It was bound to happen at some point, and today Gamasutra posted declining sales figures for the two biggest music based games out there… Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Sales on the two big games are down 49% for the year and while those numbers are to be expected at some point, this seems to be the hardest year for MTV/EA Games and Activision.
Considering this is the biggest year for Guitar Hero so far with around 6 releases ( GH: Metallica, GH: Van Halen, GH: Smash Hits, GH: 5, Band Hero, and DJ Hero), and Rock Band with around 6 releases ( RB Track Pack: Classic Rock, RB Track Pack 2, RB Track Pack Country, RB: Beatles, RB: Unplugged for PSP, and RB: Lego Rock Band), there has never been more content for these games. So why the declining sales figures? I think it’s pretty safe to say that in this case more content is not whats going to save this genre, or these franchises.
When Guitar Hero first came out, Author James Jones and I both heard about the game and were able to play it at my first GenCon. I remember seeing the game and it instantly reminding me of Bemani’s guitar franchise Guitar Freaks. I was excited since Bemani was never going to release their games outside of Dance Dance Revolution to the states we were finally going to get our first Guitar music game to play at home. We played it, loved it, and bought it later that year. I’ll never forget the amount of nights we played that game; and of the parties we had, most of all of them included Guitar Hero. This continued for a few years after with the subsequent releases, all of which were bought and played many times over.
We all had our favorites like guitar Hero I (which most would rank over II), or Legends of Rock with its face-melting Through the Fire and Flames. Then we had some of them we hated, like the potentially awesome Rock the 80’s that came out for PS2 which turned into a pile very quickly. The series had a good balance for a while – with one, maybe two releases per year.
Then, everything changed when Rock Band came out. Harmonix, MTV Games, and Electronic Arts decided to counter the success of Guitar Hero with a game they called Rock Band. Everyone knows the story here. Drums, Microphone, Guitar- one package, endless amounts of fun. I didn’t buy into it right away, but after playing it many many times it felt like a return to the days of Guitar Hero I. I waited for Rock Band 2 to come out to buy the whole kit, because there were improvements to the instruments, and of course I should be able to find a cheap copy of Rock Band since it had been a year.
I have played it twice since I bought it in November.
We have been flooded with music games over the last few years. One game a year isn’t enough anymore, there needs to be 4-7 games a year now to keep the public focused on the two giants at all times. On top of this you have every other company out there trying to catch a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the spotlight with their own games (Rock Revolution, Ultimate Band, PopStar Guitar, etc.) but original and new fans know better – they know to stick Guitar Hero, or Rock Band, or in many cases both.
Declining sales are a given in any business, and some things are even considered “fads” such as the whole video game “fitness” realm. I don’t know if I want to take music games and put the word “fad” on it just yet, but I think it shares some of the same properties. Why did it take Guitar Hero and Rock Band four years to realize that they needed to be on most of the major systems, and release x amount of games per year? I think when you start to see a decline, you go out with a bang. Is this what they are trying to do? It might be to give their fans and consumers “choice” when it comes to what they want. To me it seems to be a bit of a ruse, when you flood a market with too much choice.
Some people out there only play music games; they are families who don’t game much, or whatever. But the majority of us play a little of everything, and when a Guitar Hero game comes out every three months, it starts to put consumers in a foul mood. “I just bought a GH or RB game, and now there is another one? While curiosity peaks at the hinting of a new title, at the same time it seems as though the market responds negatively as a whole. Times are tough for the developers of these games too. Always trying to make their next game “new” again, or giving you a reason to see the “difference” between this one and the last one. We can understand why they do these things, but usually we don’t agree or just stop caring.
Things need to slow down. You can’t put everything you have forward in one shot and expect it to keep the interest it once had. Liquidating Band Kits at many stores has been common as of late with over 26 Big Box items coming in for all systems year of different titles. Where do retailers hold this product, and of course they all want to have whatever is big in stock, but they are starting to limit the amount they carry. We all don’t need to spend 100+ dollars on a game. Its getting to be too expensive and at some point the public is going to be turned off by this. I know I have been. There is too much choice out there which most people argue is a good thing, but sometimes I like limited choices, because it makes my life a little easier and especially when I want to game with my friends, I don’t have to worry about which Guitar Hero they have because maybe there was only one that came out that year instead of 6-8.
What saddens me the most is when something you love gets too much exposure, or somehow you two grow apart you can’t help but remember the good ol’ days. This is how I feel about Guitar Hero and Rock Band. They are beasts of their own nature now. I can’t see myself investing the time, nor the incredible amounts of money to buy and play these games anymore, and when I see them in a decline I actually feel better. Something is going to have to change for these games to get my attention again. And if it takes hitting rock bottom and then working their way to the top again… Well, I’m hoping for that day.
Like Steve said in his Rock Band Beatles article… “The more and more I thought about it, I realized that this game wasn’t going to be very challenging in terms of its song selection. I mean, let’s face it, the Fab Four hasn’t been melting any faces”. This game sounds incredible on paper to anyone who is a fan of The Beatles, but in general if you stop and think about it, does it really seem like as good of an idea when you finally put some thought into the game? It’s a scary turnabout.
Here’s to hoping that the fate of the music genre doesn’t go away, but changes into something that’s a little more cost friendly, and isn’t so IN YOUR FACE every ten minutes, sometime in the near future. We need time to absorb your last game before you make a new one, and with DLC there is no need to go crazy with a game this often. Just give us those 3-6 songs a week and we’ll be fine, as a community member, I promise.