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February 15, 2011

The Day the Music Game Genre Died

For those like me who love music as much as they love marketing, last week marked the sad passing of what was once a groundbreaking new video game: Guitar Hero.

On February 9th, Activision announced it will be shutting down its music game division, home to the Guitar Hero series of video games.  Activision also announced the lay off of about 7% of the company's workforce and discontinuation of game development slated for 2011. While there is speculation about the causes of the layoff and discontinuing of the music game offerings, many point to one culprit: oversaturation. In the years following Guitar Hero's initial release the music game genre exploded into it the current offerings of Guitar Hero I, II & III, Rock Band, Band Hero, DJ Hero and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. In just five years, wallets drained and living rooms across the nation began to look more like a Guitar Center then a room in the family home. Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg highlights the company's inability to make the games profitable, largely due to current economies and consumer demand.

Despite the reasons for Guitar Hero's end, it will have a great impact on those who used the music games as a marketing channel, particularly independent record labels. From across the continent I can hear my friends weeping. Not only for the loss of new games to incorporate into the monthly beer-fueled, Guitar Hero rock-a-thons, but for the lost opportunities to market their new artists to millions of potential album and concert ticket purchasing fans. It is this tight group of musicians and independent record labels who will be the most deeply impacted by the loss of the marketing opportunities presented by music genre games.

When it first appeared in 2005, Guitar Hero developers at Red Octane and Harmonix Music Systems offered low cost opportunities to independent record labels and bands to appear on video game soundtracks. Record labels jumped at the chance to market artists using a new channel with a large potential reach. Today, Guitar Hero has shipped over 25 million units, having put budding indie bands like Attack! Attack!, Band of Skulls, Amon Amarth and countless others into the hands of fans that might not necessarily hear them. In the wake of this loss, I'd like to hope the developers will find new homes, fans will retreat to their Rock Band guitars and drum sets, and just as they always have, independent record labels will search out the newest (often gratis) ways to market bands to the masses.

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