October 10, 2008 / 5:49 PM / 9 years ago

A virtual battle of the bands

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Wannabe rock stars will have a greater choice of instruments and songs to choose from as videogames like “Guitar Hero World Tour” and “Rock Band 2” introduce new features.

<p>A screenshot of new videogame "Rock Band 2" is shown in this undated handout photo. Wannabe rock stars will have a greater choice of instruments and songs to choose from as videogames like "Guitar Hero World Tour" and "Rock Band 2" introduce new features. In addition to playing bass and guitar, "Guitar Hero World Tour" will feature a drum set and microphone for a four-player band experience on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and PlayStation 2. To match Reuters Life! VIDEOGAMES-BANDS/ REUTERS/MTV Games/Handout</p>

After selling 23 million units globally in less than three years and generating $1.6 billion at retail, Activision Blizzard’s “Guitar Hero” franchise is expanding on October 26.

In addition to playing bass and guitar, “Guitar Hero World Tour” will feature a drum set and microphone for a four-player band experience on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and PlayStation 2.

“Singing in ‘Guitar Hero World Tour’ gives people the chance to try out their voice, even if they’re too scared to go on a real stage,” Haley Williams, lead singer of Paramore, said at a recent press conference.

Williams, who provided motion-capture for her in-game avatar, appears along with other musicians like Ozzy Osbourne, Jimi Hendrix, Sting and Ted Nugent.

Brian Bright, project director at “Guitar Hero World Tour” developer Neversoft, said a new feature called Music Studio enables gamers to compose, record, edit and share their own music online through GHTunes.

“We’re going to reach a market that has never experimented with music software before,” said Bright.

“It’s going to be cool to hear all of the music that people create with the Music Studio in this game,” added Williams.

“World Tour” also includes 86 master recordings, including songs from The Eagles, The Doors, Sting and the new Metallica album, “Death Magnetic.” There is also the Nintendo DS “Guitar Hero On Tour” and its fall update, “Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades.”

“Standalone and cheaper band-focused editions, such as the recently released ‘Guitar Hero: Aerosmith’ and the upcoming ‘Guitar Hero: Metallica’ and ‘Guitar Hero: Jimi Hendrix’ are pivotal in expanding the audience,” said Chris Faylor, editor of gaming site ShackNews.com.

Harmonix, the developer that created the “Guitar Hero” franchise and then moved on to MTV Games/Electronic Arts’ “Rock Band,” has completed a sequel that’s out now on Xbox 360, coming October 19 for PS3, and November 18 for Wii and PlayStation 2.

With four million units sold and global revenues of $600 million, “Rock Band” introduced the four-player band experience to gamers last year. This year, they’ve offered deeper online options, refined the drums and included a tutorial that will teach players how to play the real thing.

The current Rock Band Live tour, featuring Panic at the Disco, Dashboard Confessional, Plain White T’s and The Cab, allows the best Rock Band 2 gamers at each venue to put those drumming lessons to good use on stage in between acts.

“We’re all very excited to be on the Rock Band tour,” said Ryan Ross, guitarist for Panic at the Disco. “We love the game, so it’s been great having it set up all over the venue so we can play it whenever we want.”

Unlike “World Tour,” which is moving from a two-guitar to full band experience, all the songs from “Rock Band 1” are playable on “Rock Band 2” -- which comes with 100 songs from various groups. By the end of this year, there will be over 500 songs available for the “Rock Band” franchise via downloadable content on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Wii 24Connect.

Michael Pachter, videogame analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, expects downloadable songs to generate $10 million for “Guitar Hero” and $20 million for “Rock Band.”

“I suspect that these games will divide the bundle market, with each selling around three million units,” said Pachter.

While exclusive music will inevitably prolong the battle between ”Guitar Hero and “Rock Band,” Faylor believes the battle of the virtual bands will come down to which game offers the widest variety of well-known songs and artists, while letting players easily access all of those tracks.

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