Readers of this blog likely know that my partners Jason and Ryan have a band called Legitimate Front. You also probably know I’m on the board of Defy Ventures. And it’s likely you know that we are investors in Harmonix.
When you mix all three, you get a new DLC for Rock Band from Legitimate Front. Their song, She, is now available to play on Rock Band. And, all proceeds go to Defy Ventures.
I’m proud of a bunch of people involved in this. Yes, I smiled today when I saw how it all came together.
As a bonus, if you want to see Jason and Ryan (and Legitimate Front) IRL, take a look at the video from a recent Techstars FounderCon.
It’s here. And you know you want it. You can buy just the Rock Band 4 software (if you have your old instruments) or, if you are like me and you’ve given your instruments away, you can buy a new full bundle of everything.
And, in case you missed it, Spark Capital joined us an investor last week with a few other long time friends in a $15 million round.
I originally invested in Harmonix as an angel investor in 1995. It’s rise was well chronicled in this awesome Inc. Magazine long form story titled Just Play. Basically, Harmonix tried to go out of business every year between 1995 and 2005 and just managed to fail at that, always coming up with a new revenue deal or a small amount of financing to stay alive before it became an overnight success in 2005 with the original launch of Guitar Hero.
MTV acquired the company in 2006 for $175m plus an earnout, which after a long “discussion” that ended in 2013, resulted in a total purchase price over $700m. MTV decided to get out of the video game business in 2010 and sold the company back to the founders (Alex and Eran) and a small investor group.
In 2013 Alex and Eran asked me to join their board. We arranged a financing that made sense for both parties so Foundry Group could invest. Harmonix is easily the most accomplished video game company in the world around music and rhythm games and with the eventual, and long awaited emergence of VR, I can think of no better company around our HCI theme to work with. Spark Capital, which was one of the original investors in Occulus, agrees, which makes me very happy.
Rock Band 4 is now out. In states like Colorado where a certain substance is now legal, I expect we’ll have a new marketing tie in. In the rest of the world, let me just suggest that having played the new game, you’ll want to get a copy and dust off your old equipment.
And get ready for some stuff that is just going to blow your mind – now and over the next 12 months – from my friends at Harmonix in Boston.
I tell stories about my favorite investment (Harmonix), an investment we clearly missed and why (Twitter), and my worst and most heartbreaking investment (Interliant), along with lawsuits and eating babies.
I then go on a riff on Startup Communities and Fundraising, where the phrase “Any rich people around here?” popped out and got some applause.
I covered the inevitable question about dragicorns and big financings, went on my culture – competence rant, and then answered whether entrepreneurs are born or made.
I had fun at Big Omaha. While I think Halt and Catch Fire and Mr. Robot are way more interesting than me, this was a pretty good interview.
In 1995 I made a seed investment in a tiny company called Harmonix founded by two guys, Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy. After one meeting with them I knew I wanted to be part of their journey and made one of my early $25,000 angel investments.
The journey they went on as founders and a company was amazing. A big part of it was captured in what I think is one of the best long form magazine articles ever about the history and drama of building a company – Just Play in Inc. Magazine in 2008.
After being acquired by Viacom in 2007, Alex and Eran bought back the company in 2010. Over the past two decades they’ve created two billion dollar game franchises – Guitar Hero and Rock Band – and one multi-hundred million game franchise – Dance Central.
I joined the board and Foundry Group invested in Harmonix in 2012. The last few years have been complex and challenging as the classical video game business continues to go through massive structural changes. However, the Harmonix team has kept a steady beat of innovation going, including a recent release of Disney Fantasia and a reincarnation of one of my favorite early games of theirs, Amplitude.
But the stuff they are doing that I’m really excited about fall into two categories: (1) Rock Band 4 (which needs no explanation) and (2) Music VR.
This morning, Matt Whittaker wrote a really smart article titled Harmonix’s Music VR Might Just Bring on the Apocalypse. In it he talks about the amazingness of what Harmonix is doing and the broader societal challenge around VR and a compelling mainstream app like music.
First, the Harmonix Music VR stuff is unreal. If there is a company on the planet that can figure out the compelling music experience for VR, it’s Harmonix. And, they are working on scalable stuff – not “music specific things” – but algorithms that adopt to any music you are playing. This is technology they’ve had for several years and is part of what sets them apart from everyone else who has followed them by trying to mix video games and music since they came out with the original Guitar Hero software.
Next, while VR video games are cool, they aren’t mainstream. But music is mainstream. So the opportunity for VR in music, and music being a leading use case for VR, is enormous.
Did I say that the Harmonix Music VR stuff is unreal? Oh yeah, I did. And when I say “unreal”, I mean in an amazing way.
If you want or read science fiction, you see music + video as a central background component of everything. Sometimes it’s plot, sometimes it’s context, but it’s always there as part of the VR theme. Today’s technology is still young, but the software will outpace the hardware, as it usually does, which means that amazing software will drive users to adopt hardware early and then will push the vector of innovation on the hardware.
I’m super proud that I know and get to work with Alex, Eran, and team and have been able to over two decades. They never cease to amaze me.
My friends at Harmonix are running a Kickstarter campaign to bring back Amplitude, one of their classic games. It was originally done in the early 2000’s for the Sony PS2. This campaign will bring it up to date for the Sony PS3 and PS4.
It was all started by an online post from someone named DumpLord420. Watch the Kickstarter video to hear the backstory and see what they are doing. And, if you are a video game, or Harmonix, fan boy (or fan girl), some Harmonix love is just a few Kickstarter clicks away.
One of the places new approaches to human-computer interaction plays out is with video games. One company – Harmonix – has been working on this for 18 years.
Harmonix, which is best known for Rock Band, is also the developer of three massive video game franchises. The first, Guitar Hero, was the result of almost a decade of experimentation that resulted in the first enormous hit in the music genre in the US. Virtually everyone I know remembers the first time they picked up a plastic guitar and played their first licks on Guitar Hero. Two years later, Rock Band followed, taking the music genre up to a new level, and being a magnificent example of a game that suddenly absorbed everyone in the room into it. Their more recent hit, Dance Central, demonstrated how powerfully absorbing a human-based interface could be, especially when combined with music, and is the top-selling dance game franchise for the Microsoft Kinect.
Last fall, Alex Rigopulos and his partner Eran Egozy showed me the three new games they were working on. Each addressed a different HCI paradigm. Each was stunningly envisioned. And each was magic, even in its rough form. Earlier this year I saw each game again, in a more advanced form. And I was completely and totally blown away – literally bouncing in my seat as I saw them demoed.
So – when Alex and Eran asked me if I’d join their board and help them with this part of their journey, I happily said yes. It’s an honor to be working with two entrepreneurs who are so incredibly passionate and dedicated to their craft. They’ve built, over a long period of time, a team that has created magical games not just once, but again and again. And they continue to push the boundaries of human-computer interaction in a way that impacts millions of people.
I look forward to helping them in whatever way I can.