Thursday, March 3, 2011

Company struggles signal downfall of 'Guitar Hero'

by Robert Rinaldo

Activision, one of the largest video game companies in the industry is perhaps best known for the “Call of Duty” series that started in 2003, one of the most popular franchises in gaming. Unfortunately, the company was forced to pull the plug on another of its famous franchises, “Guitar Hero.”

According to, Activision announced in a press release that it lost $233 million, despite the release of “Call of Duty: Black Ops” in 2010. As a result of these losses, Activision announced it was canceling the whole “Guitar Hero” line to focus more on other licensed games, including a possible subscription-based service for “Call of Duty.”

As a result, the originally scheduled “Guitar Hero” game to be released in 2011 was canceled as well as all future downloadable content for the franchise.

“Guitar Hero” was first released in 2005, but Activision didn’t become involved until the release of the sequel “Guitar Hero II” in 2006. The success of the first two games inspired a plethora of sequels and spinoffs, including “DJ Hero,” “Band Hero” and band specific titles, leading to 17 games in the “Hero” franchise. The most recent game released was “Warriors of Rock,” which received mixed to poor reviews and weak sales.

“Guitar Hero” suffered a massive crash due to “sequelitis,” or the constant releasing of sequels due to prior commercial success and greed for money. Previously, this curse has only been known to affect Hollywood films, but many believe the same can happen to games because of the two-year negative track record “Guitar Hero” faced.

In 2008, Activision released “Guitar Hero Aerosmith,” the first band-centered game, and “Guitar Hero On Tour,” the first handheld game, in an attempt to attract a wider audience. Unfortunately, the release of “Rock Band” from Harmonix caused Activision to innovate the franchise out of desperation.

Activision released “Guitar Hero World Tour” that same year, which attempted to mimic the gameplay of “Rock Band” by offering drums and microphone peripherals as well as similar songs from “Rock Band.” This officially began the war between “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” as both franchises now were offering highly similar gameplay options.

For players, the year 2009 killed the “Guitar Hero” franchise. To beat out its competition, Activision released seven games consisting of “Guitar Hero 5,” “Van Halen,” “Metallica,” “Smash Hits,” “On Tour: Modern Hits,” “Band Hero” and “DJ Hero” with a tabletop turner peripheral.

Despite the positive reception toward “Guitar Hero 5,” “Metallica” and the “DJ Hero” games, fans grew tired of the constant slew of sequels, with little to no changes in gameplay, released. After “Warriors of Rock” failed to match sales of its predecessors, the franchise finally saw the end of the line.

Whether or not “Guitar Hero” is officially dead for good is still unknown. It is quite possible that Activision is simply taking a break for a while to give the franchise some breathing room, at least until the next generation of consoles is released. The question that still remains is whether or not Activision could have done anything to save its dying franchise.

The answer, at least in my mind, is simple. “Guitar Hero” destroyed itself when it tried to out innovate “Rock Band,” because it wasn’t going to happen. The game was called “Guitar Hero” for a reason, because it emphasized playing tough guitar-oriented tracks. The moment the franchise added full band gameplay to compete with “Rock Band” was when it dug its own grave.

To be fair, “Rock Band 3” underperformed as well, mostly because of poor promotion, but the game offers more gameplay innovations than “Guitar Hero,” the most prominent the ability to learn and play a real guitar, or realistic guitar peripheral, within the game itself. “Guitar Hero” could not implement this technology without directly copying it from “Rock Band 3.”

Had the franchise stuck to its original gameplay as well as held back on the release of so many sequels, Activision would not have needed to make the drastic decision of halting the franchise.