Opinion: Will Music Game History Repeat Itself?

The announcement of Guitar Hero Live has officially reignited the battle of the rock band games, a war that previously left mass toy instrument casualties and wallets devastated. Are fans ready for this rivalry to start again on a new generation of consoles? Here's a glimpse of what the future of musical warfare will look like to fans.


Fans knew that a new Guitar Hero was in the works, so even though the Guitar Hero Live announcement wasn't a huge surprise, it officially reignited the war between music games. Between it and the announcement of Rock Band 4, music lovers can look forward to choosing the game that provides the best plastic instrument experience. History is about to repeat itself, and we're all along for the ride.

But wait, we've only just recovered from the last war, and its wreckage is still found in many homes in the form of closets or basements full of fake instruments. Nerves are still a little frayed from when the immense flood of DLC content was discontinued, de-listed, then later revived. But despite how both Rock Band and Guitar Hero ended up going overboard with sequels and DLC, fans are eager to have music party games for the new generation of consoles. Be careful what you wish for, because we could be poised to have history repeat itself.

Outfitting the Band

When all taken together, music games are among the most expensive games you can get into. A full Rock Band set, complete with guitar, bass, drums and mic, costs well over a hundred dollars, and goes for more if you buy each component individually - which you often had to do, because (surprise!) plastic instruments tend to break. Personally, our Rock Band sessions grew so intense that we went through two or three drum sets. Or you had to pick up an extra guitar for friends for multiplayer, because playing solo is only half as much fun as rocking out with others. It wasn't unheard of for fans of both games to invest hundreds of dollars towards having the best pretend music experience possible.

Fans held a collective breath each time a sequel released, hoping that their old instruments would be compatible with the new games. They grew angry when instruments weren't cross compatible between rival games. In the end, it didn't matter much, because Rock Band could add a new instrument, like a keyboard, while Guitar Hero would offer upgraded versions like the wireless guitar. It's a war, after all, and every war has an escalation of technology.

This much has not changed. It's time for fans to make room in their closets, because Guitar Hero Live requires a custom designed six-button guitar to play. Similarly, the official Rock Band 4 FAQ reads that a new generation of consoles requires a new generation of instruments. On the bright side, Activision promised that the revised guitar will be future compatible with any sequels that come out, which is comforting so long as you don't mind having yet another controller that's designed for a single game series. Hopefully, Rock Band 4's instruments will also be future compatible, but I wonder if there will be a new, shinier, guitar somewhere down the road that will make this one look obsolete.

Filling Out the Set List

Then there's the question of DLC. Growing tired of even the best playlists is an inevitability, especially when you've mastered playing them. New content, or at least a broad selection, is necessary to keep things from getting too stale. Picking up DLC is a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, the more you invest in your game, the more enjoyment you'll presumably get out of it. However, unlike buying music, which can be played on a multitude of devices, it's extremely unlikely for DLC songs to transfer over onto the next generation of consoles. Fans are lucky when they can be handled across sequels on the same system. But one thing is for sure: trading in that old console for a new one means kissing the entire investment goodbye. All the songs and all the instruments. Hope you made the most of your time with it.

If you're the kind of fan that still likes rocking out to old songs, you'll need to keep your old console on standby, which means making even more room in your closet. But even if you are, you might be so enamored by the new games that you'll completely forget about the old ones, which is ultimately the same as abandoning the old games.

Guitar Hero Live works around this issue by relying solely on GHTV, a playable music video network, where players can access songs and play them. Then they can decide to purchase premium content or complete challenges to unlock it. Playing free songs from a well-organized music video station is an ambitious way to go, and the approach could mean we won't be facing DLC fatigue. Although Rock Band's release of over 4,000 songs over a 275 consecutive week period is an impressive achievement, it did become a bit overwhelming. It also helps that Guitar Hero Live promises to have crossover play between platforms and mobile devices. So, even if there is a sea of content, would-be rockers might only have to buy it once.

Heating Up the Cold War

Guitar Hero Live has shown its cards, and now we're awaiting Rock Band's response. We think we know what we want to see, but it's a new generation of consoles, a new time and battlefield, so it stands to reason that whatever Harmonix is preparing needs to make a big impression, or else it'll be in danger of being outshined by its rival. Rock Band's advantage is in how it uses multiple instruments and promotes cooperative play over the competitive nature of Guitar Hero's multiplayer. We'll see if the game can capitalize on that to offer an experience that will somehow match or surpass what Guitar Hero Live has. But no matter what, music game fans will once again be called to use their wallets to choose a side.

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