Activision, the publisher of the Guitar Hero music game, has pulled the department that controls one of the most popular ever gaming franchises, citing a decline in revenue.
"Due to continued declines in the music genre, the company will disband Activision Publishing's Guitar Hero business unit and discontinue development on its Guitar Hero game for 2011," a statement in Activision's financial report, filed on February 8th, reveals.
Activision has also confirmed the cancellation of both any potential new DJ Hero title and the next Tony Hawk game. Neither series will see a release in 2011.
The publisher admitted that its peripheral-based titles – which include Guitar Hero and DJ Hero – performed well below expectations in 2010.
The news comes as part of the publisher's financial report which for calendar year 2010 reveals a small climb in net revenue to $4.8bn, up from $4.78bn in 2009. Digital revenues for the year were strong, climbing 20 per cent to over $1.5bn. For the quarter ending December 31st net revenues reached $2.5bn – slightly down on the $2.55bn reported a year before. Digital sales for the quarter were up 40 per cent year-on-year.
The news will be greeted by many in the MI trade with a small, but relatively disinterested cheer and by a few others with a shrug and a 'that's a shame'.
Hard evidence that showed that Guitar Hero – or Rock Band – actually brought on new musicians was thin on the ground, but there were some small efforts to get MI retailers involved in the games. There have been, undoubtedly, a few people brought into the music-making fold as a result of the games, and for this the venture should be applauded.
This leaves Guitar Hero's competitor, Rock Band, as the only virtual musician game on the market, although rumours are circulating that the future of this franchise is in doubt as well.
MTV Games, which was behind Rock Band, has closed, leaving Harmonix, the developer, to go it alone – although Fender's release at the NAMM Show this year of a Squier Strat controller for Rock Band, which is a real, functioning guitar and has teaching methods built in to the game, might indicate that, following a slightly different path, Rock Band might well survive.
The problems in terms of revenue appear to be that the developers made the vast majority of profit on the gaming controllers and consumers simply weren't willing to invest in new models year after year. The constant upgrading and addition of new songs pose different problems in terms of licence fees and conversion costs, making the business model untenable.