Brian Hodous, is the Chief Advisor at MeloQuest. Brian is best known for being the x-CCO of gaming giant Activision Blizzard Inc and one of the driving forces behind the successful Guitar Hero game series. MeloQuest has launched a mobile adventure game called Keys & Kingdoms, the very first role-playing game that teaches music and instrument skills.
What initially attracted you to the world of gaming?
Well, I started my career in consumer package goods and progressed to leadership roles domestically and internationally in some very large, Fortune 50 global companies. It was an amazing way to fully understand selling, marketing, PR and manufacturing. It was also a great way to gain an appreciation for the consumer and the importance of consumer need states, supported by data and insights. Ultimately, this led me to want more, deeper immersive data to apply to faster-moving consumer products that were reliant on “Big ‘I'” innovation…INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT! This sector seemed to be a perfect fit for my insatiable desire to be on the front edge of the very fast-moving consumer. Utilizing technology and delivering real tangible value in the way of entertainment was very attractive to me. At that point in time, about 15 years ago, I made the leap from classic consumer package goods to video games…and never looked back.
You’ve had some amazing success stories in your career, including being the founder of Guitar Hero, why do you believe you’ve been so successful at identifying innovative gaming concepts?
I would certainly not take credit for being the founder of Guitar Hero since I was surrounded by amazing people that made this brand a cultural icon, but it was a brand where I was deeply engaged and helped to create to make history. Regarding the identification of great, innovative approaches to gaming, this is more of an art than a science. That said, data and insights absolutely play a part in the discovery process. Fully understanding your demographic and creating entertainment that not only contains great storytelling, ingenious play patterns and beautiful environments, but also surprise and delight moments. Our customer base is very tech-savvy and it is more and more difficult to create those moments, but it is critical to the success of a franchise. Gamers will tell you right out of the gate if your content is new and different enough to be sustainable. That is the great thing about this community…they are very engaged and vocal!
What in your opinion made Guitar Hero such a hit?
The brand emerged at a time when the Wii was ramping and accessories, such as the WiiFit, were gaining popularity. The Wii pulled the gamer out of a very solitary activity to a group engaged, family activity. Families and friends were anxious to discover new ways to use the Wii platform and ways to play together. Engaging in music in an interactive way was the perfect fun activity to share with families and friends. We started with classic rock and pop music and used covers, not the original artists because it was much cheaper than licensing the original song performed by the original artist. Fans told us that they wanted the songs included in this game to be the original content so we accommodated. This move really broke the brand wide open and we received very broad acceptance. Friday Night GH Night started to catch on and we added variety to the game and the content. Always changing and always providing those surprise and delight moments! The game became wildly popular and we continued to iterate the content, the avatars and even added drums and a mic to create Band Hero. It is so important to keep innovating without losing the plot of what is important to the player.
How were you initially introduced to the concept of MeloQuest Studios?
Graeme Winder and I had a mutual friend that knew my background and my passion for music. Graeme and I were introduced, and I had an immediate attraction to the concept, mission and Graeme and the team. I really believe that this concept has a unique approach to learning music while enjoying the learning process.
When did you realize you wanted to become involved with MeloQuest and their initial game launch Keys & Kingdoms?
As mentioned, the attraction to the company and the brand was nearly immediate. This is a concept that is quite easy to grasp and easy to execute. I find that when we describe this play pattern and what we are intending to do with this game, people understand with little effort. This is important. If the concept is too complex and requires too much explanation, it is difficult to resonate with the consumer and garner a sale.
What is it about Keys & Kingdoms that makes it so special and unique?
Learning through “gamification” is the way forward with the youth. Attention spans are low with this demographic and gaming holds attention that promotes the absorption of the learning content. By layering in this fun, story-led video game content, the learning by ear approach is cleverly integrated. The result is truly remarkable. Children are captivated and are learning how to play music without even knowing it. Besides being a very effective way to learn music, K&K is an incredibly good value. The cost and coordination of private music teachers are eliminated and replaced, with even better results, with K&K for a nominal fee. Additionally, with COVID, parents are rightly reluctant to allow guests in their homes, making K&K's virtual approach even more attractive.
Why are so few other gaming studios developing music-based games?
Music-based games are difficult because the music stems, if you want the original versions, are expensive. You need real scale to make the economics work. Additionally, the world has really changed in the past 10 years since the heyday of music-based games of past like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Casual games are now played largely on transient platforms such as mobile, pads and PC, versus the Wii. No longer do kids like to be tethered to one room in the home. The monetization to pay for the more expensive music-based games are more difficult on the transient platforms. It is a factor of economics. What makes K&K different and unique is that it can be played on all of the transient platforms and, even with the keyboard that is included in the bundle being sold exclusively at Best Buy, all the gear is compact and can be easily played in any location.
How has the market reacted so far to Keys & Kingdoms?
Well, it is very early days, but the response has been excellent and we have not yet started any marketing yet via our exclusive retail partner, Best Buy. We have a very powerful holiday plan prepared to drive consumer awareness, education and gifting. One unique area of awareness is through school programming and evangelism. This is not just a video game, it is gaming with a purpose and schools have really been picking up on this as a great, fun way for their students to learn how to play music. K&K is very unique in this approach.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Keys & Kingdoms?
This game has a very noble and innovative approach. Because it is a truly fun and sticky game, the player retention is high and time spent playing is robust, thus the player retains the teaching elements. The gamer is having so much fun that they really do not even think of this game as a learning tool. I believe that this approach can be used for other subjects to help kids learn and retain content. Stay tuned!!
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Keys & Kingdoms.