Should Music Controllers Standardize?


As owners of Guitar Hero + Rock Band know, those giant plastic instrument controllers consume a lot of real world real estate. The drum kits are particularly huge and they tend to dominate the whole room that they occupy. No one wants to have multiple versions of these controllers for different games or different versions of the same game.

Is this a good time for platform holders (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) to step in and set some universal standards?

Here are some reasons I can think of that there should NOT be standard-enforced controllers:

– I only want one game that is centered around a five-colored-button guitar controller. Sure, if the industry keeps making endless variations of the exact same game for the exact same type of controller, a universal controller standard is great. That’s exactly what I don’t want.

– I do want different controllers. For guitar, I’d like to get a controller with actual strings rather than colored buttons. Parents shopping for small kids probably want simpler controllers that are smaller, easier to use, cheaper, and harder to break. I don’t want that type of innovation and diversification to be hampered by some bureaucratic standards.

– The decision should be in the hands of the developers. If studios make terrible decisions, people won’t buy their games. If a new game requires a new peripheral purchase, that game better deliver enough innovation to justify that.

– I’d rather see standardization in music DLC purchases. Why should my music purchases be tied to particular vendor? Standardization isn’t an either/or situation, but still, the music format standardization is more important than the controller issue.


Written by: Darrin - Contributing Editor


  1. #1 by Paranoimia on May 29th, 2008

    I have to say, I have no interest in these games whatsoever. They’re basically an updated (and in the case of Rock Band, seriously over-priced) version of Dragon’s Lair – “press these buttons in this order, at this time.” – and we all know how much that game has been slated down the years.

  2. #2 by Darrin on May 29th, 2008 [ 17143 Points ]

    Sure, these games are just elaborate musical simon says, but so is learning to play a real musical instrument. Playing an instrument is all about dexterity, timing, and mastering technical patterns. That’s what I want. However, I want to see it go in a more serious direction. I want the Gran Turismo of musical instrument simulations.

  3. #3 by Henning on May 29th, 2008 [ 0 Points ]

    I used to care about standardization back when I was playing Guitar Hero, looking forward to Rock Band. But now that I have Rock Band and see how much better it is, I don’t care about Guitar Hero or standardization anymore. The Guitar Hero guitar is so much crappier than the Rock Band one anyway, I don’t want to use it for any game.

  4. #4 by Paranoimia on May 29th, 2008

    That’s just it though, Darrin – these games are nothing like playing a real instrument. You’re just pressing a switch – on, off, on, off. Playing a real instrument is not ‘just’ plucking the string of a guitar, or pressing the key on a keyboard; even playing drums is more than just hitting them with a stick. I can do all of those, but trust me… you won’t like the resulting sound! :-)

    I do agree with you, though, that it would be much better if they came up with a way of tying REAL instruments to the game – but that’s not a need for standardisation, that’s a need for a whole new software interface. Even then it could be argued that you may as well go and buy the real instrument – £180/$180 would be a reasonable start towards the real thing, certainly as far as a guitar is concerned.

  5. #5 by darrin on May 29th, 2008

    “Playing a real instrument is not ‘just’ plucking the string of a guitar, or pressing the key on a keyboard”

    It most definitely is. Sure, you have to hit more than a single key, you have to hit a complex pattern of keys and you have to get the timing right but playing music really does boil down to playing notes by hitting keys, hitting drums, plucking strings, or blowing air. There is no mystical voodoo involved beyond that.

  6. #6 by Paranoimia on May 29th, 2008

    Sorry, but I can’t agree. If it were that simple, we’d all be performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto’s at the Royal Albert Hall.

  7. #7 by Nash on May 30th, 2008

    1. There should without a doubt be standards for these controllers. Although Activision would disagree, a standard would help these games sell more copies. I skipped GH3 because I knew I was getting Rock Band. If the controllers worked for both games I would’ve picked up a copy of GH3 sans instruments after RB. They work on 360, why not on PS3? Then Activision wouldn’t even allow a patch to be released to fix it. Weak sauce. And standards doesn’t mean the controllers can’t be different or have different interfaces (like strings), it would just require the signal to be sent to the system the same way. A standard would allow that cool controller to work for every game.

    2. I want fake toy instruments with a simple click and go interface. If I want complicated, I’ll learn how to play a real instrument. I think RB has struck a good mid ground between real and actual fun. Between work, school, and a social life I dont have time to learn how to play Vasoline on the drums in real life.

    3. The DLC songs will never be universal. I know if I’m a dev and I take the time to program a note chart, I’m not letting some other game dev get that work for free!

  8. #8 by Darrin on May 30th, 2008 [ 17143 Points ]

    There’s plenty of middle ground to be explored between slaving away at Mary Had a Little Lamb for umpteen years to learn a real instrument vs. hitting colored buttons on a plastic toy. Just like Gran Turismo is a middle ground between buying a $200K sports car and playing Mario Kart.

    Paranoimia, I didn’t say it was easy. Running is basically left foot, right foot. That doesn’t mean everyone can sprint at the olympics.


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