When he was leaving the M.I.T. Media Lab in 1995, Alex Rigopulos and his classmates decided they wanted to make music-making accessible to the masses. Inspired by a couple of Japanese game designers (and yes, the legendary PaRappa the Rapper) he and Eran Egozy started Harmonix Music Systems. Fifteen years later, with Guitar Hero and Rock Band in their instrument kit, they are the undisputed rock gods of the gaming world.
After spending a decade toying with various mildly successful music games for PC’s and Playstation like FreQuency and Amplitude, Harmonix realized the problem. Making virtual music was fun and all, but gamers need a winner and a loser. And they need a better controller. And everyone else in the room not playing? They need to enjoy the game too – or join in.
The result was Guitar Hero. When it was released in 2005, Alex thought they might make about 100,000 people really happy. Sixty million track downloads later, it turns out he was a bit off. Later came the full ensemble party favorite Rock Band, the acquisiton of Harmonix by MTV, and the release of Beatles Rock Band. Now they’re kind of a big deal.