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Analysis: Guitar Hero Vs. Rock Band - Behind the Data

In this second Gamasutra-exclusive analysis, social network GamerDNA mines its userbase to glean player stats on Guitar Hero and Rock Band -- does the song DLC really help drive player engagement with the games?
[The eight most-played Xbox Live games of the holiday season were all sequels, according to gaming social network GamerDNA. The third part of this Gamasutra-exclusive analysis mines GamerDNA's userbase to glean player stats on the last two Guitar Hero and Rock Band games, to see what insights about sequels can be gleaned alongside our previously published Gears of War and Call of Duty studies. Our previous studies of the Gears of War and Call of Duty franchises' two most recent sequels revealed a few interesting insights -- significantly, that a steady drip of DLC did little to boost long-term player engagement with a title, and that players' relationships with a game can be often inconsistently indicative of their behavior with a sequel. Now, we look outside the shooter genre to examine the rhythm game genre, to compare and see whether insights on sequels hold up in a different arena. Gaming social network GamerDNA, which lets users track and share play time, progress and achievements on networked titles, also acts as a database that studies player trends for the benefit of developers. GamerDNA polled some 150,000 Xbox Live users to find out which games were the most popular over the holiday season, and examined user behavior around the latest Guitar Hero and Rock Band installments, to check for trends and to measure the impact of sequels. "As you’re about to see, game usage peaks on Saturdays much more strongly than the shooters do," notes GamerDNA community analyst Sanya Weathers. Although the shooters we've studied, Call of Duty and Gears of War, are also more popular on Sunday, Weathers says: "With the music games, you can set your calendar by the peaks and valleys." First, how was Guitar Hero III affected by the launch of Guitar Hero: World Tour?? GHIII launched in North America in late October 2007, and in Europe about a month later. "Although GHIII had the advantage of being a part of a very successful franchise, it was the first release not by Harmonix, and was closely watched to see if it was a worthy successor to the name," says Weathers. GH3ppd.gif The large spike shown on the chart in mid-February was the free release of Aerosmith's "Dream On". The second-largest spike came from the release of the Top Gun Anthem. "Metallica’s spike in mid-September looks embarrassing -- until you realize that people had to shell out money for that, instead of getting it for free," Weathers observes. None of the spikes lasted beyond the song's immediate release period -- shortly thereafter, the trendline always reverts to normal. "By this chart, there is no proof that the GH downloads are of any value besides keeping the product in the news," says Weathers. "That’s not an inconsiderable value, of course, and this chart doesn’t measure sales, but rather daily engagement." Aerosmith has never verified the common refrain that it made more money from Guitar Hero than from any of its catalog albums. And their game, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith was "a drop in the Guitar Hero bucket," says Weathers -- although it halted the downward slope in participation, and seems to have boosted GHIII users.It did flatten the downwards trend in participation, and seems to have helped GH3 spike in users. 43 percent of GamerDNA's member pool has played Guitar Hero III, says Weathers. Of these, only a third have played both GHIII and World Tour Exactly 18.5 percent of World Tour players didn't play GHIII. "If we divide the players who played both into two groups -- those who played the first all the way to release and those who quit before the second one launched -- we see that 79 percent stopped playing Guitar Hero III some time before World Tour launched, even though GHIII offered regular downloads of new songs," Weathers observes. The data suggests that, just as with Gears of War, the regular DLC drip did little to encourage players to stick with the game longer. As for the 21 percent who played Guitar Hero III right up until the launch of World Tour, the following pie shows how they break down: EngagedGHfans.gif This pie chart bears quite a strong resemblance to the Call of Duty 4 pie, incidentally. "When we look at the player chart for Guitar Hero: World Tour again, we see that it did... nothing to the mother ship," says Weathers. "That makes sense, actually -- like the Call of Duty franchise, these are considered completely different games by the players. World Tour is competition for Rock Band, not Guitar Hero." Harmonix's first Rock Band launched just a few days before Guitar Hero III's European launch, but a month after its North American one. The following chart shows how it fared: RBppd.gif That it didn't debut as strongly as Guitar Hero III shouldn't come as a surprise, says Weathers. "Guitar Hero was a known property, whereas Rock Band, while from the company that started it all, had no market recognition," says Weathers. "The holiday shopping season of 2007 was a major opportunity for the title. The game managed to retain all of the customers who came in for the holidays, with almost no dropoff until the spring." And just as Rock Band began to lose its luster, an influx of new players from Germany, France and the UK bolstered player interest. And when the interest level began to wane again, it was time for Rock Band 2. "Since players could export their music to the new title, there was a brief spike of playing time [for Rock Band]," says Weathers. But just as with Gears of War, the sequel's arrival prompted a quick decline in interest in the predecessor. "Unlike Guitar Hero and Call of Duty, which saw their player base expand as their product line diversified, sequels bleed off fans of the product," says Weathers -- suggesting that fans see much more similarity between the two Rock Band products than they see between Guitar Hero or Call of Duty products. 34.6 of GamerDNA's member pool has played Rock Band, and of these, 56 percent have played both Rock Band titles. "Only a tiny number of people played Rock Band 2 without trying the first one," says Weathers. "And if we divide them into two groups, those who played the first all the way to release and those who quit before the second one launched, we find that 72 percent stopped playing Rock Band some time before the sequel came out, despite a robust downloadable content schedule." The remaining 28 percent, those who played Rock Band right up until the release of the second game, look something like this: EngagedRBfans.gif "Not quite as pronounced as the Gears 2 pie, but more so than the Call of Duty pie," Weathers concludes.

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