Rappers get virtual as EA, Def Jam partner


When Electronic Arts first began working with Def Jam Interactive on video games aimed at the hip-hop demo in 2003 and '04, it took a little persuasion from Def Jam executives to get top artists involved with the production of the game. Not any more.

"Gaming is almost intrinsic in hip-hop," Def Jam Interactive vp marketing Lauren Wirtzer says. "Every artist who goes on the road is going to have some sort of PlayStation or Xbox on their tour bus. It goes hand in hand."

Def Jam Interactive and EA will launch the first next-generation game in their partnership in March with "Def Jam Icon" for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The convergence of the music giant and the world's largest independent video game publisher already has resulted in two best-selling current-generation games, "Def Jam Vendetta" in 2003 and "Def Jam Fight for N.Y." in 2004, which infused hip-hop music, culture and lifestyle into gameplay.

For their latest endeavor, EA opened a studio in Chicago that is working with more than 35 top-selling artists, including the Game, Ludacris, Paul Wall, T.I. and Big Boi. All of the Def Jam artists in the fighting game will be photorealistic playable characters with unique moves and exclusive music tracks. The development team laser scanned each artist and motion-captured their facial and body movements to take advantage of next-generation technology.

Wirtzer says that when she went out for the third game and spoke with artists about being involved, she didn't have to convince anyone that it was the right thing to do. Not only will the artists be featured in lifelike moves in the game, but their music also will influence the gameplay for the first time.

"Music plays a much bigger role in this title than in the past two," Wirtzer says. "Music influences the environment in which the players play the game. We had to go above and beyond to make sure there's some new and exciting music offered to the player while they're playing through these environments."

Def Jam is working with EA to incorporate a full range of hip-hop music from various styles, including East Coast, West Coast and Atlanta sounds. The different beats will impact the various interactive environments, which can be used by the player to throw an opponent into things like a car wash that keeps to the beat of the song. Each song played in each environment will open up unique interactions.

Wirtzer says that beginning next year, such next-generation consoles as PS3 and Xbox 360 will open up other types of interactions between gamers and music companies. The always-on broadband-connected devices allow content, including music, to be digitally distributed directly to the box. Gamers will be able to select music for their titles and then create their own soundtracks.

"A lot of time, when gamers play they tend to turn off the volume and put on their own music," Wirtzer says. Now with these types of opportunities with Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Network, they'll be able to control the music themselves."

Beyond its relationship with EA, which has several additional Def Jam titles that will be released over the next few years, Wirtzer said that Def Jam Interactive will be making some new video game announcements next year.

"Def Jam Interactive's goal is to communicate to the consumer that we have a viable brand in the gaming business as well," Wirtzer says. "I think we've proven so far that we've been able to partner with EA and build great games. And we're going to extend that brand into a few more partnerships that make sense."