It's Time For Rock Band To Make A Comeback

I have fond memories of that brief moment in time when cheap plastic instruments ruled the world. A large part of me wants to relive those halcyon days. A smaller part of me believes it might be time to bring it back.

Yesterday I found myself in my garage for some reason. I've recently moved house and you know how it is: you pack everything you own into boxes and you only unpack 50% of it. The rest gathers dust, and rots in cardboard until you muster up the motivation to bung all your crap into the car boot and head to the local dump. Yesterday while pottering around I saw it — protruding from the mess of books I'll never read and crockery I'll never unpack — the long neck of a fake Stratocaster, the original Rock Band guitar. I could almost hear the clackity-clack of the buttons. I looked closer; saw those shitty drums, another guitar, a presumably unfixable tangle of cables I was too scared to look at. I saw all of that and immediately, a rush of blood to the brain.

I need to play Rock Band.

I think I was primed for this moment. Earlier that afternoon I had been at the climbing gym. The music played at my gym is almost always, without fail, a constant drone of PULSATING TRANCE MUSIC FOR ALL OF TIME. Today for some reason it was different: classic rock was blaring from the speakers. In between climbs I lay back on the mat as 'More Than A Feeling' played; my all time favourite Rock Band track. In my mind's eye I could see the Rock Band tab flitting past my TV screen, my fingers started twitching. I imagined myself playing through it, my wife on the sticks, a buddy on bass while my brother in-law caterwauls on the mic.

I'd had a vision.

It turned out I wasn't alone. When I arrived in the office this morning Luke Hopewell, Editor of Gizmodo Australia, made a beeline for my desk. "DO YOU HAVE A GUITAR HERO GUITAR? I NEED A GUITAR HERO GUITAR RIGHT NOW." Luke had gone to Spawn Point, Sydney's brand new gaming bar, on the Saturday and he played a ton of Guitar Hero there. He subsequently spent a good chunk of his Sunday trawling eBay for a copy of Guitar Hero. He'd gotten the bug again.

Obviously this is all anecdotal. Obviously the market and publishers will decide when it's time to revive Rock Band/Guitar Hero, but hear me out here.

Imagine if you will a digital version of Rock Band on your PlayStation 4. Imagine lean, nicely designed, wireless instruments. Imagine easy, cheap access to a store and the ability to build your own library. Imagine the option to buy 70 tracks for $70 dollars. Imagine a package like that. That library already exists. Harmonix has the back catalogue. It is ready to go. Imagine you just buy the instruments and you get $50 of credit to buy whatever tracks you want as part of the package?

Imagine a subscription service. Imagine a Spotify style Rock Band service that gives consumers access to the entire back catalogue for $10 a month. Imagine that.

Imagine it all packaged in a slick, modern user interface for current-gen consoles that reflects what we expect from video games as services in 2014.

I imagine all of these things and I wonder why the hell it doesn't already exist.

Rock Band and Guitar Hero went out of fashion because Activision flooded the market. Period. But I think enough time has passed for a well-meaning company like Harmonix to swoop in and reinvent the service that is rhythm gaming. We don't need new instruments. We don't need the game to be reinvented in any specific way. In fact, I'd argue that a newly revived Rock Band should completely bin Keyboards. It was an unnecessary addition and it never really felt as tactile as the four piece set-up did.

Keep it simple and focus on making the service as streamlined and accessible as humanly possible. Use all the lessons learned in previous iterations of Rock Band and create a digital only experience that caters to each users own specific music tastes. This seems like a no-brainer to me.

Rock Band, in a sense, was a little ahead of its time. Back when Harmonix was debuting services like the Rock Band Store, there was still a healthy amount of cynicism surrounding digital purchases, particularly on console. Nowadays we live in an age where micro-transactions are the norm. The world is ready for a brand new Rock Band that works for them. That works specifically for them as an individual.

It's time to get the band back together.


    We don't need new instruments.

    I, for one, need a new drum kit.

    But as for the subscription model? I'm all for it. The only reason I stopped playing was ...

    I, for one, need a new drum kit.

    What about making the next step from plastic guitar to the real thing with Rocksmith?

      Playing guitar in Rock Band is about the same as shooting things in Point Blank. It's a fun, arcadey simulation of an idea that doesn't show any desire to do the real thing.

      I played a lot of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it never translated into a desire to pick up a real guitar.

      I've played both, extesnively.
      They aren't really even close to the same thing (within the limits of rhythm/guitar games).
      As Trjn said, Rock Band (and Guitar Hero) are arcadey interpretations of the real thing designed to emulute it only to the point that it remains accessible and fun.
      Rocksmith on the other hand, isn't even a game at all (IMO), it is a learning tool.
      On that note, coming from an actual guitarist (and I have RB/GH to thank for making me get into the real thing), Rocksmith is a FANTASTIC guitar learning tool.
      Regardless, a game it is not.

      Not everyone who plays GH/RB wants to actually learn guitar. Personally, I used GH/RB as a musical placebo for my time at Uni, when I was missing my sax, and finally made the jump to Rocksmith 2014 last November. My 250+ hours attest to how much I'm enjoying it. But Rocksmith's sales figures show that most people who play GH/RB just want to rock out - it's instrumental karaoke.

      I'd love to see a GH/RB game come back because I can see myself having a lot of fun with it, when I just want to relax and enjoy the music without worrying about fingerings, chords, hitting the right string(s) or (given most of my playtime is after 10pm) upsetting the neighbours. :P

      Last edited 17/11/14 2:52 pm

      Yeah, I play Rocksmith every chance I get, and I enjoy it a lot. But I still miss the Rock Band's and Guitar Heroes. I would love to jam on the little toy button-guitar again with my kids. Its so much easier to be good at compared to real guitar, too.

    In my house, it never left.
    Not played as much as it used to be, but it gets pulled out with friends around a couple of drinks at least once a month.

    EDIT: I think I just realised why. It is one of the few gaming IPs that my non-gamer friends got into. Don't like guitar? Fine, have a mic.

    Last edited 17/11/14 2:13 pm

    Weren't you saying this about the MCC only a week ago? What happened?

    I don't like subscriptions personally. Especially when I'm out of work. I wanna know that if I'm out of work for any amount of time, that I will still have access to all my stuff, without fear of losing it due to not being able to make a payment. Not even so much losing it.. but when I'm out of work, that's kind of when I want access to my stuff the most! If I can't afford to pay to access my stuff, being unemployed would be even more shitty than it already is!

    Last edited 17/11/14 2:12 pm

    I'll play again if there was more metal or just plain bad ass songs

      This. When I picked up GH Metallica cheap, it showed that there wasn't so much a problem with the game itself in GHWT that made it less enjoyable, it just needed a better track list (even if I'm no Metallica fan, and even less of one after having played the game :P).

      GH6 was pretty great, but just came too late after they'd gone and made everyone sick of the whole thing. I'd like to see it come back but just as Guitar Hero. No singing, no drumming, no bass. Just shredding on guitar, and with co-op brought back too. It was way more fun in GH3 playing different parts than just being able to have more than one person play the same instrument (once they added that in to stop the race to avoid bass).

        See, I personally think this is the reason why the genre died. If anything it needs LESS of these genres.

        Consider the demographic for these sorts of games, it isn't hardcore gamers, because they will generally be playing more "in-depth" games. If they "complete" it, then they generally trade it in. It isn't metal fans, because they generally want to learn and play the instrument for real, it's the type of music people who respect technicality listen to, those kind of people tend to already be musicians. It is the casual party patrons that enjoy these sorts of games. It's a game that is limited in its solo appeal, but comes alive in a multiplayer scenario (not unlike Smash Bros.)

        Therefore there actually needs to be less metal (even die-hard fans can admit it is an ostracising genre) and more alternative-rock / pop / classics. It needs to have songs that are fun to play and sing along to.

        There are heaps of alternative rock bands out there making good, catchy guitar stuff that everyone can enjoy and that would be fun to play. Cloud Nothings, Royal Blood, The Black Keys, Bloc Party, Foals, Ty Segall, Wavves, Death From Above 1979, King Krule, Mac Demarco, etc.

        Chuck some pop on there for the drunken guilty pleasures / girls like Taylor Swift and Call Me Maybe, a bit of Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean etc.

        As well as songs that were big in the 90s / 2000s like Teenage Dirtbag, You Get What You Give, Semi Charmed Life, anything by Blink 182, Nirvana, Weezer, Foo Fighters, The White Stripes etc.

        Then some classics like stuff from The Cure, The Smiths, Hall and Oates, Simon and Garfunkle, Fleetwood Mac, Journey, Boston, Elton John, David Bowie, The Clash, Blondie, The Beatles, etc.

        The thing that keeps these games in your house and the instruments out of the shed is inclusive genres, music everyone can enjoy easily and instantly, and fostering and encouraging that drunken fun with your friends that memories are made of. Sure, chuck a few metal tracks on there, but the answer to this genre's downward slide isn't "more metal", it's the opposite.

        Last edited 18/11/14 3:49 am

          See, I personally think this is the reason why the genre died. If anything it needs LESS of these genres....even though that was the direction that they took, and they died out anyway?

          I don't know how you could say that hardcore gamers aren't interested in these games. Well, I can if you try and build them the way you propose. Have you seen some of the videos of rhythm game players in Japanese arcades or whatever? They are crazy, and will dedicate hours upon hours to perfecting each song and achieving higher and higher scores. I was introduced to GH through some metalhead friends and their playing the actual instruments didn't make them want to play the game any less. I've never understood this mentality, the one that makes people scoff at the game and say "why don't you just play a real guitar instead". The two have nothing to do with each other, it's just a rhythm game. I play it because it's a fun game and it poses a challenge. You don't "complete" it just by reaching the end credits and then trade it in, it's something you come back to time and time again. In fact I'm pretty sure GHIII alone would have to be one of my most-played games ever, my Wii's playlog measured it at over 200 hours which is more time than I've seen on any other game's clock. In total the series sucked at least 500 hours of my life away.

          I don't know what you mean by metal being an ostracising genre. I'm no metalhead, but I haven't found it to be in any way a deterrent. You're right when you say that these games need songs that are fun to play along to - and that's the problem. Pop songs are *boring*. Just look at when GH World Tour came out, it was exciting that there were songs like Beat It and Eye Of The Tiger on there... but then you go and play it and even on Expert it's hard to fail the song while you're sitting there falling asleep. While most of the metal songs, on the other hand, are actually interesting to play, and are the ones that keep me coming back for more.

          But yeah, generally I think there's two types of people who play these games. There's those who want to pretend to be musicians and have the whole "karaoke" experience... and there's those who want to play a game. And I'm in the latter camp - it's not a tracklist for a music collection, that's what you have an MP3 player for. It's a game, and they are the levels. Super Mario Bros would not be interesting if you could just hold down the Right button and succeed, nobody would pay attention if there was only between zero and three obstacles per course. The same thing applies here, the game needs levels that are interesting and challenging to play.

            Well Guitar Hero 6 went way in that Metal / Hard Rock / Glam direction, not a more "accessible" direction.

            I don't need to tell you Japanese consumers are very different from Western ones, right? I mean, the PSP was a success there.

            That's fair enough about the rhythm game not being the same as learning a real guitar and not needing to be, I agree.

            Metal is definitely a genre that has a stigma with a large percentage of the population though. I'm a musician and obsessed with music, but I know that if I jumped into Pantera's discography without easing my way into it I'd want to switch it off immediately. Most young women don't like metal, most older women (like every metalhead's mother haha) don't like metal. A lot of men don't like metal. Even if they haven't even given it a chance, you always hear people say "I listen to everything except Metal and Country".

            It's sometimes abrasive, loud, it often doesn't have traditional choruses, you can't sing along to it, and it's lacking in sex appeal. To the outsider each song sounds like the last. It makes it not a newcomer friendly genre. Again, I have nothing against Metal, but it's definitely a niche genre.

            I think it comes down to your definition of what is "fun to play". Is fun to play something challenging and rewarding when you can complete it? Sure. But fun to play can also be the illusion of playing a riff or perfectly singing a line for a song you know and love, there's definitely great satisfaction and instant gratification in that too.

            I really would like to see the statistics of how many people completed or even attempted songs on Expert vs. How many people bought and played the game in this genre. I think it'd be very much like the completion rate for games like Dragon Age or The Witcher: Very, very low.

            So then the question is, do you make sure the game has an "endgame" where committed, expert players have something to, in you situation, sink over 200 hours in, or do you make sure the greater population feels gratified and encouraged? Each direction has its upsides and downsides, and there must be some sort of middle ground, but the majority (and the $$$) is definitely in the second group.

            I personally loved The Beatles Rock Band because it wasn't as hard as the previous Rock Bands and Guitar Heroes. It was about playing the songs everyone loved, they were simple, but also timeless. I loved that game because I could actually complete a song on Expert. For me, having that difficulty at an achievable distance was more exciting than agonising over it (which is a massive timesink that not everyone can afford).

            I know that your position is just as valid, but if they are trying to make these games a huge success again, it'll be in broadening their appeal, not hyper-focusing it.

              Not sure what Japanese consumers have to do with any of this, but ok :P

              I don't know, maybe I'm just too weird to be able to understand what you're saying. I buy into these games being unfamiliar with any of the songs, what gets served up to me is a surprise. I've since tried listening to more of Motorhead and Iron Maiden's stuff, since I massively enjoyed playing their songs in the GH games... but I didn't really like much of it at all. And similarly, when picking up a game like EBA that has all sorts of pop stuff like Madonna or Destiny's Child that I would never listen to, they're still plenty of fun to play along to in the game.

              Everything you said about metal - having a stigma, can't sing along to it (disagree), lacking sex appeal, each song sounds like the last etc, can be said of pop too :P

              Something like this doesn't need an "endgame". It's like Mario Kart. You keep coming back now and then to play the same thing again. Sometimes you might like to try and set a new record, or you might want to dick around with friends, or sometimes you'll just have that itch that needs scratching again.

              The main thing though, you keep saying that they needed to give it a broader appeal, to try and get a wider audience. For one, why do they *need* to do that? They always say it's when you try and please everyone that you end up pleasing no one. The first three games stuck to their niche and were plenty successful as they were, there wasn't any need to try and expand their appeal. Just look at something like Platinum Games, they have their niche and they fill it very well. You hear sites talking about how their games don't sell in megaton gigantic numbers... yet they're still operational and pumping out games. While year after year you hear about the devs behind big-name games get shut down weeks after releasing their megahyped AAA+ title. Bigger doesn't mean sustainable. And secondly, they DID try to widen their appeal. That's why you ended up with GH4 and 5 turning out the way they did, and that Band Hero spinoff that... did anyone even buy that? I don't think I know anyone who owns it, they all just laughed and said no thanks. And for all that broadened appeal, it sure didn't seem to help things in the end, it all collapsed and fell over itself.

                Well you said the Japanese arcades everyone's trying to max it out and perfect their score, that's why I said that?

                The endgame I'm talking about is that repetition unto perfection. Replaying again and again to try and perfect your score. It's the same as the endgame in things like World Of Warcraft or Destiny. It's repetition in service of slow but meaningful progress. So yeah, I mean replaying the song until you can do it on expert when I say "endgame"

                But were the first games successful from niche appeal? I mean all the songs were pretty well known, and I'd argue it was a large part the novelty of the control scheme that had people saying to their friends "you've got to try this!". I think the fade in popularity was from that novelty appeal wearing off.

                They can't really afford to not "go big" with it, because perpetual music licensing, especially when major labels are involved, is an expensive thing to do. You can go niche, but it means "original" music, rather than stuff from bands. Look at what Harmonix is doing now, they are releasing their old games again (the ones where they didn't have to pay for licensing) and creating new games that similarly side-step licensing issues.

                If you want songs you know, that requires a big budget, if you want a big budget, that requires big sales, if you want big sales, you can't be a niche product.

                I don't claim to know exactly how to save the genre, but I think that trying to release the same music / bands each time won't help. They have to try something new.

                  Oh, mybad. Forgot I mentioned the Japanese arcades, though that was a reference to rhythm games in general, not necessarily Guitar Hero. I've hardly been to any arcades over here at all, they don't have much in the way of rhythm games other than DDR anyway (though the guys on that are still usually crazy), and have never been to an American one so I haven't seen what they do there.

                  As I mentioned elsewhere on this page, I actually preferred the games with the cover versions. Partly because of the feel it gave it, and how in some cases it made it sound even better. Plus when you have guys redoing the songs, you can control it better and fix up those uneven rhythms that are harder to read and play when notated.

    Personally, I'd prefer a return to the original formula where tracks needed to be unlocked, one small batch at a time. Sure, this meant you were forced to play through some filler, but there was a real sense of excitement as you made progress through the game.

      Yeah. It's a little structure to keep you focused and give you a goal to work towards. Although I play solo most of the time. If you play multiplayer it's probably more important to have a good selection of songs that are there just ready to go. The filler stuff isn't always bad either. There's quite a few songs I enjoy in Guitar Hero that I would have never tried in if the game didn't make me.

      I just had an idea. You can buy a campagin song pack for (arbitrary number here) $10, which has a bit of story and requires you to progress through the tracks to unlock them. Or you can just unlock the lot straight away for $12-$15.
      It's kinda like the microtransaction thing most people hate: Buy more levels, pay more to unlock them quicker, but I think for this kind of thing it works.

    I went into JB on the weekend and saw Rocksmith for the PS4 there. Never having played Rocksmith at all, I bought it and plugged in my guitar. It was actually really good.
    I am not by any means good with a guitar but I liked how it tries to teach and the difficulty scales.

    Now I just have to solder some of the connections in the guitar and it will be peachy :-D

    I still crack out RB Beatles and RB3 with my housemate every few weeks. Great fun. :)

    I went through a mini revival when I found the custom creators collective and it was as great as I remembered, but I don't have the ideal living conditions for Rock Band anymore. I'd love to see it come back, especially if they can manage instrument backwards compatibility (that would be a dealbreaker for me, I'm not buying new instruments, I've already spent $1200+ on Rock Band gear in my life), but I dare say I'd be one of those people who clamour for something they loved to return, only to not really support it once it did come back.

    The Rock Band 3 store and interface is fantastic too, I can't see many places they could improve it beyond offering more options in the store (such as the bulk purchase discounts and more flexibility). Maybe the success of Dance Central Spotlight's model of 'release a limited core game, offer a lot of DLC' will decide whether Rock Band gets the same treatment.

      I'll settle for buying a new round of instruments as long as they can guarantee that they'll last at least the entire console generation. And last properly too. None of that 'well, technically you can play with your original guitar, but the new songs all use new controller features'.
      I think that'd also be a smart move for the people actually making the games. I'm sure at some point they lost a lot of money producing new drum kits and guitars after the bubble burst.

      That said I probably shouldn't support a revival. I've got too much junk around my place as it is.

    I made a US account just so i could get all the metal songs. Over $ 300 worth. Would love if they bought it back.

    I was just thinking the same thing on Sunday night, me and my friend decided to break out Guitar Hero 2 (my fav) and relive out plastic instrument days (2007/2008). I agree, it's time.

    If you like rockband and guitar hero I recommend rocksmith 2014 not only is it fun but you actually learn playing with a real guitar. I just use a cheap $100 guitar from eBay atm and it works perfectly fine for a beginner.

    I sold all my stuff. Those instruments took up far too much space!

    I don't know why, but I always enjoyed Guitar Hero 1 and 2's cover version tracks as opposed to the originals in the following installments. For some reason it actually made me fall into the illusion that I was actually playing it alot more than the others...

      Oh yeah, this too! I often preferred the covers over the originals too. But ESPECIALLY when they went and used live recordings of the original artists. Those were always awful to try and play.

    I'd be down for a new single-instrument Guitar Hero along the lines on GH3. I bought that game on a whim and instantly fell in love with it. Kinda got too cluttered with drums and vocals thrown in to the mix.

    I liked Guitar Hero & to a lesser extent Rock Band, but I never really got into either. Rocksmith on the other hand, is just what I wanted and actively enjoy.

    They just need to to back to basics, just have the guitar and focus on the button pressing. When they started adding the other instruments I think it jumped the shark.

    Stop toying with my heart Mark!

    Maybe it's time for japan to pick up the slack and make Mku Rock Band ;)

    My Rock Band instruments are packed under my bed. The 360 is still plugged in though. This weekend is looking free...

    I still have the wireless black Les Paul and a bunch of Guitar Hero games for PS3! Game on!

    The question is could we see Rock Band come back without Guitar Hero returning (without learning anything from it's mistakes)? A big part of everything going south was that Guitar Hero led the genre, hell for most it was the genre, while not really doing anything more than cashing in. Rock Band wasn't perfect but it tried to be sustainable. Guitar Hero on the other hand was so huge that it didn't matter that it wasn't sustainable right up until it collapsed.
    If Rock Band came back to any sort of success I'm sure we'd see Guitar Hero return, and unless they were super slow about it Guitar Hero would probably return in time to take it's crown back. With it in the number one position with it's old sense of priorities it'd only be a matter of time before it collapsed again. I'm sure they understand what went wrong, but understanding and showing restraint the next time are too different things.

    Always had such a blast playing Guitar Hero's and Rock Bands with the kids. GH3, World Tour, and LEGO Rock Band were the faves of all the games for us. Through the Fire and Flames was my #1 fave track to (try and) play :)

    If there was a new version of GH/RB for Xbone/PS4 I'd buy it in a heartbeat!

    This. So very much this.

    I basically only have my PS3 still on the off chance I get the opportunity to play RB again one day. I also have 2 of the awesome logitech guitars that retailed around $300, but were on discount down to $50 near the end there.

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