Viacom Selling Guitar Hero and Rock Band Creator Harmonix, World Going to Hell

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Viacom wants to sell Harmonix, creator of the wildly popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band gaming franchises, and basically the team who popularized the rhythm game genre. Specific reasons haven’t been revealed yet, but one can only assume it has to do with the oddly sluggish sales of the stellar Rock Band 3. If any company out there has any sense of greatness and accomplishment, they should really hop on the Harmonix bandwagon and buy them up pronto.

On a personal note, this news is totally crazy. I’ve been following Harmonix ever since they broke into the music gaming genre with the wonderful FreQuency; a game I bought instead of the extremely popular Grand Theft Auto III. Though it was basically digital crack, FreQuency didn’t sell too well, as the music genre was a new market and FreQuency looked pretty intimidating at a glance. However, Harmonix was allowed to follow up with the sequel, Amplitude, also intimidating at a glance, because Sony wanted a game with a playable online component for the PlayStation 2, which Harmonix was able to deliver with Amplitude in a timely fashion. Again, though released to critical praise, Amplitude didn’t sell too well, because the world is a cruel, unfair place.

Eventually, they took a chance on another music game with much more simplified gameplay compared to FreQuency and Amplitude, except instead of a more conventional gaming controller, one played with a fake plastic guitar. The game was called Guitar Hero and became a gaming phenomenon. After Guitar Hero 2, Harmonix left the franchise and moved on to create Rock Band, a game with the same basic principle of Guitar Hero except a fake plastic drum and a microphone were added to the fake plastic guitar setup, creating a full band experience. Not only is the Rock Band franchise the best and most comprehensive music sim to date, but Harmonix did something revolutionary with the frequency and quantity of their downloadable content–they released tracks every single week since the very first Rock Band released three years ago, setting a precedent for amount of DLC for a game, as well as the frequency and quality of DLC in general.

There are three extremely scary possible scenarios:

  • Activision attempts to buy Harmonix, reuniting them with the Guitar Hero franchise; a franchise that took a steep decline since Harmonix parted ways with their creation in order to give the world Rock Band. The best thing that ever happened for the music gaming genre was Harmonix leaving Guitar Hero, avoiding the notorious franchise milker Activison, and pairing up with MTV Games in order to more easily secure music licenses and partnerships.
  • As states, “No indication has been given as to who will offer continued support for the titles, nor what form it will take,” which is extremely scary since the Rock Band franchise’s DLC is a historic landmark for digital distribution in general, and is arguably the most important part of the franchise itself.
  • Wherever Harmonix ends up, if they have to part ways with MTV, there’s no way they’ll have as much clout and connections within the music industry.

And now, they’re being sold even though Viacom has reported higher profits than analysts expected out of them, due to shows like Jersey Shore.

For anyone who has ever played FreQuency and holds Harmonix near and dear to their hearts, watch this video, then combine the resulting warm fuzzy feeling with the knowledge that Harmonix is being dumped because it’s not as valuable as Jersey Shore.


UPDATE: Joystiq received a comment from Harmonix regarding the continued support of their games, which most likely refers to DLC, saying, “This morning’s announcement does not affect the ongoing work at the studio as we continue to support our existing franchises, Rock Band and Dance Central. As stated earlier, Viacom is in discussions with several potential buyers and will continue to fully support the business until a sale is completed.”

The quote from Viacom regarding if the music licenses will transfer with Harmonix once the developer is sold is a little worrying, though: “All we can say at this point is that Rock Band and Dance Central DLC will continue as planned and we will continue to fully support their releases.”


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