The rise and fall of rhythm games

Sex, drugs and Guitar Hero

Bright, meanwhile, is a bit more skeptical. Gamers have been known to spend hours or even days mastering songs, but will that dedication carry over when a real instrument is in their hands? After all, the rockstar fantasy encompasses a lot of things, but long hours spent learning proper finger positioning for basic chords isn’t one of them.

“I think that we will have to see how eagerly gamers snatch up the new pro guitars for Rock Band 3,” Bright explains. “It may be a tall order to expect millions of music game fans to really want to transition to a real guitar. It’s difficult and time consuming to learn how to play a real guitar. There’s a reason that Guitar Hero became so popular, and that’s because everybody felt like they could play guitar without actually having to spend the time to learn how to play guitar.”

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Rock Band 3, 360/PS3

That said, Guitar Hero’s path going forward is looking more than a little divergent. Earlier this year, the rumor mill was abuzz with word that Warriors of Rock would be the end of Neversoft’s stint on Guitar Hero. In its stead, Vicarious Visions — who’ve developed the Wii and PS2 ports of recent Guitar Hero titles, among other things — will be taking the reins. Or so the story goes, anyway. Activision has yet to either confirm or deny the rumor, but that hasn’t kept many insiders from regarding it as truth.

“I keep hearing that this is Neversoft’s last Guitar Hero, but I don’t remember seeing anything official about it,” Rybicki said. “Honestly, though, knowing Activision and knowing the success of the whole Hero franchise, I don’t see anyone really deviating much from what Guitar Hero has been doing. I feel like this year’s story-heavy presentation is as far as anyone’s likely to stray from the basic five-button gameplay. But I hope I’m wrong.”

Shea, however, is much for optimistic about the future of Guitar Hero. “I think we’ll see some fresh ideas and I’m predicting we’ll see a single-band centric game from a band like the Red Hot Chili Peppers before next fall, when we’ll almost certainly see Guitar Hero 7.”

But regardless of whether or not the genre does undergo a major shake-up doesn’t diminish the fact that it needs to evolve because as the sales numbers show, the fanbase is slowly losing interest, or at the least, they’re not investing as much money into their virtual rock careers as they once were. While titles like Rock of the Dead and the DJ Hero franchise represent interesting steps into unexplored territory, Guitar Hero and Rock Band are still the main draws — think of it as the difference between small indie bands exploring new sonic avenues and established acts that can fill an entire arena. While experimentation and innovation is important, the genre’s future viability is still hinged upon the success of the two core franchises. That’s why Bright wants to ensure that the reasons fans fell in love with rhythm games aren’t forgotten.

“We [want to] make sure we stay true to the music and gameplay,” he says, and that’s a good goal for anyone working on a rhythm game to keep in mind.

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