Kai Huang (RedOctane)
First of all, congratulations on the recent ten-year anniversary of RedOctane. Did you ever think ten years ago you'd be where you are today?
"Oh, not in a million years. My brother and I started the company in 1999, we actually started off as online video game rentals. At the time we described it as Netflix but for video games, and over the last ten years the company has evolved to where it is today, which is publishing music video games."
Was that an easy transition to make?
Where did the idea for the original Guitar Hero come from?
"There were many music games that were being done in Japan. Dance Dance Revolution was the most popular that made its way into the US in 2002, and there were other music games including guitar-based games, drum-based games, you name it. The Japanese had a very vibrant category of music games. We approached the companies and asked them why don't you bring these games outside of Japan, and they basically said universally that we think music games won't sell. When they told us that, we realised that if they weren't going to do it then no one else would, so we had to do it ourselves."
"You know, really early on, the first time we knew we had something special was actually a development version of Guitar Hero - version 1.0. The game was literally a black background, with three coloured lines coming down the screen, and we hadn't even licensed the song, we were just using it as the test, which was 'Dope Nose' by Weezer.
"After every song, because it was a prototype, the console would actually freeze up and you'd have to reboot it to restart the song, and yet people were lined up in our office to watch it. I would say that was the first time I knew we were really onto something. Then it really wasn't until when Guitar Hero III launched, and that Guitar Hero was featured on an episode of South Park that I thought that it had really entered the mainstream. I would say those two would be the defining moments for me."
Where can the music-rhythm genre can go from here?
"I think there's still a huge amount of opportunity in the genre. Guitar Hero kicked it off in North America and Europe in a big way, and it really introduced people to the category of rock. I think in the future, opportunities lie in two different areas. One is new categories of music and the other is new instruments. One of the other games we're releasing is DJ Hero, which introduces hip-hop, rap, dance, electronic music, including rock. It's the perfect example of where games can still go."
"I still think there's a huge amount of opportunity within the genre for it to grow. Year over year the genre has been down, and one of the reasons for that is until two weeks ago there hadn't been any major new releases of games in this category.
"Secondly, the recession has certainly affected consumer behaviour. I think what we're trying to do with the Guitar Hero franchise is offer tremendous value, because I think that is what consumers are looking for these days. With GH5, you'll get a free game if you purchase it in the month of September. For us, understanding consumer behaviour, we're providing them great value, whether it's software or through the great hardware that we produce, and expanding into new categories."
Harmonix recently said it was looking into Natal for the next Rock Band. Will Guitar Hero follow suit?
"We've definitely been evaluating Microsoft's Natal technology along with a lot of other different technologies that could enhance the Guitar Hero playing experience, and Natal is very interesting because there's so many different things you can do with it, whether it's the motion detecting, maybe sensing how you're playing, or the ability to use it for interactivity purposes and taking advantage of it for party purposes. I think the technology is very exciting, we're evaluating it, and I think it's likely that sometime in the future we'll have those technologies integrated into our games."
Finally, what is your favourite instrument to play, and what is your favourite song to play from the series?
"Well, I'm a horrible singer, and so guitar is my favourite instrument to play. And my favourite track to play? I would say one of my favourites - although there's so many of them - goes back to Guitar Hero III with 'Paint It Black' by The Rolling Stones "
RedOctane's latest release, Guitar Hero 5, is available now.