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Monday, 21 February 2011

Guitar Hero: Death of a genre or a game?

It was sad to hear recently that Activision's popular gaming franchise, Guitar Hero was laid to rest.

Despite the popularity and fame that accompanied the franchise, too much of the same thing year after year probably meant there wasn't enough innovation.  While the initial hype and excitement always remains, over a period of time, imaging your Slash from Guns N' Roses or Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits just loses its charm if your idols are all from a previous era.

Unlike the rest of the music industry which has seen revenues eaten up by piracy, the death of Guitar Hero couldn't be more different.

Music has moved on

One major change that's probably led to the games decline is probably the slow decline in rock music itself.  Any music fan who has an appreciation of rock will remember the days of when they played air guitar to the tunes of Metallica, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, U2 or The Police.  While it may be cool to play songs from those bands today, it isn't something you hear on mainstream radio anymore.

The Edge, back in U2's "The Joshua Tree" days. Image courtesy U2.com
Just watching popular music reality shows like American Idol, you can see how its progressed season by season.  The initial years where you had rockers like Bo Bice or Chris Daughtry are gone.  They were themselves unique in the fact that there were very few people who actually sounded anything like them in the years they participated.  The closest American Idol went towards rock in recent years was probably Adam Lambert, though his style and personal being as eccentric as they are borders on the edge of rock; it's more a case of Lady Gaga meets Queen.  These days, American Idol has moved into a hip-hop, R&B groove, which is reflective of music today (music, which I'm also a fan also).

The lack of new idols or heros in the world of rock probably made it more difficult for a franchise like Guitar Hero to evolve.  Compare this with a sports game franchise holder and he can move between generations using the likes of Pele, Maradona, Cantona, Zidane and Christiano Ronaldo for example.

Who's that musician in your band?

One more trend that's probably changed things is that no one really knows anyone in a band unless they're a singer.  Who remembers musicians these days?  Names like The Edge, Slash, Duff, Lars Ulrich, Keith Richards or Dave Stewart (the guy who stood next to Annie Lennox in The Eurythmics) were people we knew even they they weren't the headline star of their bands.

Today, you probably know who's in the Black Eyed Peas or in your typical boy / girl band because you see them in videos singing away but do you ever ask who's the drummer, guitarist or bassist in a band anymore?  Evidence of this can be see seen in the fact Guns N' Roses these days is a totally different band from what it was in the 1980's with the exception of Axl Rose.  Back then, every member of the band was known.  Now, when the "band" recently performed at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina, it was only Axl Rose who was known and the rest of the band was unknown (details of the band members can be seen here).  Where then can Guitar Hero expect to find it's next Hero?

Guns N' Who? Image courtesy http://worldtourdates.info

What could've been done differently

If Guitar Hero didn't want to abandon its rock roots, it could've probably seen how it adapted itself to today's variation of rock.  Whether it be Arcade Fire (who caused an upset at The Grammy's last week) or The Killers, it could've moved away from being focused around individuals within a band to actually focusing on the band in totality.  This is something Activision probably did think of and possibly it didn't quite have the same commercial opportunities which is maybe why we didn't see it happen.

Had Guitar Hero not been Guitar Hero but Music Hero (sorry, I couldn't think of a more imaginative name here), then it could've moved from  generation to generation as music genres evolved.  Just like a football game franchise manages to evolve year after year, a music franchise could've progressed from the days of Elvis Presley right to Gaga mania.  With technologies such as what we're seeing in Microsoft's Kinect emerging and with network gaming / social network environments being as active as they are, it may have taken some imagination and creative juices to find a way to keep things entertaining still.

Activision also may have suffered because it didn't move onto other gaming platforms quickly enough.  In our previous post about Angry Birds, we did ask the question if the success of an underdog like Angry Birds was due to the fact that it focused purely on the smartphone segment initially before moving its way up the console route, blindsiding most of the competition.  Most gaming software houses traditionally focused on consoles and are now seeing their share of the wallet move onto smartphones or tablets, which was a trend probably most of them didn't anticipate.  With more music being played off smartphones or MP3 players instead of CD's, this was a trend that could've been anticipated.

If you go on Apple's iTunes Appstore, you will find that one of the most popular games that's been listed on there for years now is Tap Tap Revenge, which was in 2008, the most popular game on the iPhone.  Tap Tap is much like Guitar Hero in a way and probably carved out a niche for themselves before anyone at Activision realized what was happening.  Tap Tap have also moved on where you can download new tracks into the game, meaning the content stays current.  A visit to their website also shows that they've managed to establish the tie-ups that make it matter whether it be Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Linkin Park, Nirvana, Justin Bieber, Coldplay or veterans like Metallica and Nirvana.

A screen shot from Tap Tap's webpage shows how current they've been.

Sadly though, it isn't up to us to decide the fate of Guitar Hero, they've in some way done it themselves.  They've sadly driven the nail through the coffin and made themselves a memory.

We do hope that there is a reincarnation of the franchise one day as we've seen Super Mario emerge in various forms over the years but like we did with some of our Atari games, we hope to continue playing Guitar Hero, however we can, whenever we can, wherever we can.

Posted By: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics