‘Guitar Hero’ Is Finished – Anyone Surprised?

In the wake of disappointing sales results for 2010, Activision has made some major cuts. The biggest of these is the entire ‘Guitar Hero’ franchise, which was discontinued along with ‘True Crime: Hong Kong’ and ‘DJ Hero’.

The music game genre has been falling off almost as quickly as it caught on. ‘Rock Band’ developer Harmonix got sold off late last year, and now the ‘Guitar Hero’ franchise has been discontinued. The once unstoppable game has been stopped dead.

I touched on this in November, but I strongly believe that the biggest part of the problem was the ridiculously fast game releases. You can’t make six games in a year and expect your fans to buy all of them – you just can’t. Even six big DLC releases is pushing it.

This is what I refer to as the “Tony Hawk Effect.” If you have a hit and then capitalize on it with sequel after sequel without enough time between for your audience to actually want a new game, that franchise is going to become far less popular.

That didn’t stop Activision from going absolutely nuts with the ‘Guitar Hero’ games and even expanding out to titles like ‘DJ Hero’. The company made new plastic instruments, printed new discs, designed new packages, and shipped them to stores.

“Given the considerable licensing and manufacturing costs associated with this genre,” said Activision CEO Eric Hirschberg,.“we cannot make these games profitably based on current economic and demand.”

That’s the other part – licensing. It’s the same thing that’s going on with Netflix right now. Licensing is cheaper if no one thinks you’re going to make any money. Once ‘Guitar Hero’ got huge, there’s no question that licensing fees went up. Add in a bidding war with Viacom and the cost of likeness rights to that, and you’ve got an incredibly high number.

The ‘Guitar Hero’ franchise isn’t the only one to get cut. ‘DJ Hero’ is gone too. So is the non-musical ‘True Crime: Hong Kong’, though it’s not a particularly big loss there. Activision says the elimination of ‘True Crime’ was less a budget issue and more an issue of quality.

I guess this is the point where I mention that the ‘Tony Hawk’ series appears to be dead too. Activision has confirmed that no new music or skateboarding games will be coming out in 2011. In one day, Activision delivered the killing blow to two major franchises that it milked dry.

Perhaps the folks at Activision Blizzard can take a bit of influence from the Blizzard side of the group. ‘StarCraft II’ was a great success, and ‘World of Warcraft: Cataclysm’ did better than expected. Spacing out sequels and putting out expansions instead of new games brings more value to titles.

Whether Activision will actually learn from its mistakes or not is a mystery. The company will certainly be putting out yearly ‘Call of Duty’ titles if it can get away with it. It’s unclear what the way forward looks like for the company, but I get the feeling it won’t be doing anything brave or new – just finding other titles to exploit until they’re no good anymore.

Forget honesty, forget creativity
The dumbest by the mostest, that’s the name of the game
But sales are slumping and no one will say why
Could it be they put out one too many lousy records?

– Dead Kennedys “MTV Get Off the Air”


  1. Guitar Hero / Rockband and Katamari are about the only games I play anymore. Well, I’ll ocassionally put in an RPG if I know I have some time, but I really like games that I can pick up and play for 5-30 minutes, then just put down. Guitar Hero met that need.

    That being said, I got Guitar Hero 3, Rock Band (still haven’t unlocked everything), and just picked up Guitar Hero 4 & 5 recently used. So its not a big loss to me.

    However, I am setting some time in advance for May. I have been waiting 14 years for Duke Nukem Forever, and I intend to play it, darn it!

    • Jane Morgan

      ‘Duke Nukem Forever’ should be fun, but I hope it sells enough that we can get a brand-new Duke, built from the balls up, in 2014 for the PS4.

      • For what it’s worth, I’ll be buying a copy. Never really got into Duke, but I love Gearbox.

        Okay, that’s a lie. I loved Duke until it went 3D, then I found it dull. Still, I have high hopes for the new game!

  2. Prayformojo

    If you enjoy the Rock Band series, it is well worth it to pick up 3 and transfer all your old songs into it, the interface is much much better and offers drop in/drop out play.

    • I think Rock Band is going to survive, but it’s not going to be the big boisterous game that it has been in the past. Like ‘Dance Dance Revolution,’ new games will come out and genre fans will buy them, but only genre fans will buy them.

  3. Ralph

    I stopped buying Guiter Hero games a couple of years ago and stuck with Rock Band and the DLC. I even bought Rock Band 3 and the keyboard because unlike Guitar Hero, at least Rock Band is trying to make differences to advance the game, not just retread everything.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Activision does the same thing with the Call of Duty series. I think once a year releases for COD is too much. Make the players want a new edition by releasing every other year.

  4. I dont know, I dont mind a yearly Call of Duty or something similar, a year is still a long time to keep one game going, having already beat single player (doesnt take long) and only having more maps throughout the year, I want a new game that does something else, I’m already picking up Homefront and maybe Crysis 2 because even though I love playing Call of Duty online, I’m also kind of bored with it already

    Two years is too long to wait for another Call of Duty IMO, hell MW2 is still going strong and lots of people still play that online so its not like you cant still play the previous game in the series longer than they let you 😉

    As for Guitar Hero, their games have sucked for years, Warriors of Rock was really the nail in the coffin, we have Rock Band 3 adding Piano, Pro Cymbals and Guitar plus using everything you’ve downloaded and all previous games in the series and Guitar Hero adds a new story driven quest mode??? Yeah that was fail as soon as I read about it, plus releasing so many games in that short of a time period was also stupid and Rock Band only did that a couple of times (Beatles was required to have their own game due to rights and stuff) but if Rock Band keeps up with the good DLC and maybe something once a year, it could keep them going for a while as now they are the only music based game out there right now 🙂

    • Asking for a yearly game is asking for worse quality and less innovation. A real game takes years to develop, not months. Plus, if Modern Warfare 2 is still going strong, we clearly didn’t need Black Ops quite yet 🙂

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