Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Brands And Their Destruction

After seeing the Rock Band 2 announcement yesterday, I saw a review for Guitar Hero: Aerosmith.

It was not flattering.

This made me think about brands, and how they get ruined.

I'm not implying that the Guitar Hero brand has been ruined. It has, however, been seriously weakened.

Let's review.

The original Guitar Hero was my Game of the Year in 2005 (for a trip in the wayback machine, see For Those About To Rock, I Salute You). There are 66 reviews in the Metacritic database with an average score of 91, and one review below 80 (hopefully, the writer for the Detroit Free Press is still serving time in game reviewer's prison).

In short, a comprehensive ass kicking.

Guitar Hero II was, to me, even better. For the PS2 version (November 2006), 69 review scores with an average score of 92, and one more review below 80 (well done, New York Times). For the 360 version (April 2007), 55 reviews, average review score of 92, and no reviews below 80.

If you're keeping tabs, that's a total of 187 reviews, with two below a score of 80.

Then it begins.

An expansion pack--Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s--was released in July 2007. This was in the middle of an acrimonious divorce between Harmonix and Red Octane, and the product was a disaster. 50 reviews, average review score of 69. ONE review of 90 or higher, but thirty-seven reviews below 80.

In a brand sense, that's damage.

Guitar Hero III came out in late October 2007. Average review score (for the 360 version): 85. 68 reviews, with eight below 80. Other platforms had average review scores of 82,83, 86, and 78.

Again, you've got a 90+ game that's beginning to deteriorate, and based on my own experience, I wouldn't have given the game above an 80, compared to the previous versions.

Instead of retrenching and making sure that the next Guitar Hero release returns to the old quality standards, though, Activision flogs another summer release. This time, it's Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, and with 12 reviews in the Metacritic database so far, the average score is 72.

Oh, and there's an entirely new release for the DS (the freaking DS) called Guitar Hero: On Tour, a tortured adaptation of the Guitar Hero gameplay with a bastardized mini-controller. 17 reviews, average review score 77. That actually came out a week before Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, so it should actually move up one spot in the sequence.

If Guitar Hero was a student, this would be his grade progression:
A-, A-, D+, B, C, C-.

It's not difficult to see the trend.

This fall we get Guitar Hero World Tour (and, who knows, maybe another GH III expansion). Activision seems more than ready to ride this horse until it collapses. In doing so, though, they've compromised the quality of the brand. They can't ride B and C rated products indefinitely.

Unlike EA Sports, they don't have an exclusive license on "music."

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