Music Games: What Next?

Whilst we weren’t as fond of the latest Guitar Hero release as we were of Rock Band 3, the news that the Guitar Hero franchise is effectively dead isn’t good at all. This means so much more than just the fact that there won’t be a new Guitar Hero to look forward to in the near future; what it really means that people have lost jobs, music games aren’t selling as well as they used to and that the genre is on its last legs. It’s all bad news for fans of rhythm action games, including me, which leaves the question: what next?

I love Rock Band 3; it’s the genre at its peak and I can’t see how Harmonix could improve on it with any further games (although, I’m sure they will try their hardest if they choose to continue on with the series). And that’s the thing that worries me; since it was so close to perfection, Harmonix could well be thinking that there’s no point in spending time and money developing a new game that might not live up to fan’s expectations. Couple this with the fact that Harmonix are now an independently owned company, still trying (as far as I’m aware) to make up for their losses, there’s no reason for them not to just continue releasing DLC and focus on developing other games.

Whilst I’m still on the fence about what lies ahead for Harmonix, I can’t see the Guitar Hero series going anywhere from here; at least not in the foreseeable future. There are claims that Activision are just going to focus on their core franchises, namely Call of Duty, StarCraft and World of Warcraft. From a business perspective, I’m sure that this a great move: Call of Duty and World of Warcraft have a lot of fans and that equates to more money than you can shake a plastic guitar peripheral at.

However, from a gamer’s perspective, it’s completely different: what we want is diversity; new IPs that bring a good change and lots of different genres, so we can all be happy. Unfortunately, business rules in today’s world, meaning that if a new IP is too much of a risk or a genre appeals to more of a niche market, then it’s not worth the possible loss. There’s no forgetting that no matter how good something may be from our perspective, if it hasn’t managed to make a profit then it can’t be seen as good for business.

There’s no denying that Guitar Hero and DJ Hero have been selling a lot less with their latest incarnations. There’s visual proof, too; it’s likely that if you visit your nearest HMV, you’ll see a pile of Hero peripherals, which nobody seems to be interested in buying until HMV eventually have to put the price down to get rid of them. This is either down to HMV buying too many peripherals, or the fact that they are simply too expensive and people just aren’t as interested; or it could just be a mix of both. No matter what it is, it’s definitely a shame and if I witnessed this as the boss of Activision, I wouldn’t think twice about putting the Hero series to rest.

Whilst I’ve mostly discussed the future of the Rock Band and Hero franchises, those aren’t the only games in the music game genre; we’ve seen a growth in music based indie games in the past few years, namely Audiosurf, Beat Hazard and Bit.Trip Beat. These all offer unique takes on the music game genre, with the former two allowing you to use any audio file you can get your hands on. Are downloadable titles with unique ways of using your music the way forward? They could be, but Rock Band and Guitar Hero still remain a whole world away from this type of game; the only link being music itself.

Then there’s the dance games; notably Dance Central. Whilst still music based, it’s different to the usual Harmonix game. Is it completely revolutionary? No. Could it save the music game genre? Quite possibly, but it’s limited due to the fact you’ll need to fork out even more money to buy Kinect, and even then the music still doesn’t appeal to everyone. Who cares, though? It’s really fun and innovative. Dance Central shows that there’s still potential for new types of games in a genre that appears to be dying.

Do we really still need rhythm action games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero? I say yes, we do, for several reasons: firstly, they are a nice change from the usual sitting down with a gamepad or mouse and keyboard and encourage you to get into the game by bringing the instruments into your own living room. Whilst they are miles away from being anything like the real thing, they give the illusion that you’re actually part of a band; something that a lot of people won’t get to experience in reality. This doesn’t mean we need a new game every year or two, just as long as Rock Band 3 is supported with DLC and updates for a while yet.

The local multiplayer component of these games are a lot of fun; it’s simply an even greater experience when you’ve got a few friends round. This is perhaps why people don’t buy it; a lot of people don’t want to play these games on their own. I’m the only one in my flat that owns the peripherals as there’s no need for all of us to purchase them, since we can all just use mine. I’m sure many people would just rather go around to their friend’s house and play it there, rather than forking out money to play it on their own. There’s literally no way to combat this other than making the game’s single player mode more appealing than the multiplayer and that would just be defeating the purpose of the genre altogether.

I’m sad to admit that although I love the rhythm action genre, it’s about to pass its expiry date (if it hasn’t already). There is room for the new types of music games such as the previously mentioned indie games and dance games, but Rock Band 3 has hit the high note and the rhythm action genre’s song is coming to an end. Were Activision right to lay Guitar Hero to rest? From the way it was going, yes. Should Harmonix kill off Rock Band? No, they shouldn’t; at least keep DLC and updates coming if they can’t massively improve on Rock Band 3 with a fourth incarnation.

What’s next, then? Who knows; we’ll have to wait and see how Harmonix play their cards. Until then, Rock Band remains the easiest way to rock out with no strings attached.



  1. Genres like this come and go. Console karaoke, motion control, music games. They have all been original ideas which drew an appropriate following, evolved to their natural conclusion and then died (or are still in the lifecycle). I think there will be more and I look forward to what’s next.

    • I think one of the main probelms with this generation of music games is that you buy a song off the PS store or XBLA but can only use it on your console, you can’t transfer it to your ipod or anything. If a new music game enabled you to play songs you already have on your ipod I think it would rejuvenate the genre.

  2. The 1v1 fighter genre stagnated with too many releases and seemed to go away for a while until SFIV brought it back with a bang.

    This kind of mirrors GH, which peaked with GH3, then they bought out the band instruments in WT, before cashing-in too much.

    It needs time to breathe and extra year or two on the drawing board should mean that if it comes back it too comes back with a bang.

    Just Dance 1&2, Dance Central & Singstar Dance are showing how to make money out of the music genre with Just Dance being the top selling game of 2010 unless you add together sales of CoD on PS3 & 360.

    • The reason for the instruments for WT was to compete with Rock Band. I still agree with what you said though.

  3. Strange there hasn’t been any music sequencing/creation programs this gen.

    • Funny, i was thinking just the same thing the other day – Codies used to be gods of this sort of thing (Music 2000, MTV Music Generator or whatever it was called), but seemed to have stayed away from it this gen.
      Wonder why that is?

      • MTV Music Generator and its predecessors were class! I would absolutely love a new incarnation of this with share/remix elements between users, and I know I’m not the only one. Wishful thinking I fear.

      • I’ve posted countless threads on the Official Playstation Forums regarding this, and i also emailed Codemasters. The potential is absolutely huge in my eyes!

        Yes, PC’s using Ableton etc are definitley more powerful tools for creating professional music, but i would love to see maybe a slightly simplified, cut down, user/noob friendly version of this, or something similar, for this gen of consoles.

        I used to spend days on MTV Music Generator creating my trance masterpieces lol.

        Imagine them having online weekly charts by genre, where you can upload your song, and have users vote on it like in Singstar, DLC of new sample/riff packs, or remixable tracks from the likes of Tiesto, Oakenfold, PVD etc.

        Make it happen someone!!!

      • There are quite a few sequencing games on the iPad which is where I think they work best. Touch screens seem to help with it.

    • When I first purchased my PS3 I was hoping (well expecting really) for codies to bring out another game in the Music series as they now had a HDD and much bigger capacity discs. But several years later and no sign of it or even another developer taking on something similar.

      I think its a big gap in the market and something I hope will return at some point.

      • See, I said it wasn’t just me!

    • WOW you read my mind!

  4. I am not entirely shocked by this to be honest – When you churn out what is effectively the same game year after year, people lose interest. I used to buy various sports games such as football & golf, but i don’t now as they are effectively the same game that i bought two years ago!

    On a completely hypocritical note, i finally got around to buying DJ Hero 2 yesterday & have to say that it’s brilliant! So much improved from the first one.

    Shame there won’t be any more really. :(

    • It’s a shame when the first game is so bad it kills the name so a sequel, however good, stands little chance.

  5. I can’t say I’m surprised that Guitar Hero had to go. I’m not sad about it either as Activision literally drained the series completely without innovaing all that much.

    It is sad to see Rock Band 3 with such low sales though. This is indeed the perfect music game which DOES allow you to learn how to play the real instrument. I don’t think the genre is dead though. With Guitar Hero out of the picture it should calm down a bit and maybe give people the space they need instead of churning out a new game every year.

  6. To be fair, I think Activision killed this genre.
    When one publisher had Guitar Hero, DJ Hero, and Band Hero all releasing in a short space of time…
    And that was ONE publisher, never mind actual competition.
    Music Rhythm was always going to be a niche in a market dominated by shooters, so when 4 or 5 games flood it, profits are always going to be small.
    I really enjoyed the games I’ve played; RockBand (since traded in), Rockband 2, Rockband: Unplugged and Guitar Hero 3 (traded in). My sister has three singstar games and still uses them semi-regularly, but neither of us have given another music game any thought, as they are all pretty similar.
    The first wave was pretty good, and there was only so much room to go from there. From what I hear, RB3 has filled that room, and I’ll probably trade in RB2 for it when I see it cheap.
    I won’t be buying that keyboard though, it’s a ridiculous price. Pity, as I was interested…

  7. Move Xylophone would be neat.

  8. This really is a shame, however inevitable as it always was. Activision are to blame in my eyes, I mean Band Hero really should have been a track pack DLC, and the same goes for Smash/Greatest Hits.

    Harmonix have created a masterpiece with RB3, everything you could ask for from a music game is there; but sales just didn’t add up, and it’s a great shame. I’m a big RB fanboy, and I’ve spent well over £100 on DLC plus all my instruments, but they really do put so much effort in and it shows.

    But I agree there’s probably not room for a 4th installment, as long as the DLC keeps going I’ll be happy. Maybe a couple more band specific games, namely Pink Floyd (Which I know will never happen) or much more realistically Muse.

  9. iv never played any of the games you guys have mentioned guitar hero, rock band ect
    i dont find any appeal in pressing buttons on an oversized controller, i would love something similar that gives real sound that you could record, edit and mix (like a didgital drum kit for ps3)

  10. I have mentioned this before (mr sesameseed will testify to this) but I contacted codies about a reboot of music and they told me it wasn’t going to happen this generation.

    With the power of the ps3, something ableton, reason, even pro tools could be viable options. Sony even make their own music software, but I suspect that would mean sections of Sony talking to one another to make this a possibility.

    I guess with the above suggestions the issue is that they are music software programs and the ps3 is ‘only a game console’

    Personally I’d like to see a stylophone mini released.

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