rather use it to trigger emotions in certain scenes and maintain certain moods.expose to road finder freelance journalist Mat Ombler, specialist in video game music. In most open world video games, licensed music is only available on the radio, precisely to prevent energetic electro or sophisticated jazz tracks from playing over moving cinematics with lots of dialogue. »

Observations shared by Fanny Rebillard, journalist musicologist, author of books on the study of in-game music Legend of Zelda. “In-game radio can have multiple roles, but it’s more of an immersive tool than the other way around! In series like Big Car Theft, it’s a great way to allow players to put themselves in the driver’s seat and complete their adventures in an ever-changing way. »

The in-game radio also takes on the color of offense, serving the purpose of a role-playing game. Stepping into their avatar skin, players can give them a taste of music that isn’t necessarily their own. In the same way we don’t have to play a character similar to us The SimsFor example.

music sandbox

Therefore, a game playlist rich in licensed music pieces is the opposite of a tool that provides immersion. However, a wide variety of titles are sometimes offered (GTA V take into account 441, Guard Dog Legion 114) offers players a heterogeneous experience, which is not shared in the same way by everyone.

“Offering a changing experience for every player is not considered a negative thing these days: it is one of the most important bases of sandbox gaming, or, furthermore, of all generative system games.continued the expert. For example, there are music games (such as audio surfing) which offers the player to import his own playlists to generate levels based on the music he likes. »

It’s true: many music games (but not only) allow us to go further by importing our own music. This is especially a very recent case waterfalla shooting game in which characters are only allowed to shoot to the beat of the music being played.

Another example of using licensed music in games is covers Coming days from Pearl Jam by Joel in The Last of Us Part II.©Sony Interactive Entertainment

But there’s also something hidden behind the musical curation of these games that puts more or less emphasis on what’s going on in the game. “Music can also sound different depending on the context, and that’s where each individual’s interpretation will get interesting: pieces of popular music that were there from the first. Bioshock analyzed by William Gibbons [docteur en musicologie américain, ndlr] as carrying more meaning because their words can empathize with the player’s actions, or conversely underline them in an ironic way, according to his ethical choices…”

Valuable acquisition channel for artists

On the other side of the fence, artists no longer need to be asked to appear in the most popular video game credits. This is because, as a medium that claims nearly three billion followers, it is an important acquisition channel for musicians. Are they already in the spotlight or will they come out of the shadows.

“There are many benefits to getting your music into the gameconfirmed Mat Ombler. Bands and artists appearing on game soundtracks often see huge spikes in Spotify playback and song sales. Exposure of this magnitude – sometimes up to millions of players – can result in huge opportunities for them. »

From Woodkid, who exploded thanks to the ad on the exitAssassin’s Creed Revelationto the post-rock band 65daysofstatic who rose to fame with the trailer for Sky Without Humans, passed the Icelandic Low Roar who accompanied our hike stranded death, all have the same denominator. Just head to YouTube to read hundreds of comments from players who love to discover new artists to listen to over and over again.

Low Roar, the Icelandic group created in 2010, revealed in 2019 thanks to the game stranded death.

“To find today’s artist, there is TikTok, but also video gamessummarizes Alkis Argyriadis, Head of Music at Ubisoft on his company Stories blog. Like it or not, our audience is spending more and more time in front of screens. Video games have become a real platform for musicians. In-game radio is one way to highlight it, but we’re also working to model in-game artists, virtual concerts – as we do. Fortnite with Travis Scott –, metaverse…” It’s a safe bet that multiple accounts have been created on Epic Games games during rapper concerts or, more recently, Ariana Grande.

For video game studios, partnering with leading artists is also a promise of seriousness and openness that can unite audiences hitherto unaffected by their productions. And some, like Rockstar (again…), feel free to explore fairly specific niches. Apart from Dr Dre who recently appeared for an update GTA Onlinerecently rising stars Rosalia and experimental artist Arca who lend themselves to radio hosting games in online games.

GTA Online Dr Dre
Dr Dre and DJ Pooh in the latest expansion GTA Online.©Rockstar Games

Copyright puzzle

If, as we’ve just seen, a soundtrack consisting in part of popular titles has great benefits for immersion, freedom of action, and artist renown, it also poses an important legal barrier. Especially when considering the question under the prism of video game media preservation.

Recently remastered, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City no longer contains some of the main music tracks. This is especially the case Billie John we talked about in the intro, but also about wow by Kate Bush or Running with the Night by Lionel Richie. Disturbing absence, due to trade agreements that are difficult to renegotiate; certain rights holders claim royalties much higher than before.

Mat Ombler enlightens us on this: “In most cases, these licensing issues occur because developers never imagined their games would still be on sale ten years later. Most often, agreements are signed [pour ce genre de jeux] ten years old. What’s happening now, in some cases, is that labels want more money to re-licence given that they are now aware of the popularity of certain franchises (and some labels can be quite greedy!). »

Sometimes, the expiration of this license can lead to more complicated situations than a simple flaw in the playlist. In 2017, adventure game Alan wake up pure and simple pulled from sale in game store intangible due to license for one of the songs used (War from Poets of the Fall) has expired.

Alan wake up
Fantasy adventure game Alan wake up been removed from sale on Steam for over a year due to an expired music license.©Epic Games

Fanny Rebillard details the legal aspects in a river article published in 2020 on Gamekult (available to subscribers). In an email exchange, the music expert emphasized the fact that situations like this are certainly not the prerogative of international stars like Michael Jackson: “Japanese Game” okami lost, in its reissue and remaster, of the credits song sung by Ayaka Hirahara. The reason is never mentioned, but it is very likely due to copyright reasons. Therefore, only the PS2 version of the game is “complete” so far, and even the soundtrack on Spotify doesn’t contain the song. »

A pocket of legal knots where studios and dedicated teams are grounded as the game is worth the candle. “Finding the rights to the soundtrack can be very expensiveclose Mat Ombler. But a killer soundtrack can make a huge difference to how audiences engage with a game. And if you look at how much media attention has focused on Kate Bush’s popularity after one of her songs was played in the series. Stranger Things, I believe that video games will continue to follow this path. »

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