'Guitar Hero' starts battle of the bands

Activision competing with MTV's 'Rock Band'

SAN FRANCISCO -- Activision is adding drums, bass guitar and microphone to its popular "Guitar Hero" video game, a move aimed at winning away fans of MTV's rival musical title "Rock Band."

"Guitar Hero World Tour" will include the ability for two groups of four people each to compete online, as well as let players compose and play their own music, Activision said Thursday.

The game will feature songs from bands such as Van Halen, the Eagles, Linkin Park and Sublime, with every song being an original master track, unlike past games where many of the songs were cover versions.

Due in the fall, the game will mark a new direction for the "Guitar Hero" franchise, in which players push colored buttons on a plastic guitar-shaped controller to match notes on the screen.

"I certainly think it takes the edge off 'Rock Band,' " said Mike Hickey, an analyst with Janco Partners. "What's 'Rock Band' going to do now, add a flute and banjo?"

Activision's money-spinning franchise got its first real competition last November when Viacom's (VIAb.N: Quote, Profile, Research) MTV unit launched "Rock Band", which featured drumming and singing in addition to guitar playing.

The "Guitar Hero" series has raked in more than a billion dollars for Activision and has helped drive a 72% rise in the company's stock over the past 12 months.

That compares to virtually flat performance in the shares of Activision's top rival Electronic Arts Inc (ERTS.O: Quote, Profile, Research), which distributes "Rock Band" for MTV.

Shares in Activision were up 19 cents, or 0.6%, to $32.82 in late morning trading on Nasdaq.

Activision did not say how much the new game will cost. Last year's "Guitar Hero 3", which came with one wireless guitar controller, sold for about $90. "Rock Band", which came with one guitar, a drum kit, and a microphone, sold for $170.

"World Tour" will be the third "Guitar Hero" game coming out this year.

Next month will see the launch of "Guitar Hero Aerosmith" focusing on the best-selling American rock group, as well as a portable version called "On Tour" for Nintendo's popular DS hand-held device.

"Guitar Hero World Tour" will come out in versions for Microsoft's Xbox 360, Nintendo's Wii, and Sony's PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 2 consoles.
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