Music Games: What the Future Holds

Music Games: What the Future Holds

It’s difficult to get a solid consensus about the state of music games in the post-Guitar Hero era. Some people insist that music and rhythm games were around long before instrument-based video games became a phenomenon, and so they’ll continue to exist in some form. Others believe that music games have had it. Still more, particularly younger players, believe that the music gaming genre went to go live with a nice man on a farm.

Really though, what does the future hold for music games? We’re not psychic, nor are we even particularly interesting human beings, but going by past trends, we can take an educated stab at what you’ll be singing along to on your Nintendo Wii 2, PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 video game systems in the coming years.

Music Creation and Editing: One of the unsung features of the Nintendo 3DS is its built-in and easy-to-use sound editing software. You can record sounds (or use your totally legal MP3 library) and play with the speed and pitch. You can also add effects, record the whole mess, and distribute it to your friends, as you could with entire songs in Guitar Hero: World Tour (whose music studio also let you upload and share new tracks and tunes, for online distribution). Given the industry’s fascination with user-generated content, we’ll probably see more similar music editing programs like these and Rockstar’s popular Beaterator titles in the near future. Heck, just recently, Nintendo said not to count out the Wii Music franchise, so don’t put away that Mii-sized dog suit just yet, or abandon the possibility of even being able to do so in non-traditional genres, e.g. classical, jazz and soft rock.

Fewer Plastic Instrument Peripherals: The era of plastic guitars is temporarily over, as far as most can tell. For a few years, people were very impressed by the sight of an entire arena’s worth of faux instruments (drums, microphones, etc.) in their living rooms. Now, plastic accessories conjure mutters of doubt, cynicism, and lamentations of “Where would I even put this?” And with the Guitar Hero series temporarily benched in favor of focusing on downloadable songs and mobile or social gaming experiences, instrument-based peripherals bring to mind another thought: “Why bother?” Though they’ll potentially live on, new releases from plastic turntables to ukeleles should be much fewer and far between in the near-future, with hopefully more innovation in hardware with each successive new release helping rekindle interest and justify their higher asking prices.

Motion-Sensing, Real-World and Active Games: Franchises such as Dance Dance Revolution will continue to exist, as dance pads are pretty easy to fold up, tuck away, or slide under the couch. However, the success of Kinect’s motion-sensing dance simulator Dance Central (which lets you physically get jiggy with it by waggling your arms and legs, as in real-life) and the continued popularity of Ubisoft’s Just Dance series for the Wii indicate that people are presently more interested in getting off the couch and shaking their groove thang. Will titles such as motion-tracking dance and karaoke game Michael Jackson: The Experience or those like Rocksmith, which let you play on real guitars, dominate going forward? That remains to be seen. But given the active gaming possibilities gesture-monitoring accessories like the PlayStation Move enable by letting players literally get in the game, we wouldn’t bet against the possibility.

Online, Social and Mobile Play: Given a decline in sales of expensive plastic peripherals and associated music game bundles, it’s safe to assume that we’re not going to see nearly as many music games at retail stores as we did from 2005 through 2011. (No doubt a lot of furious note-taking was done on the day Guitar Hero “died,” a.k.a. was put on temporary hiatus.) But with a growing shift in player interest towards the ability to download, access and play games on mobile devices (smartphones, tablet PCs, etc.), Web browsers and social networks, great expansion will doubtless occur in these areas going forward. From iPhone and iPad outings such as the popular Tap Tap Revenge series (which lets you download songs on-demand and play by tapping in time to colored on-screen prompts) to digital downloads (i.e. indie PC game Audiosurf, available from online vendors like Steam) and Facebook offerings (Recordshop Tycoon, Nightclub City, etc.), the fat lady hasn’t sung for the music and rhythm gaming genre yet. Like many other fields – movies, TV, books, etc. – it’s just making the transition to online and Internet-connected digital experiences.

Downloadable Content (DLC) and Digital Add-Ons: Franchises like Guitar Hero, DJ Hero and Rock Band are presently laying fairly low at retail, and focusing on pushing digital song downloads, which offer fans greater value, and manufacturers bigger profit margins, than expensive physical goods. After all, the instrument-based music genre still has its fans: How else are house parties supposed to get off the ground? Downloadable content should prove to be a growing boon for the field, allowing you to extend the lifespan of any game infinitely with value-priced online purchases and optional expansions or feature add-ons. Discounted band sets will doubtless also prove a very tempting purchase for families looking to do something fun together, or audiophiles simply hoping to expand their interactive music collection. Helping sustain interest in the field, and keep top artists and franchises top of mind, DLC continues to keep the dream alive until a plastic-instrument-based genre reunion tour once again appears fortuitous.

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 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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