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Thanks for 5 Years of Rockin’ (RIP, Guitar Hero)

Activision has announced that the Guitar Hero series has been officially cancelled. This also includes any new downloadable content for the series, and the spin-off series DJ Hero.

What a difference five years makes.

It was only five years ago that a collaboration between Harmonix (the developer of multiple music and rhythm-based games) and RedOctane (a manufacturer of game controllers, most notably the guitars for Konami’s Guitar Freaks) spawned the original Guitar Hero. That was in 2005. With a budget of $1 million, the original Guitar Hero sold 1.5 million copies and earned $45 million.

It wasn’t long before the band split up. In 2006, RedOctane was purchased by Activision (for $100 million) and Harmonix was acquired by MTV Networks. Activision handed over the development portion of Guitar Hero (formerly handled by Harmonix) to Neversoft; MTV Networks used their new purchase to develop and launch the Rock Band franchise.

The rest of Guitar Hero’s story is familiar to anyone familiar with the business of video games — it was run into the ground by releasing (A) too many sequels that (B) cost too much (C) too quickly. When it was hot, it was hot; according to Activision, Guitar Hero III was the first video game to earn more than a billion dollars in sales. By 2009, the Guitar Hero franchise had earned more than $2 billion in sales, leaving Rock Band in a distant second place with a paltry $1 billion in sales. That’s a lot of plastic guitars sold over a four-year period. Almost every modern gamer I know has a cache of plastic instruments stacked in a closet. Those of us who were gamers in the early 80s know gluttony when we see it. We also know how the story ends.

In 2008, Activision released both Guitar Hero: World Tour and Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. They also expanded into the portable market with Guitar Hero: On Tour (DS), Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades (DS), Guitar Hero III: Backstage Pass (iOS) and Guitar Hero: World Tour Mobile (iOS). This was followed in 2009 by Guitar Hero 5, Guitar Hero: Metallica, Guitar Hero: Van Halen, Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, Band Hero (Activision’s answer to Rock Band), and DJ Hero, plus more mobile releases like Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits (DS), Guitar Hero 5 Mobile (iOS), and Guitar Hero Arcade.

MTV was just as guilty for flooding the market with Rock Band releases. In addition, dozens of knock-offs began hitting the market as well. Tap Tap Revenge, a similar music game for the iPhone, only costs a buck. Frets on Fire, a Guitar Hero clone for the PC, was not only released for free, but was packaged with an editor that allowed players to create their own levels using mp3 files. And who can forget Shredz64, the wickedly cool C64 homebrew version of Guitar Hero for the Commodore 64?

Unfortunately, between having to pay for the rights to license music and feed a billion dollar industry in the middle of a recession, Activision didn’t leave themselves much room for an encore. At a time when many Americans are tightening their belts, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock is listed on Amazon for $69.99 with a guitar, or $149.99 for the Super Bundle that includes drums and a microphone.

Activision’s move to put Guitar Hero on hiatus makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is their decision to stop releasing DLC as well. DLC, or DownLoadable Content, is the way owners of these games get new tracks without having to buy new releases. The going rate was around $5 for 3 songs. These mini-purchases help keep the games fresh. They are purchased online and delivered via the Internet. With no packaging or advertising costs it’s hard to see how Activision wasn’t making money hand-over-fist with these frequent updates. Cancelling them reeks more of a way to punish people than to halt any financial bleeding.

With the series cancelled I expect to see the price of Guitar Hero instruments and games to drop. That’s what happens when fads dry up., and it’s a good thing to those of us waiting around for a good bargain. Just because Guitar Hero is cancelled doesn’t mean people will stop playing it.

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5 comments to Thanks for 5 Years of Rockin’ (RIP, Guitar Hero)

  • dean

    For sale…

    Guitar Hero 2
    Guitar Hero 3

    1 Guitar hardly used, I think I might still have the original box.
    $25 for the lot.

    I also have Grand Theft Auto IV, Williams Pinball Hall of Fame and Namco Museum(30 games)

    I dont have time to play xbox these days, its just used for netflix.

  • Zeno

    Darn it. I was holding out for the series to eventually get to release Guitar Hero: Ottmar Liebert.

  • Steve Davis

    And who doesn’t want a closet full of plastic junk that works perfectly but is almost useless.

  • dean

    sears have DJ Hero game and controller for $19.97

  • I was bummed to hear this news the other day, but like you, I saw it coming.

    Of course I understand that there won’t be anymore new DLC after the end of this month, which brings me to the next question… how long will Activision keep the Guitar Hero servers up? Will we still be able to play multi-player online or download previously downloaded songs?

    In other news, being an avid Commodore 64 user and running a Commodore Computer Club, it was nice to see you mention Shredz64. We play it a lot at our Commodore users group meetings.