In the last generation of systems there was a frenzied period when Guitar Hero and Rock Band went head to head and dominated the gaming industry. With pricey yet desirable accessories and gameplay that struck a nerve with the public, the concept of plastic instruments and music games was a huge money-spinner, with Activision happy to soak up the profits from many Guitar Hero games and spin-offs, including DJ Hero.
The games were undoubtedly fun, yet the market became over-saturated with too many variations as publishers got over-ambitious and, to be blunt, greedy. The boom was followed by a rapid bust, and recent attempts to revive the concept have fallen flat with Activision admitting that Guitar Hero Live has sold below expectations, while Madcatz unfortunately laid off staff due to Rock Band 4 similarly failing to re-ignite the market.
Yet the series nearly evolved in a big way, according to Liam Robertson and Unseen 64, based on a project that got cancelled. During the original boom years of the series Activision brought in Dutch developer Virtual Playground to work on a web-based MMO called Hero World. It would have a sizeable world with extensive customisation, with players running a club through an avatar. The key part was that it was planned to integrate with Guitar / DJ Hero games, with players performing in Hero World and completing challenges to earn currency that would be united across the console titles and MMO game. With the ability to create and share music, and opportunities for companies to have in-game items and events as marketing, it was certainly bold.
A key feature is that it would have brought players together from Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the games under one virtual environment, delivering forms of cross-platform play; it's easy to imagine that had Hero World launched and taken off it could still be part of the 'Hero' franchise - and perhaps central to it - today.
In the end, and as chronicled in the video below, the project was cancelled when declining sales and development issues of the console games started to bite; sadly it also set in motion the demise of Virtual Playground.
It's an interesting watch and an insight into the ambition that once swirled around these music games - check it out below.