Oh Look, It Appears Music Video Games Were A Bit Of A Fad Too

from the that-magic-bullet dept

It’s been pretty sad watching the major record labels chase desperately after each new music-related fad, hoping that this time it would represent the “magic bullet” that would replace CD sales as its main revenue generator. For a while, there were ringtones, which the industry thought would save it, jacking up prices, and doing all sorts of annoying things, which eventually helped kill off that market. Then, a couple years ago, after labels realized that music video games like Guitar Hero and Rockband were doing well (and boosting interest in various acts), the labels again sought to kill the golden goose by believing that was the new moneymaker… and started demanding a bigger cut.

Guess what? Looks like that fad is on its way out as well, as there’s not nearly as much interest as there used to be in those games. Many people who want such games already have them, and the “innovations” in the new versions just aren’t appealing enough to pay the hefty upgrade fees. Perhaps the labels should have focused on keeping the games cheap, knowing that they actually helped drive more interest in the acts whose songs were available, helping to actually increase sales in other areas.

Of course, the music industry has already moved on to its next “fad” anyway: music apps. So how long until we start seeing that market start to fizzle as well?

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Comments on “Oh Look, It Appears Music Video Games Were A Bit Of A Fad Too”

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DandonTRJ (profile) says:

I’m not sure it’s fair to lay the death of the rhythm game genre at the feet of the record labels. They certainly could have been more amenable at the start, but most rhythm game manufacturers have no problems procuring master track licenses from labels nowadays. The real problem is that the developers, primarily Activision, absolutely flooded the market with lackluster installments and spin-offs over the last few years, eroding the goodwill of the consumer base. Nobody gives a damn about the new Guitar Hero games now, and it’s a shame. Rock Band is pretty much the only series still doing the genre any justice.

Stuart Dredge (user link) says:


I’m not so sure it proves they’re a fad, as that people are just spending less money on them. Could that boom have been fuelled by people buying the more expensive instrument+game packs, but since they got the instruments they just buy the game-only discs?

Ie if you have a Rock Band guitar already from the original Rock Band, did you need another for Rock Band 2? So it’s not necessarily that these games are hugely less popular, just that it’s been a software thing recently, not a more lucrative software plus hardware thing?

Hence the Rock Band 3 keyboard, presumably πŸ˜‰

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m tired of shelling out 50 or 60 bucks every time they release a new version with 25 new mediocre songs. Their songlist hasn’t come close to the caliber it did in the first guitar hero (IMO).
I’m also stingy with buying from the online store because I feel like a software download for a handfull of songs at 10 bucks is crazy overpriced.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think, on the contrary, the ability to download a handful of songs you actually like for $10 is much better than paying $60+/- for a set of songs that may contain a few you like. I think adding on such a robust DLC catalog has helped Rockband immeasurably. And I think that’s where they left Guitar Hero in the dust. And between the (arguably) better peripherals and more ‘grown up’ graphics, it left GH with the image of the kiddies’ version of the genre. At least, that’s how it looks to me.

Spectere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think adding on such a robust DLC catalog has helped Rockband immeasurably. And I think that’s where they left Guitar Hero in the dust. And between the (arguably) better peripherals and more ‘grown up’ graphics, it left GH with the image of the kiddies’ version of the genre. At least, that’s how it looks to me.

Well, the “better peripherals” thing is kind of debatable, since I’ve had more than my share of problems with Rock Band guitars (I’m still using my wired Rock Band 1 and Guitar Hero 2 guitars since I can’t seem to get a RB2 guitar that completely works, and my kick pedal is cracking just like my RB1 pedal did), but I think that the main issue here is that Neversoft spent way too much time maintaining the status quo rather than innovating. You could see that just by looking at their extreme sports games.

As far as appearances go, I rather like the exaggerated look of the Guitar Hero series, even after Neversoft further exaggerated it. The issue is that Guitar Hero 3 has absolutely no polish and is not convincing at all. The Rock Band series has an almost-absurd amount of detail put into the on-stage performances of your virtual band. Between being able to drastically customize your character to watching them sing and play (and, as far as I can tell, they seem to be actually playing what they should be playing) is just awesome. In comparison, when I played Guitar Hero 3 all I saw were stiffly animated caricatures flopping around lifelessly on a stage, occasionally jumping to life when you hit Star Power.

So…I dunno. I think they could have made the “kiddie” look work, they just didn’t.

Spectere (profile) says:

Re: Lockdown

You’re right — it’ll never happen — but it’s not for the reasons that you’re thinking of.

Creating charts in rhythm games isn’t something that could be automated. In games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, the developers strive to (or at least, should strive to) make the charts “feel” similarly to how they would if you were to actually play them on a guitar. A computer program wouldn’t know the difference between a chord and a single note, nor would it be able to intelligently decide which of the five buttons would be a good match. You’d either wind up with uncomfortable, nonsensical patterns, or boring, repetitious patterns. That’s also assuming that the game would be able to tell the difference between a bass guitar, rhythm/lead guitar, drums, and vocals in the first place.

Finally, it’s also ignoring another serious problem: BPM calculation. Most of the songs in the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games have human drummers and, thus, use the movements of a human as a sort of “metronome.” If you were to sit down and work out the beats per minute of every segment of the song, you’d wind up with different values on just about every single beat. I imagine simply dealing with this would be half of the job of writing a chart, not to mention the reason why the timing windows of these games are so loose and why they don’t score based on hit accuracy.

This concept has been tried before with a Dance Dance Revolution style game. A company — I believe it was Codemasters — released Dance Factory to…well, dead silence. It had a problem with detecting BPMs. From personal experience, it sometimes failed to properly work out a usable BPM on electronic music with a loud bass kick and didn’t bother with BPM changes at all. The charts were also bland, lifeless, and didn’t have the same flow that you’d get on a choreographed dance game. Even Dancing Monkeys, possibly the best step chart generator for DDR-inspired games, spits out charts that are pretty sterile.

Oh, I forgot to mention the issue with time signatures above. Not every song is 4/4. Rock Band has several tracks by Dream Theater, for instance, and they are widely known for going way overboard with time signature changes. If the time signatures aren’t set up, the measure markers in the game won’t work properly.

If you can’t generate a convincing chart on the simplest of game types, there’s no way you’d be able to manage something like that for a band simulation game.

You might argue that they should allow users the option to create their own charts. That brings on a ton of other complications. Even getting past the fact that user created charts can never be as complete as a real chart without hacking (since getting a proper song with separate channels for the different instruments generally wouldn’t be doable for most, nor would it be a practical to support on a console), you still have to consider many other issues, most notably people being able to deal with the complexities of actually creating a chart.

For one, we have the aforementioned BPM issue. Many people who are new to creating DDR charts have this issue and, as I explained, there’s only so much that an automated program can do. It takes time and patience to be able to work this out. The person charting the song would also have to know enough about music to be able to work out the time signature that’s being used. You could argue that they could assume it’s all going to be 4/4, but that would make charting songs with different time signatures disorienting. The person creating the chart would also have to consider the offset of the first beat in the song and would have to place that accurately to avoid having the file start off-sync.

Secondly, the person who writes the chart would have to have a damn good ear. Harmonix and whoever-makes-Guitar-Hero-now have the benefit of being able to listen to each audio track individually. After songs are mixed, telling what part is what can range from being somewhat easy to being nigh impossible.

Finally, there’s the issue of distribution. Since, in most cases, the person who finishes the chart will not have rights to distribute the track, the only thing that would be distributable would be the data making up the chart. You could argue that it means that anyone who owns the actual song would be able to download and play it, but in practice you wind up with another mess on your hands. For one, not all compression schemes and audio extraction software is created equally. Worse yet, not all CD releases are the same. Some of them are remastered, some of them are rerecorded, and others are just flat-out different (i.e. removing a bonus track for a greatest hits compilation, etc).

The way I see it, even if all of the technical issues were resolved and this actually did happen, I can picture the end result looking sort of like what wound up happening with StepMania (a DDR simulator), and even things like Little Big Planet — too much user-created content available with absolutely zero quality control.

The Rock Band Network addresses many of the issues that I pointed out by putting the power into the hands of the bands. They can put together chart bundles that can theoretically match what Harmonix has in place and that can take advantage of all features of the game. It does some limited automation (which is probably reasonably accurate, since it actually has access to the individual audio tracks of the song, most notably the drum track) to lay down a bit of ground work for the file and to save some time for the author, then lets the chart author go crazy.

To make a long story short, I think that the way that Harmonix is approaching the issue is the most practical. Automatic generation simply sucks too much and putting it in the hands of the general populous would lead to far too many technical, quality, and legal issues.

Also, sorry about the wall of text. :]

Anonymous Coward says:

I think there’s been a lack of understanding of the market, and I can only assume it starts at the label. For starters, the “buy a new game to get new content” approach is not going to win diehard music fans, but it’s not a surprise that Activision has embraced that model. They only seem to be interested in milking the gamer demographic.
Rockband has the model right with DLC, but the trickle of new content is the issue. They may brag a lot about having 3-6 new tracks each week, but in comparision to the quantity of new music out there, not to mention 50 years of back catalog material, it doesn’t seem like much. Personal tastes vary greatly – the game needs to keep up as the music industry did in the past. Rockband Network seems to have put the tools out there, but it seems to only be used by indie artists – the major labels aren’t biting.

In short – if you starve the music fans, they will get bored and leave.

byte^me (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Another problem with these games is inconsistencies between platforms. Last year for Christmas we bought Lego Rock Band for the Wii, along with Band Hero so that we had the instruments.

Little did I realize that Lego Rock Band for the Wii does not offer DLC, even though it is available on the other platforms.

When I realized that, I was not very happy.

Jon (profile) says:

I think you just about hit the nail on the head here. I was honestly content paying $2 or so a song for rock band 2 – the entertainment I got out of it was worth it. I never owned a music game before that, and only purchased Guitar Hero: World Tour after that – mainly because I needed a second guitar. The primary reason I’ve lost interest in the genre? Both of my guitars flaked out, and I’ve seen many more do the same. I refuse to pay that kind of money to continuously replace hardware. I’ve never had a $60 xbox 360 controller go bad, so why should a $60 controller shaped like a guitar? I refuse to pay for the costly upgrades and replacements.

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

The games won't get any cheaper

Perhaps the labels should have focused on keeping the games cheap…

What the record labels charge to license their music has no bearing on the cost of the games. Console prices are set in stone for the most part; $60 for PS3 and Xbox, and I think $50 for Wii. The licensing fees just eat into the game publisher’s profits, although maybe that cost is passed onto the price of the periphrials, as they do seem overpriced for the poor quality as was mentioned above.

Jason Harris says:

We'll see

Rock Band 3 just came out, but they’ve done a really good job of holding onto their following, and a lot of people are excited about them innovating in the new game.

Guitar Hero has pretty much tanked, and it’s been said above that Activision screwed the pooch by coming out with an endless stream of new clone games (GH3, GH:World Tour, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Metallica, Guitar Hero 5, GH: Legends of Rock, GH: Smash Hits) and they ran the well dry.

Rock Band on the other hand has seemed to do well with a steady stream of $2/ea songs coming out. There is also user generated songs, albeit you have to go through hoops to become a developer and they’re peer reviewed. But still, it has increased the content tremendously.

Sure, Activision might not be taking in a hojillion sales on each game anymore, but the numbers for stuff like how much downloaded content is being sold are a lot more nebulous than NPD numbers. The GH series was never really committed to DLC, popping out a few songs here and there, but RB having a predictable steady stream has kept a lot of people coming back and buying more and more songs all the time.

It’s not that the genre died, it’s just that a clear market leader has risen at the cost of the competition.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Rapid Iteration

The beauty of music applications is that many people are creating them quickly, not investing a lot of money into them, and then making them available for free or low cost. This way you can have a lot of them floating around and see what works and what doesn’t work.

The whole field of video games is changing rapidly. It’s shifting to a low-cost model rather than investing millions into the next big game.

Video Game Revolution: Social Games, iPhone Apps, Digital Downloads – The Daily Beast: “One need only look to Facebook and the success of titles like Mafia Wars, Pet Society, or FarmVille to see such seismic changes in action. Not only do these offerings turn gaming on its head by offering instantly accessible, user-friendly titles that are appropriate for all ages free of charge, but also an estimated 200 million people are lining up to play social games each month, while demand steadily declines for the $60, male-focused first-person shooters or fantasy dungeon hacks of yore.”

I’m particularly fond of apps that let anyone create music. Here are some of them:
Music Creation for the Untalented, the Untrained, the Lazy, and Those with Some Time to Kill

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