Guitar Hero is playing our song

One of the most popular video games this year is Guitar Hero, in which players flail away, Van-Halen-style, at a guitar-shaped controller and try to replicate the moves of the guitarist playing a popular song. Think of it as guitar karaoke. The original came out in 2005, and there is now a Guitar Hero II and a Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, as well as a Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s (a new game called Rock Band adds drums and a microphone to the mix).

Harmonix and RedOctane, the companies that developed and marketed the original Guitar Hero game for the Sony PlayStation2, reportedly had some difficulty getting the rights to certain songs that it wanted to use (most of which are performed by “soundalike” musicians). But they may not have as much trouble in the future.

According to a story at the tech blog Ars Technica, sales numbers from Soundscan — an industry tracking firm — show a fairly strong correlation between the music included in Guitar Hero III and sales of that same song through retailers and other outlets.

As an example, sales of the song “Reptilia” by The Strokes climbed by 127 per cent in the week the game was released, compared with the week before. A track by the band Slipknot saw a similar type of increase after being included in the game, with sales up more than 70 per cent in the first week after the game’s release, and up by triple digits the week after that.

The connection between Guitar Hero and higher sales is hardly black and white, of course. Some songs that were included didn’t see much of an increase. In some cases, the increase seen in album or CD sales could have been a result of conventional marketing campaigns or other influences that Soundscan and Ars Technica didn’t take into account. Nevertheless, there appears to be a fairly strong relationship between the game and sales.

At least one band seems to see the value of having their music included in Guitar Hero, to the point where they would like an increase in compensation for it: The Romantics, a 1980s band whose hits included “What I Like About You“, is suing Activision — which distributes the game — claiming that the soundalikes who recorded their song are too similar to the original band, and therefore they should get extra compensation.

Something smells funny in videogame-land

I don’t know who to blame for the fact that Manhunt 2 has been indefinitely shelved by Rockstar Games: the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which rated the game Adults Only because of its “excessive violence” (thus ensuring that Sony and Nintendo would never release a version for their consoles); the video-game console makers for being such nervous Nellies, when they already ship violent titles by the truckload — and happily so; or Rockstar itself, for caving in and shelving the game.

snipshot_e4hug54p2wp.jpgIs Manhunt 2 extremely violent? Undoubtedly, considering the first one was, and the second likely ups the ante — considering the player is seeing the game through the eyes of someone who may be a psycopath, recently held in a mental institution. Is that an unreasonable premise for a game? I hardly think so. I played Max Payne and Max Payne 2, and they had a similar theme — including Satanism — and they were great. Moody, frightening, cinematic even. Doom 3 was quite the gore-fest too. And speaking of cinematic, why is it OK for kids to see the Saw movies, but not to play video games? As my friend Clive Thompson asked recently, why is it OK for me to grow up playing violent games, but not my kids?

Where does community end and “gaming” start?

Digg continues to try and tweak its social-bookmarking service to make it harder to spam and “game” the system. But is it destroying the community at the same time? According to his post at the Digg blog, co-founder Kevin Rose believes that removing the list of top Diggers from the front page will help reduce the incentive for gaming the system — by Digging whatever your friends are Digging, among other things, or paying top Diggers to submit your site.

And yet, as my friend Tony Hung points out at Deep Jive Interests, getting your name on that top Diggers list is a significant incentive for people to submit links in the first place. What happens when that incentive is removed? (Tony thinks the changes are unlikely to cure the gaming problem anyway). Digg has so far resisted the idea of paying top submitters, a policy Jason Calacanis introduced when he Digg-ified Netscape.com.

In his post, Kevin says that Digg plans to introduce ways of helping Diggers find other Diggers with similar interests, and seems to suggest that the top Diggers list has outlived its usefulness, saying it “was created in the early days of Digg when there was a strong focus on encouraging people to submit content.” The implication is that with more than 5,000 submissions a day (and more than 50 million Diggs in two years), Digg doesn’t need to give people that incentive any more. Is that true? Digg is going to find out.

As Scott Karp (who writes about the recent Digg move here) says in a recent post, companies like Digg live by the community and die by the community. Steve O’Hear at ZDNet has some thoughts about the Digg move, and Josh Bokardo thinks Digg may be in for a surprise. Steve Rubel thinks Digg needs to start paying Diggers or it may be doomed. Mark Evans has a take on the recent move too. And there actually seems to be some support for the idea of removing the top Diggers list on the Digg site itself.

Update:

Jason Calacanis says he doesn’t think the latest change will work, and notes that thanks to Digg’s open API, it didn’t take long for someone to create a top Diggers list. And Chris Messina has an interesting post comparing community to the environment, and shifts like Digg’s recent one to changing weather patterns.

Update 2:

Svetlana Gladkova of Profy has an interview with a top Digger from Poland named Chrisek, who says that the changes won’t make much difference to Digg, and that they won’t affect him because he Diggs things for fun. And SEORefugee has some thoughts from another top Digger.

Preview pile-up in Second Life

I confess that I’m no expert on Second Life. I’ve tried it out several times, for differing periods of time, and I’ve done a bunch of things including customizing my avatar (Mathew McFly) a bunch of different ways. I’ve learned how to fly and how to build rudimentary objects. I’ve danced at a party with a complete stranger — who ran a script that allowed us to dance completely in sync — and was given money by another complete stranger so I could tip the dancer. The other day I even paid some Linden dollars to hit a few virtual golf balls at a Second Life driving range.

So while I’m not an expert, I know a thing or two. I’ve even written about how companies like American Apparel are setting up virtual stores to sell their products to avatars, and how bands like Duran Duran are setting up shop in the virtual world as well. But then I came across the following passage about a “preview pile-up” in the game, and I realized there is a whole lot that I don’t have a clue about. Try to follow this:

“The preview grid took an avatar bashing this afternoon when Vektor and Brent Linden organised a mass pile-on to the preview grid. It was the first time I had participated in a formal pile-on as far as I remember, I have been to the preview grids, but not normally when the pile-ons occur. I was in early, building a waterfall and playing with Starax’s wand.”

“We were asked to join the official preview testing group, and the spam commenced. People worrying about their inventory, others telling them off, people complaining about the people complaining. I crashed. When I came back the sim seemed to have rolled back – from a fully finished waterfall with rocks etc, I had two prims left.”

There’s more. Just for fun, have a read through it and try to figure out what they’re talking about. It’s like reading one of William “Johnny Mnemonic” Gibson’s short stories where he makes up all this weird slang that you have to just immerse yourself in until it starts to make sense. Needless to say, I’m not quite there yet.