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Obligatory Guitar Hero Remorse and Recrimination Blog

Activision has announced its financial results for 2010! Wow! That’s the news we’ve all been waiting for. I don’t know about the rest of you but we ran a sweepstakes on Play in the run up to this news. I picked out ‘Made Money Hand Over Fist’ so I’m quids in. Thanks Activision.

But the ‘real’ story is of course the deaths of Guitar Hero, DJ Hero and True Crime: Hong Kong. Where to begin eh? Some attacks on Activision’s ‘heartless’ attitudes towards beloved franchises? No, I don’t think so. A long diatribe about how Guitar Hero sucked anyway? I’m not sure I could muster the venom.

Let’s just look at the realities for a moment. The general consensus has been for about the last 18 months that the music genre had bottomed out. Sales of Guitar Hero last year were poor by the standards of the series – around 1.3 million across Xbox 360, Wii and PS3 according to VGChartz. That compares to the 15.5 million copies Guitar Hero III managed to sell across formats (including the PS2 on that occasion). Guitar Hero: World Tour managed 9.3 million and Guitar Hero 5 didn’t quite break 4 million. Clearly all was not well.

Some have put it down to saturation. Activision was certainly releasing a lot of ‘Hero’ games at the peak of its powers. However, speaking on purely personal terms I started to have a problem with Guitar Hero from III onwards as gimmicks started to get in the way of just being able to play a really good music game. Then the track listing started to feel lighter and lighter with less reasons each passing year to pick up the new installment. Games like this live and die by their tracks.

Anyway, Guitar Hero just isn’t making the money is once did and whether you blame the number of releases, the economy, the cost involved in purchasing all these discs and peripherals or believe that a combination of all of the above was involved, it doesn’t much matter. What does matter is that despite netting revenues of $4.8 billion Activision is circling the wagons like the rest of the games industry (and pretty much every other entertainment industry) and putting its money behind titles and franchises that it feels confident will sell well.

Would Guitar Hero or DJ Hero have made any impact this year? I really don’t think they would. There was no indication that there was something up their sleeves and certainly no innovation to speak of that would give the titles a second wind. And True Crime, despite being made by a developer with a lot of potential and with a lot of big ideas, was always fighting an uphill struggle based solely on the franchise history. It was the kind of game that may have proved successful on if it managed to score incredibly well in reviews and word of mouth started to spread that it was something special. Activision clearly didn’t think that was likely.

So, by way of some kind of conclusion because I feel like I’m beginning to lose the plot a little here… Guitar Hero was falling and showed no signs of recovery. DJ Hero has struggled to find an audience outside committed music fans and those with a specific genre interest. True Crime: Hong Kong might have been OK is it just dropped the True Crime bit of its name.

And yes, it’s sad. Mainly for the development teams behind these games rather than the rest of us who can now not worry about whether these titles will live up to our hopes and expectations. But cutting losses here could mean investment in other games that could be put to better use. From this could come great titles in the coming years.

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed rather than holding my breath.

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