BIGsheep – It was almost inevitable. As soon as Guitar Hero became a hit you could already foresee the flood of sequels and imitators that would come rushing to market. Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Rock Revolution, Battle of the Bands, Wii Music, DJ Hero… the list is pretty hefty and almost reminiscent of the extreme sports bubble that burst at the start of the century. Where Tony Hawks initially trod, Kelly Slater, Matt Hoffman, Shaun Murray and a host of others followed until the market collapsed under the weight of its own saturation.
The question is, do the rhythm action games face the same fate? And if they do, what can they do to avoid it?
whduryea – I’m not sure market saturation is avoidable. Music game sales have already begun to deteriorate, so it may be that we have already passed the point where consumers are presented with more releases than they can (or want to) buy. That said, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. This boom/bust cycle of genre over-saturation has been present as long as video games have been big business. During the N64 era, the success of Super Mario 64 provoked countless awkward attempts to adapt 2D icons to 3D platformers. If that is too historically distant, recall that just last year we witnessed a glut of cookie cutter Halo-alike First Person Shooters. This isn’t even the first time that the rhythm genre has struggled with a surplus of too-similar titles. Remember the Dance, Dance Revolution craze?
The music/rhythm genre could not have continued to grow endlessly, but it also won’t be annihilated by falling sales. The quick cash-ins and shovelware will disappear, yes, but the genre will survive. 3D platformers still exist, and last year’s excess did not kill the FPS (although it almost killed Free Radical). The same will be true of music games. They have established a substantial niche for themselves within the gaming market, and they will continue to exist.
Pogo – Being one of my favourite genres of gaming, it’s kind of soul destroying to watch how saturated the market has become. Not to sound like some sort of elitist underground snob, but I remember those early days of Manny and myself importing Guitar Hero over from the States. Nobody knew anything about it. The game felt so pure, fresh and new. Now look at the market: jam packed with sequels, spin offs, and add-ons. You can clearly see how each franchise is branching away from its traditional ‘rock’ roots, and even though none of it really appeals to me I understand it’s a way of getting a franchise appealing to the bigger audience.
My biggest worry is how the games evolve, new instruments and peripherals are released, and whole franchises are overhauled. The biggest problem with this is the astronomical price tag that a whole instrument set upgrade costs. It’s just too much to justify. Rock Band is a clear favourite here at 7outof10; we love the music, the instruments, and the format but with effectively a year off will we be facing 2010 with another ‘cutting edge’ set of instruments bearing a £150 + price tag? I sure hope not, but then I can’t also see where we take the franchise from here. I hope that Harmonix will be as innovative as they’ve been in each title years past but I feel the originality window is getting smaller and smaller.
Manuel – I’m bored of the entire genre to be honest, but that would have happened regardless of the number of titles released. I’ve not purchased Band Hero, GH: Metallica, Rock Band Beatles, LEGO Rock Band or any of the others, primarily because Rock Band 2 is enough to satiate my needs; the thought of even putting that in the drive is alien to me now. The novelty factor wore off about six months ago and I have absolutely zero desire to ever play any of those games again. Well, outside of drunken sessions at house parties, but that’s governed by an external force.
I think the only thing that will bring me back at this point would be something entirely different. I’ve not tried DJ Hero yet but it appeals for that reason, and although Activision has the ‘evil empire’ tag at the moment, at least its attempting to inject something different into the equation – and I personally couldn’t care less about the name emblazoned on the box. Rock Band 3 – which I have no doubt will be tweaked and buffed to a high shine – will ultimately play the same music, from the same files, with the same mechanics; so all the changes will essentially amount to window dressing. That’s part of the bonus of a solid legacy with DLC for those that want to carry on, but for the rest of us, it’ll mean a no-sale.
If they break from that legacy and offer up an interesting take on the genre, then they will probably earn my money again – but let’s face it, they won’t. Nothing hampers progression more than a rabid fanbase that demands something exactly the same – every time – out of some fear that the investment they’ve already made will somehow be nullified by a new product.
Pogo – But don’t you find that the magic? I’ve taken Rock Band around countless houses and the feeling of getting new players into it is just fantastic. People who sit on the sofa not willing to take part are the best. They feel almost embarrassed to participate but a few songs in they are in their element. It’s so accessible and makes for a great night in. I find it never gets old because the content just keeps on coming too. The mechanic of the game hasn’t needed to change because it’s pretty much spot on at what it does.
I can see why people say the novelty wears off, but I think it’s how you want to invest in the game. I feel that I don’t need to play the game every week but when I do get it out after a month or so; it’s just as brilliant as it always has been. I like the fact that it’s always there for different needs. Sometimes just to play quietly a few songs on guitar to fill the time before dinner, or another full on all night session to keep the neighbours up with my dulcet tones. It sits on my shelf next to Halo, in the pile of games that will never be traded in, because I just feel I can always go back to it. Like most things in our pause for thought, It just boils down to perspective and what you need from a game.
Manuel – Oh absolutely, the mechanics are completely nailed, but that’s my entire argument for not needing Rock Band 3. What would be the point? If we’re talking about over-saturation in the market, I’d argue that Guitar Hero 6 and Rock Band 3 are far more guilty than the likes of RB: Beatles, DJ Hero or even Band Hero. At least those are trying to expand the audience and have no pretensions of ensnaring the same crowd with what could essentially be DLC at a cheaper price. At the end of the day, your average Beatles fan – or Miley Cyrus wannabe – isn’t going to own either Guitar Hero or Rock Band, so it makes complete sense for those to be separate packages. With that said, Band Hero is a little too ambiguous and needed to be marketed more prominently to the teen demographic; but I don’t buy into the conspiracy theories that they’re trying to pick up confused Rock Band customers. That’s a little too far down the tin-foil hat road and doesn’t really make any sense for what they were trying to achieve. I think they’ve just done it very badly.
Phil – I can see what you mean, but then I think as consumers I don’t think we truly know what we want. Harmonix could come up with Rock Band 3 with some crazy new system, which we may then declare to be perfection. Or as you’ve said, it may just be something which is just glorified DLC for RB2. That’s the nice thing about being a consumer; we are easily wowed!
BIGsheep – For one I think they need to change the career progression. It’s so formulaic now, going through a series of gigs, steadily unlocking more songs and venues as I go. For the most part, however, nothing changes. The staging makes sense as it allows you to slowly build your skills from that of an amateur strummer to a Hendrix of the Fisher Price instruments, but it needs something fresh to make me give a damn and not just head to the Free Play mode.
Lego Rock Band went some way towards achieving this with its cameos from famous bands and incredibly amusing set pieces – running away from dinosaurs, defending a castle, defrosting frozen explorers – but I would probably say that won’t please the truly hardcore.
Pogo – I agree. They need to ‘spice’ up the formula a little. Not because it’s bad, it’s just become a little stale with all competitors using the same format. Rock Band 2 tried to influence the game with having managers, merch teams, and other characters to influence your cash/fan flow, but it didn’t seem to have an overall effect on the play and it just felt a little tacked on.
BIGsheep – Obviously a lot of what these games do is dependent on the quality of music that comes with it. Looking at the likes of Lips and Lego Rock Band I feel they lack the punch required to break certain markets as they’ve tried to please everybody with the possibility of pleasing nobody. Taking Sing Star as a shining example, each release is targeted at a specific market; this may mean that they sell to smaller slice of their fan base but there’s no mixed message and sooner or later there will probably be a version for you that hits the mark with every single song.
In some ways the Guitar Heroes of the world have attempted that with Metallic, Beatles and Aerosmith but that is still quite specific music tastes. Would you like to see a Glam Rock pack, or a folk pack? I know I’d snap up a mid-nineties Britpop pack instantly over a Guitar Hero 5, for instance, that has only a handful of songs that excite me.
Pogo – Glam rock pack? That would be awesome! Think of the accessory options- lipstick, leopard print spandex, and giant hair extensions. Endless possibilities!
whduryea – The developers of major rhythm franchises will have to adapt to doing more work for less profit as the market shrinks. Releasing a new Guitar Hero or Rock Band once every two years, instead of yearly, and providing substantial new content may be necessary to make the release of each new entry an event again. Smaller, less established franchises will have to adapt (or fail), innovating significantly to distance themselves from the shrinking giants.
BIGsheep – have you heard about the subscription model touted by Red Octane/Activision? Would that sort of Spotify-esque creation interest you if it were adequately stocked?
whduryea – Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be interested in subscription services. I am painfully old school when it comes to buying games. I like to pay once for the full experience. I have no problem with downloadable titles, but I’m reluctant to indulge in pay-per-month titles, episodic gaming or DLC. I fully understand why these options exist, and how essential they are the profit models of many publishers, but since the question was whether I would personally be interested, the answer is no.
BIGsheep – We’ve spoken a lot about the band games on the market but do you have any thoughts on the karaoke games?
whduryea – I’ve yet to play any of the karaoke titles, but, if they are developed competently, I think they could offer a fun option people (like myself) who are far to shy and aware of their own inability to sing to indulge in public karaoke, but who might do so alone in their homes with the windows closed and the tap running so neighbours couldn’t hear.
Pogo – I think the game’s up for karaoke games. Rock Band/ Guitar hero pretty much do everything the karaoke games do, and more so. The more plastic the better- that also applies in other areas of the home.