ByAna Valens, writer at
Writer and games critic. As seen at the Daily Dot, Waypoint, Kill Screen, Bitch Media, and ZEAL.
Ana Valens

Music licensing. There's good and bad involved -- licensing makes sure record labels and artists receive royalties on projects that use their hard work. But there's a darker side to licensing. Some of our favorite games can be heavily modified when a license expires. Or even worse, games can be permanently pulled from store shelves altogether due to licensing terms.

That's exactly the case with Remedy Entertainment's Alan Wake. IGN reports that the game is currently going through the Alan Wake Sunset Sale, with the game 90 percent off at $3. Running from May 13th at 10 AM PT to May 15th, once the sale ends, Alan Wake will be pulled altogether online and offline alike. That's right: you won't be able to play the game unless you own it.

Why? According to Remedy's head of communications, Thomas Puha, licenses are expiring for every single licensed music in the game. That's right, every single song. Because changing the songs would significantly change the tone and artistic vision of the game, Remedy is simply removing the game from stores altogether. So the only way to play Alan Wake is if you already own it.

Grand Theft Auto Has Also Been Hit By Music Licensing

[Source: Steam]
[Source: Steam]

But this actually isn't the first time that music licensing concerns have affected a major AAA franchise. In fact, the Grand Theft Auto series has faced similar issues with licensing in the past.

Back in 2014, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas saw a patch on Steam for the PC version that removed 17 songs from the game. Rock Paper Shotgun suggested that the songs were removed due to the licenses being removed, and a post on NeoGAF later detailed the songs. Tracks affected ranged across San Andreas's in-game radio stations, from Tom Petty to N.W.A. to Rage Against the Machine.

It's not just San Andreas that's been affected, either. Some cases have been much worse.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was pulled from Steam in 2012 over music licensing. Kotaku speculated that Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Something" was key behind the issue. And while Vice City was eventually put back on the Steam store, Cinemablend revealed that a couple major songs were pulled from the game: including songs from Michael Jackson, Ozzy Osbourne, Lionel Richie, and Kate Bush.

Music licensing is a pretty big issue for that reason. Vice City and San Andreas are particularly defined by their music, and losing popular tracks due to licensing issues can affect the feel behind the game. Even worse, this can cause games to pulled from stores -- it's a pretty big deal losing Vice City because Rockstar has to renegotiate with record labels.

Are Music Companies Damaging Gaming?

[Source: Steam]
[Source: Steam]

Music licenses are a fact of life. If games want to use licensed songs, then they have to secure the terms (and cash) to put the tracks in their games. But doesn't that damage classic video games?

Of course it does. Music has a major artistic purpose in games. Songs tell stories, they set the mood, and they trigger certain emotions in players. That's why Alan Wake uses David Bowie, and why Vice City draws on Michael Jackson. When songs have to be pulled due to licensing reasons, those games' artistic visions are being damaged. Players lose those emotions that come with certain songs.

Can that be considered censorship? In some senses, yes. Developers are forced to adhere to stipulations and terms from an outside force in order to (often temporarily) maintain their artistic vision. By pulling those tracks from games, titles like Alan Wake and San Andreas are essentially undergoing censorship because the in-game material is being changed in a way that goes against the desires or consent of the original creators.

Whether that's changing in-game radio stations, or removing songs from major cutscenes, those games are being censored. And in Alan Wake and Vice City's case, that means being pulled from sale altogether.

It's just, instead of political values, the major censoring factor here is money -- and the threat of legal litigation based on copyright. Still, it's safe to say games like Alan Wake are being censored by the music industry. And it's just not right for msuic companies to bully developers, publishers, and gamers who want to enjoy games as creators intended them to be enjoyed.

Is it right for music companies to license music? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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