Music rocks gamers


Music games are growing in popularity globally and now represent the second-largest selling category in the gaming industry

CASUAL GAMING has changed the face of consoles in recent years. Where once they were the domain of committed gamers, gaming has become increasingly accessible to the wider audience.

The past few years have seen music games grow in popularity, with franchises such as Singstar making a serious impact on the games industry.

It’s a growing market. Industry sources say that, on a global basis, these games form the second largest selling game category. In Europe, for the first nine months of the year, it grew 25 per cent.

Tapping into this trend is the Guitar Herofranchise. The popular games series isn’t jumping on any bandwagon though; it has been around for four years and has spawned titles covering everything from Aerosmith songs and Metallica to the Killers and No Doubt.

Chief executive of the Guitar Herobusiness unit Dan Rosensweig says the game has mass appeal and has become a family affair. “Music is popular. What makes Guitar Heroso popular is that it’s fun to play. It’s fun to play by yourself, it’s more fun to play against other people and it’s just as much fun to watch other people play as it is to play it. That’s a really rare social experience.”

The franchise has been hugely successful. Rosensweig estimates it has sold more than 40 million units worldwide since its launch in 2005.

The game changed slightly in 2008 with the launch of the World Tourtitle. Like rival Rock Band, the game allowed players to take on a whole band, adding drums, bass and even vocals to the gameplay.

However, the emphasis is still on the guitar. Rosensweig says that, while the extra gameplay elements are important, the songs that are chosen have to be great guitar tracks.

“Our set lists are put together with a combination of science and art, with the final arbiter being they have to be fun as hell to play,” he said.

It seems to have paid off. Publisher Activision Blizzard said that the latest edition, Guitar Hero 5, outsold rival title The Beatles Rock Bandtwo to one in the UK.

“I think most of the popular press was shocked by just how popular and successful Guitar Hero 5has been in the face of huge PR blitz by the Beatles and The Beatles Rock Band,” he said. “Guitar Hero is just a more fun game to play. We took a position of value and variety. Instead of one band in this case and 45 songs, we have 82 artists and 85 songs.

“The reviews of Guitar Hero 5were the best reviews we’ve ever gotten. We had substantial innovation in gameplay and the fans rewarded us by making it in the UK in the month of September the number one video game and outselling our nearest competitor two to one.”

The franchise is about to be expanded with Band Hero, which will focus more on social play, and DJ Hero, which gives players the chance to unleash their inner DJ.

Band Herofocuses on the fun of playing the full band, the fun of more popular music today, of more social music which really rallies round the instrument and singing. It’s really more for the family and more social that way, said Rosensweig.

DJ Hero focuses on the kind of music usually found at dance clubs, building in a turntable and gameplay elements such as scratching and mixing.

“The guitar is always going to be the iconic instrument of every generation. This generation has the guitar and the turntable, said Rosensweig.

“You get to feel the power of what it feels like to be DJ.”

Further innovations for the Hero games are planned. “The most important thing is that we stay in touch with our fans,” Rosenswieg said.

The games executive said singing games have become more popular in Europe than in the US, but it is online gaming that will provide real opportunities for both gamers and publishers.

With Guitar Hero 5, more than 20 million songs have been played online.

“As technology gets cheaper and more of these devices get connected, the opportunity for us to upgrade innovate and personalise the games on a daily basis increases,” he said.

“You’ll see substantial future innovation, not just with the music but with the gameplay because of connectivity,” Rosenberg said.