Slave to the Game

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Record first-half sales of video and computer games got a big boost from Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto IV" and Activision's "Guitar Hero III."

Previewed at the E3 game industry conference July 16-18 in Los Angeles, music game titles due by year's end promise to kick annual sales to new highs, among them Konami's new "Rock Revolution," Harmonix/MTV/Electronic Arts' "Rock Band 2," Activision/Red Octane's "Guitar Hero: World Tour," THQ's "Saints Row 2" and EA's "Madden NFL '09."

U.S. sales of videogame hardware, software and accessories through the end of June totaled $8.27 billion, surging 36 percent from $6.1 billion during the same period last year, according to the NPD Group, which tracks retail sales.

Videogame software sales topped $4.3 billion, soaring 49 percent from $2.9 billion from a year earlier on record unit sales of 107.6 million, up 25 percent from 85.9 million a year earlier.

In one of the conference's biggest announcements, Konami said it has entered a partnership with rock band Linkin Park under which "Rock Revolution," the newest franchise in the music game market, will be the official videogame of the group's 25-date Projekt Revolution tour. At each tour stop, Konami will set up a demonstration tent that will feature "Rock Revolution" as well as new demos of "Dance Dance Revolution" and "Karaoke Revolution American Idol Presents Encore," according to Konami marketing director Rozita Tolouey.

The band's single "Given Up" is one of 40 tracks featured in "Rock Revolution," a multi-instrument music game that will compete head to head with the "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" franchises.

Among other upcoming music game titles that drew attention at E3:

'Saints Row 2'

"We've doubled our budget for more current and big-name talent for the programmable radio stations plugged into the gameplay," says Frank Petreikis, lead audio designer for game developer Volition. "We have a dozen in-game stations with a broader variety of music genres and 12 or 13 tracks per station for 150-plus songs, compared to 140 in the first edition. Among lead artists set are Duran Duran for the '80s Hits station, Big Pun for rap and the Deftones for alternative rock." "Saints Row 2" will be in stores October 14 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

'Rock Band 2'

The soundtrack will feature more than 80 songs on the game disc plus an additional 20 bonus tracks available for free download this fall. Among the exclusive tracks are AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock," Guns N' Roses' "Schackler's Revenge" from the highly anticipated "Chinese Democracy" album and Bob Dylan's first videogame track, "Tangled Up in Blue." A new "disc export" feature lets users export most tracks from the first edition of "Rock Band" into "Rock Band 2." Gamers also will have an array of officially licensed instrument accessories available, including an upgraded wireless Fender Stratocaster Controller, Mad Catz Fender Telecaster Controller, Fender Bass Controller and an ION Drum Rocker. "Rock Band 2" ships in September, with an exclusive Xbox 360 launch window, followed by PS3, PS2 and Wii versions later this fall.

'Guitar Hero: World Tour'

The latest version of the top-selling franchise title will not only include drums and a microphone but will also integrate Line 6's guitar tone technology, enabling gamers to use amps, cabs and effects from the Line 6 POD in the game's Music Studio. Among major artist additions, an avatar of Jimi Hendrix will be showcased in the game, along with his "The Wind Cries Mary" and a live version of "Purple Haze." Metallica's much-anticipated album "Death Magnetic" will be available as downloadable content for the game on the same day as the album's release. "Guitar Hero: World Tour" ships October 27 for PS3 and Xbox 360.


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