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Rock Band 3 is shaping up to be the best rhythm game released in a good long while. Without needing to add tacky extras such as a story mode or celebrity cameos, Harmonix have managed to find a great deal more to add to the music game pie by including a whole new instrument – two if you include the real Squire guitar – as well as the required dozens of new tracks to play.
All of these extra features (and wise omissions) have made the game pretty essential for anyone who counts the genre among their favourites. Here however, Harmonix may find they have a problem, since amongst the gaming community the popularity of these games has been waning over the last year.
A genuine argument could be made that there's still very much a market for quality games, that recent iterations such as Guitar Hero: Van Halen, and Band Hero (noticing a trend here?) simply don't appeal to, but the fact remains that DJ Hero was released last year to good reviews, and failed to reach the popularity the genre experienced at its peak.
Rock Band 3 will likely sell fine to the kinds of people that already buy and play music games, but in doing so it would be fulfilling a mere fraction of its potential. There's already a huge demographic out there who're ideally placed to jump on the bandwagon with just a little clever marketing on the part of EA: musicians.
At a glance it seems strange that more musicians don't already play games like Rock Band. These are experiences which are after all crafted around a subject matter which this demographic is passionate about. Five buttons and a strum bar a guitar does not make however, and it's hard to convince a guitarest to start a game on 'Easy' difficulty when with just a little more effort they could use their existing skills to play the real thing. It's not snobbery at work here, just a time to satisfaction ratio that doesn't add up for them.
Deciding to market a game to a non-gaming demographic is all well and good, but reaching them with anything other than very expensive scatter-shot advertising is another thing entirely. This isn't a demographic that congregates around gaming websites, and thus will have most of your press release and preview events completely pass them by.
So if musicians won't come to Harmonix, then the only reasonable solution is for Harmonix to go to the musicians. Set up kiosks everywhere live music flourishes; gig venues, music shops, boutique record stores, and get your fantastic new instruments into the hands of the people who'll appreciate in an instant how different this is from all its peers. Don't just show them pretty pictures of guitars which for all they know could be three-quarter sized, but let them feel the Squire themselves. The MadCatz-produced Fender Mustang may be the default guitar, but showing that to people is going to do more harm than good.
The Fender Squire guitar has the potential to make learning songs on guitar a whole lot easier for guitarists since the Internet's biggest tabliture sites started getting shut down. Once musicians know that that's the case they'll flock to it, but it's a large investment for anyone other than a prolific gamer. Rock Band 3 could be the biggest music game success since the original Guitar Hero, it's all just a matter of making sure the right people know about it.