Saturday, December 6, 2008

Keynote Interview from MIT VC Conference: 'Guitar Hero' creator Eran Egozy

At today's MIT Venture Capital conference, I had the fun task of conducting an on-stage interview with Eran Egozy, co-founder and CTO of Harmonix Music Systems, the Cambridge company that brought you 'Guitar Hero' and 'Rock Band' (as well as earlier music-oriented games like 'Frequency' and 'Karaoke Revolution').

We had a chance to talk about the creation of the company; some of their early attempts to license technology they'd developed and create a hit game; how they raised $10 million in funding from angel investors and VCs; how they almost ran out of money before their 'C' round; what made 'Guitar Hero' a hit; the company's acquisition by MTV for $175 million (in cash); what's next; and why there will never be a game called 'Clarinet Hero.'

The MP3 file is here; it includes Q&A, and is about 30 minutes long.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

MIT VC Conference: December 6th

The MIT Venture Capital club just opened up registration for the 11th annual MIT Venture Capital Conference. It happens on December 6th, and while registration costs $245 for early birds, there's also an entrepreneur showcase in the evening that's free for anyone to attend.

I'll be there, moderating the closing session with Harmonix Music Systems co-founder Eran Egozy. And I'm going to try to arrive early to see Dan Primack's opening session with Paul Maeder and David Fialkow, from Highland Capital Partners and General Catalyst.

More on the event:

    ...Every year, the conference brings together over 400 venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders to discuss current opportunities and challenges in Venture Capital investing.

    This year, the conference theme is Reinventing Venture Capital. A Keynote Panel of founding partners from leading venture capital firms will open the conference with a discussion of evolving strategies of the venture capital community and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the dynamically changing industrial, financial, and economic conditions around the world.

    Dr. Jamshed J. Irani, Director of Tata Sons, one of India’s oldest, largest, and most respected business conglomerates, will deliver lunch keynote address. The conference will close with a fireside chat with Eran Egozy, CTO and Co-Founder of Harmonix, a MIT Media Lab startup which created Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Figure Friendly: 3-D Printing Goes Consumer

Today's Globe column talks about an interesting deal between two local companies, Z Corp. and Harmonix, to print out avatars from Harmonix's game 'Rock Band.'

The opening:

    Starting with the release of the game Rock Band 2 this month, players will have the option of purchasing a collectible plaster figurine of the character they create - whether it's a lead guitarist with a Mohawk or a screeching lead singer sporting a skimpy bikini top. (The game is produced by Cambridge-based Harmonix Music Systems, a division of Viacom Inc.) The $75 figures will be produced at Z Corp.'s Burlington headquarters and shipped to players about a week after an order is placed through the Rock Band website.

Here's the video, which shows how the 3-D avatars are produced:

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Monday, November 26, 2007

'Guitar Hero III' vs. 'Rock Band': The Game Genre Harmonix Invented

Cambridge-based Harmonix gave birth to the newly-hot genre of music-based videogames, and this morning the NY Times has a story on the two latest releases: 'Rock Band,' from Harmonix and its parent company, MTV, and 'Guitar Hero III,' from Activision. In just one week, 'Guitar Hero III' (the franchise was launched by Harmonix, but is now the property of Activision) raked in $115 million in sales.

From Robert Levine's piece in the Times:

    The rivalry between MTV and Activision is made more stark in that both Rock Band and the previous versions of Guitar Hero were developed by Harmonix Music Systems (the newest Guitar Hero was developed by another studio).

    MTV purchased Harmonix in September 2006 for $175 million cash, in a deal that did not include rights to the Guitar Hero franchise. To distribute Rock Band, it signed a deal with Activision’s main competitor, Electronic Arts.

    Like any battle of the bands, this one features its share of trash talk.

    “MTV trying to take on Guitar Hero is like us trying to go into the music cable business,” [Activision chairman Robert] Kotick said. One of the largest video game makers, Activision is enjoying its best year ever, because of Guitar Hero II, several successful movie tie-ins and the latest entry in the action game Call of Duty.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

MIT's Business Plan Competition: From $10K to $300K?

MIT's annual Entrepreneurship Competition started in 1990, with $10,000 of prize money... so for a long while, it was known as the $10K competition. In 1996, the purse grew to $50,000, and then to $100,000 last year.

The competition has a pretty good track record for spawning companies. While some never make it past the embryonic stage, Akamai Technologies was a finalist in 1998. Direct Hit won the competition in 1998, and then was acquired two years later for half a billion dollars. In 1995, Harmonix (makers of the hit videogame "Guitar Hero," now owned by MTV Networks) was a finalist.

This week, I've bumped into a few Sloan students who've suggested to me that the prize money is heading north again this as much as $300,000. One judge I spoke to said he has been hearing rumblings, too.

Bill Aulet, one of the Sloan school lecturers involved in supporting the competition, said yesterday he wasn't ready to confirm any numbers, and several other people connected to the competition didn't return my calls. Given that the most recent change to the competition was adding a new $50,000 "Development" category, which focuses on businesses that can improve low-income communities or developing countries, I'd expect the additional prize money to focus on a new category -- like energy or the environment.

Increasing the prize money three-fold wouldn't be about convincing more students to enter the competition -- just about anyone with an entrepreneurial inkling at MIT knows about it already, and has plenty of motivation to get involved. I think the increase would have three benefits:

    1. Marketing: Ensure that the competition remains prominent on the national scene...attracts more media attention...makes more prospective B-school students aware of Sloan...and brings in more venture capitalists to look at the finalists and winning companies as prospective investments.

    2. Pocket change: Give the winning companies a bit more prize money to use in their start-up stage, assuming they don't find funding quickly from VCs.

    3. Spark more entries in a particular sector, like cleantech.

With $250,000 or $300,000 in prizes, it seems like the MIT competition would be the country's biggest.... the state of New Hampshire ran a competition with $250,000 in cash prizes from 2003 to 2005, but they haven't repeated it since. Across the pond, the London Business School has a $500K competition, focused on homeland security.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Boston's bustling vid-game scene

Watha has a nice piece in the Globe today about the increasingly happening vid-game scene here in Boston, along with a side-bar that looks at some of the hottest developers and their games. He writes:

    Three of the year's most anticipated new video games -- Rock Band, BioShock, and Lord of the Rings Online -- are products of Boston-area studios, and for the first time in two decades the world is looking to the Boston area for some of the coolest new computer games.

    Companies like Turbine Inc. of Westwood, Blue Fang Games LLC in Waltham, and 2K Boston in Quincy, formerly known as Irrational Games, are making their mark in the $7 billion market for video game software, producing titles that attract critical acclaim and millions of players. GamerMetrics, which tracks discussions of games on blogs and websites, ranks 2K Boston's BioShock -- which goes on sale today -- as the 10th most anticipated game of the year. Turbine's Lord of the Rings was the best-selling game for desktop computers in April, the month of its premiere, and remained among the top 10 sellers in May and June, according to market research firm NPD Group.

If you're interested in the local gaming community, the monthly event to know about is Post Mortem, usually held at The Skellig in Waltham.

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