Game Breakdown: Guitar Hero (et cetera)
Guitar Hero (and Rock Band, Band Hero, and similar games) is my favorite video game of all time, hands down. As you can tell, it is also the focus of today's game breakdown, so I will try to manage my bias.
Guitar Hero, and games like it, present the perfect scenario for making players happy: take the universal dream of being a rock star and make it accessible to anyone. The various levels of difficulty make it easy for anyone to jump in and rock, while the wide selection of songs and the introduction of other instruments gives everyone the opportunity to join in the fun. This game has lot going for it, and by taking a look at what makes it good, we should be able to learn a thing or two.
Include something for everyone. One of the reasons Guitar Hero and Co. were so successful was the mass appeal. Although the series started with a strong focus on classic rock, by the end, the franchise covered a huge range of styles, from pop to rap (and even a country pack for Rock Band). To replicate this, be sure to include a variety of elements in your game. This doesn't have to equate to bloat, so don't throw random things in willy nilly; rather, develop variety within the confines of the game already established. Add a variety of card styles, introduce a non-standard mechanic, or even just expand your theme to include a few interesting elements -- whatever it takes to bring a little extra interest to the game
Let players be stars. Nothing makes a game more fun than feeling like you are absolutely killing it. Guitar Hero really allows players to feel like rockstars -- hit the notes on time, and the music plays. Even though you know that actual guitar is much more complicated, it still feels like you are making the music you hear. The feeling is powerful, and it is the kind of thing that brings players back. The major concern here is to separate "killing it" from "showboating"; it is important to make sure that one player doing well doesn't make others feel put out or ignored. A great way to do this is to manage player opposition; when players are winning, they should win against the game as a whole, instead of destroying other players around them. This does not mean good pvp is impossible, but it does work better when there is a layer between players. No one likes getting destroyed, and many players get a sour taste in their mouths when they directly attach their friends. Providing positive feedback in the form of rewards for smart play makes players feel like rockstars, so be sure to reward players in ways other than killing their friends.
If we keep these strategies in mind, we can build games that are fun, engaging, and replayable, just like my favorite game of all time. Rock on!
--Dakota W Winslow