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.