After a five-year hiatus, Activision is resurrecting popular music franchise Guitar Hero. On Tuesday (April 14), the company was expected to announce a fall 2015 relaunch of Guitar Hero, developed by FreeStyle Games (DJ Hero, Sing Party), as a live, interactive game with a new controller for more enhanced gameplay. Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz and My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way were on-hand to endorse the announcement.
Introduced by music-game developer Harmonix in 2005, Guitar Hero became a $2 billion franchise by 2009, according to financials announced at the time by Activision CEO Robert Kotick, making it the third video game in history to reach that revenue milestone. It spawned several spin-offs (DJ Hero, Band Hero, Guitar Hero: World Tour) as well as knockoffs (MTV and Harmonix’s Rock Band and The Beatles: Rock Band) -- not to mention a series of high-profile lawsuits from the likes of Axl Rose, No Doubt and Gibson Guitar.
But as the music-game category became over-crowded, Guitar Hero grew stale and behind the times as music tastes shifted towards electronic dance and hip-hop trends, with Guitar Hero’s licensed music often trailing the radio by months, if not years. That’s why the latest iteration will be focused on a connected, dynamically updated MTV-esque music library called “Guitar Hero TV” that will allow players to flip through genre-specific “channels” to play against their friends as well as gamers across the globe. Licensing deals are still being finalized, but anticipated tracks include everything from The Black Keys and Gary Clark Jr. to Ed Sheeran, Of Monsters & Men and Avicii.
“Expect anything from the past, from now and the future as they arrive,” says Jamie Jackson, creative director and studio head of FreeStyle Games. “2015 is a very different place than 2010. There’s so many more connected consoles, and we’re so used to consuming music in different ways. We wanted to make sure we did something that people maybe weren’t expecting, but also really were expecting because that’s how they consume things.”
The new, enhanced Guitar Hero controller will have six plectrums (up from five) to enable more advanced guitar work, with virtual products licensed by more than a dozen peripheral partners including Fender, Gretch, Yamaha, Zildjian and Blackstar. Each “performance” will be accompanied by footage recorded in front of an actual live audience in different club, arena and stadium settings in London for a more visceral experience. The fictional clubs are expected to be part of a separate vertical, “SoundDial,” which will be a key part of Activision’s plans at the 2015 E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles June 16 through 18.
And look for a mobile version of Guitar Hero this time around, too. “The vision early on was, ‘could we bring you the game fully on your tablet where you’re not sacrificing anything in terms of the visuals and game features?’” says Tyler Michaud, senior director-product management at Activision Publishing, who pointed to Activision’s multi-platform role-playing game Skylanders as an example. “We have a 90-rated game where you can play on your tablet screen and everything is one-hundred-percent at parity with the console. So, if someone’s using the television at your house, you could take the guitar into another room and play on your phone or tablet’s screen.”
And though Michaud acknowledges the “bumpy ride” in bringing Guitar Hero back into the marketplace after such a long hiatus, he credits the excitement from the gaming blogger community around early leaks and teases of the relaunch as validation. “There’s a collective excitement, which is interesting given that people haven’t seen the game. But based on the tone of the coverage and what people are seeing on our social channels, this will be hopefully a delightful surprise for people. We knew we had to hit the brakes for a while, but this was the time.”