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LoopyChew avatar 3:19 AM on 02.10.2011
Under Pressure: The state of the plastic music genre

So, the last time I made anything remotely resembling a proper post on this blog, it was a very, very brief statement about the sky falling around the time Harmonix was put up for sale by Viacom. That post, probably because it was short and vague (you'd have to be up to date on Harmonix news when I posted it, plus remember that this blog is mostly about Rock Band), shortly turned into an image macro post, which I thought was hilarious, so whatever.

Since then:

* Harmonix has been sold to Columbus Nova, and thus technically gone back to being an indie developer,
* Because Harmonix was crucial to the games business they were so eager to get out of, Viacom also shuttered MTV Games after Harmonix's sale,
* As a result of Harmonix having to restructure in the hands of Columbus Nova, they've just been hit with another round of layoffs, and
* Yesterday at Activision's Q4 meeting, they basically said that Guitar Hero is out. No title in 2011, and the GH Twitter account clarified that no new DLC will be forthcoming. DJ Hero's Freestyle Games is also on its way out, apparently, and probably no more DLC or upcoming installments for that, either.

Now, I think it's accepted by all but the most die-hard deniers that the salad days of the plastic rock genre are gone, and none of the attempts to revitalize it (GH:WoR's more game-like structure and mechanics; RB3's focus on more authentic instrument simulation; Power Gig's...something) have managed to do more than tread water. I love RB3 with all my heart, and still play it on a weekly basis (when I'm playing games at all; it's been a pretty busy time in my apartment), and I firmly believe it's as groundbreaking as it can possibly be, but I'm still mildly traumatized by some of its release bugs (shivers run down my spine when I see roadies unloading an amp from a truck, and it may quite possibly carry over to real life). GH I haven't really cared about for a while, but Neversoft did good on GH5 and Metallica (and there will always be a place in my heart for GH3, thanks to Cliffs of Dover). I got to try DJ Hero, and just on account of being able to mash-up Rick James and Gwen Stefani and make it sound AWESOME, they get tons of credit from me.

Now DJ Hero's gone, and Guitar Hero's gone, to that farm where they get to run around and play all day long. Harmonix is still up and running, but a sizable amount of credit goes to Dance Central being the Kinect killer app right now (it still hasn't been able to teach me how to jerk properly, dammit), though it does sound like RB DLC sales have been stable, if not spectacular.

Harmonix doesn't have any viable competition now (does anyone really expect Power Gig to be a thing?), but the plastic throne they're sitting on isn't a particularly ornate one. Also, they're walking with a bit of a limp. I expect Rock Band 4 will probably come out sometime in 2012, but I don't think we should expect any more band-alone titles anytime soon. (If they do, it'll have to be something huge, like Zeppelin or Floyd.) Dance Central titles will probably get an increasing amount of the spotlight in the future to come, until Harmonix develops another IP (maybe they'll create a new iteration of Phase for the iOS/Android/Win7Phone platforms?), but Rock Band will remain quietly in the background, but never completely out of the spotlight.

I don't intend to mourn either the plastic rock genre or the Guitar Hero franchise today. If there were any time where it was clear that Guitar Hero was dead, it was almost a year ago to the day, when Activision shuttered RedOctane--the original Guitar Hero publishers--for good, and further neutered Neversoft. Still, as Activision Social Media Guy Dan Amrich was quick to point out, "dead" in the games world (or, in fact, any franchise IP, be it game, movie, TV, or whatever) is not "dead" in any sort of literal sense of the word. Unlike your dog, that farm has the chance to be revisited. As the previous link suggests, the You Don't Know Jack franchise was put to pasture years ago; fans pounced on the weekly web show when it came to fruition a couple years back, and a new YDKJ title, the first in nearly a decade, came out yesterday. For all we know, we'll get Guitar Hero: Revival/Resurrection a few years from now, complete with a new set of plastic instruments for everyone who hawked off their old ones (instead of using them to play Rock Band like they should). And it may very well be the glorious return that could hope it will be.

 
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