Why DJ Hero Failed In Europe

Let my start by stating I am not a musical snob, and like most dance music aficionados I enjoy more than just club music. A case in point would be one of the Christmas presents I asked for this year, the CD “We’ll Meet Again”, the greatest hits of forces’ sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn. I like everything from Megadeth to Madonna and during the ten years or so I’ve DJ’d I have moved from 150bpm thumping hard trance to house and most recently, dirty breakbeat.

There are many, many moments that I will never forget, from hearing my bootleg of The Kaiser Chiefs “I Predict A Riot!” being played at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve to 4,000 screaming people at Brixton Academy, to getting signed and finding my first track on the shelves in HMV, to the heart breaking minutes silence at 5am on a Sunday morning when 2,000 clubbers mourned the untimely passing of legend Tony De Vit, and followed it by dancing harder than they ever had before to one of his tunes.

What I’m trying to say without sounding like a know-it-all, is that I do have an idea what I’m talking about when it comes to DJing and music. I was very interested when ‘DJ Hero’ was announced but as details were revealed my interest soon turned to dismay at a missed oppurtunity.

I’m sure you all know the game was released to a generally positive reception in the press but failed to reach the expected sales. Whilst reading an interview with Jesse Divnich, director of analyst services at Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR) something caught my eye. When commenting on the decline of the ‘music’ game, Jesse says what we’ve all been thinking – the market is over saturated. He then mentions DJ Hero;

“On DJ Hero, I was disappointed in European sales. Most analysts, if not all, were expecting the majority of sales to come from the UK and mainland Europe where house/trance music is popular. Unfortunately, US analysts were wrong as North American sales are looking to outpace European sales.”

One glance at the DJ Hero track list would reveal why the game has flopped in Europe. As stated by Jesse, House music is one of the the main dance music genres over here so if Activision wanted to sell the game in this territory why did they license just one House tune from 2009? Eric Prydz’s “Pjannoo” is the only recent tune, where are the tracks from The Freemasons, Meck and Calvin Harris?

Instead the tracks feature Jay-Z, Gwen Stefani and Common. I am not suggesting these are insignificant artists but when was the last time you heard a track by Common ‘tearing up the funky house scene’ down the Ritzy on a Saturday night? As well as being very American in flavour the set list also boasts some utterly ridiculous titles such as “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard, which leads me on to my next point.

Guitar Hero is fun because you can mosh about to Van Halen making a fool of yourself. DJ’s do not mosh, it is impossible to jump about when you are trying to synchronise tunes or scratch. DJ’s may jump about a bit between records; when actually working they are cool and calm. Their choice of songs defines exactly how cool and worthy of devotion they are and a DJ lives and dies by his song choice, it’s as simple as that.  One of the tunes on DJ Hero is “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul. I love ‘Straight Up’, I’ve got it on one of those old fashioned 12″ vinyl things but I would never play it out in a club as I would be laughed off the decks. Why do Activision think this is a suitable song for what is meant to be a ‘DJ’ game?

The designers of the game have based it on ‘American’ style Hip-Hop DJing and tried to sell it to Europe. In Europe, DJing is Tiësto playing to 100,000 people in a stadium with their hands in the air as he seamlessly mixes from track to track. His skill is in his choice of records, his beat matching and the sense of journey. DJ Hero gives you none of this, it gives you Motörhead – “Ace of Spades” vs. Noisia – “Groundhog”.

DJ Hero failed on many levels, the fact that it’s more about scratching than DJing, and of course the silly price point, but I would suggest its biggest failure for Europeans is the track listing. I was genuinely interested in the game until I started seeing what tunes were available; it’s a shame they got it so badly wrong.

Perhaps Activision has realised the problem as the first DJ known to be working on ‘DJ Hero 2’ is European house master, David Guetta. You couldn’t ask for a more mainstream European DJ, from his irritatingly catchy (and irritatingly one-note-away-from-Coldplay’s-‘Clocks’) “Love Takes Over” chart topper to his adverts for hair gel, he is the very definition of a commercial European DJ. There is a chance Activision may get DJ Hero 2 right for Europe, there is no reason why the current DJ Hero control couldn’t be used as a “CD” style DJ Deck for beatmatching… but is it too late?