The Peripheral War

by Steve Bowler on June 15, 2008 · 9 comments

in business

An Epic Battle...

Word has it that Guitar Hero IV has a rumored pirce point of $179, and one has to wonder if they’re not shooting themselves in the foot here. Guitar Hero has dominated the rhythm music genre for the past two years, milking their poor cash cow past Dance Dance Revolution to the number one spot.

It’s not difficult to see which franchise has been more successful; Guitar Hero’s lifetime sales of around 8 million and brand awareness obliterates Rock Band’s one or two million sales. But looking at the pros and cons, I’m not sure that Guitar Hero IV is the “slam dunk” their executives no doubt think it is.

Pros:

  • Guitar Hero brand is the premium rhythm game brand
  • Plenty of great licensed songs
  • GH III guitars might still work with GH IV
  • New touch-sensitive guitar neck (presumably for pitch bending notes up)

Cons:

  • Rock Band will have beaten GHIV to market by about a year
  • Rock Band will have 258 songs available at GHIV launch
  • Better than average chance customer already owns previous GH product, meaning a lack of ala carte instruments will have them feeling cheated at being forced to pay another $179 in addition to the $200 or so they’ve easily spent on your franchise to date
  • Additionally, new guitar functionality might make previous owners feel ignored or outdated
  • Featureset not really different enough from Rock Band to set itself apart in the marketplace
  • Worst case scenario: Customer already owns competitor’s product, and doesn’t feel need to purchase GHIV

Looking at the situation, it’s a tough call to make here. Will the GH owner (of which there are many, many more than Rock Band) pony up the money to buy the $179 kit? While this argument was valid when Rock Band released, there’s a bit of a larger issue at stake here with GH IV.

Namely, the GH fan has most probably already bought at least two guitar peripherals by now, and there’s a decent chance they own guitar peripherals for two systems (PS2 and 360/PS3). Buying Rock Band was an easy choice for a lot of GH fans. They probably already owned one guitar for their 360, so by buying Rock Band, not only did they get the drums, a microphone, and the Rock Band guitar, they now had a complete set to rock out. The Rock Band guitar added the shred buttons, but those were optional, and to be honest, hardly used.

GHIV could very well be a tougher sell than Rock Band. By now, the folks who didn’t buy Rock Band ponied up for a second guitar (no doubt when they bought GHIII instead of Rock Band and got the wireless guitar), so now the boxed set will force them into a third guitar situation. If there is no ala carte hardware option, that fan could very well feel cheated, and just avoid the box set altogether.

But I could have it completely backwards. The Activision execs could just be banking on milking the GH teats for another software sequel, with the box set being a “value add” to the series. Although upon reflection this seems like a bit of a poor business model since the bulk of the software development is going to be supporting all of those other instruments.

One thing is for certain here: The majority of game software purchasers (talking mass market here) can only afford (or justify) one game system per generation, and with pricepoints above $150, I’m sure the same general rule applies to hardware peripherals, which in the past have been horrible sellers in the first place. Is Rock Band’s lead on the “band” rhythm game installed base going to prevail? Or will the brand awareness and the previously purchased guitars be seen as the gateway drug to get GH buyers to go in for the GH box set?

Did we really need a band rhythm game war? We already have console wars. Did we really need a peripheral battle too? Is GHIV going to launch rhythm games even further into the mainstream, or is it going to be the swan song of the genre? Sound off in the comments. I want to hear your opinions/debate on this.

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