Given the tragic end of Activisions support of music titles, I thought it would be a good time to have a look at if Rhythm and Music games are indeed on the final legs of what is arguably a fantastic pedigree of gaming.

Music games have been going for over a decade now, with early titles such as Beatmania, Guitar Freaks, Drum Mania and Dance Dance Revolution being the trailblazers for an entirely new way to interact with Music, they allowed us to hone our fingers to lightning fast levels, our legs into what can only be described as muscled tree trunks and our air guitar skills into something a little less socially awkward. Home versions of those games did come with a impracticality, we don’t have the controllers that they required, step up the ASC (Arcade Style Controller,) finally the arcade experience of these games came to our TV’s at home, but with a hefty price tag which tended to divide the market, which in doing so created a problem that was unforeseen.

You’ve suddenly turned into that Guy, that guy who is so much better than everyone else at the game, because he plays it on his own the loser, suddenly your not in it for the fun any more, and the gurnish grins of your friends fills you with contempt, soon you seek out other that guys for a real challenge – Ben Croshaw (Smash Brothers Brawl Review)

Yes, you become so good at the game because you have an advantage over others in the arcade, the ability to play at home, it’s not so much an issue but it does create a gulf in which the exclusivity of playing in the arcade is reduced somewhat, because you’ve already dropped enough money into the title at home that you might as well just stay there, burrowing out only to show off at the Arcade or play the next release. Which as Konami did rather well infact, releasing iteration upon iteration of each title to keep the market saturated, keeping those which have shelled out for that ASC involved and happy.

Fast forward a couple of years to the release of Guitar Hero in 2005, and things began to change drastically, RedOctane had previously made hardware for Guitar Freaks and sought to create a Guitar based game for a western audience (Something that Konami hadn’t taken advantage of properly,) It was at it’s core a rather simple game which allowed players to play along to some classic rock tracks with a big plastic guitar, Players were thrilled and it sold rather well indeed, so much so players begged for 2 things, a sequel, and a second guitar, and here is the key thing here, A SECOND GUITAR.

Players wolfed down Guitar Hero 2 quite happily, either buying just the software or getting the hardware bundled in with it as well. Of course not everything can have a happy ending, and RedOctane were bought by Activision, with the developer Harmonix being picked up by MTV Games, Activision took the helm of Guitar Hero and passed it along to Neversoft, it began developing Guitar Hero 2 for the 360 and thus we begin the decent into plastic instrument hell.

Activision took a rather gun ho approach to Guitar Hero, releasing a myriad of titles into the market, Guitar Hero 2 was followed up by countless sequels and spin offs (Guitar Hero: Aerosmith? Really?) Until the market began to tire of it, the mainstream were happy with there disk and guitar, the hardcore of course wanted more songs but didn’t want to shell out for another guitar, and another drum kit, and another this and another that. It didn’t really seem to be taking advantage of the modern benefits of home consoles, chiefly downloadable content, something that Harmonix did a fantastic job with on Rock Band, keeping the hardcore and casual audience alike happy with having a huge library of tracks you can browse through and select to build your own library of songs. Guitar Hero was losing ground badly to Rock Band, so it did the one thing it could do, Kill it off.

Now here is the sad thing, they didn’t just kill of Guitar Hero, they also killed off DJ Hero, a title that also took cue’s from Konami’s IIDX (Beatmania’s evolution,) Which seemed to have a bright future, it did something new and also seemed to cater to a different audience, I can only hope that we do see another DJ Hero game in the future.

Now after that lengthy opening, we can get to the meat of the matter, is this the end of the Music genre? No of course not, or else I wouldn’t be writing this. Music games are about to change, as they have before and will do again, largely in thanks to Konami’s old days, Para Para Paradise has been westernised into Harmonix’s Dance Central, which as we have seen from reviews and sales figures is a hit, Ubisoft’s Just Dance is selling like hot cakes on the Wii and Rock Band 3 has still got a audience and a bright future.

Konami did the right thing in their day, by making their releases yearly they didn’t over saturate the market, they kept people wanting more, however things have changed, Making a software base and then expanding upon it through updates and DLC is the best way forward, also targeting your title to the right market is a huge step in the right direction (Here’s lookin’ at you Dance Evolution.)

Dance games are changing from what we knew, into another new form, as they have done before and will do again, It’s all about ideas, blending music into something that makes sense in a game play perspective, making a on rails shooter generate music – Rez, Making a platformer where the beats and tempo effect the level – Bit.Trip Runner, flying a ship dodging blocks to the beat of your own songs – Audiosurf, The games are just as popular now as they always have been, it’s just things are beginning to shift away from the selling of plastic goods, to using the hardware you already have, Tailoring each experience to the stuff you already have is the best way things are going to move forward, especially given the rise in smart phones and portable handhelds with unique features.

Guitar Hero might be gone for a while, but hey music games are very much, in the words of the Beegee’s, stayin’ alive.

Sources: Guitar Hero Wikipedia Article, Zero Punctuation Review of Smash Brothers Brawl, Bemani Wikipedia Article, Joystiq article about the News of Guitar Hero’s death.
Mad thanks to Hollie for whipping up the header image! Your the win-rar!

4 Responses to “Is 2011 the year the music ends?”

  • could you argue that rhythm and music games could go into a completely different angle with games like Dance Central and Just Dances expanding music games into the casual markets and thus imploding the original rhythm music gamers?

    • Matt H:

      That’s happened in almost every phase Will, Dance Mats exploded over here and almost everyone had one along with a PS1 copy of Euromix or Party Mix, Then Guitar Hero did the same. Dance Central and Just Dance? Yeah I’m guessing that it’s going to saturate the market rather well, It’s how long it lasts that’s the question, The core however they will always be there, Most DDR players still pop on from time to time.

      • Toby:

        Nice article! I think it really covered it all well. Remember when we thought DDR was old hat back in 2000, and the first generation of players quit? I’m sure it will carry on for as long as we play the games. Don’t forget Pump It Up is still dominating the Latin American and Chinese markets, while ITG and Pro are covering the US, so we’re safe a while yet. :)

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