Let’s face it: we all lived out our rock star dreams – one way or another – in modern day video games. Titles such as ‘Rock Band’ and ‘Guitar Hero’ have been the life, the social glue that binds house parties and friends. To complete the total experience, most of us have invested in a set of game instruments/controllers – with some even featuring a replica of the classic Fender Stratocaster.
We can safely assume that both video game titles have exceeded the one-billion-dollar sales mark – numbers that exclude all the downloadable content. We, as music fans-slash-gamers-slash-weekend warriors, enjoyed a good run playing and performing more than half a decade ago, and almost in a blink of an eye, we stopped. So what caused this sudden disinterest from the gaming market? Is it a paradigm shift in the future, or simply outgrowing a once-popular music gaming genre?
A Brief History of How Rock Musicians Starred in Video Games
Before anything else, let’s have a look back at how it all started. Harmonix, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based video game development company, is the brainchild of MIT students Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy back in 1995. The two hopped from breaking grounds with ‘Guitar Hero’ to riding the momentum with ‘Rock Band’.
Today, these tangible air guitars have also sort of become the portals for musicians to penetrate different parts of the gaming industry. Aside from the plethora of rock bands on both console gaming titles, Pocketfruity, for one, has incorporated rock icon Jimi Hendrix in one of its many slot machine games. This is a simple testament of how influential and all-encompassing artists can be beyond the sold out stadiums and concert halls.
The Ups and Downs Behind the Big Two
Similar to that of Coca Cola and Pepsi’s rivalry, ‘Rock Band’ and ‘Guitar Hero’ were consumed according to whatever was readily available or a gamer’s mood. On one hand, the former offers a multiplayer platform where players have a glimpse of what it’s like filling the shoes of The Who, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Beatles. On the other, the latter leans toward the timeless arcade mods and top scores. In short, ‘Guitar Hero’ is face-to-face shredding with peers, while ‘Rock Band’ is euphoric performing with friends.
For a while, these groundbreaking approaches in gaming seemed to carry on forever, however, like all the Top 40 hits, there was the proverbial ceiling. For music games, too much was just too much. Annual iterations, spin-offs, and mobile versions, were initially meant to further boost sales, only to flop and somewhat halt the progress. Failing to surpass expectations of their console counterparts was putting things lightly. It came to a point where people became fed up with playing plastic instruments in front of a television screen. As a matter of fact, ‘Guitar Hero’ bombed big time, losing $233 million over the course of its 2010 title ‘Warriors of Rock’.
What’s in Store
With the emergence – and the mass appeal – of dance-centric games, it’s only a matter of time before both ‘Guitar Hero and ‘Rock Band’ series find its mark once again in the gaming world. Late last year, these franchises released new games almost simultaneously with ‘Guitar Hero Live’ and ‘Rock Band 4’. Both titles took a chip off the old block and reinvented it, improving in the process. More than five years have passed, this goes to show that rock music-centric games have a definite place in the industry. Now whether this comeback will go the Guns ‘n’ Roses ‘Chinese Democracy’ route or AC/DC’s widely successful 1980 ‘Back in Black’ album remains to be seen.