Console Rock 'n' Roll: Two Video Games Clash

'Guitar Hero' Has the Hit Franchise, but 'Rock Band' Has the Backing of MTV

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"We all just wanna be big rock stars" -- at least according to Canadian pop-rock band Nickelback. And this fall, rock-star wannabes will get a virtual chance to see if they've got the chops, thanks to not just one but two video games.
Coming this holiday: A duo that could get even nongamers to tune in.
Coming this holiday: A duo that could get even nongamers to tune in.

This battle of the bands pits "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" from Activision and RedOctane against "Rock Band" from MTV and Harmonix this holiday season. "Guitar Hero III," which goes on sale this week, leads in brand recognition. The hit franchise has sold almost 6 million copies of its first two versions since its launch in late 2005.

"Rock Band," which will make its debut Nov. 20, has garnered its share of buzz, especially for its full-band play -- four instruments including guitars, drums and microphones -- and its MTV backing.

Same parents
In an unusual twist, "Rock Band" game developer Harmonix is actually the same group that developed the original "Guitar Hero" game.

"Certainly there's a lot of momentum for 'Guitar Hero,' and that will be tougher for 'Rock Band' to overcome," said IDC analyst Billy Pidgeon. "But this won't be the end of the story for these two. It'll be interesting to watch them both over the next year."

While both games will receive traditional TV and print advertising, they are also being promoted heavily with live events where consumers can play the games. "Guitar Hero III" doubled its retail presence to more than 20,000 demonstrate-and-play kiosks in stores such as Best Buy and Toys "R" Us, said RedOctane VP-Marketing Stacey Hirata.

The brand also has engaged individual consumers who request "Guitar Hero" swag for personal in-home parties. RedOctane culls the legitimate requests and provides T-shirts, buttons, posters and other items, Ms. Hirata said. RedOctane also will host an official "Guitar Hero" tournament in eight cities next month.

Omnicom Group's DDB, Los Angeles, is the creative agency, and Publicis Groupe's MediaVest is the media shop.

Axes to grind
MTV Games, Harmonix and publisher Electronic Arts, meanwhile, are in the midst of their own mobile tour for "Rock Band," hitting 27 cities from September to December. "Rock Band" also will have a "substantial interactive presence" at retail and will use its MTV affiliation for various yet-unnamed "deep integrations" in and across programming on the net, said Alex Rigopolus, co-founder and CEO of Harmonix. "The focus of our marketing strategy is to do whatever we can to get the experience into people's hands." Marketing is being handled in-house by MTV.

Executives from both companies said competition between the rival products is more a media portrayal than reality. "In general, the press has portrayed it as a battle, but I honestly don't see it that way," Mr. Rigopolus said. "We're going after a different audience with collaboration on great music. [We're] not directly competing but instead broadening the market."

The music-based game market is indeed seeing more titles and more interest from consumers. "Dance Dance Revolution" is the granddaddy of the category, but new U.S. releases of "SingStar" as well as "Boogie" and "High School Musical" all look to tap the growing music-game genre.

"I would describe the [music-game] phenomenon as the expansion of appeal to consumers other than core gamers," said James Kuai, analyst at Parks Associates. "It's a new kind of mind-set that lets the gamers participate more, puts gamers in more control and lets them have more fun."

NPD estimates that the music-based-game genre makes up about 8% of the $12.5 billion U.S. video-game market.
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