Guitar Hero And Music Industry: Friend Or Foe?

IIt is nigh on impossible to talk about music and videogames without mentioning rhythm music games. If you are at a loss as to what I’m talking about, the games I’m talking about are those like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

Although not the first of its kind, Guitar Hero definitely rose to fame first in this genre of video game. Designed by Harmonix and published by RedOctane, the first incarnation of Guitar Hero released in 2005; since then there have been nine main games (not including expansions and portable editions) in the series, designed by various studios (Harmonix, Neversoft, Vicarious Visions), and published by different companies RedOctane, Activision). For those that don’t know, Guitar Hero puts a plastic guitar in the players’ hands and tasks them to hit the notes in songs displayed on the screen, by accurately pressing colour coded buttons when prompted on screen. In later editions a drum peripheral was added that effectively worked in the same way as the guitar, along with a microphone which tasked the singers to keep the pitch of their voices at the correct levels (despite being allowed some creative licence with the words we sing).

Rhythm gaming experience

Guitar Hero proved itself to be a lucrative and successful franchise; however, over-saturation of the market with numerous editions finally led to the downfall of the series which was put on ice in early 2011. Guitar Hero’s main competitor was Rock Band, first released in 2007, and designed by Harmonix (who had been acquired by MTV), and published by MTV. Rock Band released six main games between 2007 and 2009 and although its sales figures weren’t as great as its competitor, it was pegged by some as the better, more representative game.

The importance of these games, however, is the need for close relations to the industry. Between them, these games featured songs from a plethora of bands and artists including Avenged Sevenfold, The Beatles, Blink-182, Green Day, Linkin Park, Nickelback, Nirvana and many, many more. The genre of the songs ranged between Metal and Pop-Rock, but DJ Hero, another game published by Activision featuring a turn table peripheral, covered the Pop, Club and Hip-Hop genres. All this music needed to be legally licensed from the respective owners and so a cordial relationship between the worlds of music and gaming was necessary for these games to work.

Although the relationship between the two industries was generally both a positive and a lucrative one, there were some major incidents that show that things don’t always run smoothly. Gibson Guitars sued companies involved in the development of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band for violating patents linked to the likeness of their guitars being used for the game peripherals. Axl Rose filed a lawsuit against Activision for its use of Welcome To The Jungle in Guitar Hero Legends Of Rock and its association with former Guns N Roses guitarist Slash. There was also an issue over the use of Kurt Cobain’s likeness in Guitar Hero 5, when his widow Courtney Love threatened to sue. So, as is apparent, the relations between the two industries aren’t always peachy.

Rhythm action games, especially Guitar Hero and Rock Band are perfect examples of how music is an integral part of gaming and in this case allowing gamers who may not have any musical talent, experience a little of what it could be like to be a rock star.

Dotted Music’s latest columnist – Alexander Goodenough – will discuss the relationship between the videogame industry and the music industry in his column. Alexander is a freelance writer whose interests range from videogames and films to music; he has experience in magazine-editing and graphic design.