Entertainment Marketers 2008

Entertainment Marketers 2008: Alex Rigopulos

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Last year may well be remembered as the year video gamers got off the couch. But no game made them move so much, offered so many musical options or pushed them to invite so many friends over as did Harmonix's "Rock Band."
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'Rock Band'
  • Bus tour snares campus crowd
  • More than a guitar. Drum solo anyone?
  • Keeps fans coming back with range of downloadable tracks

The ultimate social music video game -- developed by Harmonix co-founder and CEO Alex Rigopulos and his team (the same group that created "Guitar Hero" and "Guitar Hero II") -- was born after MTV Networks bought Harmonix in 2006. While the original "Guitar Hero" was meant to bring the experience of playing music to the masses, it was the pairing of Harmonix's creative daring with MTV's deep pockets and rock-star access that vaulted "Rock Band" above the crowd.

"When we looked at Harmonix ... we recognized immediately the potential," says Jeff Yapp, exec VP-MTV Networks Music/Logo Enterprise Group. "Together we could create the perfect platform in 'Rock Band.'"

Much like a video-game system or digital-music stereo setup, "Rock Band" was built around the concept that once a consumer buys "Rock Band," the content, players and hardware -- in this case, musical instruments -- can be added over time as taste changes.

Future revenue stream
The game also offers a potentially never-ending stream of downloadable tracks online via Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 net-connected consoles. So far, "Rock Band" has sold more than 1 million copies, but even more impressive -- and central to the platform marketing approach -- has sold more than 8 million downloaded game levels based on songs.

The team launched a widespread marketing initiative to "get the experience in people's hands," Mr. Rigopulos told Ad Age before the game's launch in November. "Rock Band" tour buses hit college campuses and venues such as South by Southwest.

A "Rock Band" music video, featuring "real" musicians from the game jamming to the song "Highway Star" by Deep Purple on top of a tour bus speeding cross-country, drove online buzz. The game upped its credibility through co-branding deals with Fender and Roland and enlisted celebrity musicians such as Steven Van Zandt and Motley Crue (the first band to debut a single on the game).

The marketing team incorporated a social-media component with the rockband.com website. It "gives us an immediate connection and deepens our engagement," Mr. Yapp says.
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