Music-based video games are likely to top off the wish list for most gamers this holiday season. In the spotlight will be two upcoming games that define the genre:

Activision's

(ATVI) - Get Report

Guitar Hero III

and

Rock Band

by

Electronic Arts

(ERTS)

.

Competition among Activision and EA is fierce, and in an interesting twist, the same studio,

Harmonix

, a division of

Viacom's

(VIA) - Get Report

MTV Networks, has created both games.

In 2005, then as an independent studio, Harmonix, fashioned a guitar-shaped accessory that gamers could use to play along with their favorite artists, resulting in

Guitar Hero

. The game was published by Activision, and its success turned Activision into a stock market darling.

The original

Guitar Hero

game went on to sell more than 1 million copies, and its sequel,

Guitar Hero II

, has sold more than 3 million copies.

In September 2006, MTV bought Harmonix for $175 million. By then, Electronic Arts had lured the studio into a partnership, and Harmonix started developing

Rock Band

, the successor to

Guitar Hero

.

The revenue split between Harmonix, its parent, MTV, and EA for

Rock Band

hasn't been disclosed.

Activision's in-house studio, Neversoft, is developing the third installment of the

Guitar Hero

franchise.

Rock Band

has been described as

Guitar Hero

on steroids. The game comes with

three different instrument-based accessories -- a guitar, a drum-shaped controller and a microphone for a lead singer.

The impending release of

Rock Band

has led to investor anxiety about whether Activision can sustain its run with the

Guitar Hero

franchise heading into the all-important holiday season.

Shares of Activision are up 13.7% in the six months since Feb. 28, while EA's stock is up about 5.2% in the same period.

In an interview with

TheStreet.com

, Alex Rigopulos, co-founder and CEO of Harmonix, talks about his ambitions for the game and why

Rock Band

will be more fun that

Guitar Hero

.

TheStreet.com

:

How big do you believe the music-based games category can be?

Rigopulos

: I think

Guitar Hero

was just the very beginning of what this category is going to become. Music-based games as a category are growing explosively. One of the reasons that it's growing so well, is that it's not just about games, but more about music and bringing people together to experience it.

I can see this category as potentially being as big as the recorded music business. Looking ahead three to five years from now, this is how young consumers will want to experience music.

The

TST Recommends

Guitar Hero

franchise has become a huge hit. How have you ensured that

Rock Band

is bigger and better?

With

Rock Band

, we have taken the experience in a different direction. We are focusing on the collective experience of playing games together. All of our previous games were about solitary game play. With

Rock Band

we bring the intensity that comes with making music together. And that's a new territory that we are diving into.

An important thing to recognize is

Rock Band

is much larger in scope than

Guitar Hero

in terms of sheer instrumental diversity. There's drumming, guitar and singing. With

Rock Band

we are appealing to a broader audience, and there's much larger potential. The focus is also on authenticity.

The guitar controller in

Rock Band

looks incredibly like a Fender Strat guitar. Compared to other guitar controllers, it's a very large, hefty, realistic authentic-feeling instrument.

Do you think gamers are likely to buy both

Guitar Hero

and

Rock Band

, or will there be less of an overlap among the buyers than we think?

I think in general the press has liked to characterize

Guitar Hero

and

Rock Band

as direct competition. I don't see it that way. I see this as a category so large it can support many different games.

With

Rock Band

we have taken a different stylistic direction and focus allowing for multiplayer group play. We have gone stylistically after a different kind of music with a vast majority of it being original recordings. That is a significant step forward for the genre. I think gamers could buy either or they could own both, and both Activision and Electronic Arts will do very well.

Slide Guitar

Through RedOctane, you worked with Activision for

Guitar Hero

. So why did you choose EA as your partner for

Rock Band

?

At Harmonix, we view ourselves as a music company first and as a game company second. We have very big ambitions for this category and MTV shares it. We view these games as music-based entertainment rather than just another game category.

Guitar Hero

was a turning point for us. It was time for us to push the category forward in a very ambitious way.

RedOctane and Activision wanted to advance their

Guitar Hero

franchise so there was a divergence of priorities there. Harmonix and MTV also wanted to work with EA because they have the largest and

most unparalleled distribution network, including internationally.

You have said that you see

Rock Band

as not just a game, but a platform for consuming and experiencing music. Can you elaborate?

Normally when a consumer buys a game title they are spending $40 to $60 for accessing just the exclusive content they have purchased. But when they invest in the guitar or the drum, it will be a platform-like investment. It will be like making an investment on the lines of buying a console because the consumer can continue to capitalize on it.

Our intention is to be very aggressive in building out the music library for our platform. We will have downloadable content made available on the

Rock Band

platform. After the launch, we will have new music every week. Long term, we view

Rock Band

as a platform through which users can consume new music. Say, a favorite band releases a new album. They will have it out on CD, iTunes and then they might release it for

Rock Band

.

Have you decided on the pricing for the game?

It's not that the pricing for the game has not been disclosed. It hasn't been settled yet. What you see on Web sites taking preorders is just a placeholder.

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

has listed the price of the

Rock Band

game and its peripherals at $199.99.