Battle of the Bandulators

(Left: “After breakfast, the world,” Bobby Kotick may or may not be thinking as he conquers both fire and flame without even breaking a sweat.)

“We’re calling it Guitar Hero: World Tour” Activision Blizzard chairman and CEO Bobby Kotick announced at this year’s D6 convention, after describing the rhythm game’s latest iteration as “the first time you’ll have multiple instruments.” But wait! Didn’t original Guitar Hero developers Harmonix beat Activision to the punch with Rock Band?

Kotick was wrong, and most of the audience knew it. Granted, it’s possible the much-lauded CEO had never heard of his renegade employees’ innovation. After all, he’s a numbers guy.

Kotick’s attitude might not completely reflect his company’s, but they’re
close. Activision believe that, in order to retain market leadership, they have to provide the most songs to consumers. Harmonix share this belief and made it apparent at E3, where the person demonstrating Rock Band’s sequel declared “these games are all about the music.”

While the companies have similar motivations, they couldn’t differ more in execution. By grabbing all the high-profile, exclusive content within reach–as with Guitar Hero Aerosmith–Activision are working the obvious, cutthroat strategy hard.

But as Harmonix audio director Eric Brosious indicated in a recent IGN interview, the competition see things differently: “We prefer not to sign exclusive deals with artists,” said the veneran musician and developer, “because while it seems like the competitive, “business” thing to do, in the long run, it’s really not good for anyone. We think we should be working to get more music out to more people.”

Harmonix’s focus on giving the customer the best possible experience shows in Rock Band 2’s backwards compatability, a feature absent from Guitar Hero: World Tour. How this uh, plays out in the long run remains to be seen, but with the Guitar Hero franchise as current market leader and Activision signing more and more artists to exclusive deals, Harmonix and publisher Electronic Arts might end up having to draft a few exclusives of their own. After all, gaming is a business and noble intentions don’t always drive sales.

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