Video game players trading
joysticks for drumsticks
By Steven L. Kent
WHEN IT COMES to playing video games, a
lot of people are switching their joysticks for
drumsticks. It’s not that sports games and
shooters have lost their appeal, but music
games are drawing gamers to consoles like
rock fans to a Rolling Stones concert.
Contrary to what you may have heard,
music games did not begin with the release of
Guitar Hero. Sony popularized the category
with a 1996 game called PaRappa the Rapper
in which players tapped along to the beat of a
rap-singing puppy. In 1997, Konami hooked
Japanese gamers with Beatmania—a DJ-ing
game with a special controller that included
keyboard keys and a turntable.
Beatmania opened the way for drum games
(DrumMania), guitar games (GuitarFreaks), an
incredibly popular dancing game (Dance Dance
Revolution) and a game with maracas (Samba
Popular as some of these games became,
they were only the opening act. “In 2006,
music games made about $250 million,” says
Kai Huang, founder of Red Octane, the company that develops the Guitar Hero games. “In
2007, music games made nearly $1.3 billion.”
In 2005, Red Octane released Guitar Hero,
and rock rolled onto the gaming scene. “Last
year, 31 percent of all PlayStation 2 dollars were
spent on Guitar Hero alone,” says game industry analyst John Taylor of Arcadia Investment
Corp. “Guitar Hero made over $820 million—
more than Mario and Halo combined.”
What made the difference?
“The old music games were more about
straight beat-matching, [while] Guitar Hero
[made] people feel like they are playing a
musical instrument,” says Huang. Guitar Hero
also came with a controller shaped like an
electric guitar and a hit parade of genuine
rock featuring the likes of Ozzy Osbourne,
Queen, Boston and ZZ Top.
Guitar Hero’s meteoric rise opened the
door for Rock Band—a tag-team effort
between MTV and Electronic Arts. Promising
players a bigger, broader, more rock-and-roll experience, Rock Band came
with a guitar, drums and a mike.
“We wanted to give non-musicians
the experience of making music, which
is extremely fun,” says Greg LoPiccolo,
vice president of product development
at Harmonix, the company that creates
the Rock Band games. “We also wanted to
let them make music with other people,
which is insanely fun.”
This year the fun will become even wilder.
The latest version of Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero
World Tour (available for Xbox 360, Wii,
PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 2), will come
with a complex set of drums and a microphone, plus 85 new songs, including hits from
the Eagles and Van Halen.
MICROSOF T GAME STUDIOS RED OCTANE
“World Tour has a bunch of new modes,
such as ‘Band Career’ and an eight-player karaoke games, Lips lets players form teams in
‘Battle of the Bands,’ which are more social which one player sings and the other plays
and get more people involved in the game,” percussion by tapping buttons on an Xbox
says Huang. “It’s a very social game.” 360 controller.
Not to be outdone, Harmonix has also Disney Interactive has thrown its family-created new and improved instruments for friendly hat into the ring with Disney Sing It,
Rock Band 2 (available for Xbox 360, Wii, a karaoke game for Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation
PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 2), along with a 3 and PlayStation 2 in which players sing
new musical lineup. “We will have 84 new along with 35 hits from Hannah Montana,
songs, plus 20 free download songs available Jesse McCartney, High School Musical and
at launch,” says LoPiccolo. “You will be able to other Disney shows and stars.
add in almost all of your ex isting The good news for fans is that the trend
Rock Band songs. By is hot, and we may have heard only the open-Christmas there will be ing notes. Stay tuned. C
over 500 songs for Rock
Band 2.” Science-fiction novelist and journalist Steven
And then there are L. Kent lives near Seattle. See his Web site at
the new entrants in the www.SadSamsPalace.com.
music field. Microsoft
Lips, a new singing game The Costco Connection
for Xbox 360 that comes Costco will feature music video games in the ware-
with two microphones, a houses and at costco.com in October and November,
big song list and the ability including Guitar Hero: World Tour and On Tour, Rock
to let players stream songs from Band 2, High School Musical and Nintendo’s Wii Music.
their music collections. Unlike most Quantities will be limited for some titles.
Game Studios is releasing
Music game players have lots to choose
from this year, including Rock Band (top),
Guitar Hero (middle) and Lips (bottom).