Music gamers, I can see tomorrow

The present:

Guitar Hero III comes out. It sells well on the strength of the brand name, as the two previous games were a blast. (Let us not talk of Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s, a $50 expansion pack.) Players note the increased difficulty (Hard is the new Expert) and the new hyper-competitive attitude. They’re not exactly happy about it — why do I have to beat suckas down? Can’t I just feel rewarded for having skill? Why must Tom Morello suffer my wrath?

The future:

Rock Band comes out November 20. Anyone who hasn’t spent all their money on GH3 realizes that this is what they really wanted — rewarding four-player co-op, an easier guitar game (Expert is the new Hard), and the novelty of drums and vocals as well. However, there’s lots of complaints about the new guitar controller.

Guitar Hero III wins the sales war for the holiday, but word begins to spread. Rock Band is the game that people tell their friends about, and Technical Scale Exercise Hero III leaves a bad taste in the mouths of hardcore gamers. After barely issuing any downloadable content for GH2, the tracks start to flow for GH3…and nobody buys them, because they simply didn’t enjoy the core experience and don’t wish to extend it. Meanwhile, Rock Band also issues DLC and it causes a lot of screaming and yelling because, well, people care about it enough to scream and yell about the song choices (whatever they wind up being, people will object to them, so I feel pretty safe there). Sales maintain a steady pace for Rock Band as word spreads and the peripherals become available as individual products instead of just bundles.

The next iteration of Guitar Hero — possibly Guitar Villain, and I’m not kidding — is unveiled in the spring, probably on someone’s magazine cover. While some mass market gamers are still into it, most of the audience has moved on to the more rewarding Rock Band. Harmonix, rather than reinventing the wheel, will stick to its idea that RB is a “platform” and likely come up with an extension of the game, an add-on disc or something that tackles a new genre (hip-hop and particularly country seem ripe) and everybody who did invest in the “platform” at the beginning now feels like it’s a no-brainer purchase, as long as they like the genre. Rock Band has, after all, become the social center of their friendly gatherings; cracking a six pack and jamming with friends is undeniably fun, and continues to be as long as fresh content flows in via DLC.

When Guitar Hero IV comes out to weak sales in Holiday 2008, Activision realizes they paid too much, while MTV Games laughs all the way to the bank.

And then it all goes cloudy.

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