Eran Egozy ’95 admits that as a teen he jumped around on his bed playing an imaginary guitar, pretending he was a rock star.
An electrical engineering and computer science major and a concert-level clarinetist, he met music major Alex Rigopulos ’92 ’94 when both were grad students at MIT’s Media Lab. Soon after, the pair founded Harmonix Music Systems, a company that in 2005 released Guitar Hero, which became one of the hottest music video games of the decade. The game came with a plastic guitar and let anybody pretend to play the lead in a rock band.
“That day the world changed,” Egozy says, adding that they were flooded with press requests as the game flew off store shelves. Eventually, sales from the series topped more than $2 billion. Later, the pair was named by TIME among the 100 most influential people in the world.
“Suddenly to be cast in the spotlight after more than 10 years of no one paying attention to what we were doing, it was hard for us to believe it was happening,” Rigopulos says.
Guitar Hero was about just guitar. Rock Band, which launched in 2007, was about the whole band — guitar, bass, drums, and vocals right in your own living room.
“Your mind fools you into thinking that you’re the one actually playing. That’s what makes it so powerful,” Egozy says. “You’re doing all the actions exactly in sync with the music. When you’re playing The Who or The Beatles, it’s those musicians who are actually playing but it feels like you are playing those guitar or drum solos. You actually feel like a rock god.”
Egozy’s own guitar hero is Paul McCartney and John Lennon. “You can’t separate them,” he says, adding that when he and Rigopulos developed The Beatles: Rock Band, even Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney played the game and wanted to be involved.
“It was surreal,” Rigopulos says. “Suddenly to collaborate with them was just dumbfounding.” Egozy adds: “Can you imagine? You feel like you’ve reached the top. What else is there to do?”