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Incubus a “bit” behind the times with new video game

July 18, 2011


Let me just preface this by saying: I am a fan of Incubus. I used to be quite enamored of them in my youth (I mean, who could resist Brandon Boyd’s magnificent abs circa their video for “Drive,”) and can still find the vaguest glimmer of feeling when I hear the familiar teenage-era riffs of  “Stellar” or “I Wish You were Here.”

Social media is all the rage these days, and the music industry is just starting to feel its effects. With popular and successful hype campaigns on the medium from other 90s-era superstars such as Bjork and The Beastie Boys, it seems that now is the time to test out the waters on innovative selling tactics – especially for an artist with a distinctive fanbase.

Incubus has jumped on that train with full momentum– launching some interactive elements to their album release that are parts new and parts done before, yet still effective, including: an interactive live stream, a partnership with video-sharing app Viddy, a Formspring Q&A, and an 8-bit anti-piracy video game called “Incubattle.”

The game is somewhat of an ironic joke as a comeback to the premature “leak” of their album, a common occurrence on the all-powerful inter-web these days; yet, similar to Lindsay Lohan’s self-mocking “Funny or Die” video, the joke comes across as forced and the slightest bit personal.

I feel as though the members of Incubus, and let’s face it, the record label that most likely proposed this idea, could have thought this through a little more. A well-defined social media strategy for the game could have spelled out that this wasn’t exactly a great idea, and my reasoning is below:

1.) Target audience: The main problem with the game is that it’s unclear as to who exactly would play it with the intended message. The game clearly targets part of the band’s fan base, IE 20-something males, yet the “crime” of downloading which is villainized in the game has probably been committed by most of that crowd at least once in their lives, having grown up with Napster and the rise of the Internet.

2.) Purpose: The game’s purpose is both to hype the album while shaming those that have downloaded it from the leak. One positive, and one negative. I guess if you didn’t download the leak you can feel self-righteous and positive about the album while playing, but if you have downloaded it—or any other albums previously—you’ll feel bad and should. Or that’s how the game would like it to be. (Feel free to replace “the game” with “the music industry” there.)

Despite the fact that the music industry’s response to downloading thus far has been legal action that alienates fans rather than bringing them in with good content and good quality programs, it’s just ridiculous and idiotic to assume that every person that downloads music online is a baseless criminal.

3.) Competition: With other artists embracing the social wave and making headlines with their business model bending tactics, the potential for becoming newsworthy with album hype is huge. With the “name of the game” online being net neutrality, Incubus puts a big red flag where a white one should be.

The Gorillaz, for instance, invited interaction from their fans on their album by releasing it via social media for fans to remix. While this move may have invited critical and somewhat legal responses, it sent a message to fans that their feedback and creative input on the album is appreciated.

4.) Message: This reminds me of a similar step against piracy by Lars Ulrich, the lead singer of Metallica, who went up against Napster in 2000, which as many Metallica fans will tell you did not go well. Furthermore, the message is reminiscent of the entire DARE campaign (which proved to be so successful)—a cheesy and outdated crime-fighting message hidden beneath the guise of a pastime that would seemingly attract their core customer base. Thus, it falls short of actually making any new statements as to why the action (downloading or otherwise) happens, or a proposal for change. Kind of like the entire plot of Avatar.

5.) Tactics: The base play of the game is a retro look at 8-bit games of the past, which in itself is not a bad thing at all. Yet besides the game’s outdated and pointless message, it doesn’t seem to provide that much incentive to buy the album. With tracks from the album as “scores” during the game and characters resembling the members of Incubus, the player couldn’t really connect with the album unless they already bought it (or downloaded it) before playing. Not really an incentive for the rest of us, though.

Rob Sheridan put it nicely via Google+:

“Seriously? How about fighting the record label dorks or manufacturing companies who let the album leak in the first place? Maybe the boss battle should be with the label exec who can’t come up with a modern release plan that avoids leaks entirely?”

While Incubus’ new album shows that the lithe youth-rock heroes of the past at least still have their own “drive” for the music business, their efforts at buzz for the album, whether through their incentive or their label’s,  comes across as merely a disingenuous ploy for sales.

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