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Everyone's a Hero - Part One

The CEO of Activision's Guitar Hero business, Dan Rosensweig, on GH5's success and the build-up to DJ Hero

It's common knowledge that the face of the music gaming sector - and arguably the music industry as well - has been changed completely by the advent of Guitar Hero, and the sales success of the latest iteration of the franchise points to a lasting popularity as well.

To find out what the key to that success has been we sat down with Activision's Guitar Hero business CEO Dan Rosensweig, former COO of Yahoo!, and also covered off the impending launch expectations for DJ Hero as well. Guitar Hero 5 features quite a wide variety in terms of artists and music - certainly more so than the earlier titles which focused much more on the rock music genre. Is that because a lot of the classic rock tracks have already featured in a Guitar Hero game, or because it's an attempt to engage a wider audience?
Dan Rosensweig

Neither, and I mean that sincerely. Music is very personal, so what you'd consider to be legendary, others may not. The common thread of Guitar Hero 5 - and every Guitar Hero - is that it really does feature the guitar. So what gets in the game has to be a great song, but also has to be really fun to play the guitar - if it doesn't, then it doesn't make the game.

We have a sophisticated way, in our music team around the world who work with the studios to really... once it's determined what the focus of the game is about, what would be the kinds of songs that go in there. Then you do a scientific analysis of the popularity of that song, how you group the songs together, how many songs should be in there.

And then you do the magic part which they're focused on, which is the stuff statistics can't tell you. Some of it is factual - who's going on tour, who's interested in promoting, but really they blend the science and the art together.

Then the last component goes to the studio, which is, is it fun to play? If it's not fun as hell to play, it's not going to make the game. That's the common element, and the reviews have been spectacular on it. To say there aren't legendary songs today... there are - it's just different themes.

This theme of this season was variety and value - variety of a series of great guitar songs - it's 82 artists and 85 songs. So we really focused on not even having too many songs by any one artist. That was deliberate, and that was what the fans had been advocating, and we wanted to give the fans what they want.

The second this is value - that's a lot of songs for a USD 59 game. If you were to buy those 85 songs for your iPod it would cost you USD 85, and so the plastic (if you buy the guitar with it) for USD 99 in the US... you get 85 songs and a guitar, and a 91-rated game, and one of the most popular games as well.

So that was the theme - and then within the game the innovations were really around party play, any grouping of instruments, more instruments, jump in-jump out, the lower levels were more inviting to people so you couldn't get booed off the stage, and at the higher levels your friends could win you back in the game so you didn't ruin it for everybody... all of it was about it being more social, more inviting and just as much fun - while at the higher levels being more sophisticated and more competitive.

We're pretty happy, and as you look at the European sales and our ability to outsell The Beatles: Rock Band 2-to-1 on their home field... that would suggest it was a good decision. Timing-wise, The Beatles also released an entire back catalogue too, which helped their marketing - so what was it that made Guitar Hero 5 beat it... was it that variety, was it the marketing you did?
Dan Rosensweig

I think it's the entire experience. The number one thing about Guitar Hero is that it's fun as hell -it's focused on the guitar, and the variety and value proposition - and the reviews are spectacular. So I guess we're the only ones not surprised... internally we always talked about the Fab Five - Guitar Hero 5 - was going to beat the Fab Four. Not because we don't love The Beatles, we love The Beatles, I will acknowledge that I went out and bought the analogue music set because I'm from the generation that grew up and loves The Beatles.

But for gameplay, we just felt this was a better decision in the market place.

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