Dennis Burger is a native Alabamian whose passion for AV began sometime before the age of seven, when he dismantled his parents' brand new 25-inch solid-state Zenith console TV and exclaimed--to the amusement of no one except the delivery guy--that it was missing all of its vacuum tubes. He has since contributed to Home Theater Magazine, Wirecutter, Cineluxe, Electronic House, and more. His specialties include high-end audio, home theater receivers, advanced home automation, and video codecs.
As far as can tell, there are currently two types of people: those who are utterly obsessed with Dropmix and those who've never played this amazing new musical card game. If there's any middle ground between those two extremes, it's lost on me.
If you're in the latter group or simply haven't heard of Dropmix at all, some explanation is in order. Simply put, it's a musical mashup game from Harmonix (makers of the video game smash hit Rock Band). The base game comes with an electronic playing board and sixty playing cards with NFC chips imbedded inside, each of which contains one musical thread from a pop, rock, electronica, or hip-hop classic from the past few decades. Your hand might consist of the horn line from Cake's "Short Skirt Long Jacket," lead vocals from the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," the drums from Run DMC's "It's Tricky," guitar from Rick James' "Super Freak," and a wild card containing your choice of instruments from "Bangarang" by Skrillex. Along with your draw pile of 25 other cards, you face an opponent with 30 unique musical threads, and you take turns laying down tracks in specific color-coded spots on the board, scoring points accordingly. You can play 1-on-1, 2-on-2, or even in a party mode where the rules are a little looser. No matter how you play, you generate a fascinatingly distinctive musical soundtrack that's all tempo- and key-matched every time you do.
If all of that still has you scratching your head, check out this quick playthrough, and you'll start to understand it:
Seems like a neat trick, right? Something to pull out when your mates are over and you're all a little toasted. Here's the thing, though: my wife and I recently picked up the game on a whim, and playing it was pretty much all we did from breakfast to supper on the Saturday and Monday of the long MLK holiday weekend. On the Sunday in between, we spent most of the day driving from store to store in search of elusive booster packs that offer more cards--and hence more songs--to fill out our selection of playlists.
Think about that for a moment. We weren't looking for new cards because they change the nature of the game with different abilities or different rules. We drove a grand total of 65 miles in one day in search of music--much of which we already own in some form or another. Record Store Day ain't got nothin' on this game.
One thing I couldn't help but notice as we drove around, shopping for new musical threads, is just how successful the game is, despite its pitiful marketing. In every store we entered, we either had to search for Dropmix or just give up ask where it was located. In Target, it's with the media section, near the music and movies. At Best Buy, it's in the board game section (Best Buy has a board game section? Seriously?). In Toys "R" Us, it's housed with the video games. In some stores, there's a little demo station. In others, it's just empty peg after empty peg, with perhaps one little solitary booster pack of five cards hanging in there like a loose tooth.
As we were checking out at the Best Buy in the town just north of us, the clerk said, "Hey, y'all should go check out the Target across the street. My boy works there, and he just stocked the shelves this morning with all of the packs." When we got there, there was one lonely pack of five cards left, but thankfully it was one that we needed.
So, marketing is apparently a thing that Dropmix doesn't really need at the moment--but what a wasted opportunity for cross-marketing it is. I say this because the missus and I started the weekend just playing with my iPad attached to the game board (an iOS or Android device of some sort is needed, in case that wasn't clear). Halfway through our first hand, I ran and grabbed a little Bluetooth speaker to give the music some extra kick. As soon as that hand was done, I swapped it out for a RIVA Festival, the biggest portable speaker in the house. By the time Saturday night rolled around, we had the game pumping through my pair of GoldenEar Triton One towers and finally felt like we had tapped into its full sonic potential.
Go to Best Buy, though, and you'll simply see the game audio pumping out of the tinny little speakers of an attached iPad. Put me in charge of that store, and the demo kiosk would be hooked up to a pair of Polk Audio T50s that you could hear from all the way over at the check-out counter.
Because, come on, if you heard that awesome mix wafting through the aisles, tell me you wouldn't walk over to see what all the fuss was about? And hey, if you were already a Dropmix player who's never really been exposed to a high-quality sound system, the difference in the experience would be immediately obvious. You might just be inclined to start looking into what it would take to make your game sound that good. A simple quest for a better gaming experience might turn you into a HomeTheaterReview.com reader.
Even if you're not a Dropmix player, it would still be a hell of a lure. How many people walk through Best Buy every day, completely oblivious to the fact that the store even sells component sound systems? I'm guessing the number isn't insignificant.
Getting back to how the music industry can learn a lesson or two from Dropmix, think about this: those cards that the missus and I went on a frenzied goose chase to buy? They're about a buck apiece. That's not bad at all considering the technology in each one (and hell, it's significantly less than I've paid for individual cards for Magic the Gathering and Star Wars: Destiny). But do the math on that: at a dollar per card, and with five cards needed to build all of the elements of one individual song, we paid five dollars for "Short Skirt Long Jacket."
Let me repeat that again for extra emphasis: we gladly paid five clams for a single song split into five parts, and we were begging to spend even more. I'm not sure how much of a cut each artist gets for each card purchased, but it stands to reason that John McCrea and his bandmates made more money off of me this weekend than they did when I bought Comfort Eagle in its entirety from iTunes.
And no, the lesson to be learned here is not that record companies need to get into the card game business en masse--although, if I had a new album coming to market, I would be beating down Harmonix and Hasbro's doors, begging them to slice it and dice it and stick it on an NFC chip wrapped in cardboard.
The real lesson to be learned is that, in our diverse media landscape, the industry needs to find more creative ways of engaging consumers, of democratizing music ... and most importantly it needs to find a way to better reward the people who make that music in the process.
Look, one little card game, no matter how popular it may be, is not going to fix all of the problems plaguing the music industry right now. But the type of thinking that went into making it? That might do the trick. Because I promise you, Dropmix is far more likely to stoke the creative flames of musicians and artists--and listeners!--than Spotify, TIDAL, or MQA ever will.
• Best Buy Needs to Focus on the Experience to Compete with Amazon at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• The Top Mistakes That Electronics Retailers Keep Making at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• It's Time to Start Breaking Old-School Audiophile Rules at HomeTheaterReview.com.