Weak incentives, confused launch and a lack of substance prevent the Nintendo Switch's online service from being among the greatsWritten by Sam Nason on 13th April 2019
A Postmortem of Guitar Hero Live
Gaming editor Christopher Hall looks back at Guitar Hero Live as GH TV prepares to shuts down; an underrated game that deserved to be under a far less greedy publisher
Back in 2015, I absolutely adored Guitar Hero Live. It was a game I had tons of fun with playing songs in the campaign and, with the online-based GH TV's 24/7 radio stations or through selecting my own songs, it was one of those games where I really did start out being truly abysmal at it but played so much to become really, really good. It was easily one of my favourite games of 2015.
I thought at the time that it was the breath of fresh air that would revive the franchise from the dead. Now in 2018 after hearing that Guitar Hero Live “failed to meet expectations” and is being shoved to the bargain bin, one final nail gets put in the coffin with Activision announcing shutting down of GH TV (bringing the song total from almost 500 to 42) at the end of the year. I think that it’s time to see what Guitar Hero Live did right and where Guitar Hero Live went wrong and why it was considered such a commercial failure.
I think that starting with the positives is best so we can at least appreciate what the developers did before hammering how much wrong they did.
So the first big thing that was drastically improved from the previous games is the guitar itself. With its new style and button placement (so the harder modes no longer require big hands as much as they used to), the game managed to keep its difficulty while making the guitar feel more comfortable, with only extended periods of time making the hands hurt a bit.
The second improvement was GH TV and how it was designed (for the most part - I will address the issues later). GH TV had the radio stations and at different times it played different types of music. There was a timetable of what stations where on and you could join at any time, competing with people of similar skills. As a result you felt compelled to play to these stations and competing with others at the same time. As a result of the large library of songs there was always something for everybody.
The final thing that made Guitar Hero Live stand out was its change in style. From the cartoonish style to a more realistic if slightly cheesy look, it made the game feel fresh. You'd think these three improvements would make the game worthwhile, even if you’re jaded with the series but like I said it failed and unfortunately that is for very good reasons.
So let's start with the less egregious reasons. Potentially the change in style might stop people from buying it but I honestly think that sticking to formula would make it more likely to fail due to the output before this. Speaking of which before Guitar Hero Live there was a lot of Guitar Hero games to the point of excess and absurdly which might have fatigued people so much that Guitar Hero Live was always going to fail no matter what even if those past games were a success.
Another potential reason is that you have to buy a new gaming guitar for this game and while I praised the guitar earlier, that new price tag is demanding but none of those reasons are why people were angry and wanted a refund on the day of release and the people that were happy to see this game flop. No - there’s something far, far less forgiving that ultimately meant Guitar Hero Live, as well as being a failure, was hated by a significant number of long time fans.
The microtransactions and how they were implemented.
A system that is by no means defensible, even by people who love the game (like me). A system that was so horrid and quite possibly the worst model ever used by Activision even today (which is saying a hell of a lot considering what they've been doing with Call of Duty and Destiny). It wasn’t enough that they are asking for money for another Guitar Hero game after their output and ask people to buy the new guitar. They put microtransactions in and implemented them in such a disgusting way.
So how does said system work? Well you have a finite number of plays when it comes to choosing to play songs of your choice so that means when you run out of plays you no longer control what songs you can play. How do you get more plays? Well either grind on the radio stations for a decent amount of time or give Activision more money on top of what you’ve already paid. When it comes to the radio stations for each song you do get some of the fake currency (and xp for levels) and this currency can be used to get you your plays so you can play your favourite songs but (and this is where this system goes to new level of awful) that currency is also used to upgrade your guitar in the game (which is needed for higher scores) so you have to essentially decide whether you wanted to play songs of your choice or get higher scores with upgrading. This system attempted to destroy all the hard work FreeStyle Games has done truly taking people for a ride. It’s greedy, predatory and downright scummy. This is a game that, while damn fine in many ways, was toxic in others and that means that it probably deserved to fail.
Guitar Hero Live, I thought in the past, was the one game that was good enough to be forgiven for the awful microtransactions but today I’m conflicted. I can’t deny the hours and hours of fun I had playing so saying that I hate it would be dishonest. But I can also never deny that the microtransactions are truly awful and as a result I can’t ever feel good saying that I loved the game even if that’s the truth. Many games I will tear to shreds because of microtransactions and I don't blame anyone ever to tear into this game. Hell, me today would have never bought a game that had this awful level of a microtransation system just on sheer principle of not wanting to support that level of greed.
With everything considered I don’t think any one of the factors alone destroyed Guitar Hero Live’s sales especially with people not being as aware of dangers of microtransactions (including myself) back in 2015 but with all the factors combined, failure was going to be likely and probably destined. Perhaps it’s a lesson about consumer patience. Even if the end product is great it won’t matter if you take people too much for a ride and when I say ride I mean more than just the microtransactions.
And most of that great work that FreeStyle Games did won't exist at the end of 2018 leaving us with a far, far lesser game which is really really sad. A game despite of Activision's best efforts to ruin it was really great and it won't matter past 2018 for the most part and as far as its reputation goes, it will - if not already - be completely forgotten.