Billion-Dollar Expectations Caused Activision To ‘Abuse’ Guitar Hero, Says Ex-Publisher

Billion-Dollar Expectations Caused Activision To ‘Abuse’ Guitar Hero, Says Ex-Publisher
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The ex-CEO of Guitar Hero’s original publisher, RedOctane, has weighed in on Activision’s decision to close down the franchise, completing the cycle of reaction. Kelly Sumner says the publisher “abused” the franchise and had unrealistic expectations for it.

“Not every game can be a billion dollar franchise, but maybe that’s what Activision wants,” said Sumner, who as CEO of RedOctane sold the company to Activision in 2006; Activision closed it one year ago. Sumner was speaking to MCV, a news site operated by Intent Media, of which he is now CEO.

“[Activision]tried to get too much out of the franchise too quickly. They abused it,” Sumner said. “There’s no reason why Guitar Hero cannot continue. It’s a great product. My gut tells me there is still a significant market for Guitar Hero.

“I’d be surprised if they sold the brand as it’d prove to the world there is still a market for this product and show them up,” Sumner said.

Activision bought RedOctane out in a $US99.9 million cash-and-stock acquisition in 2006, making it into a division of the company. It had a hand in the development or publication of all games in the main Guitar Hero series – the original, II, III, World Tour, 5 and Warriors of Rock, which released after Activision closed RedOctane in February 2010.

Sumner said Activision expected too much revenue from the franchise every year, and insinuated its relentless production schedule placed sales over quality. “Look at how Take-Two has handled [Grand Theft Auto] ,” Sumner said. “They haven’t thrown products out there. They’ve nurtured it for over ten years and it is still a strong franchise.”

Sumner’s comments are part of a larger analysis of Guitar Hero’s demise. See the link for more.

No More (Guitar) Heroes [MCV]


  • They were greedy and killed a franchise, yet they won’t learn their lesson and they’ll keep on killing good brands.

    They didn’t just abuse Guitar Hero, they tied it up and sexually assaulted it for 5 years untill its body was so screwed up that their wasn’t enough to even have it buried.

  • I think Activision weren’t very smart about the DLC either, constantly Harmonix/Rock Band would release more DLC each week, GH DLC was also more expensive as well.

    Theoretically, there is more money in DLC than there is disc based games, as you will spending ~$80 on ~80 songs for a disc, so ~$1 per song. DLC can cost you over ~$2 per song, so they really needed to be smarter in that aspect.

    I’ve probably picked about 120 DLC songs for RB in packs and so forth, which I would wager would be upwards of ~$200.

      • So how do disc based games turn any profit? The licencing costs still apply there and I can’t see them getting a “bulk discount” for all the single track for each separate band on the discs.

        Add in manufacturing on the discs, marketing, shipping, etc… I couldn’t see them releasing the game with a loss in mind, DLC is like free money nowdays, that’s why basically every game has some form of it.

          • The recent ‘Medal of Honor’ title sold 5 million copies, according to today’s reports. Keep in mind it’s been out for half a year or so, and that sales will continue for as long as the game is playable on a modern console.

            If EA made $20 (USD) from each copy, which one can assume they do (especially when some customers buy DLC), that gives them a $100mil budget to make the game.

            $100,000,000 is enough to pay 300 developers pretty well (100k/year) for a 3-year development cycle and allow for 10% overhead. Game budgets, as far as I know, are usually in the $20-$50 million range for a big title.
            I’d bet the team was smaller than that and the development time was far shorter, too.

            Making games is totally financially possible as long as they sell enough copies (if they don’t – MORE GUNS).

          • This is only a tiny percentage of cases. And each year it’s getting worse with dozens of big, expensive games failing, and maybe a couple of ‘blockbuster’ franchises like CoD, Halo and the Blizzard games.

            BLOPs is, at this point, critic-proof. The next one can be utter shit but will still make bank and have no doubt Activision will keep them coming hard and fast until people just become numb. It’s become even more dire than Hollywood where there’s a massive tentpole like Transformers 2 which makes a tonne of money regardless of quality, while hundreds of other films die.

  • I think we are kind of agreeing here. IMO Guitar Hero (and Rock Band) should be one game, and everything else is DLC, but DLC the way iTunes works. You go online, find one song you like and buy it for cheap. (Maybe not $0.99 but cheap). I found it ridiculous to call all these other Guitar Hero releases ‘games’ when they were really just new track listings. Forcing people to shell out $70 or whatever at a time every 8 months was stupid. If you had people paying $3-4 every month for 5 years or some such average, you’ve got a way better cash flow and much less cost associated with actually producing new ‘game’ scenarios and pressing discs for public release.

    • In a perfect world that’s how things work, but there are dozens of new games per month, you’ll get lost in the crowd if you don’t keep your product out there. DLC works fine for the 5-10% of people who buy it, the rest prefer a new disc with new songs (Inc stuff they would never buy but are now interested in)

      This DLC thing is nothing but a fallacy. A small handful of core people buy it vs the hundreds of thousands of casual who don’t. The money is in the disc version, not the DLC.

  • They really did kill it, I used to love GH, and my GF was much the same, we used to buy everyone that came out, but it just became too much. We’d barely finish one and another was already on shelf

  • Activision ran a franchise into the ground by bleeding it dry. Anyone surprised?

    The people who buy Guitar Hero spin-off discs like the Van Halen themed ones are going to be die-hards anyway. Activision could have simply put an album as DLC, make it cheaper and not clog the shelves but no… They oversaturated the market to shit and we wonder why this happens.

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