EA, MTV, Harmonix in pact to level up music games

Attendees try out "Guitar Hero II", a game for the Xbox video game system, at the Microsoft booth during the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 8, 2007. Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. on Monday said it is teaming with Viacom Inc.'s MTV and "Guitar Hero" developer Harmonix to deliver "Rock Band," a new music game, late this year. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. on Monday said it is teaming with Viacom Inc.’s MTV and “Guitar Hero” developer Harmonix to deliver “Rock Band,” a new music game, late this year.

“‘Rock Band’ is Harmonix’s most ambitious project to date, and it will take music gameplay to an entirely new level,” said Alex Rigopulos, co-founder and chief executive of Massachusetts-based Harmonix. The company developed rhythm games “Frequency” and “Amplitude” as well as the “Karaoke Revolution” series.

The “Guitar Hero” games have been Harmonix’s biggest hit to date, appealing to a broad audience of music lovers.

Partners in the new project said “Rock Band” will leapfrog those titles with support from major record labels. For its part, Harmonix is expanding players’ virtual roles beyond lead guitarist to drummer, bass guitarist and lead singer.

The new game could pose competition for Activision Inc., which bought “Guitar Hero” publisher and guitar controller maker RedOctane last year. Activision now publishes “Guitar Hero II” and a company spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

EMI Music Publishing and Warner/Chappell Music have pledged unprecedented access to their music catalogs for use in the game. Record labels EMI Music, Hollywood Records, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group’s Universal Music Enterprises and Warner Music Group’s Rhino Entertainment will supply master recordings by their artists.

Shares of Activision were down about 2 percent to $18.56 in midday trade. Shares in Viacom were roughly flat, down 5 cents, to $41.01, while EA’s stock was up less than one percent to $50.80.