This week, Activision announced the return of its once prolific rhythm franchise, Guitar Hero. In many ways, the reveal has felt inevitable ever since March 5th, when competitor Harmonix marked the imminent resurgence of its very own music franchise, Rock Band. Both franchises have remained dormant since early 2010, where they teetered out in fitting unison. However, between 2006 and 2009, Activision and Harmonix could collectively claim responsibility for a significant portion of total console game sales. That’s saying a lot for two franchises which required pricey proprietary peripherals. It’s safe to say dreams of stardom hit gamers hard last generation. A mass of colour-coded peripherals obstinately haunts my poor parents’ house to this day.
Virtual music mania was a phenomenon which proliferated quickly and died even quicker. Fans clamoured for more and more reasons to use their plastic instruments, and sadly, they got it. A serious case of oversaturation (along with a gentle push from the 2008 recession) assured that consumers soon lost interest in Activision’s vision of a peripheral-based future. In short succession, the fires of loyal, bickering fans quickly quelled. But, with Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero: Live set for their encores late this year, it looks like the developers are pretty confident that the state of the market has changed.
Why now? What makes sense that hasn’t for the past five years? As it turns out, quite a few things. Power Up Gaming is here to offer some insight (and a few educated guesses) as to why the rhythm genre is back with a vengeance.
A New Generation of Consoles
The Xbox One and Playstation 4 haven’t been on the market for two years yet, which is nothing in modern console years. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, the majority of console adopters are yet to have any considerable arsenal of peripherals. The reason Guitar Hero spin-off DJ Hero failed to gain much traction was because its plastic turntable provoked reactions of ‘’oh great, another one’’ among even Activision’s most loyal fans. There comes a saturation point for any collector, and being the fifth major peripheral from Activision alone, DJ Hero hit that point on masse. The collective cost of said couture rivalled that of the consoles themselves. Sinking more money into another cluterous toy was just too much for most fans.
In this regard, the Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Wii U have a considerable advantage. There exist no major peripheries for any console as yet. No Wii Zappers, no ugly-ass Playstation Move Controllers. Current gen gaming cabinets are considerably less cluttered, meaning that early adopters are far more inclined to go out and invest in a colourful new way to play.
That nicely brings me to my second reason: current consoles lack comprehensive gaming collections. A year and a half in, there are far less compelling games than, say, the Playstation 3 had five years in. There’s simply less choice. Ergo, gamers will be much keener to invest in what could be the next big thing.
Phenomenal Console Sales
The Playstation Four and Xbox One have enjoyed record breaking sales. The PS4 is the fastest selling console of all time, with the Xbox One following closely in its wake. These figures are surprising considering that the two platforms are some of the most expensive ever. Against speculation, consumers have shown that console gaming (where Guitar Hero and Rock Band thrived last generation) isn’t dead, and, more importantly, that gamers are willing to splash some cash where it counts. This is important for a franchise like Rock Band, where the entry barrier could teeter upwards of $150.
Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, Skylanders and more
E3, GDC, PAX and more this year were awash with premium, game enhancing peripheries and controllers like never before. Several people (including Power Up Gaming writers) have been been known to pay pretty sums for ever-elusive Amiibos. Gamers worldwide have signalled that the window for expensive, new ways to play is very much open. Guitar Hero: Live’s snazzy new controller most definitely looks like a welcome departure from the creaky, cheap-looking Happy Meal toys of old. This generation has already demonstrated that gamers will appreciate quality in spite of price. Accordingly, Activision seems intent on delivering a far more premium product this time round. They have sniffed a brand new hunger for peripherals and are responding to it.
A Different Approach
We know very little about Rockband 4 as of yet, but Activision has trickled out some interesting information surrounding Guitar Hero: Live. Most importantly, the game will be returning to its PS2 roots. The staple guitar will be the only peripheral, with drums, keyboard, mic and triangle nowhere to be found. Activision seem to be just as interested in avoiding clutter their audience. This will hopefully give them enough room to amp up the quality (and, certainly, price) of their sleek new controller. This indicates that they are envisioning a controller that will last, perhaps, for the remainder of the console generation. Digital distribution is becoming ever more prominent, it follows that Guitar Hero: Live will operate as an install base for many years, rather than as one stop in a long, spaghetti line of sequels. They seem, dare I say, to be poised to circumvent the oversaturation that damned the franchise last generation.
That rounds out our list of reasons for this years’ rhythm renaissance. Are you hyped for the next generation of rhythm games? Couldn’t be less interested? Scroll down and let us know in the comments box!