Ringing in the New Year - The Stinger Report was one of the first to attend the launch of the multi-million consumer game franchises 'official' appearance in the amusement scene. The launch of 'Guitar Hero Arcade' is promising much for an industry in changing times; what led to this unusual alliance of American and Japanese amusement developers - and some background of how the coin-op sector has already ploughed the furrow of a rhythm music game of this kind will be revealed in this report. The Stinger also reveals a brand new legal spat brewing between Japanese and Korean manufacturers over more new amusement music properties.
Though whispered around the floor of AMOA'08 - the ability to report the signing of a license to create an official arcade release of the phenomenal consumer game success Guitar Hero has only now been released from embargo, coinciding with its appearance at IAAPA'08.
Continuing the momentous changes that are shaping the video amusement scene, we see another major step in addressing the way we do business; seen as one of the most successful new consumer game concepts, the Activision Blizzard-published 'Guitar Hero' music game concept has now been officially brought to the pay-to-play sector.
Launched in November 2008 - 'Guitar Hero Arcade' (PC Hardware) is a game that has been developed by Raw Thrills, for the Japanese manufacturer Konami Digital Entertainment, licensed from the American consumer publisher Activision Blizzard (and based on the consumer release 'Guitar Hero III' version). This complicated and tortuous route to market shows the hunger for an official amusement release of this property.
Originally, Activision Blizzard and Konami Digital Entertainment (KDE) had been in discussion regarding the correct patent and licensing agreement for the Guitar Hero's property, based on its similarity to the Guitar Freaks amusement originator. In a recent agreement, the KDE patent is respected in all Activision Blizzard releases (with an undisclosed fee being paid) and has the agreement for KDE to retain all public-space rights for the property.
It was with this in place that Activision Blizzard was approached towards the development of an official amusement penetration of the guitar game. Fuelled by a number of illegal attempts, momentum had been generated in the amusement scene as there was a strong player interest for this game in the coin-op scene. Raw Thrills has developed the game for amusement, working with Activision Blizzard and the original team behind the home game at RedOctane.
In a complicated agreement, Raw Thrills have worked for KDE, who, working with Betson will pay generated royalties from the amusement release to Activision Blizzard. The game will be sold in the USA through the Betson / Konami agreement, though Konami will now re-open an amusement office presence in the US. Sales in Europe will continue through KDE's UK office directed from Germany, alongside working with partners. This game marks a momentous change in the embracing of consumer brand popularity within the amusement scene.
Regarding 'Guitar Hero' - the multi-million selling consumer game property, Activision recently stated that they have sold over 24 million units of the franchise. The game, based on a unique music rhythm element and interface, was first published by RedOctane in 2005 and was developed by coding house Harmonix Music Systems. RedOctane, in partnership with giant consumer games publisher Activision has seen the series become a multi-platform phenomena - the latest installment 'Guitar Hero: World Tour' seeing major interest on all home game platforms. Players strum plastic representations of guitars matching the music cues that appear on-screen. The successful game style permeates all walks of player culture.
The genre was originated in the arcades, the guitar-based music interface games are more common than many would think in the amusement scene - along with originating the concept, the amusement scene has seen more than a fair share of emulators from other factories. The 'Guitar Freaks' Bemani series from Konami started in 1999 with the first in the series and has seen over 15 different versions of the game - the latest, 'Guitar Freaks V6 Blazing', drawing a strong Asian audience to the rhythm music action, supported with e-AMUSEMENT and Jam Session infrastructure.
Most recently, Konami Digital Entertainment Europe has placed the latest in the series on their booth during 2008 at ATEI, and made very heavy hints towards releasing the phenomenally popular Japanese title internationally. The latest 'Guitar Freaks V2' includes the unique Jam Session feature allowing the drum game ('Drum Mania') and guitar system to be networked for joint sessions - an element only now emulated in the latest consumer releases.
KDE is not the only Japanese manufacturer that has released their own guitar game - in 1999, Namco launched 'Guitar Jam', which fundamentally jumped straight onto the genre originated by Konami, but with a Namco twist. In the same year, the company released 'Um Jammer Lammy' - a children's representation of guitar-playing, linked to the popular cartoon Playstation mini-game series. In 2001, the company released 'Quest for Fame' which saw a major license with the mega-band AeroSmith, It included a drum system as well as a guitar. Interestingly, the game was jointly developed in Japan with Virtual Music Entertainment - a claimed patent holder regarding all music games. These systems only received Japanese release however.
There have been questions about the appearance of such blatant guitar game representations from Namco; these proved there was truth to rumors that the BEMANI patent, though expansive, had some holes regarding the ownership of the concept on other platforms. However time has seen Konami's stiff protection of their patent - only recently the latest version of the home Guitar Hero franchise included a statement confirming patent agreement with KDE.
For consumer game publisher Activision, the protection of their game series has seen them having to take legal action on at least one attempted amusement application of their property. Readers of the Stinger will be familiar with our coverage of the start-up company FragIsle LLC, and their 'Guitar Hero II' Xbox 360 based amusement platform; the company had claimed to have found a loophole so they could represent console software legally for amusement. The operation was eventually sued by Activision and forced out of the market, leaving behind a number of their production prototypes of their proposed Guitar Hero machine.
However this illegal machine proved monstrously popular, even though it was not condoned by Activision - The Stinger Report is aware of at least another three illegal machines from South Korea and Europe that hoped to cash in on the popularity of the GH franchise, and the interest by players to play the game in a public-space setting.
Another illegal application has been the mushrooming of 'Guitar Hero Nites', which sees venues having players participate onstage in tournaments for prize money - it all coming down to who is the best player on the home game. The equivalent of the 'iPod Nites' is now seen taking place in bars and clubs throughout America and Europe. The need to cash in on the popularity of the system proved irresistible - it is a shame that the trade has had to wait such a long time for a legal way to benefit from the games revenue in amusement!
What Could this all Mean:
This marks the latest appearance of a consumer game into the amusement arena. The Stinger Report has paid special attention to the application of new content that could reinvigorate the players' interest in amusement (another new development to be revealed in a coming feature), but GH could open up new ways to generate revenue in a market, which is suffering from stagnation in certain sectors.
The slowdown in the economic sector has impacted on the consumer game scene, and amusement now represents a new opportunity to maximize brand recognition, and secondary revenue. Time will tell if it is the dedicated amusement route or the use of a Vendertainment style package that will be offering the greatest return.
The impact of the October/November sales hit home and it was revealed that a number of consumer game analyses were rating the latest consumer release of the consumer series 'Guitar Hero: World Tour' as a miss regarding projected sales. Their sales have been 50 per cent down on projections; the game a victim of reduced selling during Black Friday (the sales period after the Thanksgiving holiday). Even in the light of softening consumer sales, the property has taken on a life of its own with fast food restaurant KFC running a Guitar Hero special offer during the end of the year - other licensing deals are penned to ensure public recognition of the brand.
Breaking Stinger News - Underlining the burgeoning music genre movement in the international amusement scene, the latest news of developments came just at the end of 2008. The American scene saw the entrance of the latest new comer to amusement distribution. PM Studios enters into the amusement scene following establishing a new presence in the consumer sector. The company has announced the release of the PlayStation Portable version of the game 'DJ Max Fever' for 2009, and to follow this release wanted to establish a presence in the amusement scene.
The company sees its mission to revitalize the amusement scene and is proposing to bring to the US the South Korean company Penta Vision Entertainment title 'DJ Max Technika' (PC Hardware), developed in cooperation with the former EZ2DJ team from Amuseworld (Ponglow Creative Group), was originally known as the Metro Project. As covered previously in the Stinger (#655) the game marks a major development in the application of the rhythm game concept, now with a touchscreen element from this two flatscreen display cabinet, sailing a similar course as KDE with their product.
Working in full partnership with Penta Vision Entertainment, PM Studio hopes to bring other Penta Vision titles to the international market. The company is also looking to join the AMOA in their move into the US amusement sector, and already PM Studio has discussed with key distributors towards a roll-out plan for the coming weeks.
Just as we went to the wire with this feature the implications of this new development struck home with news from the popular fan site Bemanistyle. The site reported the official announcement that Konami Digital Entertainment's South Korean division had issued legal action against Penta Vision for infringement of patent, though Seoul Central District Court on the 24th of December 2008. These Christmas wishes by KDE were directed against the 'DJ MAX Series' - citing Korean patent No. 294603 issued in September 1996, along with others regarding KDE's music simulator games.
How this legal action will impact PM Studio's international plans was not defined at the time of writing - though this dose mark a strong move by KDE outside of the home islands to retake the initiate regarding their intellectual rights.
News Story with thanks to Kevin Williams. Please visit www.thestingerreport.com