'Rock Band' Creator Harmonix Eyes an Encore for Music Gaming

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Alex Rigopulos, CEO of the company that also launched "Guitar Hero" and "Dance Central," plans to keep the industry rocking despite its recent drop in popularity and profitability.

Music video game pioneer Alex Rigopulos has reinvented and revitalized the gaming industry in much the way Mark Zuckerberg did for social networking. As the co-founder and CEO of Harmonix Music Systems, he spearheaded the launch of some of music gaming's most popular and iconic titles, including 2005's Guitar Hero and 2007's Rock Band.

Following changes in ownership of Harmonix and the declining popularity and profitability of music games over the past two years -- including last month's announcement by Activision that it's ending its acquired Guitar Hero franchise -- Rigopulos ponders the future of the music game industry and its once chart-topping franchises in the latest issue of Billboard.

"[Band games are] a much smaller business than they used to be. At the right scale, it's a healthy business that can be cultivated over the long term profitability, and it's Harmonix's intention to do so," he says about the company's plans to further develop the Rock Band platform with "new compelling content" and expand its newest franchise, Dance Central.

Rigopulos dismisses the notion that record companies ruined the music gaming industry by demanding hefty licensing fees and mentions that its quick rise and fall in popularity was mostly due to fleeting interest from casual and new gamers that were drawn into the fold by the music aspect of the games. Although Harmonix's fickle fan base may have dwindled, he remains optimistic about new directions for its brands. And thanks to the influence and legwork of Harmonix's previous owner, MTV, there's no shortage of music options for Rigopulos' future projects.

"...At this stage, video games have blossomed into a material profit center for the music business," he tells Billboard. "Whereas five years ago it was hard to get the record companies to return our phone calls, we're at a point now where the music companies recognize the importance of video games as a profit source. So Harmonix certainly has the standing to collaborate with our music partners with our new projects going forward."

Exciting new technology is also making Rigopulus' job at expanding gaming content a bit easier, especially when it comes to Dance Central, an interactive Xbox 360 game released last November that utilizes joystick-free Kinect technology.

"We think there's a lot of creative opportunity left unexplored in that franchise and a large addressable market we've not yet reached as the Kinect just launched," Rigopulos said. "We think there's a great opportunity to get millions of millions of people dancing that we're pretty fired up about."