Interview: Alex Rigopulos
How is the direction set for Rock Band as a brand? A Beatles edition and a Green Day edition feel like quite disparate things.
It goes back to market segmentation: these are games but they’re all about connecting people with the music. And people are very passionate about music, but their tastes are highly segmented. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and everyone’s opinions are right. Collectively, if you look at the Rock Band audience, you have this huge appetite for music and a lot of segmentation, but there are significant pockets. The Beatles was obviously one paramount example, but there are a lot of different segments. Green Day was a very different artist for a very different market, which had a bunch of music that covered a long period of time. And their music has evolved considerably over time and is very well suited to the game. Obviously, it was a very different scale of production and all of that.
Just how successful was The Beatles: Rock Band? Were you braced for the worst?
From my point of view, we were basically pretty happy with the outcome. Certainly creatively we were happy. The sales numbers are well over a couple of million units. So it hasn’t sold at the same level as the other core Rock Band titles, but they’re still respectable. It’s hard to know where these things are going to go.
The Beatles: Rock Band
Do you ever wish you could release just one definitive Rock Band and then simply focus on content?
Er, no. The reason is that we have to serve the audience along two axes. One is content, where we’re constantly releasing new music. But we also need to innovate features, to keep the experience fresh. You need new forms of interaction, and we’ve tried to put a lot of that into Rock Band 3 – but I hardly think we’re done.
How much do you want to integrate Harmonix into the music industry itself?
I do think it’s absolutely critical that we become deeply integrated, and that has very much happened and will continue to happen further. Pro Mode is an excellent opportunity for that. We’ve always wanted to get to a point where… You know, if a big band is releasing a new record, producing a music video is just something that they do. The fans expect it and it’s a critical form of promotion.
We’ve got to a point where a lot of new artists feel that getting that content on to the Rock Band platform, where their fans can experience it interactively, is just another thing they do. And not a week goes by when some other artist or publishing label doesn’t call MTV and say their artist loves the game and wants to do a collaboration of some kind. It’s a huge change from a few years ago where these companies didn’t care about us. We’re pretty much there now, pretty much front of line for artists releasing new content.
Green Day: Rock Band
Does that power bring a sense of great responsibility? Are you shaping music’s future?
The way in which we specifically endeavour to shape its future is that we want to recondition the mainstream’s notion of what music entertainment is, to include playing with music, not just listening on a stereo or watching a live show. And that can manifest itself in many different forms, but the key change is that people come to expect they can interact with the music that they love. We’ve already driven that change to a significant degree, but there’s a lot more to be done.
What do you make of Guitar Hero playing fast and loose with famous likenesses?
Honestly, that design choice never made much sense to me. We’ve done The Beatles and Green Day as ways to experience those bands, but the point of the Rock Band platform is that it’s about the player. It’s about people making their own avatars, their own representation of themselves in that world, and living that rock simulation.
That kind of mish-mash integration never made design sense for us, and even then the notion of one personality performing another’s music, that’s just one step… It really never made sense to us. But we’re probably not likely to see much of that in the future of Guitar Hero based on the way things went down last year.