On the heels of their latest video game juggernaut "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock," Activision will bring what it hopes is its next hit — "Guitar Hero: Aerosmith" — to store shelves this summer. With it, the game brings yet another example of a growing trend: bands getting a leg up with video games.
Slated for release in June, the newest installment of the video game franchise, which Activision calls a "spinoff," follows the members of the legendary rock band from real-life venues that reflect the trajectory of their career.
"From day one, these dudes have been involved in the process," Neversoft producer Aaron Habibipour said at a demo of the game in New York.
According to Habibipour, the band spent a month with Neversoft, working on motion capture for the game. Joe Perry even picked which guitars he wanted to play on each song in the game.
This is the first time "Guitar Hero" has created a game around one band. The song list expands beyond Aerosmith's set list, however, with works by bands that inspired the senior rockers. Songs by The Kinks ("All Day and All of the Night"), Joan Jett ("I Hate Myself for Loving You") and Cheap Trick ("Dream Police") make appearances alongside "Sweet Emotion."
In addition to songs, each level of the game features a 20-second interview with the band. Once the level has been completed, a full three minutes of footage of the band is revealed. Like its predecessors, this game also features dual game play and one guitar battle.
Musicians Heart Video Games?
Although this isn't Aerosmith's first appearance in a video game — the band also appeared in the arcade game "Revolution X" in the 1990s — Activision's decision to feature one band prominently underscores the strengthening relationship between video games and musicians.
"There's been a bridge between the music industry and video game industry for a long time," said Hal Halpin, president of the Entertainment Consumers Association.
Halpin cited SSX, a snowboarding game from Electronic Arts, in which music is featured prominently, especially up-and-coming indie artists.
"Bands seeking out the industry isn't new," but it is becoming more visible, Halpin said. "You'll definitely see more of that, especially if sales exceed their expectations."
Just this week, both Motley Crue and Def Leppard released songs on "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero III," respectively, before releasing them through more traditional outlets.
Similarly, the latest version of "Grand Theft Auto," in stores later this month, will revamp its in-game radio station, which allows players to pick what type of music they listen to as they drive. In "Grand Theft Auto IV," players will be able to buy the songs on their in-game radio from Amazon.com.
"I think what's happening to the music business, in general, is there's significant fragmentation in the way we discover and listen to music," said Russ Crupnik, vice president and senior industry analyst for entertainment at NPD Group. "As time is starting to pass, you're going to see more of these kinds of microdeals. They're not as mass market as what we're used to, but they're geared toward a small but important market niche."
According to Crupnik, this is a new way for the music industry to target an audience that may be used to getting its music for free.
"A lot of this audience is not used to paying for things. This starts to help with the challenge of 'Can I engage someone with the music in the game?'" Crupnik said. "'Can I start to create some cracks in an unwillingness to pay?' ...This is a cool way to do a transaction."
For bands, "Guitar Hero" probably holds another special allure: its immense popularity. According to NPD's numbers, since the original game was launched in 2005, the franchise has sold 13.6 million units.
"Guitar Hero and Rock Band have really hit a chord — no pun intended — with both traditional and non-traditional gamers because they have both finally allowed many to realize one of their greatest dreams — to be a rock star," NPD analyst Anita Frazier said in an e-mail. "As the video games industry grows, it's becoming an ever-more attractive promotional outlet for all kinds of industries."
Still, Frazier believes it could be another outlet for music distribution, but not the only one.
"It has a long way to go until it becomes the ultimate outlet because gaming is still far from heavily penetrated, but it's certainly gaining prominence and importance," she said.
Rob Enderle, a Silicon Valley-based technology analyst, envisions games like "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" ushering in a whole new form of participatory entertainment.
"We're at the very beginning of what is likely going to be a major change," Enderle said. "Why just music? You could star in your own virtual reality show, be a participant in a movie. ... As the technology advances, you could blur the lines between the bands and the person."
In the here and now, however, Activision remains mum on whether their '80s duet with Run DMC, "Walk This Way," would make the cut and if the band plans to release new material in the game.
"You'll just have to wait and see," said Activision spokesman Aaron Grant, eyebrows raised.