Does Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard give Guitar Hero a new lease of life?

A bevy of franchises will likely soon be joining team Xbox, as Microsoft today announced it’s agreed to buy gaming publisher Activision Blizzard for close to $70 billion. Alongside Call of Duty, Warcraft, Diablo, and other huge brands making their to the company’s portfolio, another much-loved series received a mention: Guitar Hero.

The rhythm game series got a brief shoutout on the official Xbox website, hailing it as one of many titles heading to Microsoft, along with the likes of Crash Bandicoot, StarCraft, and Overwatch.

It’s the first mention of Guitar Hero from a games publisher in several years, as the series hit a dry patch of mainline releases some years ago after focusing on a mobile release.

The most recent game in the series, Guitar Hero Live, was released back in 2015 to a middling critical and commercial reception. So much so that Activision sold its developer, FreeStyle Games, to Ubisoft a couple of years later.

Microsoft’s decision to highlight the brand in today’s acquisition statements might suggest it has a brighter future ahead.


Analysis: more mobile games

Guitar Hero Live being played

(Image credit: Activision)

Once a beloved game for letting you live out your rock ’n’ roll dreams in the innocent safety net of your own bedroom (with a miniature plastic guitar to boot), Guitar Hero had a solid run that ran out of steam by the early 2010s. The attempt to revive the brand with Guitar Hero Live, which had the added novelty of accompanying POV videos taken from the perspective of professional lead guitarists, didn’t pan out.

So, what’s likely to happen to the franchise under Microsoft’s wing? It might be prudent to expect a big push on mobile. Alongside all its talk in today’s announcement about Xbox Game Pass, streaming, and reaching new players, Microsoft hasn’t been quiet about setting its sights on the mobile market, angling it as a big reservoir that needs to be tapped.

With the series having already established itself on mobile, and many other music rhythm games finding success on the Google and iOS app stores, Microsoft might see the platform as a natural home for Guitar Hero.

That’s not to say more ambitious projects are out of the question. Last year, Unplugged: Air Guitar translated the fundamental Guitar Hero system to the Oculus Quest. It lets you rock out in rhythmic, gamified form in VR, without even the need for a silly plastic guitar to cling on to. 

It might be expecting too much to think Microsoft will take Guitar Hero in the same direction, though, not least for the fact it hasn't banked on VR as heavily as its competitors.

In the immediate future, you can be pretty sure of one thing: the Guitar Hero series might be coming to Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft made clear that they’ll be putting as many Activision Blizzard titles on Game Pass as possible, and there’s no reason why this series of decade-old games should be an exception, licensing issues aside. It might be time to dig out that Les Paul again.

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