Guitar Hero, 6, passed away on Wednesday, February 7, 2011. Guitar Hero was a guitar-controller based video games under Activision's umbrella, opened the door for a new genre of video games. The original was developed by Red Octane and Harmonix (remember them?) and led to a grip of titles.
Funeral arrangements are pending, though expect the remains to be found in your local landfill, alongside the million copies of ET and NBA Elite 11.
Ok, ok, so while Egypt literally blows up, I'm focusing on the demise of a storied video game franchise. Petty, I know ... However, Activision pulling the plug on Guitar Hero and True Crime: Hong Kong is one of the best moves in a long time for Activision. Charging people to play a first-person shooter? Not so much, but that's another blog.
There are several lessons the video game biz can learn from Guitar Hero.
The first lesson? Keep it fresh, hip. That is what made the series a huge moneymaker and garnered the elevated amount of sales. It is what spawned the tons of knock-offs - Power Gig, Rock Revolution - and even made way for Rock Band. But ... even with all of the success the series had, it did not change from its winning formula for far too long. Online, gamers have a term for multiplayer players who stay in one place for extend periods of time - either to hide or kill unsuspecting victims who get close. They call them campers. GH became a camper - and no one in Activision, Red Octane or any studio connected with the series - tried to change direction.
Guitar Hero is not the first series to do this. Look at Madden and NBA Live/Elite for example. It seems like EA is in the same boot. Release a sports game, add some new paint, roster updates and guess what? Rebadge the game and sell it for full price, every year. Be forewarned - gamers know they are being ripped. And they will respond.
Lesson 2? Who was at the helm? Leadership needs to understand what's cool, what's hip and what's in. I got a chance to spend some time with Kai Huang, one of RedOctane's founders, when he was in Houston for a visit. The guy is a visionary - he is brilliant and very hip. However, I wonder how much influence he had over the final products. He is hip, but I'm not sure the people who made the final decisions are. And what in the world happened that gamers found themselves playing a song and having demons and gargoyles get on the drums? What is this ish? Did I just step into a jam session with the Charlie Daniel's Band? Wow. The last Guitar Hero we received for review, Warriors of Rock was just downright horrible. By then, the series had slid down so far from Guitar Hero II.
Lesson 3? Know when it's time to go. Guitar Hero brought serious money to Activision, RedOctane and every studio connected to it. However, when it was evident - by sales and the like - that the series was toast, Activision should have pulled the plug immediately instead of releasing more - and more - and more - and more games. Not only was it a bad move, but it reminded watchers of an old rocker, who needed to be in a nursing home, getting on stage for one last performance. Don't tarnish your legendary image for a quick buck. It would be best to bow out while you are a wii bit off your game instead of becoming a laughingstock and have to be shown the door.
Lesson 4? Speaking of laughing ... laughing off your competition. Some people never use the rear view. I do. I want to see where my opponents are. If they are closer, I need to adjust and make sure they stay in my rear view. Guitar Hero laughed off the pressure from Rock Band. They were sure no one would pay $200 plus for a band game. ROTFL. They got THAT wrong. By the time Rock Band and Harmonix started printing money, Activision wanted to get on the gravy train with World Tour. Sadly, it was too late. They knew about Rock Band for a while. They should have considered doing that age ago.
Last lesson - and there will be a quiz later. Make money off the songs, not the game or the hardware. Here's wisdom - this economy is recovering slowly. People aren't so quick to spend $100, even $200 for a niche game like Guitar Hero. What devs should do is - make a killer game and give gamers the option of using their own songs, very similar to what Lips does on the Xbox 360. You know what songs you like - I rarely listen to the radio because I like my music and hate commercials. Let player control their music. Let them play whatever they want - from Kirk Franklin, JayEss and Dwayne Tryumf to Jonas Brothers, that Burberry teen dude to NWA, Public Enemy and Biggie and Pac. And don't keep releasing games. Let your first game be revolutionary and build on that. Release tons of music for it. Only release another installment of the game IF you've added tons of features that you couldn't do via DLC. Annnnnnd, let us use the same controllers that we got with the original game. I will give props to Activision for allowing gamers to use their controllers - in Guitar Hero and DJ Hero with pretty much every music game they made.
I wish everyone connected with Guitar Hero well. I'll see you at graveside with my first Guitar Hero game, GH II and my guitar. Peace.