Music games are dead, long live music games

While Activision Blizzard's shedding of the Guitar Hero franchise earlier this week was monumental, in some ways, I wasn't surprised. Acitivision Blizzard is the most 'business-first' publisher in the video game industry, and as NPD reports month after month have attested to, music games are . So Guitar Hero is gone, and Rock Band, given . While some say this crash was unavoidable, I vehemently disagree. Lack of innovation and focus got the genre into this mess, and a surplus will be needed to save it.

Before I move onto my backseat analyst mode, let me harp on how broken the business model for music games is at this point. Think about all of the dozens of new music games that have released over the last few years--how many brought new gameplay mechanics to the table? Precious few-I'd say Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Rock Band 3 were the only ones. How many came with plastic instruments that barely innovated over previous iterations? Almost all of them. Rock Band 3 pretty much perfected the hardware and software elements of music games-the key now is to follow it up with properly marketed DLC.

Rock Band Network is a nice start, producing a decent flow of music from lesser-known artist, but there's still tons of room for growth. Granted, putting a song in Rock Band is not as simple as uploading it to Apple's music service, but I still have hope that one day bands will be able to sell their songs almost as easily as they do CDs and t-shirts. I think the key to making music games popular is going more granular than throwing together a disc of random tracks. The install base for plastic guitars is massive. The key is to present the right music to the right people as well as the proper tools to musicians and labels.

Right now, even die-hard Rock Band fans have to put in a tremendous amount of legwork to find out what new tracks have come out on Rock Band Network-that shouldn't have to be the case. Given RBN's infancy and potential to grow, I could see it evolving into an iTunes-like service that disseminates the content across multiple platforms, allowing fans to access it whether they're in the office, at home, or on a mobile device. The latter two formats have already been cracked by Rock Band-figuring out the PC and tying the three together is the key move.

As for giving musicians the means to get their wares into music games, I will say that Rock Band Network has provided a tremendous first step. However, it has plenty of room to grow to become a platform in which artists can hand their music over and receive a sellable product from the middleman in the same way that they can put an album on iTunes. We've already seen games like Beats and Vib Ribbon that allow players to turn their music collections into playable stages-I have the utmost confidence that Harmonix can iterate Rock Band Network to a point where musicians can take their tracks and turn them into playable game tracks without having to sacrifice much in the way of time or energy.

Record labels certainly aren't immune from responsibility for leaving music games at this nadir or pulling them out of it. The companies were slow to find an online model that properly presented its products before Apple created it for them-the distinct lack of promotion of music games from labels is very unfortunate, given the fact that it could have been mutually beneficial. Record labels, gaming press, and music press have just as much to do to get the word out. If a song you like is available to play in a video game, all parties need to make sure that you're absolutely aware of it.