Harmonix interview in Newsweek

phulcrumphulcrum Road Warrior
edited January 2008 in Rock Band
I did a search and didn't find any posts with this so here it is.

Like John Lennon and Paul McCartney (minus the bitter split), like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (without the tragic deaths) and like Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre (less the legal drama), the duo of Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy may one day leave their indelible imprint on pop-music history. When it comes to music games, however, the founders of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Harmonix have already secured their place in the pantheon. Their work on Guitar Hero I and II, which invigorated the music-videogame category in the United States, would have been enough. But in November, the company again reinvented the genre with Rock Band, pairing a faux drum kit and a karaoke microphone with a mock guitar for the ultimate ersatz group. "Our original mission statement was to bring the joy of music making to everyone out there in the world who may not necessarily have all the experience that comes from having learned a real musical instrument," says Egozy, a talented clarinetist. "We had no idea that it would become this huge."

The two met in the early '90s as graduate students in the computer-music department of MIT's renowned Media Lab, with Yamaha and Sega serving as corporate sponsors of the division's efforts. That pairing of patrons might have foreshadowed Rigopulos and Egozy's future success, but Harmonix's first product (a 1995 joystick-controlled music-improv program called The Axe: Titans of Classic Rock) was a critical hit but a commercial failure—a pattern with which Harmonix would become intimately familiar in the years that followed. In 1999, inspired by Sony's PlayStation title PaRappa the Rapper, they scored a deal directly with Sony Computer Entertainment to make a pair of semiabstract music games, Frequency and Amplitude. And once again, they met with great reviews and soft sales. "It was a really hard lesson for us to realize that making a fun game just isn't enough for a game developer," says Rigopulos, an accomplished drummer. "We had to start thinking about making games that were easier to sell."

In a rule-breaking moment practically crafted for VH1's "Behind the Music," Harmonix teamed up with Red Octane, a tiny company that specializes in videogame peripherals, to make a music game that would be bundled with a guitar and sell for $100. It should have bombed at that price, but it went multi-platinum, leading to Harmonix's acquisition by MTV and paving the way for Rock Band. So while Guitar Hero III (owned by rival publisher Activision) is this holiday's best seller, the strong buzz and sales for Rock Band are proof that lightning can strike twice. And thanks to a slew of patents, Harmonix still benefits from Guitar Hero III sales.

Having just released a game for the iPod as well, Harmonix's frontmen are now focused on cutting deals for music that players can download into Rock Band, á la iTunes. Already locked in for 2008: the appropriately titled "Who's Next" by The Who. Rigopulos says: "A lot of artists who previously wouldn't touch videogames, they've started to see what we're doing is a legitimate, creative medium for them to allow their fans to connect with their music on a deeper level." Consider us connected.
http://www.newsweek.com/id/81373

Comments

  • edited January 2008
    "And thanks to a slew of patents, Harmonix still benefits from Guitar Hero III sales."

    Strange and interesting little tid bit. Good for them since it was their work that made the series amount to anything of substance.


    If you look at the video embedded in the article... "Wii version due next year" ???

    Did the reporter slip up on that one?
  • jonfitzsimonjonfitzsimon Rising Star
    edited January 2008
    that caught my eye too. Definitely good for them. I guess they get some kick backs for the name they pretty much put on the map.
  • trilidartrilidar Opening Act
    edited January 2008
    Apples;232886 said:
    "And thanks to a slew of patents, Harmonix still benefits from Guitar Hero III sales."
    Might also help explain why Activision's being such a pain in the @$$ about the PS3 patch.

    Sour grapes, anyone?

    tril
  • edited January 2008
    trilidar;232957 said:
    Might also help explain why Activision's being such a pain in the @$$ about the PS3 patch.

    Sour grapes, anyone?

    tril
    Sour grapes indeed.
  • RawWS6RawWS6 Unsigned
    edited January 2008
    Cool article, thanks. I gotta say those Phase advertisements sure make me want to ditch my old 3G ipod and pick up a new one just so I can try out the game. Damn you Harmonix and your infinitely fun games...
  • UltraceUltrace Road Warrior
    edited January 2008
    Apples;232886 said:
    If you look at the video embedded in the article... "Wii version due next year" ???

    Did the reporter slip up on that one?
    Probably written near the tail-end of last year and possibly expected to go online in 2007, but was delayed. Thus, what should have been something to the effect of "Wii version due in 2008" becomes "Wii version due in 2009" due to a simple delay in publishing. :)
  • ManOwaRManOwaR Opening Act
    edited January 2008
    Activision may also be upset because it is apparent the Rock Band Model is in the process of turning the tide, then blowing them out of the water.

    Many RB owners are more than half way to "buying the game twice" in DLC; looking at my own we have Metallica Pack, Buddy Holly, Hard to Handle, Limelight, Punk Pack, Queen Beeotch, Fortunate Son, Cherry Bomb and Bang a gong; while not even playing their GHIII games anymore.
  • LZ_69LZ_69 Road Warrior
    edited January 2008
    "A lot of artists who previously wouldn't touch videogames, they've started to see what we're doing is a legitimate, creative medium for them to allow their fans to connect with their music on a deeper level."

    I hope this trend keeps incresing at an exponential level.:cool:
  • phulcrumphulcrum Road Warrior
    edited January 2008
    Yah, I bet that if Activision wasn't paying Harmonix some cash for patents every time a copy of GH3 is sold they wouldn't have made a huge stink about the patch. Well... maybe not, it is Activision and their company full of d-bags...
  • SanelessSaneless Unsigned
    edited January 2008
    ManOwaR;233405 said:
    Activision may also be upset because it is apparent the Rock Band Model is in the process of turning the tide, then blowing them out of the water.

    Many RB owners are more than half way to "buying the game twice" in DLC; looking at my own we have Metallica Pack, Buddy Holly, Hard to Handle, Limelight, Punk Pack, Queen Beeotch, Fortunate Son, Cherry Bomb and Bang a gong; while not even playing their GHIII games anymore.
    Or if you're like me, you look at the pathetic DLC offering of GH3 and decide if you're going to spend money, you're going to spend it in RB. haha activision, you lose. 2.50 for a bad song in GH vs 2.00 for a good song in RB? I can't believe I'm happy to give EA money, but they definitely have the better model.
  • TheSpammerTheSpammer Opening Act
    edited January 2008
    Ridiculously awesome... Guitar Hero exceeds my high expectations." (Rating: 4.5 out of 5)
    - Official PlayStation Magazine

    "One of the greatest games ever made."
    - G4 TV

    "Holy Crap! ... Without a doubt the most fun I have ever had playing any game." (Score: 10 out of 10)
    - Team Fremont

    "Harmonix has unleashed a beast... It makes me want to jump up and down. I'm so psyched about it, I have to talk about it when I'm not playing."
    - Gaming Age

    "The best rhythm game ever made."
    (Score: 10 out of 10)
    - 1up.com

    "I am frankly astonished by how much playing this game feels like playing the guitar for real... Guitar Hero will knock you on your coal-mining ass."
    (Score: 90%)
    - EGM

    "Guitar Hero leaves all other music/rhythm games in the dust."
    (Score: 4.5 out of 5)
    - Yahoo! Games

    "Pure bliss... If you ever rock out this hard outside of Guitar Hero, your heart will explode. We're serious... Hell, the game is so damn fun you won't be able to put it down... Buy this. Now."
    (Score: 9.2 out of 10)
    - IGN.com

    "If you don't have a big, stupid, sh*t-eating grin on your face when you do this, then we can't be friends anymore."
    - Stuff Magazine

    "The latest rhythm action game from Harmonix kicks all kinds of ass."
    (Score: 9 out of 10)
    - GameSpot

    "Guitar Hero is about rocking your f*ing face off... Harmonix knocked it out of the f*ing park."
    - Penny Arcade

    "The most fun I've ever had with a music game."
    - Game Informer

    "Let's be perfectly frank here; games this good come out very rarely, and when they do it feels like a gift"
    (Score: 9.7 out of 10)
    - Worth Playing

    "Harmonix has crafted a game that is heads and shoulders above nearly anything that has come before."
    (Score: 96 out of 100)
    - eToyChest

    "This is one of the few games I would unequivocally say is a must-own... Harmonix has taken an idea, refined it, churned it, ground it, and forged it into a force of pure rock that few men could stand against."
    - Netjack

    "This game is just too damned amazing to pass up. Seriously, there's just no reason not to buy this game."
    - TotalPlayStation

    "There is one game you need to buy this Christmas season. It's not the Xbox360, it's not Nintendo, it's not Sony's PSP. It's Guitar Hero... This is the greatest game ever... It triggers something completely innate and primal in me... Just run to the stores and buy this game!"
    - CBS Sacramento

    "Guitar Hero is not only the best PlayStation 2 game of the year, but it is worth going to buy a PS2 console exclusively to play this title."
    - Bullz-Eye.com

    "An epic rock masterpiece that may be the most purely fun game out there."
    - The Onion AV Club

    "One of the most (if not absolutely the most) acclaimed game of the generation."
    - Next Generation
    "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" – Jet
    "Ballroom Blitz" – Sweet
    "Black Hole Sun" – Soundgarden
    "Blitzkrieg Bop" – Ramones
    "Celebrity Skin" – Hole
    "Cherub Rock" – Smashing Pumpkins
    "Creep"* – Radiohead
    "Dani California" – Red Hot Chili Peppers
    "Dead on Arrival" – Fall Out Boy
    "Detroit Rock City" – Kiss
    "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" – Blue Öyster Cult
    "The Electric Version" – The New Pornographers
    "Enter Sandman" – Metallica
    "Epic" – Faith No More
    "Flirtin' with Disaster" – Molly Hatchet
    "Foreplay/Long Time" – Boston
    "Gimme Shelter" – The Rolling Stones
    "Go with the Flow" – Queens of the Stone Age
    "Green Grass and High Tides" – The Outlaws
    "The Hand That Feeds" – Nine Inch Nails
    "Here It Goes Again" – OK Go
    "Highway Star" – Deep Purple
    "I Think I'm Paranoid" – Garbage
    "In Bloom" – Nirvana
    "Learn to Fly" – Foo Fighters
    "Main Offender" – The Hives
    "Maps" – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
    "Mississippi Queen" – Mountain
    "Next to You" – The Police
    "Orange Crush" – R.E.M.
    "Paranoid" – Black Sabbath
    "Reptilia" – The Strokes
    "Run to the Hills" – Iron Maiden
    "Sabotage"* – Beastie Boys
    "Say It Ain't So" – Weezer
    "Should I Stay or Should I Go" – The Clash
    "Suffragette City" – David Bowie
    "Tom Sawyer" – Rush
    "Train Kept A-Rollin'" – Aerosmith
    "Vasoline" – Stone Temple Pilots
    "Wanted Dead or Alive" – Bon Jovi
    "Wave of Mutilation" – Pixies
    "Welcome Home"* – Coheed and Cambria
    "When You Were Young" – The Killers
    "Won't Get Fooled Again" – The Who
    It's been a long time coming, but Rock Band is finally here. Get ready to wake the neighbors.

    My apartment is a 45-minute bus ride away from downtown San Francisco, and I don't get many visitors. But everyone came running when they heard what I had. Around midnight, while I was wailing out the last extended note of Deep Purple's "Highway Star" while three of my friends jammed away behind me on guitar and drums, I wondered if I was going to get an angry knock on my door. It never came. Maybe the people across the hall are deaf.

    Maybe we were just that damn good.

    Rock Band, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, is the creation of Harmonix, makers of the smash hit Guitar Hero series. It takes that gameplay -- jamming out rock songs by pressing buttons and strumming on a plastic guitar controller -- then adds karaoke vocals and a drum controller. In all, four people can play together, following their own musical patterns and creating a whole song.

    Looking back, it's amazing that Harmonix was able to pull off such a wildly ambitious project. In so doing, they have managed to fully obsolete their previous work. Guitar Hero III is a fine game, even great. But Rock Band's collaborative nature and diverse gameplay puts it to shame.

    Even if you have no friends, Rock Band is an excellent music game. There's a "Solo Tour" mode for every instrument except bass guitar -- which, let's be honest, would be pretty boring -- where you can start off with easy songs like Radiohead's "Creep," then work your way up to epic rock anthems like Bon Jovi's immortal "Wanted Dead Or Alive."

    Or "Blitzkrieg Bop," or "When You Were Young," or "Ballroom Blitz." The 45 tracks, mostly original versions with a few covers, span five decades of music and create the perfect live-show atmosphere. Three more songs will be available for download every week at $2 each.

    The drumming game alone is worth the price of admission. The drum controller, which features four pads and a kick pedal, stands up to an impressive amount of abuse. I've been beating the ever-loving crap out of it for two weeks and the only thing that's broken is my ego. After experiencing how difficult it can be just to keep a regular beat during a meandering guitar solo, I'll never make another drummer joke again.

    But it's when you're making virtual music with friends that Rock Band truly shines. Musicians know what it's like to play music with other people up on stage. Rock Band is the closest that the other 99% of the population will get to that feeling. At one point, my friend had just finished growling out the nursery rhyme part of "Enter Sandman," and the drum part kicked back in, and I found myself completely entranced. Had I closed my eyes at that moment, I would have seen a crowd full of adoring fans.

    In a Boston office with a Fender Strat leaning against the wall, Eric Brosius, a sound designer for video-game developer Harmonix, is staring at clusters of tiny blue bars on his computer screen: Keith Moon's madman drum part from "Won't Get Fooled Again," as mapped out note for note by an on-staff musician. The company that developed Guitar Hero has spent the past year transforming that song and dozens of others -- from the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" -- into playable pieces of its new music game, Rock Band. Soon, players will be furiously banging electronic drum pads to replicate Moon's stickwork, mashing buttons on guitar-shaped controllers to match Pete Townshend's and John Entwistle's parts, and even trying to scream "Yeeeah!" at the right moment into a microphone. "You get to experience what it's like to play every single part of 'Won't Get Fooled Again' and to see how the parts interact," says Eran Egozy, who co-founded Harmonix as a graduate student at MIT.
    Guitar Hero may well be this decade's biggest rock & roll phenomenon. Guitar Hero I and II have grossed $360 million since the first game came out in 2005 -- vastly more than any album released in the same period. And the games -- in which players re-create songs' guitar parts by pushing buttons that correspond to notes and chords while hitting a "strum bar" in rhythm -- have inspired kids by the millions to memorize the intricacies of "Free Bird" and "War Pigs." One measure of the games' clout: MTV purchased Harmonix for $175 million last year, and video-game giant Activision paid $99.9 million to acquire RedOctane, the company that owns the Guitar Hero name and manufactured the game's guitar- shaped controllers.

    With MTV and Activision unwilling or unable to collaborate, the franchise's future has split in two: Activision's Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock -- a straightforward sequel with a few twists, including a new "battle mode" -- hits stores October 28th, while Harmonix's Rock Band -- which adds drums and vocals to the formula -- comes out November 23rd. Analysts say that the market is big enough for both games to succeed (music games represent about eight percent of the U.S. video-game market, according to the research group NPD) -- so their near-simultaneous releases could become the music event of the year.
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