Two years ago, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry came home and found his youngest son, Roman, now 16, playing Guitar Hero with friends. "I played it a little bit and said, 'This is fantastic. Does it have any Aerosmith songs on it?' " Perry says. "The first game didn't, and I was hugely (upset)."
Perry may have been playing the blues then, but no more. The first one-band edition of the game, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, is due in June for PlayStation 2 and 3, Xbox 360 and Wii. GH: Aerosmith (about $50) will track the history of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, who have sold 100 million-plus albums.
"It's got our whole career, from the first place we ever played as a band, Nipmuc High School (in 1970, about 40 miles from Boston) to the (2001) Super Bowl halftime show," says lead singer Steven Tyler. "It's 30 years of the legend of Aerosmith and where we played to get where we are."
GH: Aerosmith is based on the technology of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, which has sold 6 million copies in its first four months. The $820 million in Guitar Hero sales for 2007 set a U.S. industry record. The GH franchise has sold more than 15.6 million copies worldwide of the games that let you strum and hit note buttons on a guitar-shaped controller as tracks play on-screen.
Aerosmith can be played by one or two players, who start out as Perry and can unlock guitarist Brad Whitford and bass player Tom Hamilton. The entire band did motion-capture sessions so screen images would be realistic. (Beyond Aerosmith, some opening acts will appear in the game, as well as some special guests.)
"It's a cartoon, but it's got all my movements and Steven's movements," Perry says. "You can tell it's Joey (Kramer) playing the drums."
Aerosmith members took their motion-capture sessions seriously, says Chris Parise, the senior producer on the game for developer Neversoft. "People get a feel for what going to an actual Aerosmith concert is really like," he says. "It is pretty authentic."
Aerosmith seemed destined to connect with Neversoft. As the game developer was fine-tuning Guitar Hero III, company president Joel Jewett was listening to the cover version of Aerosmith's Same Old Song and Dance and said the cover singer "didn't sound like Steven Tyler," said the game's lead designer, Alan Flores. "So we went back to get the original master, and in one day Joe Perry found out about it and was super-excited. He got the masters, and that sort of established the relationship."
About the same time, the game's development team began researching ways to expand the hit franchise. It surveyed Guitar Hero buyers and non-gamers, too, about which musical artists they liked and which ones might they be interested in playing a game about. "Aerosmith was consistently one of the top selected bands not only by (Guitar Hero) owners but also by the mass audience that is not an owner," says Dusty Welch of the game's publisher, RedOctane. Welch spent eight years at Activision before it acquired RedOctane in 2006.
The band had the headliner qualities they were looking for, Welch says: a respected lead guitarist, a charismatic frontman and a multiplatinum, globally appealing playlist.
"Aerosmith has demonstrated this resiliency and relevance that spans many decades," he says.
Aerosmith, which also has a new album in the works, hopes to benefit from the effect Guitar Hero has on music sales. Every Guitar Hero III song tracked by Nielsen SoundScan (62 of 70) saw an increase in digital download sales the week ending Dec. 30, when many who got the game as a gift were playing it.
Downloads of relative newcomer DragonForce's Through the Fire and Flames, selling fewer than 2,000 weekly, rose to more than 10,000 after GH III's release and approached 40,000 the week ending Dec. 30. Aerosmith earned a more modest increase on its Same Old Song and Dance, which rose to 2,041 from 374 copies the previous week.
To boost online sales, iTunes has a Guitar Hero store with collections from the original artists and WaveGroup, the music studio that created the many cover tracks used in the games. (iTunes also has a section devoted to songs in the similar game Rock Band).
Also out: an 11-track Guitar Hero III soundtrack CD.
Video games, Perry says, will "be one of the ways people are going to get their music. Guitar Hero works on so many levels. It break down a lot of barriers."
To promote GH: Aerosmith, the band's first single, 1973's Dream On, will be available for GH III players to download for free via Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. Some day, the band could release new music through the game, Perry says: "It would make sense."
Eventually selling music tracks online, Welch says, "is part of the next evolution."