02 February 2010

Guitar Hero chief exec boo'd off stage

I was originally going to tweet this with a short comment, but it deserves more than 140 characters.  First off, skim the LA Times article to catch up.

I'm in a tricky position to discuss the state of the Guitar Hero franchise.  I haven't purchased a GH product since GH3/360 in 2007.  That's a long time and there have been almost a dozen releases since then.  Being such a proponent of music games, why haven't I purchased any more of the Hero games?  Because I'm a Harmonix fanboy.

To me, Harmonix is the reason America was swept up in music game frenzy, dating all the way back to 2005's original Guitar Hero game.  These guys just get music and what it means to enjoy it as a game.  When they left Activision to pursue Rock Band with EA, my heart and wallet went with them.  Activision replaced them with Neversoft, a brilliant developer, but one or both teams lost sight of the Harmonix mantra.

Oversimplifying, Activision makes music games for people who like video games.  Harmonix makes music games for people who like music.  There is absolutely market space for both to co-exist.

Fast forward to 2009.  We're in a damn recession and newcomers to the music genre are faced with spending $99 to $199 in order to enter the domain.  It really is equivalent to purchasing a new game system.  It should surprise no one, especially the market analysts at Activision, that the music games genre was going to take a hit when people started cutting back their budgets.  That's not even taking into account the saturation of the genre.

There's too many different games now!  Once you've established a sale of your platform, be it Guitar Hero or Rock Band, it's time to hunker down and continue the cash with attractive songs in downloadable add-ons.  It's much easier for me as a consumer to justify song additions in $1 to $20 increments than $60.  I also get to pick and choose which songs to add to my collection.  Harmonix and EA grasped this concept better than Activision.

Let's talk about Rosensweig.  It could have just been bad luck with the recession, but how does this guy think they are going to make great sales when they have too many games?  Smash Hits, GH5, Band Hero, Metallica, and Van Halen are all add-ons to an existing platform (World Tour), but have the costs associated with a new game.  Can't you see where this is wrong?  Rosensweig was picked to make the right decisions for the franchise.  Looking back at his year, I can't see any other option than to let him go.  I only wish I knew more about Activision's brass to know if Rosensweig is even the right person to punish, or if he is just a scapegoat.

Oh, but Ryan, what about The Beatles: Rock Band?  Touche, but Harmonix took the add-on pack to a new level with The Beatles.  I don't see any of those other games come with custom instrument replicas, impossible-to-find fan services as bonus materials, and exquisitely faithful reproduction and homage to the source material.  Harmonix did it right and justified their separate product.  Activision's only innovation to the space has been DJ Hero, which is a fine game and not "just another Guitar Hero game."  I don't see how 789K units sold is paltry either, when the total Activision music game sales for Q4 amounted to ~1.4M units.

To sum up, it wasn't as great a year for the music game genre as years past, but with such high precedence to follow, a publisher over-saturating the market/clogging up store shelves/confusing customers, and an economic downturn, what was supposed to happen?  So long, Rosensweig.