It all started with a plastic guitar and an assortment of covered rock tracks, before eventually blowing up into a monolith in the gaming industry. The rhythm genre defined gaming for many players for a number of years and its fall was almost as spectacular as its rise, as over-saturation of the market led to players collectively turning their backs on the costly titles once it had gotten to the point where both Harmonix and Activision were releasing a couple every year.
Since about 2010 the genre has been on something of a hiatus and it is entirely possible that the gaming public is once again open to blowing the cobwebs off their plastic instruments and strumming along to some of the world’s greatest rock stars.
With the fairly recent announcements of both Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4, it is an attitude shift that the major players are banking on, but is it something that is actually going to happen?
The Early Days
While it is easy to think that Guitar Hero invented the rhythm genre, it had actually existed for a long time before Harmonix’s game popularised the idea of pressing buttons along to music. The likes of Parappa the Rapper and the Dance Dance Revolution series had shown there was some demand, but it had always remained something of a niche genre.
The same was true when Guitar Hero came along, with the game building something of a cult following that acted as the foundation for its later explosion in popularity. Guitar Hero 2 only built on that, but it was with Harmonix’s split from Activision leading to the creation of rivaling series that things really kicked into high gear.
The Boom Period
With that split and Harmonix’s eventual partnership with EA and MTV, the genre exploded in popularity. Rock stars wanted to be a part of it, assuming they weren’t complaining about how people should be playing real instruments, and both Rock Band and Guitar Hero started to see regular releases and band-specific editions.
All of this would be fine, if said releases were DLC. After all, the core gameplay hadn’t really changed all that much from the first games. However, with each new release came another set of plastic instruments, carrying a hefty price tag. Even without them, players were being charged full price for what essentially amounted to extended track packs in many cases.
While Guitar Hero was perhaps a little guiltier of this, both eventually suffered and the entire genre seemed to implode under its own weight, with both major players and the many offshoots they inspired almost disappearing overnight.
So are we ready for the return? On the plus side we have a new generation of consoles, which may offer developers some more chances to innovate. Plus you have to believe that both Harmonix and Activision have learned something from the mistakes of the past.
Furthermore, there has likely now been enough separation from the boom years to allow people to get back into the games, plus there is an influx of younger players who may end up experiencing the genre for the first time.
All in all, it’s not a bad gaming climate for the genre’s return. Whether the mainstream will care or not is up for debate, but the genre has no better chance of being revived than it does right now. If the two major players can’t do it, nobody can.
Lee Price is a freelance writer and general miscreant who enjoys video games, movies and making dreary situations better by adding copious amounts of alcohol. Follow him on Twitter @Mr_Lee2112 to read his random musings.