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Activision Shelving Guitar Hero Franchise
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Activision Shelving Guitar Hero Franchise

Whoa. Activision has decided that it has now squeezed all of the blood out of this turnip, and decided to put Guitar Hero out to pasture… at least for this year. Eurogamer reported earlier this morning that Activision will be ending the Guitar Hero franchise, and Joystiq appears to be corroborating this to some extent. Activision is addressing this and other items in their fourth quarter investor earnings call, which is currently underway. They are confirming that “no new music or skateboarding games in 2011.” Activision has taken a significant charge against their financial statements related to music games, as well as retained a significant inventory of music peripherals. In the earnings call, they announced that due to licensing and hardware costs, it is no longer possible to make the franchise profitable. While they only confirmed that no new games are coming out in 2011, the announcement today is the de facto ending of the Guitar Hero franchise.

A couple things come to mind when hearing this:

First is that it is now undeniable that the rhythm gaming genre has experienced significant “cooling” over the past 12-18 months. While Viacom admittedly did not know how to properly capitalize on Harmonix’s core strength and eventually sold Harmonix, Activision has now decided to exit the genre entirely, which should come as no surprise based on their track record with previous gaming genres and franchises.

Not counting  PowerGig (and seriously, no one ever did), the genre is now apparently too small to adequately support two competing franchises who instill fierce brand loyalty based on the volume of franchise-specific DLC. While I wouldn’t call this a “win” for Rock Band and Harmonix, hopefully the genre will now hopefully benefit from a single player.

It’s obvious that I am a Rock Band fanboy at heart, but as many of the most loyal among us would agree, the original Guitar Hero game gave us our first fix on rhythm gaming, and seeing its demise is very sad, indeed.


173 Responses to “Activision Shelving Guitar Hero Franchise”

  • Ferocious Q says:

    Who else is saddened that GH:RHCP never even came to be!?

    • Dennis says:

      Yes and no. If it was the only way to get RCHP’s discography, then yes. If Harmonix start pumping out full album DLC like BY THE WAY, then no.

  • RandydG says:

    Just have to say that ive always been a hard core Rock Band player since day 1, never really got into GH until one day that i was getting a bit bored with RB2, and started getting all the GH games that were available for the full band ie. GHWT, GHSH, Metallica and even GH5.

    Of course all of us at one time or another said, GH sucks, can’t wait till they fail and fall off the planet, and now that it has happened, its actually kinda sad. But please… for shits sake, its not like its the end of the world for these people…

    Yes they worked for a company that made a few rhythm games, skate boarding and a few other games, but do you really think its the end of the road for their careers?

    They will find another job doing programing for another company and live life, its not going to be Armageddon to them. Just an opportunity to refine their skills with another company and make other things happen.

    Second, like it was mentioned in the article, “no new music or skateboarding games in 2011.” So does that mean that the company is done with those types of games? Hell no. Just need to give people time to breath. I mean look, it’s a surprise that this didn’t happen sooner. With these games coming out what.. once or twice a year? People get burnt out.

    When RB3 came out, they said that it was going to be the last RB game they might make. Good, but maybe not true. They are more concerned on bringing out DLC and developing the future then making a game and just throwing it out there every other quarter like GH which has 12 games and TH which has 16 games…if im missing some im sorry.

    And not including track packs, RB only has 6 games, and a ton of DLC.

    Who knows, we might have a new and improved GH game next year, with the improvements that they have finally listened to the fans want, or wait till RB starts to fade, and come back with a vengeance, who knows what the future brings, but don’t count them out quite yet.

    But anyway, like i always have been and always will be a true hard core RB junkie!

  • James! says:

    I wonder if this means the major Guitar Hero bands will come over to Rock band? Metallica, Aerosmith, Muse, Soundgarden, RHCP, etc.

  • Nathan M says:

    That is a huge shock, Guitar Hero was a decent series (RB is better BTW) but it became so watered down and overexposed it became unprofitable

    hopefully this don’t spell the end of Rock Band

  • Stephen H says:

    I am definitely sorry for the employees and their families who are affected by this news… an all to common thing these days. I am both scared and excited for what this could potentially mean for HMX and RB.

    On one hand, in textbook business models: a business can only produce a quality product/thrive if given competition… without Guitar Hero, RB has nothing to counter. In addition, if it’s so bad out there that GH can’t survive, can RB?

    On the other hand, if there is no alternative… will RB now garner the entire marketshare, thus making it more profitable and enabling it to further obtain licenses with ‘unattainables’? Will ‘exclusives’ become title-neutral or will their contracts have to run their course?

    Whatever the case maybe, I appreciate the hard work that you all have put into making this gaming genre what it is today… it has made music more accesible to people like me with no talent, but lots of passion. I hope the best for all of you HMX and Activision employees who have been affected by the recent downturn in sales… I hope you all find gainful employment.

  • citric_bullets says:

    It’s always sad to see people lose work. A year without a GH could be a turning point for the music game genre. While the rhythm genre has been on the decline, we have to keep in mind that the market for music games is never going to be completely empty. We’ve reached the point where the market has shrunk to the point that it cannot sustain two competing franchises.

    If the GH franchise is truly retired, it comes down to how much of their install base will need a rhythm game fix enough to invest in RB. Hopefully there’s a large enough group to keep HMX out of the red. Because as sad as it is to see one group of people get laid off, it would be even worse to see everyone making music games lose their jobs.

    While there’s the potential for the lack of competition to have a negative impact on the quality of RB, I wouldn’t say it’s guaranteed. Every contact I’ve had with the people at HMX leads me to believe that they genuinely care about music and video games and are not motivated by a desire to be better than their competition as much as by a desire to outdo their previous efforts.

    There are a lot of different ways this can all play out, and I personally don’t see them all as being negative.

    With all of that said, I wish nothing but the best to the people who would be out of work should GH completely vanish.

  • Joe Shredder says:

    I hear the concerns about the lack of competition, but I have to say that HMX’s recent decisions to restore support for the Stage Kit and BNS, despite lukewarm RB3 sales, tells me they really do care about more than just the bottom line. HMX wants a quality gaming experience and responds to feedback from their customers. Hopefully there’s broad enough market support for them to continue moving the music/rhythm genre forward.

  • Crunk Posby says:

    Yes, the loss of jobs is sad, but that’s happening everywhere – I don’t get all teary eyed when I hear of every layoff that happens at every company, and since I don’t personally know the employees working on Guitar Hero for Activision that’s not going to impact me much. Sorry to be a bit cold, but it’s the truth.

    What does impact me is how this affects the market and me as a consumer. I personally see this as a positive, being someone who got into Rock Band right when it came out, and has had to deal with licensing competition, inundation of Guitar Hero releases every year, and the constant division of a market that, as we can clearly see now, can’t afford to be divided.

    I’m not worried about a “monopoly” as I haven’t seen Harmonix actively competing with Activision, in the sense that they watch what GH does and then try to do it, or do it first, or do it better, or steal their fans. Harmonix has always followed their own path and I believe will continue to do so, although their job will be easier now – no other game to slouch their sales, and no competition for licensing (unless they were dying to get Kid Rock and Eric Clapton…)

    Guitar Hero has been behind the times ever since Harmonix left, it’s no surprise it’s gone the way of the Dodo.

  • Ghenry Perez says:

    I think Jack Nicholson said it best when he said “I’m glad you’re dead.”

    Nice touch using the original GH logo.

    I liked GH 1 and 2, but I only saw the franchise as a horrible monster for the past few years. I’m glad its reign of terror is over. Less to hold back Rock Band. Maybe now Harmonix can start cleaning the face of “rhythm games” that Guitar Hero tainted so badly.

    I can sympathize for HMXHenry and the others having mixed feelings about this. Sure, it was a monster. But it was still their creation.

  • Lovinger says:

    No Rock Band fan should be celebrating the demise of Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero is not profitable anymore, but guess what? According to vgchartz.com, Rock Band 3 has had even poorer sales than Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock! And we all know that Rock Band 3 cost much more to develop than a Guitar Hero game.

    Like Guitar Hero, it is clear that Rock Band is no longer profitable (which is why Viacom sold Harmonix for free). Harmonix is now owned by a private equity company, and private equity companies make their money by cutting unprofitable businesses. I love Rock Band more than any other game ever made, but as much as it pains me, it is clear that Rock Band will soon either meet the same fate as Guitar Hero, or else there will be major cuts sooner rather than later (say bye bye to weekly DLC).

    • RockBandAide says:

      VGChartz isn’t the most reliable source. Try to use the official NPD results whenever quoting sales metrics. From the info I’ve seen, GH:WoR ate Rock Band 3’s lunch in Europe, but it was all Rock Band all the time here in the US.

      Harmonix’s sale from Viacom was partly due to the profitability shortfall versus expectations, but also due to the tax benefit gained from selling an acquisition at less than cost. Viacom rushed the sale at the end of the year to recognize a significant tax benefit in 2010.

      I think your speculation as to Rock Band meeting the same fate is pessimistic and fails to take into account the inevitable changes that come with having a single player in a given market.

      • Scott says:

        1. Here’s NPD and GFK/Charttrak (EU) #s for you.

        RB3: 600k US + 100k EU = 700k
        GH:WOR: 600k + 400k EU = 1MM

        I’m rounding but the reality is they are neck and neck. I think RB3 is slightly ahead but by a small enough margin that it could change month to month.

        2. Viacom sale was due to expectations shortfall combined with $100 million dollars in existing liabilities, it’s one thing to say, we’re not going to make as much money as we thought, it’s another to say there is no way we will ever make money on this because the act of moving forward costs more than the returns. Think of it this way, Harmonix was basically free and not a single game publisher or console maker bought it. What does that say?

        • RockBandAide says:

          That’s odd concerning the most recent NPD numbers (published yesterday) for GH:WoR is at 261,000 units sold: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118031890?categoryid=1009&cs=1&nid=2607

          As for your “not a single game published or console maker bought it,” you are correct. Harmonix is essentially an independently-owned studio again. Not sure why that’s a bad thing.

          • Mark says:

            Well the lack of invested capital from an outside source wouldn’t really be considered a good thing would it?

          • RockBandAide says:

            You mean Columbus Nova, the investment firm making it possible to finance the buy-out?

          • Disco says:

            Look first off, none of this is meant as a slight to the guys at Harmonix or Guitar Hero. I know lot a bunch of people at both companies personally. They’ve both made great games and they are talented, passionate folks who shouldn’t take the fall for bad decisions some business folks way above them on the corporate ladder made. What I’m trying to address is the rampant lack of facts and speculation about both.

            a) The Variety article is wrong. Take it or leave what I say but the actual figure through Dec is double what they say. I even double checked and GH is actually about 20k above RB3 in the US (and much more so in Europe) but that’s close enough it could change come Jan figures. They’ve got a guy you don’t know saying one thing, I’m a guy you don’t know saying another. Neither is official so believe who you want.

            b) Independence is not a bad thing at all but they aren’t independent, that means one or more of the employees own the company. They are owned by an investment firm, that’s just a company saying we’re going to bet that what we can make off this company is more than we paid, it’s no different than any publisher. Except that in this case the owner is outside of the industry and doesn’t have the same insight into the market that a publisher does, that’s the same mistake Viacom admitted they made. This could all work out great for Harmonix, my point is merely that all the guys who live and breathe this stuff passed, a company who thought they could figure it out realized they were wrong and now there’s a new group thinking they can do the same thing. To me that sounds like a mistake if I ever heard one.

            c) To the guy who said there was probably behind the scenes stuff below you’re right. Harmonix had $100 million dollars in liabilities which meant that if Viacom kept them they would need to pay that. They also got a $50 million tax write off for losses by selling. So effectively Viacom made $150 mil on the sale. Columbus Nova took on that $100 mil so effectively that was the real purchase price. The real question now is since Harmonix still owes $100 mil, where are they going to get that money? It’s clearly not coming from RB3 and DLC isn’t as profitable as everyone thinks.

        • Croq says:

          The only reason Harmonix was “free” (actually $50) was because of the fact that it was sold to Columbus Nova and its new affiliate, Harmonix-SBE Holdings LLC. There’s a ton more behind the scenes with that $50 sale price I am sure. If some other company had been the ones to buy them, the price would have definitely been much higher.

          • Croq says:

            And according to their website (which arguably is not much to look at):

            “Founded in 2000, Columbus Nova (“CN”) is a multi-strategy investment firm managing over $10.0 billion of assets through its own funds and affiliated portfolio companies.”

  • A1exRD says:

    I’ll admit my first, selfish thoughts when I heard this news were for Rock Band.

    Without Guitar Hero, Rock Band has room to breathe – on store shelves, where Activision’s marketing muscle will no longer bury it; with the artists, where hopefully it can now attract some Activision exclusives (though I guess that really depends on how the contracts were worded); and also with the press.

    Many of the more lazy journalists still thought music games and Guitar Hero were one and the same (after all, more than half the games were GH…). They weren’t even aware of Rock Band’s innovations and more moderate update pattern, and they certainly didn’t help promote it to gamers. Perhaps now that will change.

  • DarkFox says:

    Through The Fire And Flames DLC…? XD

  • PlasticyDan says:

    I think Activision looked at the landscape, realized that they were so far behind RB now in terms of infrastructure (Pro guitars, keyboard, RBN, multiple part vocals) that the options were essentially to copy them and essentially release RB3 next fall with probably 500-600 less songs to use on the real guitar/keyboard/multiple vocals, or keep putting out the exact same game.

    They were in a no-win situation. Most people who truly want real guitar or keyboard probably have RB3 now. That will be even more true once the Squier comes out.

    I think all that played a role, plus Activision probably said “let HMX make the music games. They do it well, and there’s not enough room for two franchises anymore.” So they cut their losses and focused on the genres that make them big time $$.

  • Croq says:

    Interesting tidbit from the FAQ that Activision has about this:

    Are you still going to make new DLC for Guitar/DJ Hero?

    We will release the previously announced DLC track and mix packs for February, but – unfortunately – we will not be able to release new DLC packs beyond what we already have.

  • Game!Ov3r says:

    As a guy that plays both Guitar Hero and Rock Band, I have found myself over the last year leaning more towards Rock Band, there was a little window for them when WOR came out that I played that over Rock Band…but than RB3 launched and the only time i put in WOR since then was to download their 90’s rock pack. Yes I am sad about Guitar Hero leaving since GH3 is what got me addicted to music gaming to begin with, but now I can focus on one franchise and have extra money to maybe buy some of the DLC songs that I have been puting off on getting. I had a feeling this was ultimatley going to happen after they started messing around with DLC releases. R.I.P. Johnny, Lars, and the rest of the gang!

  • Andre says:

    I started playing music games back when Guitar Hero didn’t even exist. I started playing the plastic guitar with Guitar Freaks, and it only had 3 buttons.

    Guitar Freaks didn’t survive the 5-button revolution (it also didn’t have famous songs in it), and apparently now it’s Guitar Hero’s time to fall. I don’t like to see it going away, as I still have very fond memories of playing it and trying to adapt to “2 extra buttons”. I am not a sadist and it’s sad to see people that worked hard on a genre I love go unemployed.

    That having been said, the competition between music games was, for me, always an unhealthy one for the genre as a whole. Because there’s always a fight for licensing the top bands, and track exclusivity and all that. As far as I know, this could bring us Rock Band players great music in the future. Also, Harmonix never relied too much, I think, on the competition in order to innovate. I think innovation just is in their blood, period.

    I think the late launch of the Fender Squier hurt Rock Band real bad in terms of what RB3 brought to the table. There just wasn’t enough coverage of the new Guitar Pro Mode, in my opinion, and that’s because the “real pro guitar” just took a long time to be released. That was bad for us. Guitar Hero, on the other hand, didn’t innovate AT ALL.

    Maybe now they will take this year to rethink their strategy. Maybe they’ll come back in the future with a lot of new ideas that will even make Harmonix surprised. Right now, I hope Harmonix manages to capitalize on this.

    I am pretty sure the folks at Activision will not abandon the Guitar Hero brand. It’s just a very strong band. And Activision, as far as I know, is doing very well financially, thank you very much. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Guitar Hero came back next year with a few new tricks up its sleeve.

  • grace.pressure says:

    Happy for Harmonix, sad for the employees, and pissed at Activision.

  • Paul says:

    I haven’t been happy with Guitar Hero for a while. I was never a fan of the band engine; it’s almost impossible to sing in the game (based on seeing my friends and housemates who can nail songs in Rock Band struggle to pass in Guitar Hero), and the difficulty seems to be increased for the sake of increasing it.

    I got Band Hero on clearance for $10 recently. Outside of the songs in the game that haven’t been in Rock Band (c’mon, give us Marvin Gaye and Everclear, and more Counting Crows…please?), it just wasn’t as much fun. It’s hard to quantify, but it just didn’t grab me like Rock Band does.

    That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy playing it, though. I’m still sad to see it go. Guitar Hero 1 and 2 were amazing. I think the series lost its way when they went full band to compete with Rock Band, but it was responsible for kickstarting the genre in the first place.

  • Ben says:



  • JAM Renaissance says:

    I think fears of Rock Band dying off quickly have been greatly exaggerated. I’ve noted three significant differences between GH and RB:

    * RBN as a low-overhead content source. There is not that much needed on the HMX side to put out RBN songs. They have to maintain the website and servers and the like… but that is IT. The heavy lifting is done by the author, but HMX still sees that 35% profit on each sale.

    * Letting MadCatz fully take over peripherals. I know many people are mad about the Squire and the like, but lemme tell ya – making and producing those guitars are expensive. Getting out of the instrument business probably saved HMX, while Activision was seeing losses with every guitar they made that wasn’t sold.

    * Activision was NOT going to keep making this game unless it saw a BIG profit. I don’t mean “sales covers the costs plus minor profit” (which is a situation HMX can actually stomach, particularly now). This means that they expect any game they maketo be franchisable and have a high profit margin. Could they have made it back into the black with the next game? Probably, assuming they kept costs down. That wasn’t going to be enough for their business model, though.

    I’m also worried about the coverage of GH. I saw TWO different CNN articles on it (though one is admittedly from Mashable), and both made only passing mention of Rock Band. The articles make it sounds like this is the death of rhythm gaming period, not just the death of Guitar Hero. THAT perception is problematic.

    BTW: “Guitar Hero: What Went Wrong?” : http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/gaming.gadgets/02/10/guitar.hero.went.wrong.mashable/index.html

    The Music Dies for Once Popular Guitar Hero Game” : http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/02/09/guitar.hero.gone/index.html

  • james bone says:

    To all the folks who are lamenting over the now out of work employees: when you drive around in your toyota/kia/nissan/vw/bmw/hyundai/scion/honda do you think/mourn for the american who lost their job? When you think ‘well, gm/ford/chryslers suck’ and deserve poor sales, the same applies to GH. When a company starts to get complacent and arrogant about their customers, they will eventually lose sales and go bankrupt. Maybe Obama can bail out Activision and save them from themselves. GHs death was a suicide…

  • Neku says:

    Like many others there, I started my rhythm game “career” with GH3. I definitely fun times with it, and when GHWT came out I bought it at D1.

    But… Then I discovered Rock Band.

    IMHO the difference between RB and GH it’s the same as the one between a band-signed limited edition of an album (RB) and the iTunes version of the same album (GH). Yes, the “core” elements are the same (hitting coloured gems/block in the games, music in the album), but the overall feel is very different.

    I’m still sad that GH ended like this, however. I feel sorry for the guys who were behind it and I hope that Activision gives them a second try.

    For the GH vs. RB sales debate of a few posts ago… Yes, here in Europe WoR DESTROYED RB3. (I’m Italian). WoR had advertisement, in-store stands where you could try out the game, and capillar diffusion. RB3 had… Wait… None of these. Seriously, the guys at HMX should think of a better publisher than EA Partners (at least in Europe). Some big european resellers like MediaMarket (also known as Saturn/Mediaworld) never saw a RB3 copy, nor a keyboard controller, nor a Mustang Pro Guitar, nothing. (I’m talking about continental Europe, dunno if the UK has a similar situation). Heck, we don’t even know IF and WHERE the Squier Pro controllers will be sold. Honestly, when you look at such a difference in advertising and diffusion, there is absolutely no surprise that WoR overshadowed RB3.

    (And please, don’t say that a month ago we received an European DLC pack as an excuse. I’m an avid fan of both Linea77 and Litfiba, but they are underrated in Italy. If you want some names to make a big bang in Italy, consider Ligabue, Vasco Rossi, Afterhours and Negramaro.)

  • Omancer says:

    Nooooo that means DJ Hero is going down too. D:

  • mug3n says:

    Anything Activision touches, it dies. The next watered down franchise under Activision to go will be Call of Duty. All they do is hamper the developers into creating mindless clones of the same game with zero innovation – I could care less if CoD goes down (good riddance), but if they hurt Blizzard’s creativity, that would be a sad, sad day in gaming.

    imo with the wide array of choices for DLC on RB, it isn’t quite at that stage where we have to panic yet, but sales #’s for RB3 is quite discouraging indeed… and with the pro guitar peripherals costing as much as it is, I don’t see that driving in any RB3 adopters anytime soon, imo. and with the music scene the way it is – evolving towards more dance/poppy tunes, it’s gonna be a hard sell for the new generation – personally I enjoy playing most of the RB songs and got exposure to artists I normally would’ve never experienced, but I’m not sure how a 14 year old kid is gonna feel playing some of the tracklist.

  • River Otter says:

    It’s sad to see Papa die. I haven’t bought a GH game since 3, but would always be willing to play the overcharted track-vomit that was the hardest songs not in Rock Band. Children of Bodom and Mars Volta was nice 🙁

    But to be honest, this means one very important thing to me;
    For the love of God, please let this mean 2112 in my Rock Band.