‘Guitar Hero,’ ‘Rock Band’ Developers Wage War Of Words Over PS3 Axes

Companies in dispute over who's preventing the cross-compatibility of guitars for the PS3.

The makers of “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” are embroiled in a heated battle this week, and it appears that PlayStation 3 gamers are the ones taking the hits.

The issue is the compatibility of the games’ guitars with each other’s games on the PlayStation 3. “Guitar Hero III” guitars don’t work with “Rock Band” on the PS3, and “Rock Band” ones don’t worth with “Guitar Hero III.” While that seems logical, Harmonix, the MTV-owned developer of “Rock Band,” had promised to develop on an open-standard guitar. This implied that gamers who wanted to own both games and rock out in their two-guitar multiplayer modes wouldn’t need to buy excess axes. And in fact, the Xbox 360 versions of the games do allow cross-compatibility. (Gaming blog Joystiq created some handy compatibility charts.) Today the companies are hurling accusations about who is to blame for not fulfilling this promise.

The harsh words started Wednesday, when MTV/Harmonix issued a statement claiming that the “Rock Band” team had created a downloadable software update that would make “Guitar Hero III” controllers work with their game on PS3.

“Two weeks ago, Harmonix created a software patch for the Sony PlayStation 3 version of ‘Rock Band’ that allowed for guitar compatibility and support for third party peripherals, including enabling use of Activision’s ‘Guitar Hero III’ controller with ‘Rock Band,’ ” the company stated. “The compatibility patch was submitted, approved and had been scheduled for release by Sony on Tuesday, December 4. Unfortunately, Activision objected to the release of the compatibility patch. The patch remains with Sony, but we have been told that it will unfortunately not be released due to Activision’s continued objection.”

MTV News contacted Activision and Sony to find out if Harmonix’s account was accurate, what say Activision has in controller software updates and what Sony’s role is in approving such patches.

“This is a matter that needs to be resolved between Harmonix/MTV and Activision regarding intellectual property,” answered Sony Computer Entertainment representative Patrick Seybold in a statement. “At SCEA, we of course want this resolved and to ensure the best possible gaming experience. We encourage MTV/Harmonix and Activision to discuss this among themselves, so there can be an amicable resolution in the best interest of the consumer.”

Sony has not responded to MTV News’ follow-up, which again requested clarification about how the patching process works and why one company would have a say about another’s actions.

And what of Activision, clearly portrayed as the bad guys in this? On Thursday night, the company issues a statement of its own — addressed to “Music Fans” — calling MTV/Harmonix’s statement “misleading.”

“In fact, Harmonix and its parent company MTV Games/Viacom recently declined Activision’s offer to reach an agreement that would allow the use of ‘Guitar Hero’ guitar controllers with ‘Rock Band,’ ” Activision stated. “We have been and remain open to discussions with Harmonix and MTV Games/Viacom about the use of our technology in ‘Rock Band.’ Unfortunately for ‘Rock Band’ users, in this case Harmonix and MTV Games/Viacom are unwilling to discuss an agreement with Activision.”

Both Activision and MTV/Harmonix have said that they want consumers to have combos that work. The “Guitar Hero” maker stated that its “top priority is to provide consumers with a seamless marriage of best-in-class hardware and software.” And MTV/Harmonix said that “there should be interoperability between music instrument controllers across all music games. This is clearly in the best interest of consumers, game developers and console manufacturers and will only help to grow the music game genre as well as inspire innovation and creativity.”

But if Activision made an offer, why didn’t MTV/Harmonix take it? And what is Activision’s story behind that allegedly blocked software patch that would have resolved this?

One other question remains: Will the compatibility Xbox 360 owners currently enjoy be taken away as a result of this dispute? During a routine Xbox 360 software update either company could conceivably turn off the competitors’ controllers. MTV News posed that question to both parties earlier this week, as the accusations swirled, but neither company has addressed the issue.

Things could get worse, but with all companies still saying the right things, there’s at least a chance to get things right.