PAX 2011: Harmonix Reverses Q&A Panel
Rather than being subjected to questions, the Harmonix team turns the tables and asks the questions instead.
Who was there: Members of Harmonix, including community managers Annette Gonzalez and Eric Pope; director of brand management, John Drake; and community development manager Aaron Trites. Rather than having a standard question-and-answer session where fans asked the questions, the team at Harmonix used this period to ask the audience the questions. On top of that, they had a live demo of their upcoming iOS title, VidRhythm.
What they showed and talked about: For the first quarter of their hour-long panel, they had the audience participate in a live demo of VidRhythm, their soon-to-be-released iOS game. The game, which was developed as a pet project over the last three months and was created by a team of eight, plays similarly to the "make your own music video games" that were released in the mid-'90s for the Sega CD. Rather than taking preexisting songs and creating a music video, there are original songs for the game, and by using yourself or friends, you record snippets of sounds, letters, words, and so on. Once the samples are collected, the game uses these and inserts them into the music, and a short video clip is made.
The first clip that was prepared ahead of time was for a song call D-O-G-S and used a few familiar faces including Xbox's Major Nelson and popular PAX panelist and actor Wil Wheaton. The clip, which lasted about 30 seconds, was quite comical as each of the people in the clip performed one sound--in this case, a letter--but it looped in a number of different ways to produce a very fun result.
For the second demonstration, the audience was used to perform a hip-hop number. Various members were asked to make sounds, which included "tom" and "chk," and the entire audience meowed--yes, we all did it and it sounded hiliarious--and it was then looped into a video that was very feline-heavy.
Unsurprisingly, VidRhythm not only was easy to use, but was a lot of fun and very interactive. When it launches shortly, it will cost only $1.99 and will have more than 20 tunes to play around with. As you would expect, numerous social functions will be included; expect to see a lot of quirky videos on Facebook and in your inbox from friends featuring songs that will get stuck in your head
For the remainder of the panel, the shift was on Harmonix and its console games, specifically its Dance Central and Rock Band franchises. For starters, we were treated to some information regarding the upcoming release of Dance Central 2. Six songs were confirmed for Dance Central 2:
"Baby Got Back" - Sir Mix-a-lot
"The Humpty Dance" - Digital Underground
"The Breaks" - Kurtis Blow
"Yeah" - Usher feat Lil John and Ludacris
"What is Love?" - Hadaway
"My Prerogative" - Bobby Brown
As an added bonus, they also confirmed that all Dance Central songs, both from the game and DLC, can be imported into Dance Central 2 when it hits stores.
The talk surrounding Dance Central went forward with the panel asking a number of different questions, the most interesting of which was why people did not purchase Dance Central. Not surprisingly, the two most common responses from the audience were that (1) the Kinect was too expensive and not worth buying for only one game and (2) people live in homes that are not large enough to be able to fully experience what the Kinect has to offer.
Both responses were quite straightforward, and the panelists agreed in principle to both but offered suggestions. Regarding the Kinect itself, they pointed out that the future release calendar outside of Dance Central for Kinect-supported games is big; singling out games like Rise of Knightmares, Gunslinger, and even the recently release Child of Eden as other reasons to pick up a Kinect. As for the second issue, the only suggestion was for people to consider looking into what third-party peripheral manufacturers are making that may aid in allowing smaller living rooms to still properly use the system. Also, they joked that buying a home with a larger house could also help.
The last part of the panel shifted toward talk of their marquee franchise, Rock Band. This is the first year in over four years that Harmonix did not have a Rock Band-related booth on the PAX show floor. Since they didn't have a product being released this year, they felt it was not necessary to bring a four-year-old franchise to the show. The panelists used the last few minutes to engage with the audience to see what they could do to revitalize the genre and what is needed for them to do in order to have a successful fourth game, be it another Rock Band or a new music-based game.
Unfortunately, none of the audience suggestions were of much help. The audience was pushing toward a more hardcore experience with statistical tracking, having Harmonix shift to karaoke and market its games and products to bars and restaurants or going free-to-play on the PC. None of these really tackled their question, which was more about finding a way of ensuring that the future of music games is still fresh and can capture a wider audience rather than a small, niche group.
Takeaway: It seems clear that Harmonix understands and accepts that the music genre on consoles is on the decline and that it isn't feasible for them to constantly release Rock Band games with little to no changes. They clearly love making music games, but trying to market a franchise with only superficial changes will not lead to any long-term financial success. They certainly want to continue to make games in the genre, but whatever lies ahead, it has to be something that not only is unique, but will appeal to a wider audience.