Just under 10 years ago, Activision launched the first game in the Guitar Hero franchise and, for a while, it (and Rock Band, which followed in 2007) was the Great Hope of digital music. Major acts flocked to these brands, including The Beatles for Rock Band, and they were selling games in the millions; but they eventually overstretched themselves (branching into dance music with DJ Hero) and the wheels popped off. Then it all went quiet and the series was discontinued in 2011.
Now Guitar Hero is back, Back, BACK. A full relaunch is happening in “the fall” (they mean “the autumn”), but the twist is that it will be a live, interactive game (clearly learning lessons from the likes of Twitch). There will also be a new controller to exploit this interactivity to its fullest potential. The glory days – when Guitar Hero became a $2bn franchise by 2009 – might be behind it, but like real life heritage acts, it doesn’t want to settle into retirement just yet.
Key to the relaunch, and a sign that it has been watching what has developed in its absence, is Guitar Hero TV – a “dynamically updated” library of music – that allows users to play against anyone around the world. But hold up. Licensing deals have not been finalised so things might not roll out quite so quickly. That said, acts such as The Rolling Stones, The War On Drugs, Pierce The Veil, The Killers and The Black Keys are all confirmed.
The big play appears to be around connected devices and how gaming has adapted to the potentials here. There is also a mobile version planned. So box ticking has been carefully attended to in its planned renaissance. Billboard has spoken to Activision and they are, as you would expect them to be, incredibly bullish. The company appears fully aware of how far the gaming market has developed since its glory days, which is clearly a good thing. But that is also the real challenge. It is coming from being the anointed one to finding itself seriously on the back foot and playing catch up with the rash up upstarts that arrived in its wake. That said, any service putting music at the very heart of what it is doing (and licensing that music to create monetisation opportunities) should be applauded. Now all it has to do is hit its cue.