By Basil Katz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rapper Lil Wayne may still be behind bars on gun charges, but that hasn't stopped developers of videogame "Def Jam Rapstar" from launching an interactive karaoke game featuring him and other hip-hop stars.
Lil Wayne, who is serving a sentence in New York on a gun possession charge, has been among the key promotional faces of "Def Jam Rapstar" which aims to cash in on the craze for music-related video games in at least one unique way.
The game's developers hope to take the genre a step further by linking it to a social networking website in which gamers face-off with their karaoke recordings of hip-hop songs.
"This is actually one of the first video games to really include a social media platform, and that's going to make all the difference because hip-hop is very social," said Scott Steinberg, video game analyst at consultancy Tech Savvy.
The game, released this week on Microsoft XBox, Sony PS3 and Nintendo Wii, comes loaded with over 40 old and new hip-hop classics such as Notorious B.I.G's "Big Poppa," Nelly's "Hot in Here" and Lil Wayne's "A Milli."
The concept is simple. In classic karaoke style, the user selects a song to rhyme over, matching the words and pitch as the music video flashes in the background. The twist, however, is that all of this can be recorded on video, edited and uploaded to the game's website.
The website, www.defjamrapstar, is a sort of Youtube and Facebook mash-up where users are meant to "battle" one another, competing for votes determining whose filmed rendition of a particular song is best.
"Listen, at the end of the day, we wanted everybody to have an opportunity to rap to their favorite songs, to rap over the hottest tracks from producers around the world and to battle people around the world," Kevin Liles, Def Jam Enterprises president, told Reuters.
The rap aspect, however, might be what will keep the game from being a smash hit, said Michael Pachter, a video games analyst at equity research firm Wedbush Securities. "Rap is harder to actually do," Pachter said, alluding to other games that might just involve strumming a plastic guitar.
"The market's pretty saturated," he said, adding "karaoke games are not that popular in the United States."
Others were more enthusiastic. "It's a fantastic game," said Jermaine Hall, chief editor of Vibe magazine. "I can see a hardcore hip-hop fan in Japan battling somebody in America."
Previous games on rap culture might have been like "'oh, ok hip-hop culture, how can we create some caricatures?'" Steinberg said, but "Def Jam Rapstar" is "the first game that really captures what hip-hop is all about."
The game's developers declined to say how much the it cost to develop or what their target sales are.
"Def Jam Rapstar" was developed by 4mm Games and Def Jam Interactive, and distributed by Konami. It retails for $59.99 for the XBox and PS3 and $49.99 on the Wii. Bundled with a microphone and software, the game costs $10 more.
(Reporting by Basil Katz; Additional Reporting by Gemma Haines; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)