Friday, August 15, 2008

some numbers

As I work away on this article (now tentatively titled "Schizophonic Performance: Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Rock Authenticity") I've been reviewing some statistics generated by my qualitative survey on the GH/RB gameplay experience. Since this article probably won't be published in a journal for a year (if I'm lucky), I thought I'd share some of the stats here.

As of this writing I have received 414 responses. Survey respondents were self-selecting; most heard about the survey through recruitment messages posted on several high-traffic online messageboards devoted specifically to these games. There is no reason to assume that these players represent an ideal demographic sample of the many millions of people who have purchased or played the games. (The Guitar Hero franchise has sold more than twenty-one million game units since 2005; Rock Band has sold more than three million games and ten million individual song downloads since its November 2007 release.) However, the content and range of the qualitative responses in the surveys does seem to match the range of perspectives I have encountered through other research channels (reading messageboards and media accounts, interviewing players, etc.). Now, the numbers:

* 88% male, 11% female, 1% intergender/trans/other
* 60% aged 21 or younger, 23% aged 22-30, 17% over 30
* 100% have played some version of Guitar Hero; 37% have also played Rock Band
* 93% own some version of Guitar Hero; 25% own both Guitar Hero and Rock Band
* 45% typically play for 1-2 hours at a time
* 16% usually play at the “easy” or “medium” difficulty levels; 19% at “hard”; 64% at “expert”
* 76% have used “practice mode” (which breaks songs down into short sections that can be drilled at slower tempos)
* 57% often play with other people watching; 69% often play in a multiplayer mode
* only 41% reported having much prior familiarity with &ge 50% of the songs included in the games
* 79% stated that the games increased their appreciation for new songs/genres; 76% had added new music to their listening collections because of the games
* 73% had experience playing an instrument; 49% (of all respondents) had experience playing guitar; 32% had played in a band; 14% regularly performed music in public
* 34% reported feeling creative during gameplay

While I must re-emphasize the caveat that these statistics are not necessarily representative of all players, it does seem important that nearly three-quarters of respondents had played an instrument—particularly given that respondents were recruited primarily from gamer discussion boards (as opposed to some more specifically music-oriented population). This fact stands in intriguing tension with the mission statement often repeated in media interviews with Harmonix designers: “to give that awesome feeling [of performing music] to people who aren't musicians, who would never get to have it” (in this instance articulated by audio director Eric Brosius).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

too much information

This week I'm attempting to expand my IASPM conference paper into an article to send off to a journal. It's not easy, because I have much too much to say and an ever-growing collection of fascinating source material. I've had well over 400 responses to my survey on the gameplay experience (plus follow-up correspondence with a sample of respondents). I've held many gameplay observation and interview sessions on campus this summer, each of which yielded a 30-45 minute recording of a player saying insightful things about Guitar Hero and Rock Band. My wonderful summer research assistant, Kate, has tagged dozens and dozens of relevant online articles, messageboard posts, and YouTube videos. And now I need to write a 10,000-word article, not much more than twice the word count of the conference paper. (And less than the word count of the transcript of my interview with Harmonix's Rob Kay.) I wish I could just publish everything in my files with a big tag cloud and leave the interpretation to each reader. Sadly, that's not the path to tenure.

So, apologies for my infrequent posts. A few links to chew on: a new high-end drum controller designed to work with Rock Band 2; yet another newspaper article insisting that players aren't making music (the NY Times doth protest too much?); and a piece about my research in the Providence Journal (headline not of my devising).