Based on a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence, Activision may be attempting to acquire Harmonix from MTV Games/Viacom.
The music rhythm genre went from boom to bust pretty quick, with two major franchises making a boatload of cash in a very short amount of time. At first, there was one company, Red Octane, who employed developer Harmonix to make Guitar Hero. Then Harmonix jumped ship to MTV Games and parent-company Viacom, and Activision ate up Red Octane for a cold $100 million in 2006. Comments from both sides have indicated that the format war between the Hero and Band games helps no one. With Activision closing down Red Octane earlier this year, we may soon see a consolidation by the bigger publisher absorbing what's left of Harmonix and Red Octane to continue the music genre. The writing is on the wall.
Earlier this year, MTV Games senior VP Paul DeGooye said that the competing game franchises really is a disservice for consumers. "What we really should be looking at is: what is right for the consumer?" he said. "I don't think the consumer wants a format war. I don't think anyone can afford to continue to have this shooting war. The consumer is telling us pretty clearly, 'we're interested in playing these games on the platform - make it easier for us.'"
Add that to the fact that the distribution deal between Harmonix/MTV Game and Electronic Arts expires next month. According to EA head, John Riccitiello, negotiations are ongoing to extend that, but such a deal would be superfluous if Harmonix was purchased by Activision. That a deal isn't already in place means that the relationship is in jeopardy of ending in March.
This year at the DICE summit, Activision chief Bobby Kotick basically admitted that they never considered hiring Harmonix. "We had always known [Harmonix] as somewhat of a failed developer of music games ... nothing that was commercially viable until Guitar Hero" he said. They instead went with the publisher, Red Octane, and passed off actual game development to Neversoft, who had previously worked on Tony Hawk games. Kotick seems to say that was a mistake, "We really didn't even think, 'Hey, we should go to Boston and meet these Harmonix guys and see what they're up to,'" he said. "It would probably be a profitable opportunity for both of us."
We reported that Viacom is trying to get back the $150 million that it paid out to Harmonix shareholders. One can argue as to what that really means but it's clear that Viacom is making a lot less money off Rock Band than they thought they would. They may be happy to sell Harmonix while they can still get a decent price.
Now that Activision has shut down Red Octane, while still keeping on its founders, Kai and Charles Huang, Kotick may be trying to put the band back together. With the brothers Huang back in charge of the Boston-based Harmonix, will we see a resurgence of music games under one hood?
And more importantly, what will the game be called? Guitar Band? Rock Hero? DJ Band Hero World Tour: Beatles?