The 2011 PlayStation 3 game PixelJunk Sidescroller’s excellent soundtrack may be its downfall. The game may be removed from the PlayStation store by the end of the week because of a music licensing issue that the game developers and musicians both are hoping gets resolved.
That news came in a tweet on Sunday from Dylan Cuthbert, head of Q-Games, the Kyoto-based studio that made the trippy side-scrolling shooter. “Due to a time limited music licensing agreement between Sony America and the licensing agents (that I wasn’t involved in and thought the license was in perpetuity tbh) there is a possibility that you will not be able to purchase PixelJunk SideScroller after this week,” he wrote.
Sidescroller, like many video games, was a download-only title, which means that its removal from the PlayStation store would make it nearly impossible to obtain for those who didn’t buy it. That’s the risk that shadows any digital-only game, which can be sold one day and yanked from stores the next.
“It’s sad to consider this must happen to many games that have limited period agreements for music,” Cuthbert told Kotaku over Twitter direct message.
Music license issues have a way of catching up with games. Earlier this year, Rockstar Games removed numerous songs from 2008’s Grand Theft Auto IV, including some David Bowie tracks, due to the expiration of music licenses. Asked on Twitter if the music could just be changed for PixelJunk Sidescroller, Cuthbert said, “That’s a lot of work and cost and it wouldn’t be the same game really.”
PixelJunk Sidescroller is a spin-off to a duo of games called PixelJunk Shooter, all of which were 2D shooters with flashy visuals and impressive liquid physics that led players into flying through or around gushing water, erupting lava and the like. The Sidescroller game is meant to feel like a video game played inside the Shooter world and is presented as if it is being displayed on an old-school CRT monitor, complete with screen bulge and scanlines.
The game’s soundtrack comes from High Frequency Bandwidth, the pairing of Alex Paterson and Dom Beken, two musicians who masterfully meld techno and hip-hop. In a developer diary for Sidescroller, they refer to the sound they went for in the game as “retro electronica.” Playthroughs of Sidescroller are full of their chill music, the shooting in the game thematically matched by catchy beats.
Cuthbert doesn’t want Sidescroller to be pulled and is hoping that Sony can work things out with the music people. Reps for PlayStation, which published the game, did not provide comment on the matter, but Dom Beken of High Frequency Bandwidth did. ”This is NOT something we wanted to happen,” he told Kotaku over e-mail, noting he only found out about the licensing issue recently. “I’m doing everything possible to try and stop Sidescroller from being pulled.”
Beken and Cuthbert both pointed to complications with how music licenses work for games. “The music publishing business still treats video game licences like any other sync licence and try to protect their clients by sticking to precedents from the film and TV world,” Beken said. “It’s a model I know doesn’t work very well for video games but in the case of the Shooter games part of our writing partnership was still committed to an old-fashioned music publishing deal.” (While HFB did music for PixelJunk Shooter 1 and 2 as well as Sidescroller, only the third game seems to be getting caught up in a license issue.)
Beken noted that that all parties involved are trying to find a solution, though he declined to share information about who the licensor actually is.
Cuthbert said he is hopeful things can be resolved and credited the band, the label and Sony with trying to sort this situation out. He’s also hoping that the music industry will change the way they do deals with games. “The music industry needs to stop putting time limits on music licenses for downloadable games,” he said. “I’ve never seen a movie pulled from shelves because of some limited term licensing it had. Once the music is licensed for a game it should be perpetual. Especially, as is primarily the case in these situations, the music isn’t exclusive and income from music sales/iTunes etc goes directly to the label.”
PixelJunk Sidescroller is a very fun game with very good music. If you’re interested, it’s still available on the PlayStation 3’s online store for $10. Cuthbert believes that those who bought it will be able to re-download it after the game is pulled, though he’s hoping that last minute relief will come. Beken concurs. “With a bit of luck,” he said, “this will be a non-story if we get it fixed.”