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”