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Some Thoughts on PC Rhythm Gaming

Cian from the community team here! I want to try something a bit different. In the past, our blog has primarily focused on highlighting content from our own company and games. However, in the spirit of being different I want to take an editorial approach and share some thoughts on the current landscape of rhythm games on PC. I like to think I’m pretty knowledgeable about rhythm games. Since I first laid eyes on a dance pad in the late nineties, I’ve been playing (and occasionally, writing about and even making) games in the genre on all platforms – mobile, handheld, console, and sometimes the occasional PC title. The long and short of it is that I live, sleep, and breathe rhythm games.

I’m bringing all this up because I’ve noticed something throughout the years. There are very few rhythm games available on the PC. And of those few, there’s an even smaller lineup available on consumer friendly platforms like Steam, making it difficult for fans such as you or me to find them.

The Past Few Years (A Recent History of Rhythm Gaming on PC)

Right now the available options for rhythm games on PC are pretty slim. While there’s a bevy of music games for sale on marketplaces like Steam, very few of these follow the traditional beat-matching, rhythm game formula popularized in Japan in the late ‘90s and again in the mid 2000’s with titles like our own Rock Band. Steam, the most popular marketplace for PC gaming, has somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 - 10 rhythm games centered around gems traveling down a highway. Of this small amount, a few are indie, a few are free-to-play MMO dancing games, and even fewer are well known, commercial titles. Many of the music and rhythm games available on Steam can fit within two categories. The first is a combination of beat-matching with radically different game genres – vertical shoot ‘em ups, RPGs, rogue-likes, or platformers. Harmonix’s own A City Sleeps also falls into this category. The other common type is the “generative music game” category – titles that use your music to create gameplay.

Just spending a few minutes playing A City Sleeps.

There are other avenues for PC rhythm gaming aside from Steam, but many marketplaces typically have a lighter selection. Most, Steam included, don’t even have a pre-defined “Music/Rhythm Game” category, leaving it to user-made tags to catch games that fit here. This isn’t even to say that rhythm games are not present on PC – there’s a mix of student projects, game jam titles, and community driven, typically open-source games that take inspiration from a wide variety of notable titles.

So what games are there? On the indie front, there are some great hybrid games like Crypt of the Necrodancer (which has a track in Amplitude) combines the beat matching elements of rhythm games and the increasingly popular rogue-like genre. That’s one of a few examples of hybrid games. Of course, some of the most interesting games are those made in game jams or as student projects in universities. One game jam title worth mentioning is one produced during the Magical Girl Game Jam. Magical Rift Heroine, an Oculus Rift game combines VR, motion tracking, and magical girls with a formula similar to Rock Band. Students at DigiPen also put together a unique rhythm game in Synaesthete. The game combines note highways with shooting action. So there are some titles worth checking out for sure, but there’s still room for growth.

(Possible) Reasons for the Current Climate

So, why is the commercial rhythm game scene on PC so untapped, at least in the west? Save for a couple exceptions, very few big name IPs have been able to make a big splash on PC. There are a few possible reasons for this. First and foremost was the lack of awareness on the consumer side. There was no notable marketing effort for many of the PC iterations of past releases on PC. Additionally, there were typically few options that actually catered to the PC audience, including PC-focused features like graphical settings or a mouse and keyboard centric user interface.

But if there is a chance for rhythm games to break through in the PC market, the time is now.

Why Now?

If there’s been a perceived failure across the board with major titles, what’s going to be different now?

In my mind, the primary reason has to do with a little thing called Steam. Steam is a huge platform that has continuously grown over the years with new features to improve the community and player experience. One of these is Steam Workshop, which allows for a plethora of user generated content. Fans can reap the benefits of their dedication and talent by making and selling content for their favorite compatible games. Another important facet of this is Valve pushing for Steam to become a centerpiece of the living room experience with features like Big Picture mode.

Let’s Talk!

Now really is the perfect time for the rhythm game scene to burst onto the PC in full force. Between new advances in tech like VR, streaming, and improved pipelines for user generated content, we live in an incredibly exciting time. One of these days there’ll be something really cool that wows the community, and I can’t wait for that day to come. Are you interested in talking about what about what the future could hold? Head over to this forum post and start discussing!

Photos courtesy of Renzo G. Heredia.