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InstantAction's Louis Castle

On music games, streaming rivals and publisher anxiety

Louis Castle is perhaps best known as one of the founders of now-defunct Command & Conquer creator Westwood. These days, however, he's the CEO of online distributor and developer InstantAction. The company has a strange history, having originally set out to offer browser-based 3D games, before switching to streaming mainstream games and, most recently, creating the Guitar Hero-like InstantJam for Facebook.

GamesIndustry.biz talked to Castle shortly after InstantJam's announcement; below, he discusses its possible future, competitors Gaikai and OnLive, the music industry's attitude to a guitar game that can potentially play any song, and just what's happened to InstantAction's original plans.

GamesIndustry.biz Are you looking at bespoke peripheral partnerships for this, or is keyboard your main controller.
Louis Castle

Well, we figured there's 20-something million guitars out there already, so you can always buy a guitar for our game online, or we could make a partnership with a guitar manufacturer. In this case we've skinned these [gestures to nearby guitars], but you can use the ones for Guitar Hero or Rock Band, anything with USB. Keyboard works really well too, I've actually played keyboard a lot more because while I'm trying to talk and play at once I want my controls pretty immediate.

GamesIndustry.biz The problem Activision and EA seem to be up against is, while track sales are fuelling XBLA and PSN they're not really shifting many games and peripherals now. How consciously is your model about employing the stuff that's already in people's homes?
Louis Castle

Right. A lot of people already have their guitars, a lot of the people who want to buy music games pretty much have them already. So first of all we can open this up to 500 million people on Facebook, and on top of that it's compatible anywhere on the web. So you can put your game anywhere, you're going to have millions and millions of people suddenly that are exposed to this kind of gaming. Maybe they'll be using their keyboards at the beginning but hopefully we'll start moving hardware as well, at retail. And frankly for us it's more about motivating people to buy songs again. So, the way we make money on song sales - we're an affiliate so we make our 5 or 10 per cent, and we give you more than the song's price in value, in the game. So we're essentially kind of bribing you to buy songs.

GamesIndustry.biz How have the music publishers been about it?
Louis Castle

This is very, very different model for them. So they're looking at it going, well, we don't know if that's going to work or not. At the end of the day, all we ever do is just play the song. So if you bought the song you have the right to play it. We don't cache the song or anything, we never upload or download music, so we know we're within our rights. At the end of the day, what we really want to do is motivate people to buy songs, and to buy merchandise. So we're trying to be very friendly to the music industry because if you think about it, this model spans all the types of music available, it can continue to grow with the music industry, so it can continue to grow indefinitely. Versus the model they had before, which is sort of the opposite, collapsing.

There's only so many artists who are going to want their music in games, and at some point you're going to have beaten it out, are there going to be another 80 songs like that which are going to be that compelling? Plus they really can't afford to cover the best 80 songs you could find, and certainly not going to be able to come out within a week or two of release of new songs. We're going to be right there, day and date. So it makes a big difference. My hope is that six months or a year from now, the music industry will be over the moon and happy about the fact that they're making 70 per cent of every sale - and we're making millions. [Laughs].

GamesIndustry.biz So how important to Instant Action overall is this, given you were originally going to be running in-browser and then streaming games?
Louis Castle

Well, we're still in the game-streaming basis, because this is our game that we're doing the same way. And a browser plug-in, obviously. This game is basically the proof of the platform, so we're hoping that it's going to open a lot of doors for us. Certainly, it's going to help us out a lot.

About the Author

Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.

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