Rock Band vs Gui­tar Hero – this gen­er­a­tion’s Blur vs Oa­sis

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion - bboyd@irish­times.com

The Bea­tles mu­sic game may have bro­ken all records when the “ex­tra” track, All You Need Is Love, be­came the fast­ing sell­ing down­load­able song in Rock Band’s his­tory, but that’s not the real mu­sic game story this month.

While The Bea­tles game has been cred­ited with a sud­den spike in the sales of Xbox, PlaySta­tion and Wii con­soles, there is still a vi­cious fight be­tween the game and the new Gui­tar Hero 5 at the point of re­tail. Rock Band vs Gui­tar Hero is this gen­er­a­tion’s Blur vs Oa­sis. And, sur­pris­ingly, Gui­tar Hero ap­pears to be winning out.

Gui­tar Hero 5’ s mar­keters, know­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, or­dered in heavy ar­tillery in the shape of tracks by The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Nir­vana. And it is the lat­ter’s in­clu­sion that has grabbed all the head­lines. The big draw has turned out to Nir­vana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Lithium.

Court­ney Love, the le­gal cus­to­dian of the Kurt Cobain es­tate, and the two re­main­ing mem­bers of Nir­vana were all up for the band’s in­clu­sion. Love even pro­vided rare pho­tos and archive footage of Cobain, as well as her own “hair and wardrobe” tips for the an­i­mated Kurt.

But as with most things in­volv­ing Court­ney Love, this would only end in tears. Ac­cord­ing to Gui­tar Hero, part of the deal about us­ing Cobain’s avatar was that it could be “un­locked” – mean­ing you could take him away from the Nir­vana songs and have him sing, for ex­am­ple, a Bon Jovi song on the game.

Love took to her Twit­ter ac­count (a fas­ci­nat­ingly in­co­her­ent and il­lit­er­ate ram­ble – and that’s on her good days). “I never signed off on this fuck­ing fea­ture [the un­lock­ing of the avatar], there’s been four breaches of a very strict con­tract . it’s a trav­esty . creepy .. and vile . they’re rap­ing him,” she tweeted, adding, for no good rea­son, “I’m no Yoko Ono.”

Love ap­par­ently didn’t read the small print when she signed the con­tract. Says the com­pany’s CEO: “There’s ab­so­lutely a con­tract and we know that the cheque [given to Love] has been cashed. I can only deal with the facts. It’s very clear what the terms are.”

Legally it throws up a new term: the “right of per­son­al­ity”. Love is in charge of Cobain’s “per­son­al­ity” rights, which means she can pre­vent unau­tho­rised use of his im­age and how he is por­trayed. Th­ese rights ap­pear to have been over­rid­den in the con­tract with Gui­tar Hero.

The pub­lic­ity can’t but have helped sales of the game. In the week of its release, it was the most pur­chased ti­tle across all game sys­tems in the UK and Ire­land. This is some in­di­ca­tion of just how ro­bust the Gui­tar Hero brand is. In fact, the brand is soon to grow sub­stan­tially with the release in late Oc­to­ber of a new strand of “mu­sic rhythm” games called DJ Hero.

In all the talk of the new supremacy of mu­sic games in the en­ter­tain­ment mar­ket (they now sell more than CDs, etc), it’s some­times for­got­ten how nar­row their base was. Gui­tar Hero and its big ri­val Rock Band have tra­di­tion­ally re­lied on the die-hard heavy rock mar­ket, sim­ply be­cause the typ­i­cal hard rock fan is a male ado­les­cent, as are most gamers.

DJ Hero now brings hip-hop/ dance into the mu­sic games fold. The game will be based on “turntab­lism” and con­tain more than 80 remixes. Ac­cord­ing to the press in­for­ma­tion: “To score points, the player must press but­tons to ac­ti­vate ac­cen­tu­ated bets, ad­just their cross-fade be­tween the songs and ‘scratch’ the turntable on the game’s custom con­troller in time to marks that scroll on the screen.”

In other words, Gui­tar Hero with a turntable re­plac­ing the gui­tar. Lend­ing their im­ages for playable avatars in the game, as well as their mu­sic, are Eminem, Jay-Z and Daft Punk, among oth­ers.

The new mu­sic gam­ing de­vel­op­ments don’t end there: ac­cord­ing to both Gui­tar Hero and Rock Band, big-name bands who only two years ago laughed in their face when they were ap­proached to do a mu­sic video game are now send­ing them beg­ging let­ters.

Mu­sic games: the new iTunes.

Love: didn’t read the small print

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