These drums need a new hit. Photo (CC-BY) Nathan Forget.

There’s no more brutal opponent than elevated expectations. At least, that’s one explanation for the recent meltdown of the triple-A music gaming franchises. Harmonix, company that gave birth to the modern instrument genre saw both of its creations hit hard times in recent weeks. Activision gave Guitar Hero the axe [Wired], terminating the division, its employees, and a future game in the franchise Harmonix originally created. Harmonix got an extra life, at least, but it wasn’t pretty: the LA Times reports that Viacom unloaded the company – and some $100 million in liabilities – for the selling price of fifty bucks. A fight over performance payments reportedly remains unresolved.

In recent days, I’ve heard an attitude from many musicians that boils down to “good riddance.” Many serious musicians have long mistrusted these titles’ plastic instruments and linear game play. I think that’s short-sighted on two counts. For one, music games are here to stay. And for another, that should be good news for music, not bad.

Music games still have some serious business potential ahead. Business and technology are rife with examples of failures to appreciate natural cycles in demand. It’d be just as mistaken to underestimate the growth potential in the slump as to overestimate – as Viacom clearly did – that same potential in the boom. And that means opportunities for artists, and a chance to make music gaming a gateway to real musical study. “It’s just not the same as playing a real instrument,” say the naysayers. That, to me, is promising – it means that gaming could naturally lead to playing instruments.

While hard data on the transition from gaming to musical study is hard to find, anecdotal evidence sure isn’t. I’ve seen people wind up getting deeper into music production, music lessons, playing in bands, and studying percussion, guitar, and music because these games – silly as this may sound – helped make them feel comfortable with playing an instrument. Critics say these games sell a fantasy of musicianship, without the pain and agony. I say that’s the whole point: the long tradition of music isn’t a field just for specialists. It’s a world in which everyone is involved in musical practice. They play together and sing together. Extended feelings about this are perhaps best kept to a separate rant, but I see no reason, then, why these titles can’t have broad appeal.

Even if by psychological trick, something about music games has the power to telegraph to people who are afraid of being musicians that musicianship can be okay. It can be fun. It can be okay to embarrass yourself in front of your friends. (If that isn’t required in musical expression, I don’t know what is.) Music isn’t just meant to be heard – you should sing along and play along with your favorites.

Discounting such power would be a huge mistake. And fortunately, I believe there’s plenty of evidence that this new medium – among many other media for expressing and promoting music – will survive and flourish, benefiting pro and amateur musicians alike.

For people who are specialists, the Rock Band Network lives on as another avenue through which artists might build demand for their music – and both direct and indirect revenue, by extension. It could also be a model for other ideas beyond consoles and Harmonix.

Musicians should also consider the competition, both because this is more of a battle between music games and war games than plastic and real instruments, but also because the skewed numbers of the games business set an impossibly-high bar for music games.

So, talking points:

War sells better than music – at least on game consoles. “Failure” for music games is nothing to sneeze at. The Associated Press reports that Rock Band did just shy of $1.3 billion in the US alone, while the (older) Rock Band franchise hit almost $2.5 billion. The problem is that hype around music gaming may have overstated its short-term revenue potential, particularly when you start bringing bands like The Beatles into the action. And simply put, it’s tough to compete with the scale of war games. Also from that AP story (and many others), Call of Duty: Black Ops hit $1 billion worldwide in six weeks. That’s without people slavishly transcribing guitar solos or doing deals with record companies and artists and paying license fees. So, the question is, why aren’t musicians rooting for music over war? Heck, I enjoy non-musical games to unwind, so nothing against them, but I like the idea that musical experiences would survive on these platforms, too.

…but those sales did look really awful. The sudden collapse of music game sales is rightfully troubling. Guitar Hero in particular unraveled; Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock sold only 86,000 copies versus some one and a half million of Guitar Hero III in 2007, says Wired.

So, what were the factors in that demise? Fall 2010 was the year of Kinect; its sales, in a tough economic season for gaming, was impressive. Against that backdrop and hype for war titles, you’d ideally want some serious marketing muscle in order to compete. But if Activision and Viacom were already looking to shut down or sell their properties, they may simply have cut their losses and failed to spend on marketing. That hasn’t been disclosed that I’ve found, so consider this pure speculation, but on the other hand, when I went to buy a “keytar” controller for Rock Band 3 to review for CDM, I found no in-store marketing and the store associates literally barely knew the thing was available, even sitting in their storeroom. It’s a cut-throat business, and if you don’t invest in marketing, you lose.

Music gaming is going strong as ever – if you don’t ignore the “casual” and mobile markets. Music games were never the main draw on consoles. But on mobile – platforms already associated with music consumption, and with a certain player called Apple involved in sales – things may be different. Just ask Tapulous, the startup developer of Tap Tap Revenge and other titles that was acquired by Disney last year. They were even able to unseat the mighty Angry Birds on top sales lists – well, okay, briefly. But given far lower overhead, explosive mobile growth, and more disposable content, they seem a reasonable financial bet.

None of that is necessarily good news for Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Well, unless you count…

The Madden Factor could mean 2011 won’t be like 2010. Critics – rightfully happier as users with competition between franchises – once predicted the demise of football games when Madden NFL won the rights to US pro football. Instead, Madden has become an evergreen title, selling on every platform, and remaining a big-budget, big-revenue hit. Like the music games, it simulates the real thing – well enough that even actual football players often unwind by playing it. Like Rock Band 3, it’s insanely demanding of its players; to play in pro mode, you need knowledge of playbooks and formations that rival pro coaches while using the manual dexterity of an origami master.

If its new owners can unload the debts and correct the management missteps of Viacom, could Rock Band 3 – now with no natural predators on consoles – spring back to more sales?

Sounds like a safe bet to me. It’s worth noticing…

Troubles began in 2007, with the Guitar Hero-Rock Band split. Having two music platforms didn’t work out all that well. Nor did, evidently, the elevated expectations from new corporate owners Activision and Viacom, respectively.

And Harmonix has its fingers in the two successful growth areas. Console investment involves big risk, more so with music contracts. But Harmonix has its upfront investment in its platforms taken care of – and they can make money on other platforms, too. They’ve done mobile games before; though they lack a big hit, that’s a no-brainer to hedge their bets going forward, without the same investment risk. And while on mobile they face lots of competition, pay attention to those Kinect sales: the new Harmonix Dance Central was one of the only launch titles that got positive reviews. Kinect development is far more challenging, and Harmonix has a great relationship with Microsoft.

The titles were hits; now it’s a test of the platform. War games (and Madden, for that matter) require that you buy new games every year. The result: consistent sales. Music titles, requiring new hardware accessories, wound up competing with themselves – do you buy the downloadable content, or the new game? And once you have your favorite tunes loaded, given the depth of these games, why not just keep practicing (or switch to real instruments and learn music properly) rather than buy more games?

It’s a tall order, but that means that rather than oversaturate the market, Harmonix may need to provide more reason to download more music. With pro mode, it could even morph into something that allows you to practice prior to working on a real instrument. And as it happens…

Content is coming, including on the Rock Band Network. As we’ve covered previously, Rock Band 3 finally gives musician gamers and artists publishing work the serious features they need. It’s the deep, real-transcription gameplay that critics of previous titles should theoretically appreciate. It even allows the use of real MIDI instruments for input, and includes keyboard, vocal, and guitar input that could actually serve as musical practice. As such, though, it may also take a longer time to win over gamers.

The RB3 title was out in the fall, but content that can take advantage of it is coming in the near future, including music produced by independent artists through the Rock Band Network. John Drake from Harmonix updates CDM on the progress of content for Rock Band 3.

The creators on RB are closing in on 1,000 songs that they’ve created in under a year. This feat is pretty astounding and we’re insanely lucky to have a passionate community. RBN and traditional DLC continues to sell well and with launches like “London Calling” by The Clash, we’re still bringing AAA content to our music platform. We’re committed to continuing to grow the franchise through DLC releases and we’re confident that we’re providing content that die hard band gamers want.

The gaming industry right now talks about user-generated content, but especially with the addition of Pro mode, Rock Band is one of those precious few titles that might actually deliver.

Plastic soul: don’t tell naysayers, but in the era of music gaming, instrument sales, music sales, and musicianship have all grown, both by monetary and anecdotal standards. Too bad music education hasn’t done the same, but that’s not gaming’s fault. Photo (CC-BY) Josh Berglund.

Crests are easy. Troughs make you strong. The boom-and-bust cycle is part of both the gaming and music industries. It’s easy to look only for growth, only for hits, but it’s really trial-by-failure that tends to make something mature into a real business.

So, I’ll conclude with the official statement from Harmonix, which they issued on the death of Guitar Hero, the title they created:

We were sad to hear yesterday that Activision was discontinuing development on Guitar Hero. Our thoughts are with those who are losing their jobs, and we wish them the best of luck.

The discontinuation of Guitar Hero is discouraging news for fans of the band game genre. As retail sales of Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles have slowed with time, we’ve been focused on building a robust digital platform for music gaming and have recently crested 2,500 songs available for play within Rock Band 3.

Harmonix and Rock Band continue to push beyond simple performance simulation to pioneer new approaches to music gaming. Rock Band 3 saw the introduction of our innovative new Pro Mode, in which aspiring musicians of all ages can develop actual musical skills through gameplay on guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums. We’re looking forward to the imminent release of the Fender Squier Stratocaster Guitar Controller, a fully functional guitar which doubles as a Rock Band Pro controller (launching March 1st). We are also relaunching the Rock Band Network, a way for bands of all shapes and sizes to get their music into Rock Band. RBN just passed the 1000-songs mark, and it’s relaunch will now support keyboards, pro drums and vocal harmonies. The music genre is one that calls for constant reinvention, and Harmonix is continuing to welcome and embrace that call.

In short, the beat of Rock Band marches on. We’re continuing to invest in the franchise and the brand that we have built, and will do our best to serve all loyal band game fans. For rhythm gamers out there who haven’t yet given Rock Band a chance, Rock Band 3 software is compatible with a wide range of instruments, including most Guitar Hero controllers. Looking to the future, for fans that want to switch, we’d happily welcome you over into the world of Rock Band.

It’s been a wild battle of the bands since 2007, but we respect and appreciate all of the hard work and innovation of our peers who have shared the music gaming space with us, and we look forward to rocking in the future.

More background:
Party over for ‘Guitar Hero,’ but not music games [AP]

Previously:
Rock Band 3, Behind the Scenes: When A Music Game Gets More Real

  • http://www.musicwords.net Jim Aikin

    There's something to be said for music-making as an in-the-home activity among family and friends. But I see these products as a deplorable extension of the "it's easy!" mentality. Sometimes "it's easy" is totally valid — the washing machine and dryer were a huge effort-saver for housewives! But all too often products are way over-sold on that basis (among others). It ain't easy. It was never easy, and it's never going to be easy. If you think it's easy making music, get over it. That's my advice.

  • Peter Kirn

    Jim, in what way do music games extend the "it's easy" mentality?

    Easy in exclusion of hard, easy as a replacement for hard – I agree, these are bad. But like other console games, music games depend in part on being hard enough to be gripping – which, with the difficulty turned up, is actually pretty darned hard. 

    John Drake of Harmonix, also quoted above, called out the whole point of Rock Band 3 as being bloody difficult. My favorite quote was what he had to say to gamers who concluded that difficult music was easy: "Good luck on that solo, asshole.”

    But for that matter, is the "hard" as exclusive of the easy really musical integrity, or just (easy) musical elitism?Actual music making as a collective activity *is* easy. Banging a drum is easy. Singing is easy. Playing a kazoo is easy. Dancing is easy. Robbing people of these pleasures in the celebration only of the superstar and super-specialist are part of how music very nearly transformed cultures of musical participants into passive musical consumers. That would have been a tragedy, had it come to pass. The fight against that goes on.

    Why not – just as in games – have a full spectrum? Why not celebrate challenge, but without drawing a hard, fast line between what's "real" and what's not, what's legitimate and what's not? Is there any way to do that that *isn't* simply elitist?

  • http://truecip.org peter

    The problem with the madden comparisons is that the nfl is arguably the most successful sport in the USA, and the music industry is starting to make the auto industry look good.

    Thinking about it, After you mastered stairway, there are only so many games worth paying before you get the formula. A game of madden, no matter how incremental the yearly update offers millions of variations per play cycles. I think GH's death can be blamed more on stifled development than on any bigger music industry trend.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Peter: actually, that's an interesting point, and speaking to Jim's complaint, it's possible that Madden is *deeper* than RB/GH in terms of gameplay structure. 

    (Music, of course, is still plenty deep, but not necessarily as a game.)

  • griotspeak

    Not to be too negative, but cost is really the big hurdle for me. I am impressed and enthused, but new instruments cost. new instruments are not absolutely necessary but i do equate RB3 with the pro guitar.

    That said…i still may buy the pro midi adapter and RB3 to get some keyboard love.

    it sucks because the prices are reasonable, but that doesn't fix the fact that need more money.

  • vanceg

    I'm not a gamer. I also have serious suspicion of any technology that masks the complexities of music making – enabling apparently complex musical passages to be created at the single press of a button, for example.

    But – I have to say that watching people play Guitar Hero REALLY warmed my heart and gave me great hope for music making: Sure – Players of Guitar Hero don't have to think about precisely what note they are playing, or harmonic structure, or many other aspects of making music that those of us who might call our selves "Musicians" have dedicated a great deal of time and effort to learning. But I think the naysayers are focusing too much on specific aspects of making music and performing.

    What about community building? What about not being afraid to make a fool of yourself in front of people if you make a mistake? I've watched groups of people really bond while playing Rock Band. I've seen people come out of their shells, be excited, feel like they are communing with others…that's ONE of the things I love about playing with other "real" musicians.

    It strikes me that Guitar Hero and this ilk can serve a great purpose, very much like gathering around the piano in the living room used to for so many families. SURELY we don't think that the (often 'folk' ) music that thousands of families played on their home pianos was particularly complex. Nor were many folks singing in tune. What if they were playing the Autoharp? That's basically pressing a button and strumming a bunch of strings. I bet the rhythm of that strum didn't even have to be AS accurate as a button press in Guitar Hero…yet that's somehow considered a valid form of musical communion.

    My point is that there are SO many valuable aspects to playing and participating in musical activities that I don't think 'musicians' should be so quick to write off the potential richness and value of music based gaming.

  • vanceg

    On the flipside of my own point:

    It could also be said that these musical games add an unnecessary level of mediation between people and this community building that I'm advancing: You have to buy a game. You are 'stuck' with the Pop oriented music presented in the game. But I say that the flashy lights and familiarity of the music in these games acts as a way to eliminate some of the apprehension that many people feel about playing music together…. and that is a great thing.

  • Adam

    I agree with the point about the gameplay not being deep enough. Activision found a formula and pushed it too far without innovating. Typical big-company game development mentality. The endless stream of too-similar games over-saturated the market with no real hook to keep people coming back. "A new version again? I get a few new songs, so what?" IMO, when it comes to new music, there's much more a draw to purchasing actual albums and enjoying them anywhere, than there is for getting an interactive form of the music that you can only play at home in front of the game console TV.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/joeld42/ Joel Davis

    I've always been into playing music off and on. I've never been all that good, but it's fun. I'm the stereotypical bedroom guitarist type.

    One of the things I struggled with, like most people, was rhythm. When Guitar Hero and Rock band came along, I got into it with all my friends and family. I wasn't playing any "real" music at the time, but I played quite a bit of guitar hero.

    Now that I'm playing again, I suddenly realized that I can play in time. Not perfect, but close enough and now it just takes a bit of practice instead of feeling like I'll never get it. The unintended consequence of playing so much guitar hero was unlocking something that's always been a stumbling block for me. So if nothing else, those games have made a difference to me.

  • griotspeak

    I disagree about gameplay not being deep enough. Keyboards and the pro guitars are plenty deep. plenty.

  • http://lowbroweye.com Anthony Bowyer-Lowe

    As I see it, one of the problems with the music games we're discussing here is that they were based around the consumption and replay of existing music rather than allowing people to create their own original music.

    This leads to strange results such as the need for an ever expanding content catalogue of which each customer may only be interested in a fraction; long transcription, re-recording, game-ification and testing processes; crazy rights licensing negotiations (even Sony Computer Entertainment have to spend around 6 weeks negotiating rights for every song they want to release on SingStar *even* if the rights are held by Sony Music!); exaggerated boom & bust economics as the recording industry grasped at the opportunity to cash-in on a new cash-cow; anti-consumer bundles of desirable songs with b-side material; and frustrated customer expectations as they realise that they can't just jam away on their own.

    For sure, the Rock Band Network fulfils some of the requirements for user generated content but installing and using Reaper is hardly a painless endeavour for, say, the average mom. I also believe some of the games do allow for freeform jamming but personally I stopped the music games a few years back because Guitar Hero 1 & 2 contain sufficient cool content to keep myself and friends amused on our infrequent drunken gaming sessions – there just wasn't a sufficiently compelling reason to upgrade and replace the existing investment in plastic controllers.

    Even in the large music tech company I used to work for there was a common assumption that the buyers would only play existing music and not create their own. The idea of jamming away often received a knee-jerk fear reaction regarding the need for derivative work licenses. Which kind of misses the fundamental fact that all the existing music was once original (albeit influenced by that which came before as with most art).

    However, I feel that there is a great opportunity for game-ish solutions which do encourage and stimulate original creative musical urges in users without going full-on into music tech concepts and terminology that require prior experience or documentation study: VCF, channel, dBs, OSC IP addresses, etc are meaningful to us lot but a barrier to "normal" people who just want to unwind and explore. The success of a lot of these more artistic musical toys such as Thicket and co suggest this and I look forward to exciting growth in this area.

    Uh, that turned out kinda long. Apologies for the rant. ;)

  • danny s

    loving the thought of all the hundreds of thousands of plastic controllers getting thrown in the garbage.  wasteful transient capitalist fad hero!

  • http://starrlabs.blogspot.com/ Scott Caligure

    Hey Peter,

    We just read your really great post on the recent demise and future potential of music gaming franchises and their respective technologies/concepts. We have to be in total agreement with you. When developing and prototyping the RC, we had in mind games/software that weren't yet available or even designed (RB3 not withstanding…) 'Games' where one may interact with other 'players/musicians' in online 'rehearsal rooms', or intensive musical/playing techniques and learning environments. We knew a mid-priced yet robust instrument/controller would be needed to handle a musicians needs while providing a dynamic spectrum of programmability in order to keep pace while the user/musician grows in proficiency. We also believe that the days of the stand-alone gaming platform might be in decline, and that users whether gamers, players, and/or musicians are demanding a more creative, learning/teaching interaction.

    Scott Caligure

    scott@starrlabs.com

    858.271.9827
    http://www.starrlabs.com http://starrlabs.blogspot.com/ http://www.starrlabs.com/starrlabs_forum/

  • Clayton

    This is a tricky discussion because it becomes clear that the knowledge people have of the genre is often limited to Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Understandable as they are the only music games moving billions of dollars around, but a lot of the complaints I'm seeing here seem to stem from that lack of context.

  • http://lowbroweye.com Anthony Bowyer-Lowe

    You make a good point, Clayton.

    Rock Band and Guitar Hero get all the recognition because they are easy to immediately grasp, market (hey, play The Beatles!), and review by video-game journalists who approach the subject from an (understandably) pure game context.

    The more interesting innovative titles – Electroplankton, Daigasso! Band Brothers, tranquility, Otocky, FreQuency, etc – get written off as weird (sometimes appropriately!) and niche and thus fail to grab mind-share.

    There's got be some way of broaching the accessibility gap and evolving the market but it's a difficult situation now that the plastic controller Bemani genre has taken such a firm hold. Every time I've mentioned music games to game industry people or gamers their first response generally "oh, like Guitar Hero, then?"

  • http://www.redcapsly.com Mr Sly

    As you say Peter -There seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting Guitar Hero and Rockband as a gateway products (no actual data though) – however, i have also read statements, from those in the MI industry, saying the exact opposite.

    Anthony's point is well made – with respect to jamming (the derivative work license made me laugh very loudly). I think learning prexisting works (formally or informally) and informal playing, jamming or music making (via a game based app, recording in a DAW or simply hitting bins) should have a equal weight in music pedegogy. In fact some recent studies in music pyschology support the idea that informal playing (or jamming) actually enhances formal directed learning.

    Playing an instrument at expert level takes years of study and there is a place for such a level of ability. I celebrate musical elitism- if we were all at the same level of ability it would be a very very boring place musically. That being said, making music in a group format, or alone does not require years of study or even the ability to play an instrument- it is something that can be engaged in at any level.

    There are emerging products that support the democratisation of music making and i applaud such endevours.The fact that these apps may give the impression that learning an instrument is *easy* is irrelevant to me. If it turns users from passive consumption to active music making, of any kind, that's good in my book.

    Just don't ask me to come down from my ivory tower to listen to the cacophony of the masses ;-)

  • Billy K

    uh.. I wonder what Fender (squire) and their new Pro Guitar think about this? will they quit their marketing too? should i snag a midi guitar from them before its too late?    (there is some midi channel issues with it anyway right?)

  • jonah

    @Anthony Bowyer-LoweI agree that a problem with the big name music games is that they lack content creation, but I don't think you have to get into vcf's and the like. Composition is where it's at! I vaguely remember using some edutainment programs in grade school in the 90's that let you play with composition, but there doesn't seem to be much out there.  

    Honestly, I'd play a game that improved my knowledge rather than tested my reflexes. I use sequencers and samplers for a reason!

    Guitar hero just felt like the old game Simon on steroids. I suppose it could be good at training you to be a member of an orchestra. Not that there's anything wrong with that ;)

    I agree music games might have made it easier to act foolish in public, but so has reality TV. :p

  • http://www.holotropik.com Holotropik

    Glad it failed

    Guitar Hero = DJ

    (Not to mention DJ Hero which made me LOL so hard I wee'd my pants)

    Same mentality of disposable content that does nothing for creative evolution. Just gimme gimme gimme.

    Yeah maybe a few people will be drawn into music more directly but that is a long bow to draw considering of the people that do try to step across to real music will just cry that it's too hard…WAH WAH WAH!!

  • goofy priest

    i was hoping RB's the beatles would help my kids develop a sense of timing and rhythm. and expose them to better music then they were getting elsewhere. they were 7 and 8 at the time.

    the problem is they hardly ever used it. it just couldn't compete with mario or pokemon.

    i think that's the real issue.

  • poopoo

    11 years ago, Samba De Amigo on the dreamcast helped me take my maraca playing to a new level.

    I'd like to see next generation music games that use real instruments instead of plastic controllers and get away from the idea of pretending to be a rock star. There was a video of mortal combat controlled by two classical guitar. I think that line of thinking is the way to go. Maybe a voice based RPG where you play a Siren from Roman mythology? The way music was used in the Zelda Ocarina of Time game could be extended and involve real instruments.

  • mckenic

    @ Scott

    A "a mid-priced yet robust instrument/controller" from Starr Labs would ALWAYS be welcome IMHO! I would like to eventually retire my yamaha ag ez having babied it for so long, and move into the 21st century! Please get it right Starr Labs!

    Im so used to quantization and perfectly 'in-sync' music, it was a nice surprise to play Beatles Rock Band over Christmas… things sped-up and slowed down, ever so slightly drifted out of time with where I was 'expecting' the next event :)

    Also, given Activisions past form (Infinity Ward anyone?) – its not so surprising to see no leeway if something is not 'performing' at 110%…

  • Peter Kirn

    @Mr Sly: What was the argument of people in MI that music games were hurting their sales? I believe you; I just never saw that that was the case. A couple of years ago, everybody in MI was trying to hitch their wagon to gaming – NAMM was covered with Guitar Hero and Rock Band rigs, Xboxes out on the show floor, and manufacturers trying to get endorsements. So I wonder how much of this is just disappointment that music games didn't rescue the business. Generally speaking, though, we've seen some MI growth. It's really hard to attribute this to games or not – a bit like trying to track global warming based on whether it's snowing out or not. But it'd be really tough to point to any evidence that says these games have done harm.

    As others say, of course, these titles aren't above criticism. And yes, I'm pleased there are many other ideas about what "music gaming" might be. Don't forget, Harmonix started out as a scrappy independent developer with experimental ideas, too. It was worth focusing on RB/GH here in that they have become these enormous hits – and fell just as hard. But you know, that's the nature of this business. It was rough seeing the Guitar Hero team get canned and the title canceled, but I've talked to other game developers who've seen projects scrapped – this is hardly unique to music games. And there's plenty to suggest Rock Band will get through this and go on to do just fine.

    As for this question of music value — I'm the last person to say music has to be easy. I think the question is whether you devalue a musical expression just because it is easy. That's where I get uncomfortable. In this case, it's a game, it's a simulation, and I think all parties involved are clear on that. If that simulation gets people into a mindset that they explore music, all the better.

    Certainly, a lot of what you do as a musician – practicing scales, for instance – *is* about repetitive tasks and building your chops. So that raises a lot of questions in the long term about what games might eventually mean.

  • Peter Kirn

    Extra points for any mention of Samba de Amigo… ;)

  • GreaterThanZero

    Rock Band is a social activity you can plan parties around.  It needn't be new, it needn't be innovative.  My song library is a long-term investment that's served me well for years now, and I add to it because that keeps the experience new.  I don't have much that supports groups; that people not playing are content to watch.  This serves that need.

    Rock Band 3 is not about the Pro Guitar.  It's about adding keyboard and vocal harmonies, and a ton of great tracks we've been waiting forever to play.  Pro Guitar isn't a factor in this scenario.

    Understand, pro mode is great solo, or when playing with other heavily invested players, but I rarely play solo, and my friends aren't heavily invested.  What I need from my music game isn't that, but it is a nice option on top of the other stuff.

    Anyway, from a "social experience" standpoint, Guitar Hero never quite worked.  Their transcriptions were usually better, but library management was an issue.  They picked great songs, but didn't offer enough of them, or enough variety.  I think Rock Band, especially through the Rock Band Network, can keep any group happy.  That's not to say it can keep any individual happy, but I have other games for that.

  • matt

    I would preface by saying that I am both a musician and a huge supporter of Rockband.  I have bought every title and a lot of DLC, but I feel that the problem lies in the content after awhile. 

    They need to figure out ways to deliver more content.  My days of buying $2 songs are over because the excitement is stale so soon.  Offer 100 songs for $30 and I would be seriously tempted.  As it is now, I'd rather go buy a grande coffee than a song I am marginally interested in.

  • http://identica.ca/reverendgreg Greg

    The controllers are cool the way any unusual, well-thought-out game controller is cool, but I don't see why anyone cares about this besides people who like the games. There will be more weird games/interfaces to follow it.

  • http://www.readydot.net READYdot

    Seriously! -> Good riddance! Every argument for these games is futile. It is absolutely stupid! I mean games like Parappa the Rapper were glorious moments in gaming history as is SingStar (you like really sing) but all those Guitar Hero and Band Hero and what the heck stupid smash the buttons in a totally obscure way, with a game controller that looks like a guitar… come on seriously.

  • http://regend.com Regend

    i bought a Kinect and made it work on OS X. i helped a friend shoot a music video with th Kinect featuring Travis Barker. watch for it! that's the direction of merging music and video games ha!

  • Andrew Garlock

    I have to say… I am sooooo in love with Rock Band. And this is why. 

    When I was in high school my friend taught me to play power chords so I could play taking back sunday covers while he butchered his drums. It was mostly a joke, and it never would have stuck if it was SO EASY! One thing led to another, and I started voice lessons, played in bands, and now I'm 21 and studying voice in University. The music I play and sing now is "real" music, but I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for three chords and the truth. Rock band is simply that for a lot of people, and will soon be a lot more I believe with real instruments. I will definitely be getting a stringed controller for my house. I will be encouraging room mates to give it a shot, my one room mate is a proficient drummer now after getting started on RB. 

    All I want to say is: don't hate. Try rock band drums and tell me that they aren't going to help someone learn percussion as a legitimate instrument.

  • http://wordsoundpower.org midihendrix

    this is disappointing news. i thought we were on the brink of a revolution in music education – especially with products like the finger position recognizing squier guitar

  • Jorge from Madrid

    @Peter Kirn

    @Jonah and Holotropik

    I think Johah summarized it with one phrase: "Guitar hero just felt like the old game Simon on steroids"… and I admit it, I'm not a gamer, but (flame risk here): Since when "gaming" became so deep that has to be taken seriously?. Don't you realize that RB or GH is to music like Arma or Call Of Duty are to law enforcement and the military?. All my respect ot the programmers but… Those "musical games" could be played without audio!!! Just go to any store and watch the kids following the lights!. Some people call them "rhythm games" for a reason, and there's nothing wrong with that, but please stop compare them with real music making. BeatMaker or Elektroplankton are musical games, the Heros are not. Sure, beating Rock Band's drums get closer to the real deal, but the guitar is simply a joke… and don't even get me started on the "Dj Hero".

    Ok, ok, some young people discovered great music (among the small pop/rock oriented choices the product offers) through a videogame, then got hooked to music. I'm not mocking players or the joy they get just to fool around, but I see my local charity shop filled with plastic guitar controllers just a couple of months after Christmas. GH or RB don't make you a musician the same way Tony Hawk don't make you a skater. I think some people will get the music once exposed to it, but some of them will ignore it anyway.

    Videogame industry want to increase the quality of a simple dull idea putting REAL ART (the songs) along some disponsable content. Yes, some people will love that art, but for me all the button-smashing was always secondary. They're charging more for a fake propietary "drum interface" than the price of a basic (novice) drum kit… sorry, but I really don't get the "game" factor there.

    Please, don't get me wrong: I agree most of Peter's points in the article, and I still don't forget gaming is an industry creating jobs; but I think the very simple IDEA of the interest of music associated with some dull corporate and overpriced product with flashy cartoon graphics takes almost all of the joy of rock'n'roll out of the experience. Yeah, music could be simple, raw and in-your-face… SO please, somebody gives the kids a real guitar and a loud amp to make pure noise. Let the kids take the record back and forth againts the needle and annoy their parents. Make some toy that actually MAKES NOISE when pressed, not some parody of a piano roll that gives you extra scores.

    Forgive me if I sound too passionate about it, but I really don't think the world need Activision to ROCK.

  • Doc Tasman

    A deep explanation isn't necessary.

    Guitar Hero / Rock Band just get boring pretty quickly. 

    Sales were propped up by silicon valley after-work stoner types. But even they started getting bored.

  • http://workgringo.com gringo

    It got old. New versions aren't new enough, the gameplay is still the same.

    I think a factor that has not been mentioned is that there is only enough room for plastic instruments in one's house.

  • jonah

    Oh, where the F is Mario Paint 2!? That was probably one of my gateway drugs. Wii edition, please.

    Supposedly, Moon WIring Club uses MTV Music Generator. (great music, check 'em out)&nbsp ;http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2010/nov/23/moon-wiring-club

    Neither of these are games per se, but especially with Mario Paint there is an element of fun and whimsy that I associate with video games…although there are plenty of serious and angry(!) gamers, haha.

  • Dumeril Seven

    Frankly, musicians over-think this. Gamers don't imagine they're soldiers because they play Call Of Duty, or believe they're competitive on the field because they play Madden Football. And they don't fancy themselves musicians because they have a high Rock Band score. The "easy" mentality just doesn't apply here IMO. Football players don't seem to have an issue with Madden. Why do musicians have an issue with music games? I suspect it has a lot of do with insecurity; they imagine a world in which their efforts and talents aren't properly appreciated.

  • synthfiend

    I am an owner, player, and fan of Rock Band 3. I almost never played any game that came before, because I play real keyboards. I was extremely excited about the addition of Pro Keys in Rock Band 3, and it hasn't gotten old fast for me.

    What I do think needs to happen quickly to move Rock Band 3 ahead though, is more Pro content – LOTS more, with variety far beyond the rock/classic rock genres.

    I also think that, while later than it should have been, the Squier Pro Guitar Controller truly is a big deal. It will be interesting to see how quickly things develop once it is available – I hope that a whole new "pro" music gaming contingent is created as a result.

  • LeMel

    @Dumeril Seven:

    Thanks, that really hits home. I've never been able to figure out the hatorade some musicians ladle onto these games. Like auto-tune, there is absolutely no harm done to actual singers – T-Pains won't stop Adeles from happening.

    Lack of innovation that tracked users' evolution, combined with an abandonment of aggresive marketing are the whole story here. The genre will come back because someone's going to make something compelling.

  • http://www.freakeasy.net Justin Reed

    great discussion – it's interesting to read so many divergent opinions on the value and validity of this genre of gaming.

    One thing that i have not heard mentioned here that was amazing for me is how playing virtualized approximation of songs gets you into the structure of the composition in a really unique way.

    I have two personal examples from my own experience. Playing drums on difficult on many The Who songs opens up a world of amazing dynamic drumming virtuosity composed by ther late great keith moon. I have played hundreds of different drum patterns in RB and i can say there is nothing quite like these and they are a JOY to play. A similar experience was had playing old black sabbath material but this time with the bass guitar parts. When i realized that the bass parts for Sabbath would sometimes solo along with the guitar solos my mind was effectively blown. a general appreciation of bass on the whole in rock music has also set in for me as playing these bass parts (or hearing the songs with no bass due to an inexperienced player) really drives forth the rhythmic foundation of the bass in the music.

    Just listening to these songs did not inform the same level of appreciation for me – getting into the structure and hearing the couterplay between instruments makes me appreciate why these classics are classics.

  • strunkdts

    Rockband and their ilk are Whackness of the highest order. Honestly, have you seen/played that shit?

  • http://www.myspace.com/keatshandwriting Keats' Handwrit

    I play guitar, drums and keys–but let's just say that I'm not the best at any of them.  I never owned Rock Band, but purchased an Xbox 360 and all the expensive periphials (keys, midi guitar, midi converter) for the price of less than one music class at the community college.  Just a few days ago, I just purchased my Fender Squire that doubles as a Rock Band controller and midi tracking.  At under $300, it was a steal.  I'm loving learning playing solos with it– and my gf a non musician has even started working through the guitar tutorials.  

    For me, Rock Band has made practicing drums, keys and guitar fun — and that makes Rock Band worth every penny.  Moreover, I can practice while hanging out with my g/f and non-musician friends who can enjoy the music at the level they are at.  On top of it all, I've got some great midi controllers for a very reasonable price… 

    Thanks Peter for this great article! :)