Technology Review: DJ Hero revisited

DJ Hero: Not much of a hero after all

by Joshua P. Ferguson

Originally published on the Time Out Chicago blog: TOC | DJ Hero

Activision’s DJ Hero has been out for just shy of a month now and the recent reports on the games performance on the market—or lack thereof—has sparked a quite a bit of online discussion in the past few days. Prominent research company NPD Group reported last week that DJ Hero’s sales have peaked at just 122,300. And that’s across XBox, Playstation 2 and 3, and Wii formats—far lower than projected. Why is this? There are more than few opinions out there.

Joshua Glazer, Editor for DJ culture magazine URB, feels the marketing effort did little to tap into actual DJ culture. “Sure, they paid some of the top earners, like Z-Trip and DJ Shadow, to be a part of the game,” writes Glazer on Huffington Post last week. “But Activision’s real media buy seemed to center around TV ads featuring Jay-Z and Eminem (two acts who have very little actual connection to DJ culture) in a cynical bid for mainstream appeal.” I can see his line of thinking here, but I disagree. Especially with his new album, Jay-Z is getting a lot of play in the clubs, and why shouldn’t gamers want to come home and recreate that experience themselves? Plus DJ culture is something that most in the mainstream don’t understand. In order to overcome this, a populist game such as DJ Hero needs to be placed in the most familiar context possible.

The real reason is that DJ Hero falls short in game play. Where Guitar Hero grew into a social phenomenon, sparking get-togethers and themed club nights with people dueling it out to their favorite Santana song, DJ Hero is pretty much a one-man-show. Its attempts to have multi-player functionality ultimately fail to create the same sort of excitement that its six-stringed counterpart does. Another reason—one that’s also being put forth on gaming blogs across the web—is that regardless of the expansive catalog of songs, the tunes are inevitably chopped up, cut into and out of while playing and this doesn’t garner the same sort of familiarity with the music that other music-based games do. This is something that actual DJs are probably used to, but for anyone else who’s getting their first introduction to turntablism, the chopped effect could be seen as a turn off.

Dani Deahl, a local DJ and one of the participants in our initial DJ Hero test drive put it best: “It’s too ‘DJ’ for the layman, and not ‘DJ’ enough for the DJs.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.


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