On 20 November 2007, Harmonix, EA and MTV Games released the first Rock Band, a four-player, instrument-driven rhythm game that briefly changed the face of social multiplayer gaming. Where are your plastic instruments now?
If you had told me in early 2007 that a box packed with a game, guitar, drums and a mic would sell millions of copies, driving competitors to develop their own expensive band-in-a-box games, I would have called you crazy. If you’d told me in early 2008 that Rock Band and its progenitor-turned-competition, Guitar Hero, would be all but dead by 2011, I would have been too busy playing Rock Band to hear you.
During the years following Rock Band’s initial release, there was no better way to share music with friends than to get in front of a television and jam to Rock Band. It was at parties. It was at gaming conventions. It was at my local bar, drawing crowds almost as big as the football. Not only did Rock Band and its ilk bring together friends with friends, it connected players with music they otherwise might have never heard. Some of my favourite songs to this day.
Unfortunately the public’s enthusiasm for rhythm games led Rock Band publisher EA and Guitar Hero publisher Activision to go completely EA and Activision on the series. Between 2007 and 2010, six Rock Band games (not counting mobile and portable releases) were released, including The Beatles: Rock Band, Green Day: Rock Band and Lego Rock Band. In 2008, Activision upgraded Guitar Hero to full band game, releasing a new version each year until 2010, along with 2009's Band Hero, a pop-centric spin off.
I love me some Lego, but can totally see the ridiculousness of this.
As genre over-saturation goes, it was pretty impressive. It’s almost as if EA and Activision had teamed up to make people completely sick of band games.
Harmonix released Rock Band 3 in autumn 2010, and its sales weren’t great. In fact, it was outsold that holiday season by another Harmonix game, Dance Central, a game exclusive to the Xbox 360's then-new Kinect sensor. That’s just plain sad. Still, Harmonix kept releasing new songs for Rock Band 3 until mid-2013.
Harmonix brought back the series in October 2015 with Rock Band 4. It’s a great band game, but it doesn’t seem like a lot of people want that right now. It probably didn’t help that Activision also released the first new Guitar Hero game since 2010 in the same month.
Harmonix has been updating Rock Band 4 pretty steadily since its release, adding new game modes, online multiplayer support and new music. Earlier this year the studio released Rock Band VR, which Kirk Hamilton called the most fun he’d had playing Rock Band in years.
Rock Band never stopped being fun. It just stopped being interesting to all but the most dedicated plastic instrument artists. These days I keep things simple. I’m on the guitar, my wife’s on the mic, and my kids take care of demanding we play every single song in alphabetical order.
Do you still have your instruments? Do you still play? Can I come over?