Still, it's nice to be asked, especially since the music business was slow to catch on. ''We had a lot of doors shut on us, no question,'' says Huang of Guitar Hero's early days. ''Artists didn't want to work with us. They thought, 'Cheap little toy guitar? I don't want my name associated with that.''' Eventually, the games' success made labels and bands take notice. ''There was an education hump they had to get over that this isn't like being in the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto,'' says Rigopulos. ''It's about connecting people more deeply with your music.''
Some kids are getting so into these games that they're taking the next step: learning to play real instruments. Mastering a plastic guitar doesn't have much to do with playing the real deal, but both games do strive for a certain degree of authenticity. Guitar Hero III's axes look like real Gibson Les Pauls, while Rock Band apes Fenders. Guitar Hero features Sabian cymbals, and Rock Band has Electro-Harmonix pedals. ''There's no doubt it's become a first step for those who might be intimidated by the idea of learning to play a real instrument,'' says Dustin Hinz, event marketing and promotions manager for the retailer Guitar Center. ''Guitar Hero and Rock Band are two of the greatest things to happen to our industry in recent history.''
Meanwhile, the music biz is praying for a rock resurgence, driven by rhythm-game-loving tweens growing into teens with cash to spend. The creators of these games are optimistic. ''[At first] we had this self-doubt: Is there even a market for rock & roll?'' Rigopulos says of his start-up plan. ''But then we looked around the room and realized that we all love rock music. We couldn't explain why there was this lull, but we knew there was a core burning passion under the surface, and we were going to use the game to unleash it.'' To quote a song by the Who that, strangely enough, is not available on Rock Band, ''Rock is dead they say long live rock!''
So What Do Real Rockers Think?
Nikki Sixx, Mötley Crüe: ''I play with my kids, and they'll go, 'Dad, you suck!' It's an awesome game and something we get to do together.''
Wayne Coyne, The Flaming Lips: ''The games misguide kids into thinking playing guitar is just pressing three red buttons. It's harder than it looks!''
Nick Wheeler, The All-American Rejects: ''It's kind of a shame. When I was growing up, kids wanted to be in a band. Now everyone wants to play Rock Band.''
Roger Daltrey, The Who: ''Anything that advances music is really interesting. It's better than all of those shoot 'em up, blow 'em up, kill 'em games!''