The year started off poorly for those ubiquitous plastic instruments.
First, Viacom sold Rock Band developer Harmonix to investment firm Columbus Nova near Christmastime, leading to a restructuring that cost 15 percent of the studio's 200-strong staff their jobs. Then Activision Blizzard announced last month it was closing it's Guitar Hero/DJ Hero business unit, laying off the entire staff and killing new titles in order to focus on big-ticket franchises like Call of Duty.
And just like that, the five-year reign of the music game industry evaporated, gone the way of fads like Pet Rocks, lava lamps and talking to your children.
But not so fast, Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos says. In a lengthy interview with Destructoid.com, he declared the shakeup in the genre a good thing, a minor speed bump that eventually will be a good thing for fans of these games, because it can only foster innovation in the future.
The Harmonix honcho said its brief partnership with MTV Games really brought band games into their own, driving the music industry to want to pair up with such titles, and that waning sales of Rock Band and Guitar Hero were only indicative of a bored consumer.
"The contraction that has taken place, in our point of view, really provoked us to think about how to reinvent this category, in particular the Rock Band franchise," Rigopulos said. "The marketplace is clearly demanding something very new. It's clearly demanding a dramatic evolution of the Rock Band franchise, I think, and I think that's actually exciting for us."
One of those innovations, he said, was its title Dance Central, for the Xbox 360's Kinect. That title was a risk for the studio, because it was a new IP for an unproven platform, but it's been a runaway success. The fact that the studio had been working on the title before the motion-control peripheral was even announced didn't hurt, either, serving to reinforce his point that Harmonix was Johnny-on-the-spot for where video games were headed.
"When we saw the perfect technology for the app that we wanted to make, yes it was a leap of faith, and yes we also felt that it was the right technology coming at the right time for the game that we wanted to create," he told Destructoid.
So what now? Guitar Hero is dead and Harmonix is literally the only game in town. Besides further DLC for Rock Band 3 (especially its Pro mode, for which Fender just released its Squier Stratocaster Pro), where can we expect band games to go?
"Beyond this year … there's some far more fundamental reimaginings of the Rock Band franchise that we're thinking about right now," Rigopulos added, without elaborating.
Okay, so he's not revealing anything. But for fans of the genre, there's a commitment to keeping Rock Band alive. Sometimes all we want is a little reassurance.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.