Buried in the middle of a Los Angeles Times article on The Beatles: Rock Band's chances of saving the quickly dwindling music game genre for MTV/Viacom is some troubling news for fans of Rock Band's guitar and drum peripherals: MTV Games is edging away from the manufacture and sale of fake plastic instruments.
The Rock Band instruments have proven to be more difficult to manufacture, ship and sell than MTV Games had intended, and with the entire music game genre in a slump, MTV is happy to let others do the guitar-slinging. "Our core competency is media," Paul DeGooyer, senior vice president of electronic games and music for MTV Games told The L.A Times. "Let [Activision] take on the burden of getting those super-tight margin instruments out there."
Activision is totally cool with that, apparently having found a way to make the sale of fake guitars and drums profitable. Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision, said his company has increased the efficiency of manufacturing fake guitars, so it makes money on Guitar Hero's instruments.
I prefer the Guitar Hero guitar peripherals to the Rock Band axes. I like the responsiveness of the strum bar and the audible "click" of the controller, where I've always thought Rock Band's instruments feel a little sludgy and unresponsive, so this works out okay for me. But the larger question of the article is un-resolved: Are music games in a slump because the economy has tanked, or has the genre actually cooled off because the trend is over?
I think it's probably a case of interest in the music game genre winding down because, quite frankly, there's nowhere else for it to go.
The biggest group in rock history is about to get its own game, and there's basically no other band that can support a stand-alone title (except maybe The Ramones, but only for the niche market of Ramones super-fans like me) so it's hard to say what music game makers could do to make the genre exciting to gamers again. I'm at a loss.
I hate to forecast a slump in one of my favorite genres, but at the end of the day, as fun as music games are, they're just a high-tech version of follow-the-leader or that old game Simon. (picture included). I can't think of much that could rekindle interest in playing them. Basically, if you've played Rock Band or Guitar Hero 5, you've played music games. Adding new celebrities, peripherals, bands, genres, etc. is only mildly interesting, and not enough to spur a resurgence in the genre. Where a genre like the FPS won't ever die because you can always make a shooter that looks better, has better AI and a more interesting plot/setting than previous games. Guitar games involve following the bouncing ball, and now that vocal harmonies have been added to The Beatles: Rock Band, I can't think of a single improvment for the genre. Maybe a keyboard peripheral, but, seriously, how much Ben Folds are you really going to want to play in Rock Band?
What do you think? Are music games dead?