The “Guitar Hero” Will Now Take Your Questions

Alex Rigopulos started playing video games at 3 years old on a Magnavox Odyssey console, and has been an avid gamer ever since.

He earned his B.S. in music from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his M.S. from the computer music group of the M.I.T. Media Laboratory. In 1995, he co-founded the video-game development company Harmonix with the goal of letting even the most musically challenged people experience the “unique joy” of music making. He’d been obsessed with this idea since writing his master’s thesis on “encoding the essence of music into software.”


Today, Harmonix’s best-known games,
Guitar Hero
and Rock Band, are played in basements and living rooms worldwide; some say they are even helping revive the music industry.

In addition to running Harmonix with co-founder Eran Egozy, Rigopulos rocks out with his brothers in the real-life rock band Yeast. This year, Rigopulos and Egozy were named in Time‘s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Rigopulos has agreed to answer questions from Freakonomics readers, so have your way with him. As always, we will post his answers here in short course.

As someone who grew up playing lots of air guitar (or, more precisely, tennis-racket guitar), to everything from “September” (Earth Wind and Fire) to “Train in Vain” (the Clash), and then spent a bunch more years playing a real guitar and having an absolute blast, I cannot wait to hear your questions and Alex’s answers.

Finally: happy holidays. I am guessing at least a few thousand of you will be caressing a new plastic guitar before the week is over.

Addendum: Rigopulos answers your questions here.


How much of a struggle was it to convince publishers that Guitar Hero was something worth financing? I know it's huge now, but until then, peripheral-based games almost as a rule didn't sell very well.

Transplanted Lawyer

How difficult is it to arrange for the legal rights to use the music? Are there any artists who do not want to license their music to you, at any price -- and if so, what reasons do they give for that?


Do you foresee yourself venturing into any other genres of music with similar or wildly different games/simulators? I have heard rumors about a "Rap Band" game, though have not seen anything concrete. I think it would be fantastic to see other genres and different instruments explored, either through add-on's to the current games or via new games.


Where do you think Konami dropped the ball on bringing over GuitarFreaks and DrumMania? When did you feel it was appropriate to implement the core idea, and market it? Were there any major patent struggles? How is DJ Hero coming along?

(For those who don't know Konami had started a similar line of games involving guitar/bass/drums in 1998, and yet never had the insight to bring the games over to the US until Guitar Hero/Rock Band had already taken off. Konami's re-casting of their games to the American marketplace has not fared as well).


Can you share the process of a song being charted for the game? How many different job functions are involved and what do they do?


Were you surprised by some of the people who have really embraced GH? Have some of these unexpected audiences influenced later versions?

Thanks for a really fun game, by the way. :)


When will there be a U2-based Rock Band or Guitar Hero release?


Do you envision music oriented videogames in which points are awarded for music composition, improvising, or other elements of creativity?

When will we see Jazz Band?

Hello, Mr. Rigopulos. What I want to ask is what is going to happen with Rockband now that players can play all the instruments in Guitar World? I mean, it seems pretty useless to have both games on the market now that you can play all instruments in both games and the gaming experience is pretty similar. In fact, you seem to be competing against yourselves on the gaming market.


Did any of the console owners (Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo) tried to bid for exclusive rights to GH or RockBand? If so, what was the process leading to the decision of having the game in the 3 systems...


How do you take a song and turn it into the guitar hero tracks? What is the process? How long does it take? How do you decide the difficulties?


Do you think it's possible to create a 'solo' feature in the game - i.e. you play whatever you want and the game records the notes you play into your own solo? I think this would be really cool.


I'm new to Guitar Hero as of yesterday. And I am stunned at the lack of racial diversity among the characters and audience members portrayed. Was any consideration given to making your game look like America?


What is your opinion on having to "unlock" certain features in a game? I'm not an avid gamer at all. I purchased a version of Guitar Hero for my daughter because it had her favorite song listed on the back. The problem is that the song she likes can't be accessed until we do something (I don't even know what).

It's not a huge deal but it seems to me that if a song is listed on the game and it is a big part of why you bought the product, you should be able to access that song.


For Rock Band, did you get the original master recordings to create separate drums, guitar, bass and vocal tracks? If so, were there any strange things found when transforming any of the older tracks in the game? If not, do you have a software process to reliably separate the various parts?

Robert Christ

I've wondered if there will be or has already been
a turning point where record companies start paying
you to get their music included in the game?


Are there any plans (yours or any other developer's) to create a game in which an actual electric guitar is the controller?


Dubner noted that your games might have actually helped to revive the music industry. At the same time, do you think it's discouraging kids from picking up real instruments? People spend hundreds of hours mastering the hardest of Guitar Hero songs, and if this time was put into a real guitar, they could be at least intermediate guitarists. If you really wanted to encode the essence of music into software, shouldn't this be done in a way where people can actually learn a viable skill that will help them produce music?


Do you think Guitar Hero will encourage or discourage people from learning to play the actual acoustic instrument?

Kris Tuttle

Although things like 2nd Life are still pretty sketchy how do you see the online/3D VR Web evolving over time? We think that music and concerts are something people would want to see in this space and it could be a powerful combination. What are you views on this area and how soon might there be real bands playing high quality concerts in the VR space and/or master GH players doing the same there?