The Oral History of Guitar Hero, Rock Band and the Music Game Boom

A polyphonic chronicle of the phenomenal party games, the players that rocked out on plastic peripherals and how they took the industry by storm.

355backers £28,088.40of £50,000 pledged
56% funded


Since the dawn of pop, there’s always been the bedroom popstar. The wannabe singer miming into the back of a hairbrush. The pots-and-pans drum soloist. The air guitarist. Yet all yearned for more. They wanted to be in the band.

During the reign of the PS2, around the end of 2005, two small players in the gaming industry were scratching that itch as they finessed what would become a gaming phenomenon for the next decade. Guitar Hero bundled a little plastic Gibson SG peripheral with 47 electrifying backing tracks as developers Harmonix unleashed a whole new button-mashing genre.

Guitar Hero never taught anyone to play the guitar… but it sure felt like it. Game nights became head-banging parties that all your friends were invited to. As the fanbase grew, so did the setlist, with A-listers Aerosmith, Van Halen and Metallica all lending their unforgettable back catalogues. As the craze spread, so too did the play-along opportunities, with 2007’s Rock Band adding plastic drums, bass and vocals to the mix. It seemed like the party would never end… until it suddenly did.

The Oral History of Guitar Hero, Rock Band and the Music Game Boom is the definitive story of a game that, entirely fittingly, lived fast and died young. Building upon Blake Hester’s celebrated 2021 history of Guitar Hero for Vice, it widens its gaze to cover the evolution of the Rock Band series, from its first tentative press of the red fret button to its insane overblown crescendo of songs, hype and impossible-to-pack-into-the-loft plastic peripherals. 

The book – a stunning package featuring die-cut tabbed pages – draws on hours of first-hand interviews collected over years of research to tell the full inside story. Designers and developers including Ryan Lesser, Rob Kay, Greg LoPiccolo and Harmonix co-founder Alex Rigopulos recall the rollercoaster ride of the music games boom in this must-have book for everyone who remembers the buzz of nailing that first perfect five-button guitar solo. It’s videogame history turned up to 11.


234 × 165 mm
352 pages

Die-cut colour tabs on page edges
Textured slipcase with five-colour lining design
Deluxe Edition housed in textured slipcase with five-colour lining design

How it works

If our funding goal is met before 19th July 2024 20:00PM BST this project will commence development. All pledges will be immediately refunded in full if the funding goal is not met.

Estimated delivery

Winter 2025


Tracked worldwide

The Book

The Oral History of Guitar Hero, Rock Band and the Music Game Boom is the untold story of how two small companies inadvertently changed the gaming landscape. Through the lens of several releases, including the original Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock, it charts the stratospheric rise, rapid saturation and abrupt demise of the peripheral-based rhythm genre. 
This very special package, featuring die-cut, tabbed pages – echoing the design of the Harmonix music controllers – has been designed for Read-Only Memory by Studio Rejane Dal Bello and is available in two variants. The Book reward features an abstracted graphic cover design, referencing the note patterns that rush toward players during the game, while the Deluxe Edition features a bold typographic treatment and a handmade slipcase with a lining material printed in five colours. The Deluxe Edition will be signed by author Blake Hester and is only available as part of this crowdfunding campaign.

Guitar Hero and Rock Band are the Coke and Pepsi of music games, waging an all-out war for market share while continuing to raise the bar for music games in general.

Chris Kohler and Tracey John, Wired

Read-Only Memory


Founded in 2012 by Darren Wall, Read-Only Memory publishes beautiful books on videogames and their surrounding subcultures.

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With exclusive accounts from Harmonix co-founders Eran Egozy and Alex Rigopulos, Charles Huang, co-founder of publisher RedOctane, and Ron Doornick, a former CEO of Activision, The Oral History of Guitar Hero, Rock Band and the Music Game Boom explores the complete saga of the series, from its foundations in Harmonixs earlier rhythm games Amplitude and Frequency to the corporate acquisitions that sent the dream team of Harmonix and RedOctane along branching paths just as the series was gathering steam. With images from the Harmonix archives and passionate fans around the world, this beautifully presented edition is the definitive chronicle of Guitar Hero and Rock Band’s unique cultural impact.

With its iconic tracklist, innovative peripheral and tongue-in-cheek aesthetic, Guitar Hero truly offered the fantasy of being a rockstar.

Ed Nightingale, RetroGamer
Meet the author

Blake Hester boasts a formidable record as a videogame wordsmith. His articles, oral histories and reviews have graced the likes of Polygon, Vice, Rolling Stone and Game Informer, where he was Senior Associate Editor for three years. With an insatiable curiosity and an uncanny knack for peeking behind the curtains of game development, Hester has mastered the art of coaxing long-forgotten tales from luminaries of the industry. Beyond the written word, he is also co-host of the acclaimed Something Rotten podcast, which delves into altogether darker videogames, plumbing the depths of titles alongside Jacob Geller.

Photography CC BY-SA 2.0: Bill Selak, Jackie, Yun Huang Hon, William J Sisti, Vincent Diamante, Shawn Carpenter, Devon Hollahan, Midiman, yellowblade67, Just Jefa, maxstrz, Volpin Props