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.
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.