Battle of the Bands


posted 5/5/2008 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: Wii
Not every idea that looks good on paper actually works as well as anticipated once implemented. Just as Edna Morris. "Who?" you ask, "is Edna Morris?" Edna is the person that looked at the success other restaurants were having with the all-you-can-eat business model. Olive Garden seemed to be doing well with the bottomless pasta bowl, didn't they? So Edna, seeing something that was working very well for someone else, adopted the idea for her own use without, as it turns out, fully understanding exactly what made it successful. And thus was born the Red Lobster all-you-can-eat Snow Crab debacle that ultimately cost Edna her job as the president of the Red Lobster chain. Edna failed to realize that it was not as simple as copying certain elements of the program, and that equal attention needed to be paid to the foundations that made the Olive Garden program possible. And saddest of all, it should have been blindingly obvious: you don't need a Harvard MBA to know that a bowl of pasta costs pennies, while a snow crab is might darned pricey.

Through history, many have fallen into what I now call the "Edna trap". Another, far more common, term is "get rich quick schemes." People looking to make a quick buck by leveraging the ideas of others without making the effort to understand what made the idea work will sometimes be successful. But usually not. Sometimes they look at the innovative elements of a couple of things and combine them into something else, thinking that the end result will be more than or equal to the sum of its parts. And it is often the case that they end up something that is actually inferior to the sum of the parts. Consider such hypothetical examples as screen doors on submarines, or cell phones built into cordless power drills. And having done that, let's talk about THQ's Battle of the Bands for Wii.

I'm a recent convert to the Wii, said recency being far more a factor of their availability than desire. I was hooked on the Wii the moment I bowled a strike in Wii Sports. Well, actually that was my moment of initial attraction. I was actually hooked when I learned about the relatively low cost of the console in relation to the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. After I finally got one a full six months after deciding I wanted one, my love affair only grew deeper. It all comes down to the controller, of course. Even Madden football is more gratifying. Sure, I get intercepted on 3 out of 4 passes still, but it's still more fun to actually throw the ball than to smash around buttons whose locations and functions I can never seem to remember when under pressure. When shopping for a Wii game, one of the most critical things I look for is whether or not it uses the Wii controller in a satisfying way. There has been one major exception to that rule, though, in the form of Guitar Hero. The controller (the guitar) is, of course, a large (critical, really) factor in the global success of Guitar Hero, but it is common across all platforms and not really an exclusively Wii thing. What makes Guitar Hero work for me is that it allows me to pretend that I am playing in bands that I have been listening to for my whole life. I can shred with ZZ Top, Heart, Kiss, the Stones, and a bunch of others. These are the songs and bands of my impressionable youth, and here I am playing them myself! Albeit in Beginner mode, but hey, at my age, Medium is the most I can ever hope to attain.

So, if one were to look at the controller-based success of the Wii, and the musician-emulation success of Guitar Hero (and it's superset, Rock Band), one could attempt to create new titles that leveraged the most identifiable facets of both. At least one comes immediately to mind: Jazz Band, with saxophone, trumpet, and drum controllers - I'd buy that in a heartbeat. Of course, the developers of Jazz Band might be facing expensive lawsuits due to the small amount of differentiation between the products. In order to avoid that, they might take a wider view. Something like Bagpipe Hero? Well, no, there probably isn't much market demand for that. That would be akin to Red Lobster offering all-you-can-eat sea cucumber. Ugh. Or you could come up with Battle of the Bands, which takes each part of the equation and differentiates it enough to ensure that it's not an encroaching copy. The music? Change it to a copy so pale that Muzak directors the world over cringe at it. The custom controller? Ditch it. People seem to love the Wii controller after all, Game play? Don't make it about the music; make it all about distractions from the music. In essence, make it so far removed from the Guitar Hero/Wii experience that maybe people will find it so ugly that it becomes appealing. You know, the same thought process that went into the Honda Element or the entire Scion line. Hey, what could go wrong?? (Hint: the Pontiac Aztek!)
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