Activision’s very high profile Guitar Hero and DJ Hero video games are no more. Citing declining revenues, the cost of licensing music and economic conditions, Activision is diverting resources to other games.
Guitar Hero’s sales dived from 1.5 million units in its first month of sales for Guitar Hero III to 86,000 for the latest Guitar Hero package, Warriors Of Rock.
The result of the cancellation of Guitar Hero will be hundreds of layoffs, and the reconfiguration of Activision's priorities into more successful, traditional format games like Call Of Duty and World of Warcraft.
Guitar Hero was a production-intensive game, including unique hardware in the form of guitars and quite a lot of additional product packaging and promotion. A commentator on Wired.com suggests that the player demographic for Guitar Hero had moved on.
Guitar Hero in its heyday was a benchmark for video games with customised hardware. It was an unusual game concept, constructed in a complex technical environment. Guitar Hero involved playing a musical instrument in a very hard sell, hard rock idiom. The guitars used frets with buttons on them to pick up the songs as they were played, which were all rock classics.
This was "virtual rock". Its appeal was geared to the hard rock audience, and it projected the typical heavy metal rock idiom for all it was worth. In marketing terms, the demise of Guitar Hero may relate to the fact that hard rock is now effectively a niche audience, not mainstream.
The unprecedented decline in sales is unusual in the gaming industry. The video gaming market is an extremely fluid market, often concentrating on a current game or genre of games. Commercially, Guitar Hero was a colossal success, then a colossal failure.
One way or another, Guitar Hero will go down in history as a product with a full product life cycle which could be used as a map of the risks and rewards of the video gaming industry. Activision's stock has gone down on the news, reflecting the projected drop in earnings.