Volume rises for music video games

LOS ANGELES Fri Jul 18, 2008 11:04am BST

1 of 3. Legendary Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto demonstrates the new game 'Wii Music' by virtually playing a guitar at the Nintendo E3 media briefing in Hollywood, California July 15, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It turns out everyone just wants to be a rock star.

Music-genre video games "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" are bona-fide smash hits, entering the rarefied air once reserved for only the elite first-person shooters, "Mario" games or sports titles. And success breeds imitation.

Music games seemed to be everywhere at this week's E3 video game trade show and it wasn't just Activision Blizzard Inc showing off its upcoming "Guitar Hero: World Tour" or MTV Games, a unit of Viacom Inc, providing a sneak peek at "Rock Band 2." Both are due out later this year.

Nintendo Co Ltd debuted "Wii Music," a game that lets you simulate playing over 60 different instruments, while Konami Corp and Microsoft Corp also showed off new music games of their own on the horizon.

"Music has really become the killer application," said Don Mattrick, a Microsoft senior vice president, who runs the company's Xbox business.

Music genre games accounted for 16 percent of U.S. video game software sales in 2007 and comprised a staggering 44 percent of last year's software sales growth, according to research from investment bank UBS Securities.

The genre evolved out of the once popular rhythm game genre. In rhythm games like Konami's "Dance Dance Revolution," players score points by stepping on a touch sensitive pad in time with generic music.

In music games, the touch sensitive pad was replaced with a toy musical instrument and the generic songs were replaced with recognizable rock hits, giving players the simulated experience of playing real instruments.

"It is really a hot genre that's bringing in families and people that never played games before," said Electronic Arts Games Label president Frank Gibeau. EA is the distributor for "Rock Band."

WII CAN PLAY TOO

Nintendo's music game grabbed the most headlines. "Wii Music," designed by the company's game creator Shigeru Miyamoto, lets players use the Wii's motion-sensing controllers to play the saxophone, violin or other instruments.

The initial reaction to the game seemed lukewarm. Some dismissed it as too basic because it does not keep score and does not allow an out of tune note.

More faithful to the genre is Konami's "Rock Revolution."

The game features 40 songs and will offer more once the game is released. It comes with a guitar and a bass, but Konami is especially proud of the game's drum set, which includes a foot pedal and six drum pads to beat.

"All the fame and glory goes to the lead singer and guitarist, but the drummer is often the heart of the band," said Konami spokeswoman Mondonna Akharan.

Konami, which enjoyed success with singing game "Karaoke Revolution," pioneered the space with a "Guitar Hero"-like arcade game nine years ago in Japan called "GuitarFreaks."

Microsoft also introduced a new singing game called "Lips," a new game exclusive to its Xbox 360 platform.

It will come with two wireless, motion-sensitive microphones and players can sing along to songs from their own music collection in their iPod or other digital music players as long as the tracks are not rights protected.

The microphones can be played like tambourines or a cowbell and waving it in the air can prompt the crowd to follow suit.

At a time when the music industry is battling online piracy and declining sales, the popularity of music genre games has provided a silver lining for both artists and record labels.

AC/DC signed a deal to make its songs available on "Rock Band 2" while Guns N' Roses will debut a single from its long-awaited new album on the game.

Metallica's new album will be made available for download on "Guitar Hero III" on the day the album is released in September. It will also be licensed for "Guitar Hero: World Tour" game when the title becomes available later this year. (Additional reporting by Kemp Powers)

Reuters/Nielsen

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