I have a small confession to make: I love playing Guitar Hero and Rock Band. We recently got Rock Band 2 for the household here, unfortunately the drums were defective. A quick visit to the support website followed by a fair amount of traipsing about their pages led to a form to fill out. A couple weeks later and a new set of drums showed up at the door. I didn't even send them my receipt to provide proof of purchase within the warranty period either, even though they said I'd have to. Odd. Still .. yay!
I very much understand why people love to play these games and why they sell so well: it's a way to participate with a very low barrier to entry with something that a lot of people enjoy a lot (music) wrapped up in a fairy tale story (the rock star dream). I think it's fascinating that these games are introducing people to entire bodies of music fr the first time, both old and new, driving popularity and sales for the artists. The integrated song stores are an obvious progression.
What I dislike, however, is how the innovation in the software just crawls along at a snail's pace. Rock Band 2 is not all that different from the original Guitar Hero in most respects. Ok, sure they have the world you travel around on in a more on-linear fashion, there are drums and vocals, you can play with people online, download new music and the crowds and bands are animated much nicer ... but there is really not that much new in the game play. The things you can dress up your characters with are pretty boring at this point. Oh look! Crazy looking guitars! *sigh* The tattoos and what not are interesting, but it's still pretty limited.
None of these progressions are non-obvious or even what I'd classify as "clever".
Here's an example of what would make a really nice touch of the sort that would impress me: providing proper support for combining vocals and an instrument.
I know a fair number of the songs included pretty well, sometimes well enough to sing them properly without lyric prompts. Heck, I play some of those songs on my real guitars, and I've been playing real guitars and singing along at the same time for a number of years. I probably couldn't make a great living doing it ;) but I can entertain friends and family (and myself ;) well enough. So it is that I'll put the mic the stand I still have back from when I was in a band and play an instrument and sing at the same time. Great fun!
There are, however, a few annoyances and all because the game has no way of knowing that you're both singing and playing. Take the vocal "solos" for instance that simulate banging a tambourine or whatever by plonking on the mic. Well, that's not going to happen if I'm also playing an instrument at the same time and is just very annoying. Or how the lyrics stay at the top of the screen; if I'm playing an instrument and singing, I'd like at least the option to bring the lyrics closer to the "play line" for my instrument; this would let me sing more songs that I only sorta-kinda know the lyrics too. Bonus points for showing my character on stage with the guitar and actually singing.
These are not rocket science type things, and I know that the idea of singing and playing occurred to someone working on the games because it was an in-game hint to do try singing while playing an instrument in the first Rock Band game.
The music store, at least in Rock Band 2 (haven't seen Guitar Hero's offering, to be honest) is also painfully annoying to use. I understand there's a way to offer user generated content somewhere, but how about opening that store up to independent artists and splitting the profit with them?
I don't know .. when I first came across this game genre a couple years back I was really impressed with how neat an idea it was. It was like someone took all those crazy stomping and button mashing games like DDR and made something I'd actually enjoy doing while creating a simulated experience. Since then, I've been disappointed with how they seem to just be filling i the cracks here and there but not really Thinking Big or completing the experience with extra slickness (like allowing one to pair up singing with an instrument in the game properly).
This reflects my disappointment with most products on the market these days.