The Death of Guitar Hero
It seems that at least a couple of times in a decade we are introduced to what is advertised as the next big thing in gaming. When I first started getting seriously into gaming it seemed everybody was focusing on 3D. Not like the 3D movies that are coming out, but as in actual three dimensional playing fields within games. Another major evolution in gaming was the ultimate merger of the internet with video games. Like 3D, this has forever changed the landscape of modern day games. Nowadays, it seems like there is a major push for interactive gaming started by the Wii and then followed up by with the Kinect and PlayStation Move. The verdict is still out on if interactive will have a lasting effect like 3D and the internet, but what we do know though is that one of the early pioneers in this genre has already faded into obscurity. I am talking about nothing other than Guitar Hero.
Guitar Hero burst into the gaming scene in late 2005 with an awesome idea that was a bizarre mix of DDR and the Japanese hit GuitarFreaks. Guitar Hero appeared to be the ultimate party video game that could appeal to all demographics of people. Every Best Buy in the US set them up and you could see little kids playing alongside their parents. There was hardly a college dorm that did not have a Guitar Hero set up at some point in their common room. I was a skeptic of this game at first, but after an hour Best Buy session playing with a friend I was hooked (and yes, we were asked to get off so that others could play). The very next day I bought an Xbox 360 and the Guitar Hero 2 bundle was my very first game. At first I was totally awful. The concept of Hammer-ons and Pull-offs was totally foreign, but man the music was good at least. I loved GH2 so much that I longboarded five miles uphill on the release day of GH3 because I was so excited to play the new songs on it (thankfully, the ride back home was all downhill). This is where the obsession started. After investing so much time into the game I finally started to see improvements in my play. I was getting full combos on expert songs and it was then that I started to seek out a community of other dedicated players. I ran across Scorehero which was the main location that all the professionals went to post their achievements. I became familiar with all the top players and tracked their progress on trying to achieve full combos of the toughest songs on expert. I watched countless hours of videos of my favorite players tear up the hardest songs. I even posted some videos of my own, even though I was not quite at that level. I absolutely loved Guitar Hero and I’m sure I pissed off every single roommate that I had with how often I would play the same songs over and over. South Park even bought into the craze and made a (hilarious) episode parodying Guitar Hero.
Guitar Queer-O: Stan and Kyle try to go for 1,000,000 points. Later it is revealed to them that their 1,000,000 achievement makes them fags.
However, like anything great it had to come to an end. I still loved Guitar Hero, but other games came out that started to get my attention. Not only was I focusing on other games, but Guitar and Rock Band were releasing games so fast that I could no longer keep up. Not long after this, there started to be widespread reports of the rhythm game marking posting significant losses. The end of Guitar Hero was near. Then in February 2011, Activision announced they were killing off the Guitar Hero line. So what happened? How did a franchise that started from nothing in 2005, to become the most popular game in 2007, die by 2010? I’ll explain a few of the theories I have about how this happened.
The Madden Mist
One of the major reasons I see for the collapse of Guitar Hero is what I will call the Madden Mist. There are many things that have helped make the Madden franchise successful. It is a great series of games, so I do not want to come off as incredibly negative towards these games. However, one of the major aspects of their success is their ability to repackage nearly the same game every year and sell it for $60. Yes there are upgraded rosters, yes there are a few new gimmicky features, but really you are just getting the same game as the previous year with minor enhancements. Madden is successful at creating a perception in their fans that they need to buy this new version. Another example of this would be the Call of Duty series. Sure there is a new campaign story each time, but who buys COD for that? Outside of updated maps and weapons, the online game play is nearly identical from game to game.
This nice looking fellow’s judgement is definitely clouded by the Madden Mist.
It was Guitar Hero’s inability to create this mist in their consumer base that led to poor sales in their later releases. At first Guitar Hero was able to coast off their games uniqueness and improvements in the games engines. However, none of the games really added any novel feature with each progressive release other than to include a new set of songs. Unless you loved Aerosmith or Metallica, why would you pay full price to get those games when it offers the exact same experience as Guitar Hero 3? Why should I buy Guitar Hero 4 when the only extra feature it adds is a horribly put together “create your own song” feature? Guitar Hero 4 also added drums and vocals as new features as well, but I similarly did not consider this a must have feature because I already owned Rock Band 1 and Rock Band 2. Yes, this is not Guitar Hero’s fault, but it certainly made this feature less appealing to me especially considering I don’t want ANOTHER set of plastic drums sitting around the house. If Guitar Hero was unable to get their most dedicated fan base to see a reason to buy these games then there is little hope to get gamers at large wanting to buy these. This was the case and this inability to create compelling reasons to buy new iterations of the games eventually played a large role in leading to the death of the games. I think they should have spent less time over saturating the market with multiple small releases per year and instead focused on larger releases while continuing to release DLC for legacy games. On the other hand, maybe Activision knew there was a short half life on this franchise and was trying to milk it for all it was worth.
The Guitar Hero Phenom
Every game has its small (or sometimes large) niche of hardcore dedicated fans. Guitar Hero was the exact same. Everyday thousands of players would upload their scores to Scorehero and post their achievements in the forums. It felt like everybody was trying to accomplish the same thing which was to achieve mastery at every song in the game. When these games first came out it felt like the wild west. New high scores being posted every day and songs that seemed impossible one day, were FC’d the next. By the time Guitar Hero reached its peak there were some incredibly talented players that everybody was watching to see them accomplish the most impressive feats in the game. The most epic of which was the race to FC the beastly song that is “Through the Fire and Flames”. There were about five contenders who would constantly post status updates and videos of new sections that they had mastered. I remember when the section nicknamed the “Red Snake” was FC’d for the first time which proved to everybody that a full song FC was possible. Then in June 2008, about nine months after the game came out, a guy by the name of iamchris4life accomplished the greatest Guitar Hero feat at the time by FCing Through the Fire and Flames on expert. Somebody had just perfected the hardest song in the series on Expert. That was it. Yes, everybody still had something to strive for by trying to do it themselves. But that community lust to see perfection had been satisfied. That fervor that the community shared to follow this epic race seemed to die out starting that day. Also, it seemed to open the floodgates for other insane accomplishments. Players started getting FG-FC’s (full game full combos on expert) the very day the game out which was the case for Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. No more legendary battles. People became so good at the game that it seemed that there was hardly a challenge to songs anymore. One player, GuitarHeroPhenom, became so good that nothing really even seemed fair anymore. He actually attracted a lot of negative attention from the hardcore Guitar Hero community for the main reason that he was just too good.
GuitarHeroPhenom destroys a seemingly impossible song by utilizing a two handed approach called “tapping.”
Scorehero is still alive today, but it is nowhere near the level that is used to be. People will post their own achievements, but everything has lost that wow factor. Without a compelling storyline, the dedicated group has dissipated. Without this, Guitar Hero couldn’t sustain its success.
No Fads Last
I mentioned earlier that Guitar Hero became a staple as THE party game to play. However, we all know that these types of games never last. The casual gamers will eventually burn out and move onto something else. What happened to Guitar Hero was an attack on two fronts. In 2007 there was a major split that happened in the rhythm music genre. Harmonix, one of the major players in making Guitar Hero 1 & 2, broke off from Red Octane to create a new game with the help of MTV Games called Rock Band. Rock Band took the same idea of Guitar Hero, but added vocals and drums. What happened was that the new party game moved from Guitar Hero to Rock Band. It allowed two more people to play and encompassed a wider variety of talents.
Both games went head-to-head and Rock Band was the victor
Therefore, Guitar Hero lost its title as the main party game. The Rock Band split off even affected the dedicated hardcore Guitar Hero fan. While some continued to play both games, there was also a percentage that left for Rock Band and never came back. It took Guitar Hero way too long to catch up to Rock Bands innovation and by the time Band Hero and DJ Hero were released it was too late. With sales of rhythm music games down across the board, there was only enough room in town for one major player. Rock Band was way ahead at that time which left very little room for Guitar Hero.
I don’t believe that Guitar Hero’s downfall was just due to the above reasons. It could be very possible that Guitar Hero just reached it’s ceiling too fast and had no where to go but down. I do think that all of these played a large role though. However, for all it’s faults I will forever cherish the time that I spent playing Guitar Hero. It satisfied my inner desire to become a rock star without actually having to learn how to play a real instrument. However, now that I think about it, I probably spent enough time playing Guitar Hero that I probably could have a learned a real instrument. Damn. Anyways, Guitar Hero had a hyper-active community that helped inspire competition and well as build friendships. Guitar Hero was a fantastic idea that unfortunately went the way of many other fads, but its legacy will forever be etched in pop culture and gaming lore.
What are your favorite moments about Guitar Hero? Are there any other reasons you could see for its massive fall from grace? Let me know in the comments!