Noticeably absent from 2011: Music instrument games
Its not so much news at this point, but for a genre that was once considered a huge new cash cow for gaming it is a bit telling. The music genre was hugely underrepresented this year without the flagship titles of Rock Band or Guitar Hero, the latter being outright dumped by Activision earlier in the year.
I think it goes without saying that this has now been confirmed as a fad and will forever go into the annals of history as one of those quickly-selling and quickly-forgotten genres.
But what a run it had! At one point Activision was employing hundreds of employees to pump out game-after-game, sometimes several in a single year. I believe the consistent release schedule for a game that requires such expensive hardware to play eventually became the victim of its own success, people just became wary of new plastic instruments each year as a huge strain on their wallets. Sure, usually one could find the games without a guitar or drum bundle, but knowing this each iteration usually tried to make the latest guitar more appealing.
Its sad to see, because personally I fell in love with the genre, purchasing who-knows-how-much in songs for Rock Band and Rock Band 2. Upon Rock Band 3’s release, I even purchased the new-fangled key-tar peripheral, which I thought would be well worth it. Turns out I’ve barely touched the thing more than a year after purchasing. I’ll attribute a lot of it to the time constraints of my new adult lifestyle, one that has a full-time job, but even before getting Rock Band 3 I had long quit the genre. The Beatles: Rock Band saw quite a bit of playtime for a few months, but after it my interest waned greatly. At one point it was my favorite way to listen to music and pass the time, it now feels vexing to have to pull out the instruments when compared to just turning on Spotify for a few minutes.
Harmonix probably still has something up it sleeve, they being those who originally perfected the formula of today’s guitar-button, up-scrolling music game. Currently it looks like they’ve shifted their focus over to the Dance Central series, which is in its own way a sort of music genre game, but not in the same vein as Guitar Hero or Rock Band once was.
Some may also argue that the dance game could be the natural replacement for this once-great genre, but I don’t personally see this having the mass appeal that a plastic guitar or microphone had. There are limitations to most people’s living room space, a big requirement to flailing your arms about. And perhaps the biggest impedence is that its a much, much higher leap to gain perfection in dancing than perfection in hitting buttons at the right time (the same could be said for vocals). Inevitably I see the “dance craze” with games like Dance Central and Just Dance eventually fading away, I personally enjoy them, but only in one-off settings. They won’t get the sort of nightly runs that I used to do on Guitar Hero 2’s “Freebird” before attaining perfection of it, or the insane amount of time I sunk into learning how to play the drums so I could play them on Expert in Rock Band. No, they’re fun distractions and that’s all I see them as.
For a genre I once envisioned sharing with my (eventual) children, its disappointing to see how little of a showing it got this year, its demise seems pretty clearly written on the wall. My only hope is that somehow in some way Harmonix can steer this ship back and reinvigorate its old user base, but I am not holding my breath.