I have been a fan of Peter Moore ever since I saw him get on the stage at the 360 introduction and talk about the future of connected gaming. He ran a demo of Project Gotham and talked about a sponsored event, played by thousands and watched hundreds of thousands. It was really cool and at the time, it was unique. It didn't really play out quite along those lines, and the race never happened, but the seeds were sown. Now as head of EA Sports, arguably the strongest brand in games, he is acknowledging the wonders of market expansion.
This morning I woke up to a gamedaily article quoting Peter's view of Rock Band changing game forever.
"It really came home for me when we were in Munich for our global marketing meeting and we took over the Hard Rock Café for the night and had a Rock Band competition. There were a hundred of us and it was like a real rock concert. It was a blast. I stood back and I thought that this was an incredible cultural phenomenon," he said. "The crowd were going wild, but all we were doing was playing on toy guitars, toy drums and singing badly into a microphone. Now the beer might have had something to do with it, I don't know, but it was a great social thing. And I said, 'Boy, this product is going to change the way we think about games.'"
Part of what he is saying, is games got fun again. Rock Band is so accessible, anyone can enjoy the gaming goodness which was, until recently, reserved only for the hardcore. It also moves counter to the traditional game play dynamic of playing with yourself, or playing with yourself with others in different rooms, to actually participating in live social environment with other people. Yes, I realize what the sentence sounds like and it is not an accident. Rock Band lets people have fun with others and does not penalize people who don't spend hours learning arcane controls and rule sets - and people love to play, what a surprise. We saw a flavor of this in the past with cocktail table style Pacman games. It was an easy game, and people looked at each other when they played, so they liked it. The game also embraces popular culture through music, creating common touch points for gamers and non gamers a like. Peter sees the connection beyond the box. The games also allow for public performance.
Gaming leagues are growing in popularity around the world. Thousands of spectators attend competitions in Asia and hundreds, sometimes thousand show up in the US. But the spectators are gamers. Non-gamers don't go. They go to clubs and bars where they can talk to each other. This is because at a game tournament the person playing has fun, the person watching, is watching. It may be interesting to look on screen if they are familiar with the game, otherwise, there is nothing going on. The only thing we are really doing is taking our mothers' basement on the road. With Rock Band, the player is performing to the crowd, creating an observer experience.
There is one more element of change from Rock Band and Guitar Hero Peter did not mention, but is most certainly aware. The games breathed new life into the music industry when it desperately needed it. In return, the music industry is supporting the game. The players exhibit an insatiable appetite for music, and the music business is cooperating and profiting. Not too long ago, if someone wanted to incorporate a song into a game, the answer was always "it is more expensive than you can afford." Today, these games are platforms for music distribution. The labels are happy and EA and Activision sit on the gift that keeps on giving. This is where games truly go mainstream.
Sure, some may say Rock Band and Guitar Hero are fighting only for market share, and on some level they are. But because there are two, not one, the companies are forced to make better product and add more value, thereby expanding the market for both. As I noted a couple days ago, the head of the world's largest music label is joining Activision's board. The battle in this new market is about to get a lot more interesting, and a lot better for gamers and non gamers alike.