Industry Experts: Can Rock Band Survive?

Industry Experts: Can Rock Band Survive?

The end of a once-hot franchise like Guitar Hero is disappointing for gamers, but it’s downright unnerving for other developers in the industry. Even employees in competing companies know one another, and an upheaval of any magnitude spreads shockwaves for miles. It’s an emotionally taxing time: Employees at surviving companies mourn for their friends’ job loss. Subsequent worries are more self-centered but perfectly understandable: “Are we next? What’s become of the market? What’s going to happen to my job?”

It’s therefore easy to sympathize with Harmonix, which described Guitar Hero‘s death as “discouraging” when asked the company for its thoughts. In fact, that’s a brave, calm response on Harmonix’s part: Rock Band and Guitar Hero are essentially half-brothers, so no one would have blamed Harmonix’s spokesperson if he had opted to respond to IndustryGamers with an email reading “AHHHHH!” After all, gamer, developer, and industry analyst alike seem to agree that the market for instrument-based games is dead, or at least in need of a long, long rest.

Guitar Hero had a great run while it lasted but it was obvious it couldn’t continue,” says David Cole, President of the DFC Intelligence game industry analyst group. “It was not the type of product like a sports game where people needed to upgrade every year to be up to date. There is only so much plastic stuff you want in your house.”

Chris Morris, a game journalist who contributes to Variety and CNBC, agrees. “I think the market has changed substantially since the game first came out,” he says. “Players have moved on from games like Guitar Hero in large numbers – and the cost of licensing the music from the artists and ASCAP simply proved too expensive.

“It will be interesting to see if in five years or so someone finds a way to make music games relevant again to the gaming audience at the time.”

All great points, but a little depressing. Is there no hope at all for the future of Rock Band?

As of this moment, Rock Band is not dead, and Harmonix is battening down the hatches in these hard times to help the franchise survive. The company has two main plans for Rock Band’s sustainability: More downloadable content in lieu of retail releases, and pitching the games as a fun way to learn how to play real instruments. Rock Band 3’s “Pro Mode” helped teach the fine art of strumming a guitar, and Harmonix isn’t going to stop there.

Rock Band 3 saw the introduction of our innovative new Pro Mode,” Harmonix told IndustryGamers, “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.”

Harmonix’s cautious restructuring of Rock Band will reveal if gamers still have a thirst for instrument-based games, or if it’s just time to set down the plastic guitar forever. However, Mike Vorhaus, an LA-based video game consultant, believes there’s still some hope for music games that focus on education and creation, as is Harmonix’s intent. “I think the future of music games is around playing and making music, as well as collaboration tools, and music knowledge games,” he says.

In fact, Harmonix hasn’t given up on Rock Band–and it’s not the only believer. Mike Snider, an entertainment reporter with USA Today, believes that Rock Band‘s potential as a teaching tool will help the franchise survive–and the passage of time may even mend the ailing instrument-based music genre.

“Despite all the turmoil in the music game genre, Rock Band 3 is a game that has legs,” he says. “I’m optimistic that the game with all of its enhanced learning features and added keyboards will find a growing audience.

“In the meantime, I assume Harmonix will continue to experiment with an evolution of Rock Band and continue releasing downloadable songs. Hearts could grow fonder if there is a longer period of time between releases and the new edition has similar ground-breaking new features.”

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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