There is a no doubt that music games have come a long way from dance pads at a local arcade, to being a staple in almost every single casual gamers' home. Those plastic instruments have become quite iconic in many ways; almost every single gamer out there has tried a music game and quite a lot own a few instruments of their own personally. It's the alternative to having a hardcore computer, or a guild in an MMO, simply draw together a few friends and jump into some music that everyone can sing along to.
However, things are not looking so good for the music genre anymore.
They're looking pretty terrible in fact, as the latest iteration of Guitar Hero, Warriors of Rock, holds the label of being the lowest selling main series Guitar Hero game of all time. Rock Band 3 isn't looking so great either.
Perhaps it's due to Activision's wave of Guitar Hero titles that has damaged the music-game genre so badly that these new titles are struggling to sell at all. Or perhaps it has something to do with Rock Band 3 not even shipping out with any of the pro instruments that the game has spent so much time promoting. Either way, both titles hold a lot of responsibility for the damage they've done to their own genre. The only question is, why would they bother doing it?
Since Guitar Hero first appeared on the scene in 2005, there has been an average of two games a year since then, with 2009 seeing five Guitar Hero titles in North America (Guitar Hero 5, Guitar Hero: Metallica, Guitar Hero: Van Halen, Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, Band Hero). Rock Band has also seen an increase to two games a year in recent years. And this doesn't include the iterations on the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable either.
No business model in the world will ever explain the release of five guitar-related titles in a single year, particularly with limited competition to go up against. In fact, there's really no other franchise out there that's ever made such a ridiculous move. The whole point of spacing out releases is to make people wait for the next one, instead of wearing down the entire consumer base in little under the span of a year.
The only real explanation is that Activision somehow knew that their series would never progress, so they decided to make everyone get tired of the genre by simply over-saturating it before the next Rock Band game came out.
This isn't to say that the Rock Band series isn't guilty of this either, though they did select their spin-offs a little more carefully. The Beatles Rock Band was a labour of love far greater than any of the Guitar Hero band related titles, and Lego Rock Band (while silly at pointless) was at least targeting a market that wasn't the general 'music lover'. However the fact still remains that none of these games added any new elements after Rock Band 2.
In fact, with a song library that's almost entirely DLC it can be argued that there's almost no point for any new games. Graphically it's not like the notes that players need to hit really need to look any better than they already do, and people barely pay attention to what's happening in the background phony music video anyway. These are interesting, but nothing that would justify a completely new title. Equally frustrating is trying to figure out why Warner Bros would have ever wanted to release Rock Band 3 without the brand new instruments, and risk having a terrible opening week. The critics and reviews are certainly looking positive, but the 7,386 UK units sold in the first week speaks for itself.
So are we finally seeing the end of the music genre? Hopefully so, as it would give consumers a little bit of time to forget it ever existed and make buying a new title actually worthwhile. Perhaps when everyone is actually able to pick up these pro instruments for themselves things may take a turn for the better, but in the meantime the sales numbers speak pretty clearly. No one wants to bother investing in a game that can't deliver a new experience. We knew that be six Guitar Hero's ago, and we certainly know that four Rock Band's later.