There is no question that music/rhythm games have become huge sellers across all demographics. In fact, they may just be as popular as Madden and company. With that success comes a small problem: retailers are stuffed to the gills with music games. Their boxes are often big and clunky, and there simply isn’t enough shelf and floor space for all of them.
As MTV blogger Patrick Klepek sharply points out, this issue may affect the games themselves. Walmart and other big retailers are very powerful in this industry. If they choose not to sell a niche game, no one is crying, but if you are trying to make something that could appeal to the entire market, you need to be everywhere. If Wallyworld and others decide to put a strict limit on their music games, then up and coming developers may find their chances squandered as they are denied shelf space. The MTV blog indicates that in a meeting with Walmart execs, XS games personnel were given the thumbs up for making the controller to their new Popstar Guitar game a Wiimote shell. Had they gone for something bigger, that meeting might have gone on quite differently.
This development is quite intriguing. Peripheral based games are old hat, but they have always occupied a nice space, so that retailers could get away with having one or two copies in stock at all times. In the case of DDR, Konami does very little to provide dance pads, since they have embraced the fact that the community is too large to accommodate every level of player. DDR fans find the pad that works right for them, and the community is old and dedicated enough to be quite pleased with this arrangement.
After Guitar Hero, the music game genre has broken all of these rules. The market for these games is now far from niche, so they cannot rely on a small, well networked community. Few music games come out without an instrument bundle, so that new players always have an easy point of entry into the genre. Just as big as the fanbase are the game boxes. Carrying a few DDR bundles means a few feet of space on the bottom of a Best Buy game shelf. Rock Band bundles are the size of a copy of Steel Battalion, and are stacked up like a massive pyramid somewhere on the store floor.
For the last few iterations, the bundles have made sense. GH1 demanded it, GH2 benefited from 2 player, and 3 introduced a good wireless product. Rock Band 1 and GH World Tour needed the bundles to start people off. From here on out something will have to give. The big players now ship games with multiple peripherals, while all the smaller guys want to fill the rest of the space fighting amongst each other with simpler games. Throw in space for single instruments and it seems hopeless. It will be an interesting challenge for both retail and the gaming industry to overcome. More controller shells will help, but only so much (after all, technically the GH3 controller is a Wii shell of sorts). Cross compatibility between games is also important, but this doesn’t stop publishers from still pushing out their own product. Limiting the quantity of bundles shipped to each store is unfortunately one of the most surefire decisions. I have seen countless stores with far more copies of Rock Band than they need. These games need to start being treated like big ticket items, where limited quantities may require a special order. I know it is a pain for the purposes of entertainment, but please send your complaints to the people who thought your guitar game experience can include a guitar, bass, drums, mic, Stage Kit, and Amplifier (cocaine mirror coming soon).