Guitar Hero was an incredibly niche series of games that found massive success in the face of considerable odds, yet a series of missteps inevitably caused its abrupt and unceremonious death. These events should have spelled the franchise’s definite end. However, the series has recently made an unlikely return thanks to still dedicated fans connecting over the Internet—a fascinating phenomenon that has not only revived an otherwise dead series but brought it to a whole new, modern audience.
The first Guitar Hero game was developed by Harmonix and released in 2005 to massive success from both critics and fans alike. Players had not seen anything like the game before, and were particularly drawn by the game’s unique rhythm-based gameplay that required the use of a special guitar controller. This interest would be the foundation of the franchise’s further success, establishing the Guitar Hero brand as an unlikely household name and spearheading a new gaming niche.
Following this success, Harmonix naturally released a sequel and spin-off in 2006 and 2007 respectively, and the series was quickly acquired by Activision with development of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock passed on to Neversoft. This entry truly proved the appeal of the Guitar Hero formula; even today, Guitar Hero III is considered the best in the series that fans consistently come back to, and being the first game in history to reach one billion dollars worth in sales, its huge success spoke for itself.
Despite being a clear win for Activision, this success only prompted the quick decline of the franchise that would inevitably spell its doom. Between 2007 and 2008 alone, a total of eight Guitar Hero games, peripherals included, were released across multiple platforms, each more rushed and less successful than their predecessors. This oversaturation promptly killed interest in the series and sales consequently fell, and in 2011, Activision announced that the franchise would be put on an indefinite hiatus. Of course, the series was revisited with 2015’s Guitar Hero Live which sought to revive interest in and reinvent the series, but in doing so only alienated fans and did not appeal to new audiences, resulting in similarly low sales and almost certainly preventing future releases.
However, a dedicated community of fans of the series remained, and the advent of social media conveniently maintained interest in the franchise by connecting players through their love of the games. Though the series itself had effectively ended, fans continued to share their experiences over YouTube and through forums, essentially keeping the games and their established community of fans alive.
Today, that continued interest has evolved into something much more, and Guitar Hero essentially lives on through a new medium. Aside from playing fan favorite Guitar Hero III, most have migrated to Clone Hero, a free standalone client for PC developed by fans that gives players the freedom to play custom songs and control every facet of a Guitar Hero title. Fans have also found new outlets for participating in the community, with streamers amassing thousands of daily viewers and hundreds of thousands of subscribers on YouTube. These new ways of experiencing Guitar Hero have modernised the franchise in a way that no one, not even its creators, could have predicted, turning what was once a fun pastime for fans and their local friends into a global phenomenon with a thriving community, even attracting those who had never played a Guitar Hero game beforehand to participate.
Similarly, overall interest in games with custom peripherals like Guitar Hero have risen considerably as innovation continues to drive the creation of new ways of playing games. In particular, virtual reality has entered the mainstream with its advanced motion controls and more casual titles, even featuring those such as Beat Saber which clearly channel the appeal of Guitar Hero with similar rhythm-based gameplay. It certainly seems that now would be the perfect time frame to release a new Guitar Hero game that directly addresses this renewed desire for physicality in games.
Though it is unlikely following the recent failure of Guitar Hero Live, whose servers shut down near the end of 2018, the unprecedented revival of interest in the Guitar Hero franchise and others like it could encourage the release of further entries if done right; an official version of Clone Hero with similar customisation, for example, or a remaster of Guitar Hero III. If not, fans are still left with a thriving community, and the series somehow seems more alive than ever.