MTV's 'Rock Band' takes on 'Guitar Hero'

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MTV Games took its first major step into the console game arena this week with the launch of "Rock Band," with company execs touting the title as the integration of music and gaming on a whole new level.

"Our belief is that 'Rock Band' is not just a game," said Jeff Yapp, executive vp program enterprises at MTV Networks Music Group. "It's a new platform for which to engage with music and that's what we're most excited about."

But "Rock" is not alone in the music gaming category, though with the inclusion of multiple instruments such a guitar, drum and microphone peripherals, it's certainly the most ambitious title to date. Activision's "Guitar Hero III" recently racked up $100 million in sales in its first seven days of North American release, leading to some concerns how that early success would impact MTV's game, which is being published and distributed by Electronic Arts.

But retailers, analysts and MTV all note the early signs for "Rock" are extremely positive. In a report released Wednesday, Banc of America Securities analyst Jonathan Jacoby said, "From the comments of GameStop management, it seemed they expected to sell out of their initial batch of Rock Band over the Thanksgiving (Black Friday) weekend."

Jacoby added he expects MTV's parent company Viacom to sell at least 800,00-900,000 units by year end. Yapp shared that optimism and dismissed any direct comparisons with "Hero," noting, "Rock Band is a much bigger game with a completely different social dynamic and full network capability -- it just takes it to another level."

The game features music from a host of well-known artists including the Allman Brothers, Joan Jett, Nirvana, Kansas and Wolfmother with new songs to be added on a weekly basis.

With "Rock's" success, MTV and its developer Harmonix would be ideally situated as a conduit for the music industry to aggressively move into gaming.

"For most of our history, it's been hard to get the music industry to pay attention to games, but at this point in time we've really broken down a lot of those barriers," said Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos. "With 'Rock Band,' we have almost 90% original masters in the game and a lot of artist participation."

Obviously, a lot of the incentive for the artist and label participation is financial. But Rigopulos also pointed out, "A lot of artists are now seeing Rock Band as a legitimate venue for people to experience their music in a more impactful way."

Price points for "Rock" will vary from $49-$59 for the disc only to $169 for the PlayStation, and Xbox 360 versions complete with all the music peripherals. That's high even for the gaming space, but Rigopulos stressed, "We don't see this as just a game title -- it's a platform in the same that you spend money to buy a stereo system or a game console. With downloads and new content that we'll being making available on a weekly basis, you can continue to expand and tailor your play experience."

With parent company Viacom having vowed to invest $500 million in MTV's video game efforts in the coming years, "Rock" is clearly just the beginning for MTV and Yapp hinted there could be a strong Hollywood connection for the gaming division in the future.

"We're pretty optimistic about what this game is going to do," he added. "But our next big announcement, which is coming up fairly quickly, is a move to a whole another realm."

Georg Szalai contributed to this story.




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